Jonathan Walker and Professor Stan Ferguson, Theater & Film
The ORCA grant allowed me to make a short narrative film about the struggles of a pioneer mother to maintain her temporal and spiritual survival. It is set in Southern Utah shortly after Brigham Young sent the first settlers to that region. Because of the harsh and environment, survival, not prosperity, is the primary concern. This young pioneer woman faithfully looks to the words of Isaiah to understand the Lord’s promised blessings. As her temporal necessities are stripped away, she comes to an understanding of the more significant blessings of the spirit. And even then, the blessing manifest itself to her in a very personal way – leaving us to either understand by personal experience, or be left very much outside the cinematic experience.
Upon receiving the grant, I began from the rough concept and pursued the specifics of the story that I wanted to tell. I picked away at the possibilities weighing their significance to the whole, analyzing how I could convey the most in the least pages of text. What has happened since then has been a wonderful education in the school of experience. As of the date of this submitted report, I have a “rough cut” of the film and I am moving into the final stages of post-production. Completion is scheduled for mid to late September.
I must have gone through ten major script revisions and at least that many minor revisions before I felt the script adequately dealt with the subject matter. I considered the events that would lead these characters to the climax. I mapped out the dramatic structure and stressed the increase in severity of the protagonist’s temporal situation. I struggled with what could ultimately be the temporal event that would convey the protagonist’s spiritual experience. When I felt comfortable with the script, I then pursued the other important aspects of pre-production. I attempted to find more support for the project, both in people’s time and through in-kind or monetary donations. In retrospect, I can see that I spent too much time waiting on some possibilities. I definitely should have pursued them, but not delayed the other aspects of the preparation so long. By the time I returned to the script, I decided to change it one last time. This last revision did not change the story or the theme, rather it changed the mode of presentation to more dramatically convey the protagonist’s subjective experience.
I soon found myself in serious need of additional support from other student filmmakers in order to complete all the aspects needed to create the film. In “crewing up” I was able to find effective students who helped in all aspects of the film. I could not have done the film without their artistic efforts. Ryan Fawson acted as an Associate Producer and 1st Assistant Director; Lucy Stephens was our Unit Production Manager; Ryan Little, Director of Photography; Chris Watt, Production Designer; Lara Beene, Costuming; Kari Keebler, Make-up/Hair; Bracken Mannion, PostProduction Supervisor; Shane Seggar, Chief Editor; Karl Bowman, Production Sound Mixer; Dan Lee, Composer; and faculty member Stan Ferguson acted as our Executive Producer. In addition, we had a dozen more people working behind the scenes. Our cast came from actors in the community. Tracy Whitlock was our protagonist Sarah; her husband was John Lindwall; Mark Gelter was Aaron; Cynthia Dameron was Abigail; and the children were played by Paul and Andrew Wells and Blue Whitlock.
We shot the film within a week. The whole story takes place in and around a nineteenth century dugout. However, we had to shoot in three different locations to get the environment we needed. The garden and road scenes were shot in a new development outside of St. George called Kayenta, which is actually part of the Ivins township. The exterior of the dug-out was shot at the Benson residence in Gunlock, Utah, about twenty minutes north-west of St. George. Three hundred miles to the north we shot the dug-out’s interiors at the Old Deseret Village at This is the Place State Park in Salt Lake City.
With all the pre-production in the world we still could not have anticipated some of the problems that we would run into during the shoot, especially when we shot down in St. George. I found that the best we could do is be prepared as much as possible and then when things came up, be flexible and creatively solve the problems. Shooting in a remote location provided challenges, both some we anticipated (like the risk of heat stroke) and some we did not (the adverse effect the heat would have on the equipment). In dealing with each problem, we would lose time in an already cramped shooting schedule. I had to decide how we could save time and still get the most important elements of the story on film. This led to some creative shot selections as well as story streamlining.
Shooting the film provided the most challenging and unique struggles. Our location was a half an hour from the hotel, so when an actor forgot his hat we had to get it before we could shoot anything with his character. We did not learn that lesson quickly enough: he forgot it two days in a row. We were in an and desert shooting a story about the lack of water. Needless to say, there is a problem when a storm cloud rolls in and thunder rumbles. Subtle sounds easily ignored in our society become important: airplanes, lawn mowers, air-conditioners, and heavy trucks backing up. We also had to deal with a crew member’s son entering the hospital. When a child could be in mortal danger, nothing seems so frivolous as a movie. Fortunately, he is okay.
Heat can destroy film and the 100 degree weather of Southern Utah in August worried me more than a little. All of the efforts to create a realistic environment, a compelling story, and rounded characters are for naught if the performances aren’t adequately recorded or preserved on the film. We kept the exposed and unexposed film in coolers and did what we could to keep it dry. I was not able to get the film to the lab until the next week and I didn’t get it back until the week after that. Only then could I find out whether I had a movie or just a bad experience.
Fortunately, the shots came out of the lab looking good. I now had a collection of shots, but I was not sure whether the film would come together as a unified whole until we could start to edit it together. As the pieces began to fall in, I could see that we had a movie to show for the experience. This is where we are now. When the final edit is cut; music composed, recorded, and mixed; answer print made; and the total sound track mixed, only then, will I be able to see the film.