By Jeanne Malmgren
Originally published 08:05 p.m., October 13, 2007
Bubba Cromer, a former South Carolina House of Representatives member, sits with Romaine Johnson, the owner of Bob’s Place. When not practicing law or making movies, Mr. Cromer helps out tending bar for Ms. Johnson.
With its Budweiser décor and dollar bills stuck to the ceiling, Bob’s Place has a down-home atmosphere perfect as the setting of a Bigfoot “mockumentary.”
When California film producers got a look at Mr. Cromer’s movie, they thought Bob’s Place was a $50,000 movie set. But it’s the real thing, located on U.S. 178, north of Pickens.
On the porch of Bob’s Place, Bubba Cromer, standing, visits with cast members from “The Long Way Home: A Bigfoot Story.” From left are Romaine Johnson, her great-granddaughter Chanda Johnson, her daughter Mona Lisa Johnson and Daniel Boone Owen. Mr. Cromer’s dog, Biscuit, has a cameo role in the movie. Where to buy the movie The full-length DVD is for sale at the Holly Springs Store at the intersection of S.C. 11 and U.S. 178 (Rosman Highway), in Pickens County.
You also can order it by sending a check or money order for $17 (which includes shipping) to James Cromer, P.O. Box 50624, Columbia, S.C. 29250. In the mood for a Halloween story?
Here’s one for you.
It involves a former state legislator with the deliciously Southern name of Bubba Cromer and his obsession with Bigfoot.
Yeah, you know, the shaggy creature that roams wilderness areas, or at least, people’s imaginations. And now might be wandering the mountains of South Carolina.
This tale also features an unforgettable cast of characters: Ms. Romaine, proprietress of a hillbilly biker bar in the Pickens County hamlet of Rocky Bottom; her daughter, Mona Lisa; a snake handler; a man named Cornbread; 150 dead chickens and a female impersonator named Patti O’Furniture.
Like any good Halloween yarn, this one is chock full of mystery and intrigue, not to mention a few belly laughs.
It all began more than a year ago, at the Cromer family’s weekend home near Table Rock in Pickens County. James “Bubba” Cromer — a Clemson graduate and Columbia probate lawyer — was hanging out with his dad, Lewis Cromer, also a Columbia lawyer.
They were watching a History Channel special about Bigfoot.
(What? You didn’t know lawyers spend their free time watching Bigfoot documentaries?)
“I said to my Dad, ‘Hey, I bet we could make something better than that,’ ”Mr. Cromer said.
So they did.
A little more than a year later, Mr. Cromer, 44, is the proud writer, director and producer of “The Long Way Home: A Bigfoot Story.”
In July, his 71-minute epic won Best Narrative Feature at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. The festival organizers, stumped for a way to classify Mr. Cromer’s work, invented a genre for it: “Midnight Madness: Cult Classic.”
Brimming with campy humor and over-the-top acting by Rocky Bottom locals playing themselves, the movie has screened for standing-room-only audiences in Columbia and Raleigh, N.C., In March Mr. Cromer will present it at the Cackalacky Film Festival in Charlotte, N.C.
Early next year — courtesy of a California film distribution company that discovered “The Long Way Home” via YouTube, where its trailer is posted — the movie will be available at Best Buy stores and through Netflix.
Not bad for a homegrown film Mr. Cromer describes as “ ‘Blair Witch’ meets ‘Deliverance.’ “
NO SCRIPT, NO REHEARSALS
On a recent warm afternoon, Mr. Cromer’s convertible was parked outside Bob’s Place, a tiny, rough-around-the-edges watering hole in upper Pickens County, just north of S.C. 11.
Wearing shorts, a Bigfoot T-shirt and battered Clemson baseball cap, Mr. Cromer was passing beers across the worn countertop of Bob’s.
“I work the bar on Saturday nights when Miz Romaine needs help,” he said, grinning amiably.
Around him, some of the “Long Way Home” cast members reminisced about their 15 minutes of fame.
“That was the most fun project I’ve ever been involved in,” said Daniel Boone Owen, a Bob’s regular who lives in Brevard, N.C. “Bubba just stuck the mike in our faces, and we got in the mood — with a little libation, of course.”
No script? No rehearsals?
“Lord, no,” said Mona Lisa Johnson, laughing. “I just went in there and done my thing.”
Her “thing,” in one scene, involved grabbing a shotgun and charging out the door of Bob’s, to hunt down Bigfoot after the beast killed all of her mama’s chickens.
No animals were harmed in the making of the film, Mr. Cromer hastened to add.
“I went to a poultry processing plant to get some carcasses,” he said. “But they thought I was practicing Santeria.”
A single rubber chicken acted as a stand-in, along with a bag of feathers and two tubes of fake blood.
Mr. Cromer is particularly proud of another hallmark of the film, something he calls “Bigfoot vision.” Although a few scenes show a blurry, gorilla-like figure striding through the woods, most of the movie’s atmospheric charm comes from jerky camera angles accompanied by animal-like grunting sounds. (Mr. Cromer is multitalented, it seems.)
Long before Bigfoot took over his brain, back in the 1990s Mr. Cromer served eight years in the S.C. House of Representatives as the first Independent elected since Reconstruction. Even then, in the stately halls of government, he had a reputation as a free spirit. His pickup truck, with a “Bassmasters” sticker in the window, was infamous in Columbia.
“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him,” said Cordell Maddox of Anderson, a former legislator and now Circuit Court Judge of the 10th Circuit. Mr. Maddox saw an early, unedited version of Mr. Cromer’s film.
“This creative animal has been trapped in a lawyer/legislator body all these years,” Mr. Maddox said. “And now that it’s out, I’m sort of concerned for humanity.”
Dan Cooper, who represents Anderson County District 10 in the S.C. House and is chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, has viewed the movie, too.
“I’m proud of Bubba,” he said. “I told him I’m gonna be part of his posse when he goes to Hollywood.”
Mr. Cromer takes the accolades in stride. He prefers to direct the spotlight back on the stars of his film: the residents of Rocky Bottom who trusted his artistic vision.
“He’s hyper, that Bubba,” Romaine Johnson said. “He goes all the time.”
For more than 50 years, Mrs. Johnson has operated Bob’s Place, first with her late husband, for whom the bar is named. She said the establishment has been there, on a tiny grassy peninsula between two mountain roads, even longer than that.
“I think they used to sell moonshine outta here,” she said.
When Mr. Cromer approached his friends with the idea of making a movie, his timing was perfect.
“It happened at a really good time,” Mona Lisa Johnson said. “Mama needed something to take her mind off Timmy.”
Filming started last fall, just a few days after the death of Romaine Johnson’s son from liver disease. After the movie was finished, in March, Mr. Cromer gave 200 copies to Mrs. Johnson to sell. The $2,000 that raised bought a tombstone for her son.
Now Mr. Cromer is selling the film himself, hoping to earn back the $17,000 he spent making it.
“My goal is just to break even,” he said.
There are other rewards, though. When the movie screened in Columbia, Mr. Cromer was thrilled to see people reacting to it.
“That had to be the highlight of my life, watching people watch it,” he said.
The movie’s plot centers around a broken-down big-city newspaper reporter (played by Mr. Cromer) who returns home to the mountains to track down the story he hopes will revive his career: Bigfoot.
Lewis Cromer, Mr. Cromer’s real-life dad, plays his father onscreen, too. He’s the town sheriff who thinks Bigfoot might well be out there in the woods. His improvised scenes are some of the movie’s most hilarious.
Even so, said Lewis Cromer, laughing, “I’m not going to give up my day job.”
A BIGFOOT SIGHTING
Back in the mountains, Bubba Cromer sat on a sagging couch on the porch of Bob’s Place. He had the contented look of a man basking in his moment of glory.
A car pulled up and Walter Carr got out. Mr. Carr, a real estate broker from Charleston, has a weekend home nearby. As Mr. Cromer handed him a can of Budweiser, Mr. Carr eased onto one of the vinyl barstools.
“Guess we had a sighting of Bigfoot last night,” he drawled. “Down by the Horsepasture River.”
Two deer hunters found their campsite in disarray when they returned, Mr. Carr said. Then they saw a shaggy animal standing upright at the edge of the woods.
“One of them, he swore that’s what they saw. He said it was like a gorilla. It looked at ‘em, then it turned and walked up into a laurel thicket.”
Mr. Cromer pushed a bag of boiled peanuts across the counter.
“Those fellas, they seemed pretty sincere,” Mr. Carr said.
Mona Lisa Johnson smiled.
“Since this movie has come out, a lot of people up here, they think they’ve seen Bigfoot,” she said. “Or at least feel like he’s nearby.”
She gazed out the open door of Bob’s Place, off toward the heavily forested mountainside.
Halloween’s coming soon.
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