When Beth Lambert started creating a trilogy of stories about children drawn into a harrowing battle between the forces of light and dark, she turned to her hometown for inspiration.
Behind its supernatural scenes was a real-world setting that borrowed from Johnstown-area landmarks – even her northern Somerset County farm, she said.
Now, she’s working with a Nashville filmmaker, who said he wants to use Greater Johnstown as the backdrop for a trilogy of feature-length films based on her stories, “The Harvester Chronicles.”
Lambert, a longtime local pediatrician and author whose first book in that series – “J.P. Knights” – was released in 2015, and Kevin McAfee said they have a completed a 110-page screenplay for a multi-million dollar project that would be filmed across the Johnstown area.
McAfee is the founder of GR Productions. He and Lambert said they’ve been collaborating over the project for more than a year, working to turn her vision for “The Harvester Chronicles” into a three-movie trilogy that would follow a group of children from their late-elementary school years into their teens as they get pulled into an adventure that McAfee described as Harry Potter meets the 1990 hit “Ghost.”
Within their world – sight unseen by most – there’s a supernatural war occurring around them between light and dark forces that Lambert said she first started working on after seeing children carrying full-sized fantasy novels into her office more than a decade ago.
“When I saw kids coming in with those big, complex Harry Potter books, it inspired me. I realized children were ready for this kind of thing ... but too many of the stories they read get darker and darker over time. And they keep focusing on the idea that darkness has a power over us,” she said.
“The Harvester Chronicles” reminds readers that “we have the ability to make a positive difference through good decisions” – a message that can give children struggling with today’s troubles “an element of hope.”
“God is here. He’s all around us and we just don’t see it sometimes,” Lambert said.
She said she wants to deliver that message of hope to her hometown, which has been hard hit by the steel industry’s collapse, three floods and poverty.
“When we first started talking, it wasn’t my goal to have the film shot here ... but after we showed him Johnstown and Flight 93, suddenly everything just fell into place,” she said. “It was like we were being led in this direction.”
“I feel like I’m fulfilling a dream seeing this start to come to fruition,” Lambert added.
McAfee said Lambert wrote a great story and developed a colorful world for its setting.
“And the Writers Guild (of America) agreed when they looked at it,” he said.
McAfee has been making family-friendly, and often-times faith-focused films for years.
McAfee said he caught his first break as a camera operator on “Rocky II” in the late ’70s and worked behind the scenes on a list of films over the decade that followed before landing a job as vice president of Nest Family Entertainment. During that span he worked on the company’s “Animated Stories from the Bible” series, which received awards from the Parents Choice Foundation and other groups.
After working on the New Line Cinemas picture “The Swan Princess” in the mid-1990s, he formed his own company, GR Productions, and produced and directed films, including the 2013 documentary “Through the Valley” and the 2012 war hero drama “Last Ounce of Courage,” which starred Marshall Teague (“Roadhouse”) and Fred Williamson (“MASH,” “From Dusk Til Dawn”).
“You look at the highest-grossing movies at the box office and its the G-rated and PG films that are the biggest each year. It’s the family movies – like Disney and Marvel,” he said.
He envisions “The Harvester Chronicles” as a computer generated imagery-heavy action picture that would also have a heavy dose of comedy.
“The Chronicles” have a strong underpinning of faith – but they’ll be created with an aim at reaching mainstream audiences.
He and Lambert shared their plan with a group of dozens of Johnstown-area residents at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Sunday.
They’ve also met with local officials, including The Cambria Regional Chamber, about what it’ll take to make their effort come to fruition in the years to come.
McAfee said they are planning to raise the money to finance the film themselves rather than turn to a distributor who would then have creative control over the picture.
“I’ve financed all of my films (with GR Productions) so I know it can be done,” he said.
McAfee noted the group is going to push for support in Johnstown and across the state, saying the movie will be an economic driver for Johnstown – much like “Slap Shot” and “All the Right Moves” did decades ago.
Emmanuel Baptist has pledged to host the group when GR Productions is in town to work on the film. But for the eventual film-making process to come together on location, it’ll take a village of local people – seamstresses, caterers, electricians and other professionals – to ensure the support that would likely be a year’s worth of filming, he added.
The film must be financed first, before distribution and production companies would be sought, actors are hired or the first scene is captured on a camera.
“This is going to be a long process. It could certainly take time to finance this project, but we’re in it for the long haul,” he said.