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Visitor’s Bureau Meeting Features Acting Royalty

Actress Jane Seymour (left) and Lake Effects Producer Sara Elizabeth Timmins.

by Gene Marrano

The annual meeting of the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, a sold out affair at Hotel Roanoke last week, was no doubt bolstered by its very special keynote speaker: actress Jane Seymour, of Somewhere in Time, Dr. Quinn – Medicine Woman and “Bond Girl” (Live and Let Die) fame. Seymour, just back from the Royal Wedding in England, which she covered for Entertainment Tonight, spent about a month in the area last fall, filming the movie “Lake Effects” at Smith Mountain Lake.

RVCVB incoming president Bart Wilner, the president of Entre Computer Center and an investor in Lake Effects, introduced Seymour and then conducted a conversation with her on stage. “Tourism is big business [and] very important for this community,” noted Wilner, who has become friends with Seymour and is listed as an executive producer for Lake Effects.

“Tourism and films are uniquely linked to economic development,” said Landon Howard, the new executive director for the Bureau. In 2009, said Howard, the film industry provided more than $346 million in economic impact statewide, with $33 million in tax revenue and 2700 jobs.

Lake Effects employed a number of people from the Smith Mountain Lake and Roanoke areas; in addition to supplying a volunteer base and a wealth of donated items, something Seymour noted during her remarks. “I had never heard of Roanoke – I know that’s awful,” she also admitted.

Offered the Lake Effects role, the busy actor, artist, writer and jewelry designer (her Open Hearts collection) worked around other projects to join the cast. “This was a character I had not played,” said Seymour, who portrayed a Southern family matriarch. She joked about shedding her native English accent and learning to speak like a Southwest Virginian. “I had a lot of fun with that.”

Seymour also called the film’s young producer, Sara Elizabeth Timmins, “absolutely remarkable. She was able to pull rabbits out of all kinds of hats. She is quite extraordinary.” Timmins visualized the project several years ago and raised the money for Lake Effects, which also features Jeff Fahey, Ben Savage and Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court). Her parents live at Smith Mountain Lake; she moved back to the area after working as an actress and producer in Los Angeles.

Timmins said the project “probably would not have happened had not [Wilner] got involved.” She was originally pointed in his direction due to the many connections Wilner had – then he turned out to be a major investor. “Bart was responsible for introducing me to a lot of the people that made [Lake Effects] possible. Roanoke [connections] helped make it happen.”

The film will be screened for distributors in June (in Hollywood) and Timmins hopes for a fall release. “We’ve already had offers on the table.” The thirty-something Timmins has several other ideas in the hopper. She also had a small cameo in Lake Effects, portraying a bartender. “Producing takes up a lot of time, I don’t think I could have handled much more.”

Timmins said support from the local community – a free condo for Seymour, shots from donated helicopters and planes, food, etc. “was almost overwhelming. It took a small film and [turned it] into something much greater. The money that we did have was able to go up on the screen. You can see the love and spirit [in the movie]. It was really a special project. This wouldn’t happen if I was anywhere else.”

Seymour saluted Roanoke Symphony Orchestra musical director David Wiley from the stage. Wiley composed music for Lake Effects and played a snippet at the Bureau meeting with a small ensemble from the RSO. “That was really quite something,” said Seymour, who also took a turn on Dancing with the Stars recently.

Seymour praised the “sense of community” she felt from people in the Smith Mountain Lake-Roanoke Valley area, noting the many who donated time and goods to make the small budget movie work. “[There is] very much something that’s happening in this part of the world.”

Also handed out were several awards: Penny Lloyd (Roanoke County) was named Tourism Ambassador; the Roanoke Regional Partnership earned the Golden Star Award for promoting growth in the tourism industry through its outdoor branding campaign. The President’s Tourism Excellence Award for lifetime achievement went to Roanoke County Parks, Recreation and Tourism executive director Pete Haislip, who plans to retire next spring.

“I’m just so thrilled to finally have had the opportunity to know what a Roanoke is,” said Seymour to chuckles from the audience. Drawing those who don’t know about the region is the major goal for the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau as well. Seymour was also presented with a “Key to the Roanoke Valley” by Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, Roanoke County supervisor’s Chairman Butch Church and other dignitaries before she left the stage for a book signing session.


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