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Murrells Inlet: Recipes replace reality as TV crew films a creekfront home

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Ally Phillips’ life story reads like a movie script, so it was just a matter of time before the cameras started rolling.

Phillips hosted a cooking show’s film crew at the home she shares with husband Ben in Murrells Inlet Monday. It was far removed from the inlet’s previous reality show experience. Producers agreed to adhere to restrictions in the county’s new film ordinance even though their application was made prior to its approval.

“This show is going to make Murrells Inlet look really, really good,” Phillips said. “It’s exciting, and I was excited to do it. They got gorgeous footage of our little village. All is good.”

The cooking show doesn’t have a name yet, and Bio Channel spokesman Heather DiRubba said it would air next year.

“It was grueling,” Phillips said of filming day. “We started early in the morning with some footage at Lee’s Farmers Market and went from there to my kitchen where I actually prepared two recipes I will be doing in the World Food Championship in Las Vegas in about 10 days.

Phillips broke into the celebrity chef genre after being selected to participate in the second season of the show “Master Chef” and competing in the sandwich category at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas last year.

Monday’s filming took the experience to a new level. “You are cooking and you’ve got a hot stove and hot lights and cameras on you,” she said. “That’s OK because that’s what it’s going to be like in Vegas and that’s what it was like at Master Chef.”

Phillips said the cooking show’s producers wanted to record all aspects of her life: family, grandchildren, her yoga sessions and the fact that it was her birthday. “It was all about family and vintage recipes,” she said. The recipes have to remain a secret, she said, to keep them away from her competitors in Las Vegas. “It’s very secretive,” she said.

Phillips said she’s been cooking all her life, but didn’t think of making a profession out of it until she took acting lessons while living in Boston a few years ago. She auditioned for the show “Master Chef” but was not selected. “I knew I could cook,” Phillips said. She started a website, allyskitchen.com, to share her recipes and adventures and the way she infuses her personality into her food — she has described it as “Bohemian Bold.” She auditioned for the second season of “Master Chef” and was selected as a finalist from 39,000 hopefuls.

Phillips said competitive cooking requires showmanship along with culinary skills. “I’ve been working on this for about six months, testing recipe after recipe. Friends and family have been tasting everything and criticizing everything from plating and appearance to flavors and taste. Cooking competition is as intense as World Cup or NASCAR.”

Phillips was born in West Virginia, and her father died when she was only 10. Her Croatian mother was left with four children to bring up alone. Phillips said her mother’s resourcefulness inspired her as a cook.

Marshall University is where she met her first husband Dan D’Antoni, now an assistant coach of the Los Angeles Lakers under his brother, Mike. At Marshall, D’Antoni was an All-American basketball player who went on to become the school’s assistant basketball coach. In a life-changing moment, he relinquished his ticket on a flight to a university football game to the team doctor’s wife. The plane crashed on its return, killing 37 players, five coaches, two trainers, the athletic director, 25 boosters and the flight crew of five. In 2006 the tragedy was memorialized in the Hollywood film “We are Marshall.”

Ally had four sons and earned her doctorate at Marshall before she and her husband decided to go their separate ways.

Ally began a career as an educator, supervising special education and serving as a school psychologist. Specializing in learning disabilities and ADHD, she founded her own company serving children and adults.

She and second husband, Ben Phillips, relocated to Boston in 2008, and Ally embarked on a career she’d dreamed of since she was a teenager: acting. At the age of 58, Ally took acting lessons and started auditioning.

Producers consider county sites for two films

A Hollywood producer with roots in the Carolinas is hoping to make two movies in Georgetown County beginning early next year.

Amanda Cook, a native of Lexington, N.C., and partner in Quixotic Memes Productions, has visited the area looking for locations to shoot a sequel to a horror movie and a family film featuring a dog from an area animal shelter.

Cook said the county’s new film ordinance would not be a deterrent.

“That other film didn’t leave people with a good taste in their mouths,” she said of the reality TV show that was shot in Murrells Inlet in August. “This is not reality TV. I definitely understand the frustration and anger with that. I don’t think they hired a lot of people locally. These projects will bring jobs and opportunity to the area.”

Cook’s first movie will be “Mortuary 2,” a sequel to a 2009 film that cost around $1.2 million to make and grossed over $5 million. It has been shown on the Sci Fi Channel.

Cook said her company specializes in “low-budget” films — under $5 million — because the return on investment is higher.

She wants to use local caterers, wine and beverage providers, carpenters and other workers for the film and take advantage of the state’s tax credits. “If I’m able to shave $100,000 off the cost, I’m not looking for as much money. There are so many advantages to shooting there,” she said.

Cook said director Tobe Hooper has expressed interest in “Mortuary 2.” He directed “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Poltergeist.” She said a makeup artist from the original film is also interested. Producers and actors would come from Los Angeles, she said, but locals could be used as extras.

Cook’s family movie will be a comedy called “Princess Pooch.” In it, a young girl’s mind enters a dog’s body. The dog in the movie will come from an area animal shelter, the producer said. “Instead of using a Hollywood dog, we will pull from 15 animal shelters and let fans vote on the winner through our website. It will raise awareness for animal rescue, and we will make a donation back to the shelters that work with us,” Cook said.

She said she does not have a shooting schedule for “Princess Pooch” because financing has not been secured.

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