Three years ago, Steve Wollett lost everything.
At Christmas 2019, her beloved 13-year-old dog, Zeus, died of old age at their home in Stewartstown. Three weeks later, his wife Leslie fell ill.
It was during the early stages of COVID, so Wollet and his wife thought it might be the flu.
“She got to a point where she was unresponsive so we went to the hospital and by the end of the day she was in a coma.”
Several days after his wife arrived at the hospital, their business, a health food store the couple had owned and operated in Baltimore for more than 15 years, burned down.
The very next day, Wollett was informed by the hospital that his wife had suffered from hundreds of blood clots and was brain dead. She died a few days later.
“I was devastated. I lost my best friend, I lost my dog, and I lost my business, all within weeks.”
Originally from Michigan, Wollett and his wife moved to York County in 1997, starting in Glen Rock and then moving to Stewartstown.
The amount of loss Wollett suffered in a short time sent him into a deep depression, and for a time he turned to drugs and alcohol.
But a few weeks later, everything changed.
“We threw a party to celebrate his (Leslie) life, and at the end of that party, I decided I was done with it – I quit drugs and alcohol, and I cut everything.”
Wollett found new ways to deal with his wife’s death, one of them being board games.
“I’ve been a tabletop gamer, playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, my whole life,” he said.
To this day, Wollett still regularly plays games like this with the same group of friends he had in high school, and a conversation they had while playing one night inspired Wollett.
As the four friends sat around a table, playing a game, drinking rum and whiskey, the thought came: “What will we be doing in 30 years? and the train of thought has shifted to nursing homes and dementia.
This is exactly the thought that sparked the idea for his movie “Jack Be Nimble”.
“Jack Be Nimble” is a horror comedy and tells the story of a group of old gamblers living together in an assisted living facility. Jack, a narcissistic alcoholic, becomes convinced that the nurse is trying to kill him and seeks help from his gambling friends.
Wollett’s interest in thrillers and acting began at a young age.
“The first movie I remember seeing was ‘Alien,’ starring Sigourney Weaver,” he said.
He has also written and published dozens of books, and after coming up with the idea for the movie, he started writing a screenplay and finished it in just three weeks.
“I gave it to a friend of mine who was a professional screenwriter, Ray Biddle. He did a deep dive into the editing for me, and then we started production.”
In August 2020, Wollett and his crew began filming in parts of Maryland, including Aberdeen and Pikesville.
“I’ve known the owner of a local nursing home since childhood, and he was doing renovations on one of the floors, so I convinced him to let me use that floor for filming.”
Wollett wanted a place that would look run down and fit the scene.
With a secure filming location, Wollett’s next assignment was a cast and crew.
One day he met actress Bai Ling while in an elevator in New York.
“We started talking and she introduced herself, and I thought: Bai Ling, weren’t you in ‘The Crow’?” He asked her if she would be interested in reading the script for his film, and she agreed.
“I ran to my room, grabbed a copy of the script and handed it to her and figured I’d never hear from her again,” he said.
Within 24 hours, Wollett received a phone call from Ling, who loved the script and insisted he put her in the film.
Ling, who plays nurse Edmond, was born in Cheng Du in southern China and started her career at age 14. She’s appeared in shows like “Lost,” HBO’s “Entourage,” as well as movies like “The Crow” and “Crank: High Voltage.”
Wollett also scored big with actor Vernon Wells, who plays Jack and is best known for his role as murderous biker “Wez” in the big budget “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.”
With a solid cast and crew, Wollett’s next hurdle was figuring out how to film safely during COVID — a process that was anything but easy.
He hired a medical team who would be on site with the cast every day, checking temperatures and making sure he was safe to work.
For 11 days, the cast and crew worked diligently, filming the scenes taking extreme precautions, as the filming was done in a real assisted living facility.
At one point, several days into filming, a patient showed signs of a fever and all production was moved to a new location overnight.
Just over a year had passed and the final product was edited and ready to screen just days after Christmas 2021.
For Wollett, this film is more than just a fun project, it was a method of coping with one of the toughest times in his life.
“After this project, I felt exhausted, but I think the film is light years away from where I thought it would be when I started,” he said.
Wollett says he stayed in touch with his cast and crew even after the project.
“We’ve all become really good friends, and some of us talk to each other almost every day.”
At the end of filming, Wollett hosted a wrap party where the cast and crew got together one last time and actor Vernon Wells said, “There’s a magic to this movie that I haven’t seen on a set since Mad Max.”
Jack Be Nimble will have a private screening at R/C Queensgate Movies 13 & IMAX in York, Sunday, February 20 at 1 p.m.
The theater is located at 2067 Springwood Road, York.
Although the film has yet to be released in theaters, it is currently showing at film festivals. For more information on where to watch Jack Be Nimble, follow the film’s Facebook page.
Lena Tzivekis is a reporter for the Hanover Evening Sun/York Daily Record. Follow his Twitter at @tzivekisand say hello or tell him where to find the best cup of coffee!