This Best of the NPJ for 2022 story was originally published on December 7, 2022.
By Corey Poole
When a small town big shot goes after the deed to her family’s bar, a bartender takes extreme measures to keep it.
I sat down to talk with Writer, Director and Producer Matthew Yerby about filming in Natchitoches Parish for the movie: The Dirty South, which has signed distribution agreements with Bleiberg Entertainment and Cinedigm.
A Winnfield native, Matthew came to Natchitoches to attend Northwestern State University. He played baseball, earned a degree in psychology with a minor in theater, and worked at The Point Place Marina.
After graduating he bounced from Shreveport to New Orleans, working modeling and acting gigs before optioning a screen play in 2017 and moving to California.
Also an artist, Matthew came back to Natchitoches through the years, painting a New Orleans themed mural at The Loft at Five Thirty and winning the 2018 Christmas Festival Poster contest.
While on the West coast, Matthew was offered a staff writing position, however he soon got tired of re-writing other people’s work. When it came time to write his own script, Matthew followed the advice of his mentor: Write what you can produce.
The Dirty South story was inspired by Matthew’s father, who passed away in 2017. Two of his favorite songs were Run Around Sue and The Wanderer. Listening to the lyrics Matthew started to question: Why does Sue break everyone’s hearts and, Why does the man wander from town to town?
It’s been a learning experience with a lot of re-writing and lots of frustration, but Matthew said he’s having the time of his life.
It doesn’t hurt that the Natchitoches community has risen to meet all of his needs. Marina Owner Debbie Walker has made a lot of the production possible by allowing the film crew to use the bar as its base camp. Other residents have helped by providing their homes for set locations, loaning out boats for river scenes, and providing other equipment like vehicles, clothing, heaters, and even a wild hog in a cage. A pleasant and unexpected surprise, BOM donated toward the film.
“If it wasn’t for the wonderful people like Debbie, Daniel Page, Van Eversull, Rodney Harrington and many others selflessly helping us, we wouldn’t have The Dirty South,” said Matthew. “People are more than willing to help here in the South.”
On paper, the budget for this film is $1 million, but because of all the local support, Matthew said the production value is close to $5 million.
“It’s been unbelievable because it doesn’t happen anywhere else,” said Matthew, who had Natchitoches and Cane River in mind for the filming location as he started writing the script four years ago.
It was the beauty of the area that solidified it in Matthew’s mind. No one has made a movie in Natchitoches Parish that focused primarily on Cane River, which is a part of almost every scene in The Dirty South.
“It gives life to everyone in the town,” explained Matthew. “Poor or rich, everyone drinks the same water. Things aren’t always what they seem in a small town. I wrote the story to show the timelessness of Natchitoches and I’m just so visually pleased with this movie.”
The film is a wild ride that takes place in a matter of three days. Matthew added that the filming has been a wild ride as well. He had to change the story the day before they started filming because of the cool weather (the original script occurred during the summer months). Finding the silver lining in this challenge, Matthew decided to write the nationally renowned Christmas Festival and its fireworks display into the script.
Other challenges include using old model vehicles (1970 Chevy Chevelle and 1985 Chevy Silverado) that didn’t want to start up some mornings, making it through two lightning storms, filming on boats on the river at night while going really fast, staying warm when the temperature dropped to 28 degrees and more.
“We’re problem solving from the moment we wake up, but you just can’t put a cap on creativity,” explained Matthew, who said the script has been constantly evolving as new challenges or inspirations arise.
The cast features well known actors including Dermot Mulroney, Willa Holland, and Shane West. The first final cut is due in May of 2023. A premier will be held in Natchitoches just prior to the US release in November of 2023.
Taking his first swing at directing, Matthew said he and the crew have become family. “I welcome their creativity and their input,” he said. “It’s impressive how the team has fallen in love with each other and with the town.”
Matthew has plans to return to Natchitoches once the movie is finished and paint a mural on the side of the Marina building, depicting one or several scenes from the movie.