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Forrest student appears in movie bound for Sundance

Friday, January 7, 2011

(Photo)
In line with other students at Forrest Middle School, Austin Vickers enjoys life in a small town.
CHAPEL HILL -- A 13-year-old Marshall County boy who's in the seventh grade at Forrest School is in a movie that's to be shown at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah later this month.

Austin Vickers, son of Chantelle and Mitchell Vickers of Laws Hill, appears in unpaid roles for two other films and he's been paid some $2,500 for his work in ads and promotional brochures for attractions at Pigeon Forge.

Austin has a leading role in the movie "Jess and Moss." He plays Moss, a boy who play acts domestic scenes with a girl, Jess. Their conversations are about age, death and procreation.

"The film creates a world whose mundane elements: swell to bursting; and demonstrates the power of cinema to turn the inside out," according to promotional literature for the movie.

That's a far cry from the "Wizard of Oz" production that sparked Austin's interest in an acting career.

"I was in a play at the Dixie Theater and somebody came up to my mom and said, 'Wow. He's really good. You ought to get him an agent.'"

So, with help from Austin's aunt, Wanda McTyre, Chantelle and Mitchell, who works the late shift at the Bridgestone-Firestone plant in La Vergne, found an agent and things started happening fast. It was like when Austin auditioned for the play at the Marshall County Community theater on Lewisburg's public square.

"They were really shocked that he got into a play the first time," Chantelle said, "so he had a part to speak and a solo singing part at that."

Austin was 10 years old at the time.

Two weeks after Chantelle was told he needed an agent, Austin signed with Jimmi McCarter of the Cannon Group in Nashville, and publicity photos, resumes - the whole shebang - started as they say, and now "Austin is reaching for the stars," the family has said in fliers distributed throughout the county.

Locally, Austin may be remembered by Marshall County residents for his roles in "Seussical The Musical" at MCCT, Mr. Butterfly in Chapel Hill Elementary School's Spring Musical, and roller skating, biking and a variety of other sports.

He's just turned 13 years old on Thursday.

Austin appears in a movie directed by Clay Jeter called "Five Dollars." While that was being filmed in Murray, Ky., and Paris, Tenn., Jeter asked if he'd be interested in appearing in "Jess and Moss."

"Yes sir, I would, very much," Austin replied.

He's also appeared in "Runt," a movie produced on a shoestring budget that does display Austin's talent. While he didn't get paid with money, he was given a computer as a gift after production was complete.

Austin appears in the cover photo of the Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Events and Activities Guide, and he's in another photo inside promoting parkway attractions such as golf.

During the Tennessee attractions' publicity shoots, Austin had to participate in the activities available for tourists. As he was about to go on a rollercoaster ride, he says he was feigning fright.

"Oh my gosh," he recalls of the anticipated fright. "I'm going to die."

Chantelle interceded: "Stop complaining. Who else gets paid to ride a rollercoaster?"

Apparently, he's taking it all in stride.

"When I started doing movies, I didn't gain any friends, and I didn't lose any friends."

The Vickers moved to Marshall County from Antioch in 1998, Chantelle said. Her husband used to work with Randy Gentry who spoke about the community here. He also showed his friend's family the area and in the course of such visits, they met Dean Delk, principal of Chapel Hill Elementary School and a county commissioner.

"He's a good man," Chantelle said. "He's the reason we moved here."

The rest isn't history yet.

The Vickers have been told by people in the industry that if Austin's career takes off, they'll have to move to California.

The idea doesn't set too well with them.

"I want to be an actor, but I want to have friends," he said. "We love our town. I wrestle for Forrest and play basketball."

Mary Ann Ward is one of Austin's teachers at Forrest School.

"He shows leadership ability," Ward said.

Class exercises she conducts include demands that students think on their feet. Austin showed that during a Tuesday afternoon interview.

Asked to name his favorite actor, he replied, "I'd have to say Jim Carey. He's just so funny and outgoing. He acts, but he holds nothing back."

Is he crazy or is it an act?

"That's debatable," Austin said. "He's just a very good actor. He's so energetic."

He's aware that employment at such an early age will change his life, "But I want to keep my friends and I don't want to gain friends just because I'm in movies. I want friends who like me for who I am."

He's not noticed being treated differently, although on Wednesday morning Chantelle handed Forrest School Principal Dr. Larry Miller a schedule of when Austin will be gone for the film festival that was founded by actor Robert Redford.