Since 1988 
Providing Excellence Since 1988
Sand Prairie Movie


The movie has sold.

Look for it soon at a theater near you.      




Now Working on "Sand Prairie". The screenplay is a fun, action-based story with plenty of drama and romance to keep everyone happy. The film is currently slated to start shooting on June 18, 2005.

This picture was taken 10-24-2005
                   This picture was taken 10-24-2005


On location shooting at "Sand Prairie" near Hopedale, IL. We started shooting mon. the 19th. We ran into a few minor problems tues. the 20th. The 7 buildings are still being built and they look awsome. We have been filming the outside Marshall chase scenes, they look great also.  Movie is being filmed with the XL-2. in 24p for film. Sound guys from Pekin have great sound and know whats going on. 

Go to just for fun page for more pictures of

"SAND PRAIRIE". eayyyy

 Randy "RAYRAY" Wheat










Todd Pilon    





Director-Jim Conover

Production Manager-Bill Hummell

Director of Photography-Todd Pilon 

CameramanAssistand DP-Randy Wheat

Production Publicist- Penny Pennell

More to come...


June 28, 2005 Media day at Sand Prairie. WHOI, WEEK, Pekin Times. etc.

90 plus degrees, no rain for days, Hot. But set builders have been there, good job.


Here's a great page on Jim.


June 28, 2005 WHOI Showed Sand Prairie 5, 6 & 10pm.

June 29, 2005 Clinton Daily Journal article Sand Prairie

July 02, 2005   Pekin Times Article

July 09, 2005 Brian Wheat Climbs Pike Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado

July 13, 2005 Starting "MRI" Project. Illinois

July 19, 2005 Pantagraph Article - Hollywood, horses and Hopedale

Filmmakers get ready for shoot

July 2005 The Arizona Republic Article about movie

August 2, 2005 National Night Out

August 5,6 NCHS Reunion

August 19, 20 & 21 Come out to Danvers Days

Sept. 3  We are going to start filming again. We are hitting it hard.

Friday saturday and sunday. Not sure what town we are shooting in.

filmed outside of Dillon IL.

Sept. 16 Filming is going good. We have been filming every week. We're getting closer.

Sept. 17 Willie Nelson at Braden.

Oct. 01 Filmed TNT Scene untill it started raining.

Oct. 03  Pantagraph Article.

Oct. Film is going good

Nov. 06 Media day at sand prairie.

Lots of rain & mud no shooting

Nov. 19 Festival of Trees. Interstate Center

Nov. 20 Getting ready to start shooting inside shots.
2007 done filming.



Sorry I've been slacking here. We've been shooting the indoor shots through the winter time, and it is looking awsome. We will start shooting again after the marshalls knee heals. And Bills fingers heal, and my ankle gets better. It's been kinda crazy. Todds been shooting alot outside of the site on other stuff.  Randy has been working with a documentary about Hurricane Katrinas animal rescue. So this 2 week break is going to feel good. Should be April 1st next shoot.


Here are some new pictures.



June 29, 2005 Clinton Daily Journal

Former Journal editor publicist on feature film
By CDJ Staff

Former Clinton Daily Journal community editor Penny Pennell, formerly Penny Clifton, is currently working as a production publicist for a feature film being shot near Pekin, where Pennell now lives.
The independent film “Sand Prairie” was developed by screenwriter, and former Pekin Police officer, Jim Conover. Conover is the author of several books.
“My husband is a Pekin Police officer, and he and Jim worked together,” Pennell said. Conover visited the law firm where Pennell works to get legal representation to set up Sand Prairie Productions LLC, Pennell said.
“When he mentioned he needed a production publicist, I jumped at the chance to be involved in the project,” she said.
The film is set in the fictional town of Sand Prairie. Conover and a group of volunteers built the town from the ground up just outside Pekin.
Imagemaker Video Productions, of Normal, along with Todd Pilon will handle filming for the production. Actors from Chicago and California will star in the film, and a number of people from the Pekin area are in the cast.
“This is a great western, the kind they used to make when I was a kid,” Pennell said. “I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Filming started June 18. Cast and crew hope the film will be picked up by a major studio, such as DreamWorks, HBO or Sundance.



July 02 2005    Pekin Times

'Sand Prairie' filming, set production under way

By Elaine Krewer Spencer

Times staff writer

HOPEDALE -- At the end of a gravel road along the Mackinaw River, a 19th-century Texas frontier town is taking shape.

The "town" is actually the main outdoor set for "Sand Prairie," a feature-length Western movie written and produced by local author and screenwriter Jim Conover.

A few scenes have already been shot for the film, which is set in 1876. Filming will resume July 18, after the outdoor set is completed. Shooting is expected to take about 20 days, with editing and other post-production tasks continuing into the fall.

Conover said about 30 people, all volunteers, are presently involved in all aspects of the production. Everyone involved will likely have at least a cameo appearance on screen, he said.

Conover said he has a video outlet ready to release "Sand Prairie" on tape and DVD. He hopes the film will be picked up by a movie studio or TV outlet and shown in theaters and on television before going to video, he added.

Conover, a former Pekin police officer and private detective, has written several true-crime books and also writes screenplays.

After years of trying to get his screenplays produced in Hollywood, he announced in March that he would produce his own "no-budget" Western film.

Among the cast and crew present at the Sand Prairie set site Tuesday was Tim Hopper of Peoria, who plays Mayfred Brown, a character he describes as a "dimwitted bad guy."

Hopper has already filmed one scene in which his character flees on horseback from the town marshal.

"My favorite part is getting to ride horses," said Hopper, who has worked in professional live theater and has a small part in the movie "Jawbreaker."

He added that all the actors, including himself, will perform their own stunts. "I have to fall off a horse," he said.

Others involved in the production are assuming roles in front of and behind the cameras.

Production designer Brad Schmeider of Mapleton is responsible for the overall look of the film, including set design and continuity between scenes.

Schmeider is building 15 interior sets at an undisclosed location in Pekin. He also plays "a bad guy who gets shot" in the film.

"You often do double duty on any set," said Schmeider, who recently completed work on "Unidentified," a film set for limited theatrical release next February. "Film crews will ask if you brought extra clothes so you can appear as an extra on screen," he said.

Production manager Bill Homel of Pekin plays a "crooked lawyer" in the film in addition to helping build the sets.

Homel, president of Artistic Community Theatre Inc., said "Sand Prairie" gives him "a whole different feeling" from working on stage.

"It's like being a kid and getting to play cops and robbers," he said.

He contrasted the period sets and costumes with the high-tech film, sound and lighting equipment behind the scenes. "It's like working in two different worlds," he said.

Conover said the project is "still looking for more investors" to finance it. He said spectators will be welcome to watch filming in progress. For more information call Sand Prairie Productions at 346-7948.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hollywood, horses and Hopedale

Filmmakers get ready for shoot

By Bob Holliday

HOPEDALE -- A movie Western, complete with good guys, bad guys and horses, will be filmed just outside of Hopedale.

Though this is a first for the tiny village, residents aren't all that excited. City Clerk Paula Gregory said she believes that will change.

"I believe it will be the next big topic of conversation (in Hopedale)," said Gregory, who already has fielded several inquiries from residents curious about the independent film.

At the remote filming site, a half dozen buildings -- blacksmith shop, saloon, doctor's office, bank, jail and hotel -- look as if they've been lifted straight from the American West of 1876.

Welcome to the fictional town of Sand Prairie, Texas, home of Marshal Luke Canfield and horse thief Asa Brown.

Set construction for "Sand Prairie" began about two months ago and filming is scheduled for early August for a month. Jim Conover of Pekin, who is producer, director and screenwriter, has high hopes for the film, which he plans to peddle to major studios.

"This is going to happen," he said.

Hopedale Mayor Ace Eilts said he sees possible advantages to the village. Although he had no figures, Eilts said the village's two restaurants and the grocery store could benefit.

Then, there's the intangible.

"It could help Hopedale get its name out there," Eilts said.

Don Cremeens, who lives near the set, had a similar view. "Let's put Hopedale back on the map," he said.

Cremeens was impressed with the set. "It looks a lot like the Old West," he said.

Randy Wheat, owner of Imagemaker Video Productions, Normal, and Todd Pilon of Peoria will shoot the film. Who, along with everybody involved, are volunteering their time, Conover said.

The film is expected to have 45 speaking roles in addition to 60 extras. Conover thinks it will cost $50,000 to make the film; if he sells it, the volunteers will get paid.

For him, "Sand Prairie" is a labor of love.

It's the tale of Marshal Canfield's struggle against a gang of horse thieves, and there's plenty of violence as well as romance. Over the course of the movie, 15 characters are killed and Canfield's home is burned by bad guys.

Main bad guy Brown, besides stealing horses, tries to steal Dixie Johnson, Canfield's love interest. In the end, the good guy prevails.

Conover, a former Pekin cop, wouldn't have it any other way.

"They (the good guys) aren't winning all the time in the real world," he said.

Part of the reality of the real world is masses of paperwork. Conover wants to permission to keep his set longer than a year so other filmmakers might use it, but will have to navigate some heavy government bureaucracy to do it.

"Most movies in Illinois are shot in Chicago. We hope to draw movie production companies here," Conover said.

Brenda Sexton, director of the Illinois Film Office, said movies tend to be filmed in Chicago because technical workers live there and it can be expensive to send them far from their base.

Still, downstate locations do exist. Part of "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," an MGM feature film, was filmed at the state capitol building in Springfield.

"We'd love to see more filming throughout the state," said Sexton.

Joe Amari, head of production for the state film office, said he believes Gov. Rod Blagojevich's recent legislation giving tax breaks to movie makers who hire Illinois minorities will help.

Meanwhile, he's impressed with the effort in Hopedale. "It's great. It should be good for tourism," Amari said.


Actors, gunslingers, apply now

Low-budget, independent Western film by Pekin man will be rolling soon in Tazewell County

July 21, 2005

HOPEDALE - A bullet-riddled sign off a gravel road near this small Tazewell County town might cause visitors to wonder if they took a really wrong turn.

The sign reads: "Sand Prairie, Texas. Population 0."

That population is set to grow by leaps and bounds in a few weeks, when filming begins here on a very low-budget Western movie written and directed by former Pekin police officer Jim Conover.

Conover and friends have been working around the clock over the past month or so to build the set for the movie, "Sand Prairie." The two-hour film will offer gunfights, horse thievery and romance.

"This will look like Sand Prairie, Texas, when we get done with it," Conover said last week, surveying several building fronts being erected in a dirt field.

"The last few days, it's already felt like Texas out here," he added, mopping his brow and taking a long swig of ice water in the dry 90-degree heat.

Conover, an award-winning screenwriter, wrote "Sand Prairie" earlier this year and quickly decided to film it himself rather than try to sell it to Hollywood. Years ago, he started his own publishing company, Lynch Law Productions, and has published four books on his own.

So far the project is moving along, though Conover admits there have been a few snags along the way and a time or two when he almost called it quits.

"I've been working on this project every day since February," he said. "I finally took two days off (recently) and didn't leave the house. I've been working 12- to 14-hour days."

Most recently, Conover lost his three leading actors, two of whom were West Coast thespians.

"The actors we had decided their schedules were conflicting with ours," Conover said.

Filming originally was scheduled to begin last month but has been delayed several times due to various setbacks.

"Once we start filming, it will probably take us a month or two because we'll have to schedule it around our actors' day jobs," he said.

Conover isn't worried about finding local talent to fill the roles. Everyone is being asked to work for free unless a distributor eventually picks up the finished movie.

"When that happens, we'll make everyone happy," Conover said.

Even without pay, the movie's been a labor of love for Conover and the many others who've drifted into it.

"I come out here every day, and I really enjoy myself," said Ron Stuber of Pekin, a retired laborer who got involved with Conover after offering him the use of a few antique guns and pocket watches.

Stuber said he has no doubt the movie will come together.

"We all got stubborn and decided we're going to do it no matter what," said Stuber, who will play a band musician in the movie's wedding scene. "It's a great (screenplay). It keeps your interest."

Brad Schmider of Mapleton, the movie's production and set designer, sees "Sand Prairie" as a way to build his portfolio.

"I'm actually a production designer trying to build a company here," he said.

Schmider just finished working on the set of a Christian independent movie called, "Unidentified," that was filmed in Hollywood and scheduled for release in late February.

"I've been roped into acting in this one. I own the hotel over there," he said with a laugh, gesturing toward one of the buildings on the set. "I was an extra in 'Unidentified,' too. Whenever you're around a movie set, you're always fair game."

Besides the Sand Prairie set, which includes a bank, post office, marshal's office and general store, Schmider is designing 15 interior sets at an undisclosed location in Pekin where someone has generously offered the use of an unoccupied building.

Curtis Maneno of Pekin found his way onto the set because his parents live next door to Conover. Maneno has been helping build the set and will play a villain in the film.

"I can't wait to play a cowboy. The most challenging part is learning to ride a horse again," Maneno said. "I haven't done that for 25 years."

A two-day shoot in June on a grassy ridge near the set turned into a "dress rehearsal" after several of the actors had trouble controlling their horses.

"It was one of those things where the horses apparently hadn't read the script," Conover quipped.

To solve that problem, Josh Lohnes of Tremont will be offering a clinic to the actors on how to handle the horses before filming starts again around Aug. 1.

In the meantime, Conover would welcome anyone serious about working to help build the set. He's also seeking investors willing to put up some money.

"There have been a couple of times that we've run out of funds to purchase the lumber with, so we had to hold it up until we could come up with some more," he said.

Conover does have a few investors already: Dr. Raymond Heyde of the Heyde Eye Clinic is an executive producer who will play a doctor of the same name in the film. Other investors include Stuber, Bill Griffin, Sy Wagenbach and Dave Barth, who's Conover's partner in the newly formed Sand Prairie Production Co.

Once the movie is finished, Conover plans to invite representatives of big-name movie distributors to a local premier. If none of them picks up the film, he'll take it to various film festivals across the country. Finally, he'll try to sell it for television or video release.

The public will be welcome to watch some of the shooting as long as there's room and they obey directions to be quiet on the set.

"When we shot on the grassy ridge, the road was full of people. Most of them thought it was an accident at first and as soon as they heard we were shooting a movie, they'd pull right over to have a look. They just enjoyed the heck out of it," Conover said.


Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Shoot brings different meaning to 'Take 5'

By Bob Holliday

HOPEDALE -- It was the ninth take, and movie director Jim Conover was getting a bit anxious.

"They look like businessmen trying to be horse riders," he said of the seven men playing a posse searching for bad guys.

Some of the men never had ridden a horse. Some of the horses were past their prime and barely could be coaxed into a trot.

It took two more tries before Conover, a former police officer from Pekin, thought he had enough usable film to complete the scene in his independent western, "Sand Prairie."

When the scene was completed, everybody applauded.

Volunteer actors and crew are helping Conover tell a story of good guys, horse thieves, violence and romance set in the fictional town of Sand Prairie, Texas.

Set construction for the film, based on a screenplay written by Conover, began in the spring in rural Hopedale. The set's several buildings -- blacksmith shop, saloon, doctor's office, bank, jail and hotel -- look as if they've been lifted straight from the American West of 1876.

Conover expects to continue filming until November and hopes to eventually interest a major studio. If he does, volunteers would get paid.

Cameraman Randy Wheat, owner of Imagemaker Video Productions, Normal, was among volunteers who put in a long day in the woods on a recent Saturday, waiting for Conover to shout "quiet on the set" and "action."

"Now you folks know why it takes a long time to shoot a movie," Conover quipped between takes.

Slip into character

Among those cooling their heels was Conover's son-in-law, Todd Moore, who is playing a saloon owner.

"There's a fight scene, but I stand behind the bar watching," Moore said. That's just as well, because his cowboy boots were hurting his feet.

Easygoing Pekin resident Bill Homel plays horse thief Asa Brown. "You've got to slip into character," said Homel, who's acted in community theater.

His character, besides stealing horses, tries to steal Dixie Johnson, the love interest of Marshal Luke Canfield.

In the scene Conover ordered shot over and over, a posse is in hot pursuit of bad guys who've kidnapped Dixie.

Conover, who has a wide range of volunteer actors and production helpers, expects to spend about $50,000 making the movie.

"Most movies in Illinois are shot in Chicago. We hope to draw movie production companies here," Conover said.

His volunteers come from many walks of life.

Raymond Heyde, an ophthalmologist who lives in the Danvers area, plays a doctor.

Erik Shipman, a Pekin police officer, plays a member of the posse. "How often do you get the opportunity to be in a movie?" asked Shipman.

That's the attitude of Marcy Wikoff of Bloomington, who plays the wife of the town's blacksmith. "It's been an experience," she said.ervicesd


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