Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Bonanza Creek

For people who love movies, Bonanza Creek Ranch is historic ground.

When we arrived at the location Friday morning, I doubt many of us were thinking about film history. The sun had just come up and it was cold. Many of us were probably wondering if there was coffee. I certainly was.

The project is titled Among the Dust of Thieves, a short film about the death of Albert Fountain and an investigation into his murder by Pinkerton detective John C. Fraser (played by your humble correspondent). The film is projected to run about 45 minutes in length, almost a feature.

Our first location was Bonanza Creek Ranch, a working cattle ranch sitting on thousands of acres a few miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It has also been a prime location for filming westerns and other films since the 1950s. If you've seen Silverado, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the recent Cowboys and Aliens, and many others, you've seen the ranch. Gunsmoke and many other television programs have also filmed here. Actors walking around here share the same ground as cinema greats such as John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Mickey Rooney, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Jimmy Stewart, and the list goes on.

There would be plenty of time to walk around and think about all that, but not on Saturday. The first day of filming quickly fell an hour behind schedule, and there was a gunfight to film. The crew worked tirelessly at an urgent pace to make up for lost time.

We spent the entire day filming a scene where Fraser attempts to raid the ranch of Oliver Lee, his main suspect. The raid does not go well. Fraser and his two partners bust into the house only to be ambushed from the roof. Fraser's partners are both wounded in the battle, and Fraser is pinned behind some barrels. It was a day of running and climbing with compressed-air "gunshots" going off around my head, interspersed with periods of waiting while other actors were fitted with hand-sculpted bullet wounds and stage blood. The scene will ultimately be a few minutes in length, yet was filmed over two long days.

The weather also caused delays. Friday was a lovely, sunny day, followed by two days of freezing cold and bitter wind. Saturday was the worst, with snow and rain coming down and little shelter. There were problems with the power generators required for lighting equipment and amenities such as a space heater. The crew labored on in multiple layers of clothing, while actors languished in costumes with blankets draped over them.

The other scene I worked on during these three days was a scene taking place in the back of a saloon. The film was shot late at night, over two nights. The saloon set looks wonderful but it is not an insulated building at all, and the wind just blew right through all of us. My scene partner was Joe Meier, and at the late hour, after so many hours feeling cold, our bodies felt like they were in survival mode. We could barely manage our lines. Someday we will see how the scene looks; honestly I don't know if my work was any good or not.

It was a strange, beautiful, chilly three days. I met actors from Santa Fe and Las Cruces, a quick-draw expert who inspected our weapons and showed us things, real cowboys who moonlighted as actors, and some beautiful horses including a magnificent Belgian with hooves the size of Volkswagons.

What I will never forget is the astonishing sunset that turned the entire air a sort of shimmering pink that launched the director of photography into ecstasy, in which we filmed our closing scene and dialogue, getting in as many takes as we could before the light fell.

The shooting schedule is in constant flux. On Monday morning, after I had already layered up for another cold day on the set, I was cleared to go home. When I return for one or two more days of filming, it will be at another location further south. And so I left the Bonanza Creek ranch, a location of so many memorable movies, and apparently the last resting place of my cell phone, which fell out of my bag sometime Friday night and is likely frozen underneath a cow patty somewhere in that wide expanse.

The next location will be further south, and likely warmer.

[Photo: Arriving on the Bonanza Creek set Sunday morning with actors Tyler Robinson and Mitchell Russell.]

1 comment:

quid said...

RIP cellphone. Good story about your filming here. I enjoyed it.