NCHS photo in major motion picture

It all started with a photograph.

Conover resident Don Barker snapped a picture of the 1982 graduating class of Newton-Conover High School sitting at the bleachers in Gurley Stadium.

Fast forward 29 years, and that same picture now appears in the major motion picture, "Leaves of Grass."

The picture is simple enough: seniors smiling and sitting primly together in seven rows. There was something special about the photo, however, and it caught the eye of NCHS graduate Sarah Parker, who works in movie post-production for Leaves production company.

She wanted to use it for a movie called "Leaves of Grass," which stars Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon. The movie premiered in September and was recently released on DVD.

Devin Biehler, 46, of Iredell County, was one of the fresh-faced seniors of 1982 smiling back at the camera in the photograph Parker wanted to use. Biehler now serves as the webmaster for his graduating class' reunion announcements, and he posted the picture online several years ago for the enjoyment of his fellow classmates.

Biehler didn't think much about the photograph until he received a letter from Parker about a year and a half ago. Parker asked Biehler if she could use the photo for a movie she was working on and wanted to know who took the photograph.

Biehler didn't immediately know, but after asking around, he discovered Barker was the photographer who snapped the picture that day during the 1981-82 school year.

"They were tracking down who the photographers were that day," Barker said. "And I told them, 'Yes, I took that picture.'"

Barker doesn't remember when during the school year he snapped the picture, but he does remember that it was during a picture day for the school yearbook. He said everyone — from cheerleaders to sports teams — were being photographed that day. The senior class was no different.

Barker volunteered to take photographs for the school, but he never thought he'd see his photo of the 1982 senior class in a movie.

When Parker contacted him about using the photograph, Barker gladly signed the online waiver allowing the company to use his work.

"I told (Parker) she could use the picture for anything she wanted to use if for," Barker said.

He didn't take any money for the contribution.

About the same time Parker contacted Biehler, she also called NCHS principal Kevin Campbell.

Campbell said Parker told him she wanted to use the photo in the "Leaves of Grass" movie, and her production company wanted to make a donation to the school for the use of the picture.

"She said that she wanted it to be used for women's athletics, because she was an athlete (at NCHS)," Campbell said.

The school received a check for $1,000 in the fall of 2009. Campbell said, as Parker stipulated, the money went to the women's athletic department.

The NCHS picture appears as one of the film's characters is doing research on another character in the film. "Leaves of Grass" is the story of an Ivy League professor, played by Norton, who returns to his hometown to investigate his twin brother's death in a drug deal gone bad. According to critics, the film combines dark comedy, crime and philosophy.

Although NCHS students are clearly visible in the photograph when it appears in the film, the Newton-Conover Red Devils sign was replaced with the name of a fictional high school. With the removal of the Red Devils sign, it's almost impossible to know where the photograph was taken.

But Biehler and his classmates know exactly where the photograph was taken.

Biehler watched the movie, and he could easily find himself in the photograph when the image flashed on-screen during the film.

He said he notified several classmates about their photograph in "Leaves of Grass," and they were excited to learn of their big-screen debut.

"It's something that's been very neat from beginning to end," Biehler said.