Maddie Henderson, a TikTok sensation, appears on a monitor while filming “The Final Load” in Beaufort. COURTESY FORTRESS FILMS

Multiple locations across Beaufort County are scenes for a new motion picture, “The Final Load,” that finished its onsite shooting this week. Hilton Head Island businessman Walter Czura is producing the movie with his production company, Fortress Films.

The independent film carries the strength of an impressively experienced cast headed by award-winning Hollywood actors Jeff Fahey and Judd Nelson, who together have appeared in more than 300 films and TV episodes. It is directed by Chris Helton of Silver Line Films Inc., with offices in both Atlanta and Savannah.

Additional cast members include social media celebrity Maddie Henderson, with more than 4.3 million followers on TikTok; prominent Broadway actors Meredith Inglesby and her husband Steve Blanchard; actor Shep Rose from Bravo’s “Southern Charm”; accomplished British actress Katie Amess; and American actor and director Drew Waters, who has 37 film and TV credits under his belt.

Inglesby was raised on Hilton Head Island before moving to New York City for a successful Broadway career. She and her husband, also a highly respected Broadway actor, recently moved back to live in Bluffton.

The film’s screenplay is set against the backdrop of South Carolina’s real-life marijuana and hashish smuggling escapades from the late 1970s to early 1980s. These were the ones which set in motion Operation Jackpot, the huge criminal investigation by then-U.S. Attorney and current South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster that became a celebrated episode in President Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs.

In the film’s original screenplay, written by Czura, the main character (played by Fahey) is a former convicted smuggler who must consider committing a major crime (again) to smuggle 30,000 pounds of marijuana to cover payments that will save his plantation estate and shrimp boat from imminent foreclosure, plus pay for his wife’s $325,000 pancreatic cancer treatment.

“It’s a heartfelt, gripping story in a contemporary setting,” said Helton. “It shows how far a man will go (including the risk of returning to prison) to save his home and family while involving his granddaughter along with him.”  

Judd Nelson plays the antagonist in the movie as an ex-DEA agent who holds a grudge against the main character, while Fahey’s granddaughter, performed by Maddie Henderson, plays the key supporting role.

Czura said “The Final Load” is a project very close to his heart. 

“It reflects upon an era I personally experienced, having been involved along the edges of the smuggling operations during those years – and as a result, I spent time in prison,” he said. “It involves the type of characters who I cared about, and I hope those who watch our film in theatres and streaming will relate to both the tension and dramatic episodes that it creates.” 

Czura is a former attorney who created a highly successful outdoor advertising business in the Southeast following his prison sentence. He has also actively pursued writing screenplays on the side. 

A year ago, Czura established Fortress Films, and premiered his first feature length film, “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” an historical drama which premiered at the Poison Peach Film Festival last January in Augusta, Georgia. 

Helton points out that “The Final Load” offers a compelling plot with a good script and very strong cast. “It boasts a Hollywood vibe. I think audiences will relate to the characters, and we are confident about its success,” he said.

“The Final Load” is one of the first feature-length films to be initiated in South Carolina since the state legislature provided new support to encourage more movie-making across the state, a pursuit that had been largely latent for more than a decade.

“Our local state Rep. Weston Newton of Bluffton has been one of the major supporters of re-energizing the movie industry here,” said Czura. “I’m excited that we can now expect more major film projects showcasing the beauty and attractions of South Carolina, and I hope to be a part of it moving forward.”

Kingston Rhodes is a freelancer writer covering the Lowcountry.