Filmed in Augusta, ‘The Hill’ champions more than one underdog

The movie isn’t even out yet, but Jeff Celentano knows it backwards and forwards.

Filmed in Augusta at the end of 2021, The Hill has been Celentano’s dream for almost two decades, and despite being immersed in it for years, he recently had an emotional moment related to it while seated in a theater to watch another film.

“The trailer was playing in front of Sound of Freedom. It was a full house. I probably had my best moment. Right after it was over, another trailer comes, but there’s black in between, and there’s a moment of silence. I heard the whole audience do a hush. You could feel the energy. I could hear people murmuring behind me ‘I’m going to see this movie.’ ‘Oh my gosh, that movie looks great,” said Celentano, the film’s director and one of its lead producers. “That was the highest moment for me.”

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The Hill is a movie about an underdog, but Celentano’s journey to getting it filmed has all the earmarks of an underdog story as well. It’s set for an Aug. 25 nationwide theatrical release, and the details for an Augusta regional premiere, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 23, are being worked out.

Starring Dennis Quaid, Colin Ford, Bonnie Bedelia and Joelle Carter, The Hill is about the least likely person to play professional baseball. Based on the true story of Rickey Hill, the son of a poor Texas Baptist preacher, who played professional baseball in the 1970s despite a degenerative spinal condition and having to wear braces on his legs as a child, The Hill is Celentano’s dream come true.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved with. It’s the best script ever,” said Celentano, who started on the small screen as an actor in the mid-1980s, working on more than two dozen television shows and movies, and has directed about 11 films.

A fellow producer told him that he just needed “one great script written by a great writer,” he said. “She asked ‘who would you like to write the script?’”

Celentano knew exactly who could knock Hill’s story out of the park – Angelo Pizzo who wrote other classic sports films such as Hoosiers and Rudy, but Celentano considered that a pipe dream.

“She said ‘I happen to know him well, and he owes me a favor,’” Celentano said.

Joining Pizzo in writing the script was the late Scott Marshall Smith, who wrote the 2000 film Men of Honor starring Robert DeNiro and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Things began falling into place for him and the film. The Hill is independently produced. One financial backer who was only going to go in for part of the movie decided to back it fully. And it’s being distributed by a brand under the umbrella of Universal. Officials there believe The Hill to be a “main street movie,” Celentano said.

The Hill offiical poster

Celentano joined forces with Warren Ostergard who has made two other films in Augusta — The Royal and Agent Game.

“Augusta is a lovely place to film.  It’s off the radar. We all know about Georgia and the tax incentive. That’s a driver,” said Ostergard. “This is a period piece. The movie takes place in the 1960s and 1970s so that’s a certain look. Augusta lends itself to having those types of looks.”

A film shoot is usually several weeks and when Ostergard comes to Augusta, he stays in an Airbnb rather than a hotel and immerses himself in the city.

“It’s a lovely little town. It’s easy to get around. There’s so much opportunity in Augusta. It’s an open canvas,” he said.

And he thinks Augustans will be pleased when they see their city on the big screen.

“When you see the movie, you’ll be blown away,” he said.

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Baseball scenes were filmed at Lake Olmstead Stadium. In late 2021, the stadium had been unused for about four years. It was overgrown, and crews made it baseball ready in a short period of time.

Ostergard, who worked as a line producer on the film Sound of Freedom, isn’t done with Augusta either. Plans had been to return in August to start prepping for a music-related film, but the current writers’ and actors’ strikes will delay that. When he’s able to return to filming, Augusta will be transformed into New Orleans and Utah among other locations.

As for The Hill, both Ostergard and Celentano believe they’ve created a classic movie that generations to come will love.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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