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SCC students help with Parkway film

When Bentley Robison enrolled in the Surveying Technology program at Southwestern Community College, he never imagined he would become an actor in a film. But this summer he and three of his classmates, his instructor, his boss and another employee took part in the filming of scenes for a documentary about the Blue Ridge Parkway commissioned by the National Park Service.

“It was quite a learning experience,” Robison said. “Not only did we get to see what happens behind the scenes during a filming, we also got to apply what we had learned in class about the history of surveying.”

Robison, his classmates, instructor Peter Messier, and his boss, Joel Johnson of Johnson Land Surveying, served as extras on the documentary about the Blue Ridge Parkway. They got their parts when Messier was contacted by Sue Huggins, props consultant for Aperture Films out of Laguna Beach, CA.

“She called me to ask if I had the 1930-1940 period surveying equipment they needed for the film,” Messier recalled. “I had some of what she wanted and I thought Joel Johnson probably had some too. I told her they could borrow what I had and that I could probably get the rest. She then asked if my students and I would be interested in taking part in the film as extras for a one-day shoot. I thought it was a great idea.”

Messier called Johnson who agreed to supply the equipment. Since Huggins had told Messier to bring along others he could find for additional extras, he asked Johnson if he and any of his other employees would like to join in the filming.

“Joel employs several of my students and he had said they could come for the shooting. He said he would like to join us and that he would bring Tommy Stephens, another of his employees. The neat thing about Joel joining us was that he and Tommy ended up being in a scene with the main character, looking over surveying maps and discussing the work while we were all working in the background,” Messier said.

Messier was referring to the character of Stanley Abbott, the landscape architect who designed and laid out the Blue Ridge Parkway. The scene in which the SCC group appears depicts Abbott visiting the surveying and construction crew of the Parkway at the Route 215 overpass near what is now known as the Devil’s Courthouse.

“Four of my students, Jason Frady, Josh Gillett, Bentley Robison and Jake Stephens, Joel, Tommy Stephens and I all participated in the filming,” Messier said. “We were told to be at the site on a Thursday and to wear work clothes with big plaid shirts. After we got there, it took about five hours to shoot the scene.”

During those five hours, the SCC group had the opportunity to observe surveying history in action, Robison said.

“We had a lot of waiting around while they did shots,” he said. “At one point, we started discussing the equipment those surveyors had to work with back then and back through history. We’d had the history of surveying in class with Mr. Messier; and that day up there on the Parkway, we got to apply what we had learned in class. We talked about the evolution of surveying from George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s time to today. They had very little to work with back then. It’s changed remarkably since then. In class we get to learn the latest methods with the latest high tech equipment available.”

Robison will graduate from the surveying technology program in December.

“I’m thrilled with the program and I have an excellent instructor,” he said. “It’s been an incredible experience. I already had a four-year degree but the information and knowledge I’ve gotten at SCC is way more than I got through my other college experience. And taking part in this film, learning about how the Parkway was surveyed – that’s just been a great added experience to my time at SCC.”

According to Messier, the documentary is intended for a new visitor center being built near Asheville on which completion is anticipated by late 2007.

“It was a lot of fun for all of us,” he said. “The students were excited to be part of it; but more importantly, we got to see a slice of history that pertains to our field. It really was, as Bentley said, a great learning experience.”

To find out more about the surveying program at SCC, phone Messier at 800.447.4091 or 828.586.4091, extension 402. Or visit

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