A local indie film follows what happens when a moonshiner gets revenge. 

The Redneck Rat Pack

When Dodger Cole is released from jail, she finds that her rural community has fallen prey to the lure of big money superstore chains. Infuriated, she vows to return the county to its moonshine roots by robbing stores such as "Super Great Mart" to run them out of town.

Cole's moonshining still and her robbery spree set the backdrop for Jim Stramel's first full-length feature, independent film, "The Thrillbillys." The movie will be shown at the Canal Club in Shockoe Bottom Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Afterward, several bands which contributed to the movie's soundtrack will perform live.

The story, which takes place in fictional Jodhpurs County, Va., was created when Stramel, his wife and a few friends were having dinner.

"We were in the habit of spending Sunday nights with friends, eating tacos and watching movies," says Stramel, the 34-year-old director/producer. "We were watching 'Moonshine Mountain' by H.G. Lewis, and the idea of 'The Thrillbillys' emerged."

Taking the story from idea stage to final print took five years. Stramel says financing was "below low budget." He took out a second mortgage on his home and combined his resources with the contributions of friends and actors in the film. "Nobody has gotten paid," Stramel said. "It is truly a labor of love."

Wes Freed plays the role of Wes Cole — Dodger's "somewhat dimwitted" younger brother. Freed, who is also a vocalist in Shiners, one of the bands performing Saturday night, said he isn't expecting to get paid. "I did the movie because it seemed like a great idea. I liked the script and the idea behind it — it's a redneck rat pack sort of group."

The best part about working with Stramel, Freed said, was his flexibility with the script. "He knew we weren't professionals, so he didn't force the script on us," he says. "The script was a guideline … we did it the way it felt comfortable for us."

Although Richmond has attracted major motion picture films such as "Hannibal" and "Contact," Los Angeles and New York remain the premiŠre locations for making it big in film. While money was not a primary motive for filming, Stramel does admit that he hopes to get exposure for this film. So why would a filmmaker stay in Richmond when there is far more potential for exposure in a major city?

"I had everything we needed here," Stramel says. "The landscape was perfect." Stramel says he borrowed junkyard cars, guns and stores. Some store owners turned Stramel down when he asked to use their stores for the robbery scenes. "But the people who said yes bent over backwards to help us," he says.

The 21-day shooting schedule included areas as far outside of Richmond as Bowling Green. Stramel said his full-time job at Commonwealth Films made it possible for him to complete his editing, the longest phase of the filming process. In the evening and on weekends, he spent hours cutting and re-cutting his work.

With the project completed, Stramel says a profit would be nice, but finishing it was a dream come true. "I thought, 'Look what we did with nothing. We could do this again,'" he says.

Making enough money from his films to pay his water bill would make Stramel a satisfied man. "But I'm not expecting to get rich from this movie. I did it for the same reason many artists do what they do — you do it or you go crazy." He hopes the movie will be picked up by a small distributor, but says he's not holding his breath. "To see this movie shrink-wrapped and for sale in Blockbuster would be amazing," he says with a laugh.

The movie has already been shown at the St. Louis Music Festival in Missouri and the Memphis Independent Film Festival in Tennessee. "The Thrillbillys" is Stramel's first full-length film, but he made two short films that have played at the Flicker Festival in Richmond and in Baltimore's Microcinefest.

Stramel, an Iowa native who moved to Richmond 15 years ago to be in a band, now lives North Side with his wife. His major influences, he says, have been B-movie pioneers Jack Hill, H. G. Lewis and Rudy Ray Moore.

"You know, you sit around and watch enough movies, and you think to yourself, 'I want to do this too.'" His schooling came from directors' comments and commentaries about their movies.

Stramel may be working on an upcoming project which combines three 30-minute independent films into one feature-length film. He said he has a notebook of ideas, including a film starring an alligator-man, but his main focus is exposure for "The Thrillbillys."

But he accepts that the movie is not for everyone. "If you could sit through a Robert Korman movie and have a good time, you'll enjoy it. If you are comin' to see the Matrix 2, save your five

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