J.D. Vance on watching Middletown filming of his ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ book: ‘It’s pretty surreal’

J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy” said it was “surreal” to watch the filming of the movie this week in Middletown.

About 150 people have converged on Middletown for the filming of the adaptation of his 2016 book, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis,” about growing up in Jackson, Ky. and in Middletown.

The 43-day filming schedule was expected to be completed Thursday, according to Andy Lipschultz, unit publicist for the $45 million Netflix Productions movie. Four filming days were scheduled for several locations in Middletown. The last day of shooting focused on Vanderveer and Park streets, and Liberty and Girard avenues. Other areas where filming and equipment staging were happening on Harrison, Sutphin and McKinley streets as well as on Manchester and North avenues.

The movie, which has a release date in 2020, is being directed and produced by Ron Howard and features a cast including Glenn Close, Amy Adams, Gabriel Basso, Bo Hopkins, Haley Bennett, Amy Parrish, Helen Abel, Ethan Suess, Frieda Pinto, Sunny Mabrey, and Jesse C. Boyd.

Vance has been in Middletown during the filming and is listed an executive producer with Julie Oh, according to the International Movie DataBase website. Vance, who grew up in Middletown and is a 2003 Middletown High School graduate, is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who went on to graduate from The Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

“It’s pretty surreal to watch famous actors and actresses portraying real people from my life,” Vance said. “It’s been pretty wild and I’ve felt pretty grateful to the city for welcoming the production crew to the city.”

Vance said the point of his book was not to make Middletown look bad, but to show how one family experienced the good sides of Middletown and its problems too and hoped to portray people in an empathetic way.

“I think all towns have good and bad sides,” he said. “It’s (Middletown) a different place now and its changing for the better.”

PHOTOS: Inside look at ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ filming for second day in Middletown

Vance said he returns often to the Middletown area because most of his family still lives here.

When asked to describe in one word his experience of writing a book and see it become a movie in about three years, Vance said, “crazy.”

“It’s been a pretty wild ride and it keeps getting crazy in a good way,” he said.

As for working with Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, Vance said it’s been “pretty humbling.”

“He really wants to get things right,” Vance said. “He wants to tell a real story about people who don’t have stories told about them and wants to be fair.”

Vance said he has been amazed with Howard’s attention to the smallest details.

“He’s a storyteller who wants to tell a good story,” Vance said.

Lyn Tolan, Ohio Film Commission spokeswoman, said Netflix Productions would be eligible for up to $1.18 million of the 30 percent Ohio Film Tax credit for filming in Middletown. She said the production would have to submit audited financial reports in order to receive the state film tax credit.

Tolan said the state awards the tax credits “on a first come, first serve basis.”

“When we advise films, we ask them to apply as soon as possible,” she said.

PHOTOS: Crews, stars filming ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ movie in Middletown

The state included funding for the film tax credits when the new biennium budget went into effect on July 1.

Tassy Taylor of Film Cincinnati said in 2018, movie productions added another 215 jobs and $30 million into the Cincinnati area, according to a University of Cincinnati economic impact study. Over the past five years, the film industry has added 1,000 new jobs and an economic impact of $141.9 million, she said.

In addition, Movie Maker Magazine lists Cincinnati on its 2019 list of best places to live and work as a movie maker, she said.

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