By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Paintings from a local family will decorate the set of 'Fireflies in the Garden,' a spring 2008 Dennis Lee film starring Julia Roberts.
Now the property of Monice Bittenbinder of Temple, the dozen paintings are the art of her mother, the late Lynn Brazelton of Waco. Mrs. Brazelton and her husband, the late William Brazelton, owned the Brazelton Art Gallery in Waco, 1975-1995.
Carla Curry, a member of the movie's set crew, found one of Mrs. Brazelton's paintings at an Austin resale shop earlier this year.
'She saw it, fell in love with it and had to have it for the movie,' said Debbie Haber of Austin, the movie's art department coordinator. 'Her boss took a look at it and said he wanted as much as he could get from that artist.'
Untamed but sullen, the soft-colored painting looked like something that Ms. Roberts' character would own, Ms. Haber said.
Ms. Roberts plays Lisa Waechter, the wife of a professor, Charles Waechter (Willem Dafoe). An unexpected tragedy causes the pair to reevaluate their commitment to their marriage and family.
The painting Ms. Curry found in Austin followed Mrs. Brazelton's usual artistic style, Mrs. Bittenbinder said; it was abstract in design and earth-toned in color.
'She did her stuff on wood, not canvas, because wood was cheaper,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'Usually, it was oak wood. That was her signature. Dad did the framework.'
But Ms. Curry didn't know any of that. The only clue she had about the artist's identity was an old business card that was stapled on the back of the painting.
'All of the contact information, of course, was outdated,' Ms. Haber said. 'So (Ms. Curry) and three interns went to work to try and find out who the artist was.'
After about a month of blind calling, Ms. Curry's office started to make progress. The interns found a relative who was able to put them in touch with Mrs. Bittenbinder.
'My aunt (Julia Brazelton of Waco) called me and said there were some people who were wanting to talk to my mom,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'I was like, 'Oh ... OK.''
The odd request unnerved her, she said. Her mom had died more than a year before, in 2004.
'I thought it was weird, but I was curious,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'So I told my aunt it was OK for her to give them my number.'
Once the interns made contact with Mrs. Bittenbinder, she explained the situation, informing them that Mrs. Brazelton had passed away.
'But I told them I was her daughter and asked if there was anything I could do to help,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'They ended up wanting my permission to use her painting in a show.'
At first, Mrs. Bittenbinder thought the people on the other side of the phone were wanting to showcase her mother's art in an exhibit. Mrs. Brazelton's work has appeared in several Central Texas art shows, including Waco, Temple and Salado.
'But boy, was I surprised. It turned out to be a Julia Roberts movie,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said.
That initial conversation took place the Wednesday before Easter.
'They wanted to use as many of my mom's paintings as I could get,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'And they needed them by Good Friday.'
She managed to find 11 more paintings by the deadline. Her five siblings and one of her mother's best friends helped her in the 'rounding up' process.
'They offered to pay us for the use of the paintings,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'But we said, 'No.' Mother always painted for the fun of it. Any money she made was just a perk.'
Mrs. Brazelton's name will be in the film's credits, listed as a contributing artist.
Senator International, the production company, kept the Brazelton paintings for about six weeks. Shot in Bastrop, filming stopped in late May. It's now in the editing process.
'Fireflies in the Garden' is the second show to feature Mrs. Brazelton's artwork.
Her paintings appear in several episodes of 'Marcus Welby, M.D.,' a drama starring Robert Young that aired 1969-1976 on ABC.
Quiet on the set
The family didn't want money - but they did want to visit the set.
'We asked if we could watch some of the filming process,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'And they said that would be no problem.'
She visited the Bastrop set with a sister, Marilu Sanders of Waco, and her mother's best friend, Clara Jean Matustik of Waco.
'It was so cool,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'I've never been on a live set before.'
They met Dafoe, the actor who played the Green Goblin on Spider-Man I and II.
'Now, he is one hot Canadian, let me tell you,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said, grinning.
They also visited with Hayden Panettiere who plays cheerleader Claire Bennet on NBC's 'Heroes.' On 'Fireflies in the Garden,' Ms. Panettiere plays the young Jane Lawrence.
Ms. Roberts was not on the set, but her husband, Daniel Moder, was. He is the film's director of cinematography.
'We got to talk with him,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'Everybody was real nice.'
Her day on the set wasn't all about the stars, though. The trip taught her a bit of filmmaking trivia too.
'They told us Kraft brand products can't be used on a movie that's rated anything higher than PG,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'It's because the company wants its image to be family friendly. I didn't know that.'
Mrs. Bittenbinder also learned why it was necessary for the film's production company to obtain her permission before using her mother's artwork.
'If I had seen her painting in the movie, I would have been within legal bounds to sue them,' Mrs. Bittenbinder said. 'Apparently there's a whole department for each movie that deals with getting permissions.'
Ms. Matustik also enjoyed the day on the set.
'I was amazed,' Ms. Matustik said. 'There were so many offices, and everyone was so busy. Pictures were all over the walls. Everyone was trying to make sure everyone else knew the directions for the different sets. Very busy.'
The part of the movie that was filmed outside seemed to be challenging, she added.
'Every time a plane flew over the house, they had to stop filming. Planes didn't exist at the time of the movie,' Ms. Matustik said. 'I guess we were by an airport. Planes kept on coming in to land.'
Despite all the fun, both Mrs. Matustik and Mrs. Bittenbinder couldn't help from feeling a little sadness. They missed Mrs. Brazelton.
'My friend would have gotten a big laugh out of all this,' Mrs. Matustik said fondly.
Mrs. Bittenbinder agreed.
'Mom would have loved it,' she said. 'Julia Roberts was her favorite actress.'
And now, it appears the actress has a fondness for the artist.
Ms. Roberts kept the Brazelton painting that initiated Mrs. Bittenbinder's cinematic adventure.
'Julia thought it was wonderful,' Ms. Haber said. 'And wanted to know if she could keep it.'
The family consented, giddy to think Mrs. Brazelton's artwork hangs in the home of a movie star.