Set In North Carolina, 'The World Made Straight', Premieres

Jan 9, 2015

A new movie set in Western North Carolina opens in select theaters this weekend. The World Made Straight is based on a novel by North Carolina native Ron Rash.  It follows a legacy of violence dating back to the Civil War. 

The main character, Travis Shelton, is seventeen when he discovers a grove of marijuana in the woods ... and then he steps into the jaws of a bear trap. Injured, he is discovered by the pot farmer who set the trap, Carlton Toomey.

The New York Post called the film "grim, Southern noir."

In the North Carolina Appalachians, where Union sympathizers and Rebels once clashed, “Time doesn’t pass, it just layers over things.” In “The World Made Straight,” it’s the early 1970s and some of the blood is seeping up to the topsoil. >> Read full review.

The film's director, David Burris, grew up in Raleigh, and spoke with WUNC's Eric Hodge during Morning Edition.

ERIC HODGE: Tell us a little bit about how this project came about, because it's taken a few years, right?

DAVID BURRIS: It has. From pillar to post, it's been four or five years. A high school chum of mine, Michael Wren, and I had both been working in the film industry for a while and we decided that it was time that we did a film in North Carolina about North Carolina. We had a nice little conversation about it about five years ago, got in touch with Ron (Rash), and things went from there.

Publicity shot from 'The World Made Straight'

HODGE: When you had that conversation, had you already read the book?

BURRIS: I had read the book. The book was given to me by my mother, of all things, for a birthday present maybe a year or two earlier. I read it and thought it was absolutely fantastic, and my mom said, 'Well, why don't you make a movie out of that, then?' And I said, 'Okay.'

HODGE: Tell us a little bit about the story.

BURRIS: It is set in the mountains of North Carolina in the early '70s. The simple story is, it's really about the battle for a young man's soul and his future. There's a good guy, played by Noah Wyle, and there's a bad guy, played by Steve Earle. They are prominent figures in this mountain community and they decide this kid is worth saving, and they pretty much fight to have their influence exerted on him.

HODGE: Is there a clip that comes to mind from the film that you really like?

BURRIS: The scene from the film has Steve Earle, Minka Kelly, Noah Wyle, and Jeremy Irvine, our four main characters. In the scene, Steve's character, Carlton Toomey, compares himself to King David quite accurately, I think.

The funny thing about Steve is that he is such a wonderful, kind, nice man, and somehow he's able to tap into something very dark in his soul to portray this character of Carlton, and there were moments on set that it really terrified me.

HODGE: As a first-time director working with people like Noah Wyle and Steve Earle, is that daunting?

BURRIS: I wouldn't use the word 'daunting.' It was exciting because my first exposure to both Steve and Noah was as a fan. I was a huge fan of Noah on ER. His progress as a character and what he did with that character as an actor over the course of all of those seasons was, I just felt, phenomenal. And he was maybe one of the first names, if not the first name, that I wrote down for the part of Leonard when we started doing this film, and so it was very exciting that he was able to do it. And I have been a fan of Steve and his music for - what would it be now - 20 years, 30 years he's been making records? Recently, when's been acting on shows like Treme and The Wire on HBO, I thought, 'Man, the guy can act, too,' so absolutely was the first name I wrote down for the role of Carlton, so it was very exciting to have both of those guys come on board.

HODGE: Yeah, he's very good at being a very bad man.

BURRIS: (hoots) Scary.

HODGE: There's a lot of music involved and woven throughout the movie, and most of it comes from players who live in North Carolina. Was that a goal for you?

BURRIS: It was. It was part of our mission statement, if you want to call it that. There's so much great music in North Carolina and it was a very North Carolina story, so we thought one of the ways to strike the right mood and achieve some authenticity was to get some North Carolina musicians to score the film, contribute some songs, and it worked out beautifully, I think.

HODGE: And Megafaun is featured prominently.

BURRIS: Megafaun, yes, three or four of their songs from their Gather, Form and Fly record, which came out a few years ago, which is the record I was actually listening to quite a bit when we were doing the screen adaptation of the film, and the music seemed to fit beautifully. And when I spoke to those guys about doing the film score, they were excited about it and did a wonderful job. We recorded it right there in Durham last summer and they just knocked the ball out of the park. Hopefully, those guys will continue to do more film scores because they have a real talent for it.

The film premieres Saturday January 10 at 7 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of History. It will also run at other theaters nationwide, including Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta.