To find the ideal setting for the story, the filmmakers turned their sights on Louisiana. “Louisiana is an extraordinary place with such beautiful architecture,” Hopkins says, “and it still has a bit of mystery to it. We needed that for Haven, which is modern-day but still pretty cut off from the rest of the world.”
Director STEPHEN HOPKINS on the set of "The Reaping"
Locations manager Peter Novak led the filmmakers to their Haven – St. Francisville (pop. 1,712), a town, he says, “with beautiful scenery, a collection of spectacular Victorian homes, and a community of cool, eclectic people.”
“Atmospherically,” Silver adds, “the place was perfect with its crumbling plantation homes, swamps, deep woods...”
The town’s history even lent itself to the story. Hopkins explains, “It was destroyed by floods about 120 years ago. There are lots of photos in the town museum, and we saw pictures of these places all underwater. After the town was destroyed, everything was moved up on top of a hill away from the swamps, and I thought, ‘I wonder if people lost faith living in those times?’ So, we modeled our town of Haven after St. Francisville.”
STEPHEN REA as Father Costigan and director STEPHEN HOPKINS on the set
The local communities were welcoming and generous, but nature was another matter. The summer heat, which Hopkins admits, “could be staggering at times,” nevertheless worked to create a rich on-screen mood. Shooting was proceeding on schedule, with every element locked firmly in place…and then Hurricane Katrina struck.
Herb Gains, who had been on location earlier in the summer and faced a similar hurricane threat, had already devised an evacuation plan with the Head of Safety at Warner Bros. “When it was obvious the storm was coming our way, we got 120 people out,” Gains remembers. “We were the last flight out of Baton Rouge. But we left a few people there on the ground just to monitor events and help get things restored in the event we were able to come back.”
HILARY SWANK as Katherine and director STEPHEN HOPKINS on the set
Only two weeks after Katrina, Hurricane Rita posed another serious—but thankfully short-lived—threat to the production. The locations had sustained mostly minor damage from both events, but many on the crew had suffered personal losses. Gains recalls, “The first day back was quite emotional. People were breaking down. But I think the general sense was that staying and being a part of the region’s recovery effort was the right thing to do.”
“These people define southern hospitality; they were so welcoming and generous to us,” Swank offers. “They just opened their arms to us. Obviously, being here through two hurricanes and seeing the mass devastation that it had on this state was heartbreaking but also inspiring. To see these people lose their homes, lose family members, lose virtually everything, you are reminded of what’s important: ‘I’m alive. We’ll rebuild.’ It was amazing to see these things unfold. We were all so grateful.”
“It was strange to be working on a film that has so much to do with God’s work,” adds Gains, “and then be faced with God’s work in a very real way.”
SOWING “THE REAPING”
In the center of the production’s base in St. Francisville, acclaimed production designer Graham “Grace” Walker
supervised the installation of a gas station, mortuary
and barber shop..