ABOUT THE FILM
“On the ragged edge of the world I’ll roam, and the home of the wolf shall be my home.”
–Robert Service, The Nostomaniac
Druid Peak is a coming of age story about a troubled teenage boy who finds his place in the world tracking wolves in the wild lands of Wyoming.
Set against the backdrop of the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park, Druid Peak is a coming of age story about a troubled teenage boy who finds a home tracking wolves in the wild lands of the Wyoming.
Sixteen year-old Owen isn’t just rebellious– he’s a bully with a mean streak. Growing up in coal country West Virginia, he struggles against the claustrophobia of small town life, lashing out against school and family. But when his actions lead to the death of a friend, Owen is sent to live with his estranged father, Everett, a biologist on Yellowstone’s wolf reintroduction program.
At first, Owen wants no part of this new life. Then he comes face to face with a Canadian grey wolf. The creature’s deep, penetrating gaze startles him, stirring something long dead inside his own self. Sensing the first signs of change in his son, Everett encourages Owen to collect some basic data about the wolf he saw and its family pack– the Druid Peak pack. Owen’s small assignment grows into a passion and his own life becomes deeply tied to the Druid Peak wolves and their struggle for survival. When a change in government policy threatens the animals, Owen must decide how far he will go to protect the wolves, his father and the place he has finally come to call home. A coming of age story with a conservation twist, Druid Peak is a film about the human soul’s need for wild things, and the challenges of holding onto them.
Shot on location in West Virginia, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Utah, Druid Peak stars Andrew Wilson (Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums), Spencer Treat Clark (Mystic River, Gladiator), Rachel Korine (Spring Breakers, Septien) and the wolves of Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife (White Fang, Into the Wild).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Maureen Mayer, Executive Producer
Druid Peak Selected by Dances With Films, in the Competitive category, May 29th- June 8th at the Chinese Theaters in Hollywood.Thank you @danceswithfilms!
Druid Peak wins Best Narrative Feature Film at the Annapolis Film Festival!
Fox 5 News introduces Druid Peak: DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG
Druid Peak Wins Best Theatrical Film Award at the 2014 Omaha Film Festival
Omaha Film Festival
Druid Peak Awarded Special Jury Award at the Providence Children’s Film Festival
February 25, 2014 – The entire Druid Peak team is deeply honored to have been awarded the Special Jury Award from the Providence Children’s Film Festival. While the film appeals to all age groups, this recognition of its special place with younger audience members is particularly meaningful to us, given the script’s focus on how a young man overcomes difficult circumstances through the transformational power of the wolves of Yellowstone.
March Screening at Omaha Film Festival
Date: Saturday, March 8 at 2:45 pm
Druid Peak Screening Announced
December 20, 2013 – We are very pleased to announce that Druid Peak been selected to screen at the Providence Children’s Film Festival February 13-23, 2014, in Providence,Rhode Island.
Druid Peak is prominently featured in an article by Scott Sorrentino in the November/December issue of Produced By magazine on pages 84-90. See it here:
The Wyoming Film Office sponsored freelance writer, Scott Sorrentino, this past summer for an article about filming on location in Wyoming for Produced By magazine. Produced By is an extraordinary resource of information which encompasses feature stories on producers in film, television and new media, as well as diverse pieces on technology, credits, developing trends, new opportunities, professional tips and more. The magazine is published five times a year with Producers Guild of America (PGA) members receiving a complimentary subscription.
DRUID PEAK 30-second clip
Druid Peak to Screen in Jackson Hole
INDEPENDENT FEATURE FILM SHOT ON LOCATION IN JACKSON HOLE WILL SCREEN AT THE ARTS CENTER THURSDAY, AUGUST 22ND!
Jackson, Wyo., August 20, 2013 – Druid Peak, a coming of age story about a troubled teenage boy who finds a home for himself tracking wolves in the wild lands of Wyoming, will have its first public screening this Thursday, August 22nd at the Jackson Hole Arts Center. The screening is co-hosted by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, where the film is one of four finalists in the Best Theatrical category, and will be followed by a Q&A with Writer/Director Marni Zelnick and Executive Producer Maureen Mayer.
Shot on location in Jackson Hole, WY, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Mt. Hope WVa., and Heber Valley, UT, the film is the directorial debut for Zelnick and stars Andrew Wilson (Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums), Spencer Treat Clark (Much Ado About Nothing,Mystic River, Gladiator), Rachel Korine (Spring Breakers, Septien) and the wolves of Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife (White Fang, Into the Wild).
Originally from Great Falls, VA, Zelnick earned her MFA from NYU’s graduate film program. She was the recipient of a $100,000.00 production grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Druid Peak script. The Sloan Foundation supports film projects that feature science and technology, and Zelnick’s film takes on the challenging politics of Yellowstone’s wolf reintroduction program.
A micro-budget project, Druid Peak relied heavily on the generosity of the communities portrayed in the film for the locations, cast, goods and services that made the project possible. “We’re excited to bring the film home to the place that both inspired and created it,” said Zelnick. The film is currently seeking distribution and will screen at festivals this Fall.
Druid Peak wins Audience Choice Best Narrative Feature Film at the 2014 Florida Film Festival
April 8, 2014–The Orlando Weekly reviewed 31 films screening at the Florida Film Festival and gave Druid Peak 4 out of 5 stars, and The Orlando Sentinel picked Druid Peak as one of eight “Must See Movies” at this year’s festival (out of 170 films).
Recent News Stories:
Behind The Scenes – Executive Producing Druid Peak
Druid Peak Executive Producer Maureen Mayer says that producing a films is more than lending influence or writing a check.
Read the interview with Maureen Mayer, executive producer of Druid Peak and Vital Ground board member.
“Film set mostly in Yellowstone becomes finalist in wildlife film festival”
Read story at trib.com – Wyoming’s News Source
Andrew Wilson – Rushmore – The Royal Tenenbaums.
The oldest of the three most well-known brothers in Hollywood, Andrew Wilson shares the same natural on-screen presence as his younger counter- parts OWEN WILSON and LUKE WILSON. Additionally, he shares many of the same hit film titles, including Wes Anderson’s BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS. Wilson can also be found in such hits as CHARLIE’S ANGELS, ZOOLANDER, and as the aggressively funny roller derby coach in 2009’s WHIP IT. However it is DRUID PEAK that allowed Wilson to side-step comedy and play a part so naturally befitting to his wild soul. As Owen’s estranged father, Wilson brings a quiet strength and intelligence that provides for a truly beautiful father-son dynamic, full of love, guidance, and compassion.
2013 Druid Peak (post-production)
2011 The Big Year
2011 The Great Gatsby in Five Minutes (short)
2011 Hall Pass
2010 How Do You Know
2010 High School
2009 Calvin Marshall
2009 Whip It
2006 Church Ball
2005 Fever Pitch
2004 The Big Bounce
2003 Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle Cop
Spencer Treat Clark – Much Ado About Nothing, Mystic River, Gladiator
Spencer Treat Clark is from the suburbs of New York City. He began acting at an early age, first appearing in films like Gladiator and Unbreakable. Spencer went to high school at the Taft School, a boarding school in Watertown, Connecticut. Spencer is excited to be shooting out in Wyoming where he once attended Teton Valley Ranch Camp as a kid . He attended Columbia University in New York City where he studied political science and economics, while continuing to act professionally in film and television. Spencer received his Bachelor’s Degree from Columbia in the spring of 2010. His older sister, Eliza Clark, is a successful playwright and screenwriter. Spencer lives in Los Angeles. You can see him in The Last House on the Left, Cymbeline with Ethan Hawke and Ed Harris, and in the series finale of Mad Men. He most recently appeared in Animal Kingdom. IMDb
Rachel Korine – Spring Breakers, Septien.
Her performance in Michael Tully’s Septien this year drove us to call her for the role of Zoe, Owen’s love interest, pretty much out of the blue. A Nashville native, Korine has starred in a number of independent feature films and music videos, including Trash Humpers and Mr. Lonely, oftentimes collaborating with her husband Harmony Korine. Though Rachel’s grace in front of the camera leaves us eager to see the life she will bring to Zoe, she’s no slouch behind the lens as a photographer herself.
Damian Young – Hope Springs, Californication.
2013 Druid Peak (post-production) McGill
2013 Tuna Barry
2012 Art Machine Serge
2012 White Collar (TV series) Oliver Stringer
– Identity Crisis (2012) … Oliver Stringer
2012 Hope Springs
Mike, The Innkeeper
2012 Person of Interest (TV series) Pete Matheson
– Root Cause (2012) … Pete Matheson
2012 Hello I Must Be Going
2011-2012 Pan Am (TV series)
– Secrets and Lies (2012) … Mr. Bolger
– Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2011) … Mr. Bolger
2012 Sunburn (short)
2011 The Oranges
2007-2011 Californication (TV series)
– The Trial (2011) … Bill Lewis
– The Last Waltz (2007) … Bill Lewis
– Turn the Page (2007) … Bill Lewis
– Filthy Lucre (2007) … Bill Lewis
– LOL (2007) … Bill Lewis
2011 Red State
1999-2010 Law & Order (TV series)
Lanna Joffrey –
Lanna Joffrey’s film and TV credits include: “Fishing Naked” with Elaine Miles & Bronson Pelletier (dir. Bob Coggan), “Honk!” with Bob Clendenin (dir. Lars Fuchs), “Security” with Chris Messina (dir. Matthew Linnell), “Delocated” with Jon Glaser (dir. Jeff Buchanan), “Breathtaking” (dir. Gregg DelCurla) and “The New Americans” with Omar Metwally (dir. Allen Blumberg). Her stage credits include: Richard III Born With Teeth (Epic Theatre, dir. Ron Russell), OverRuled (Performa, dir. Shirin Neshat & Shoja Azari), Measure for Measure (The Public, dir. Michelle Hensley), 1001 (Denver Center, dir. Ethan McSweeny), Nine Parts of Desire (Lyric Stage & Kitchen Theatre, dir. Carmel O’Reilly), Valiant (dir. Tamilla Woodard) and Sad and Merry Madness (The Public, dir. Barry Edelstein).
Lanna’s documentary play of women’s war stories that she also performs in, “Valiant” (dir. Tamilla Woodard) was first performed at The New York International Fringe festival, where New York Magazine named it one of 20 shows to see out of 200 and where Lanna was given a NY Fringe Festival Performance Award. “Valiant” was also part of The Culture Project’s IMPACT Festival, The United Nations Celebration for the Committee on the Status of Women, The Williamstown Theatre Festival and The Unofficial NY Yale Cabaret where the cast earned a NY Innovative Theatre nomination. Lanna is currently studying at the world-renowned Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
Armand Schultz – House of Cards, Burn After Reading.
The Normal Heart (TV movie) (filming) Dick Lombardo
2013 Druid Peak (post-production) Dale
2013 Elementary (TV series) Derrick Hughes
– A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs (2013) … Derrick Hughes
2013 House of Cards (TV series) Scott Cunningham
– Chapter 13 (2013) … Scott Cunningham
2012 NYC 22 (TV series) Dr. Evan Roth
– Turf War (2012) … Dr. Evan Roth
2012 The Good Wife (TV series) Judge Trent Wynter
– The Dream Team (2012) … Judge Trent Wynter
2012 Unforgettable (TV series) David Feldman
– The Following Sea (2012) … David Feldman
2011 Star Wars: The Old Republic (Video Game) Additional Voices (voice)
2011 The Chicago Code (TV series) William Hampton
– Gillis, Chase & Baby Face (2011) … William Hampton
– Pilot (2011) … William Hampton
2010 Salt Martin Crenshaw
2009 Gossip Girl (TV series)
– The Freshmen (2009)
Rebecca Baldwin –
Nathaniel Brown –
2013 Druid Peak (post-production)
2011 Blinders (short)
2009 Enter the Void
Marni Zelnick – Writer, Director
Marni Zelnick is a producer/director originally from Great Falls, Virginia. She has served on the production team for several award winning films including: Producer on James Franco’s THE CLERK’S TALE (Official Selection 2010 Cannes Film Festival); Assistant Director on HOMEWRECKER (Best of Next 2010 Sundance Film Festival) and WILLIAM VINCENT (Official Selection 2010 Tribeca Film Festival); Associate Producer on CAMP VICTORY, AFGHANISTAN (2010 SXSW Film Festival); Producer on New York visual artist Carter’s feature debut, MALADIES (in post production), starring James Franco and Catherine Keener; and, most recently, Producer on THE STARE, written and directed by Jay Anania and starring James Franco and Winona Ryder. As a screenwriter, her feature screenplay THE STRAIGHT was a finalist for the 2010 Showtime Tony Cox Screenplay Award and her most recent project, DRUID PEAK, is the recipient of a $100,000 Sloan Foundation Feature Film Production Award.
Prior to her film career she served as a freelance journalist and worked for Refugees International, a Washington D.C. based advocacy NGO. She was quickly sent to Thailand, where she spent months living with and documenting the lives of the endangered Mlabri people. Her photographs and writing were instrumental in the effort to attain recognition and support for the group from the Thai government.
She earned her MFA from NYU’s graduate film program. She graduated with honors from Dartmouth College, with a double major in Creative Writing and Film Production where she received the Lockwood Prize for Poetry for her collection Love, War and Other Childhood Memories.
Rachel Morrison – Cinematographer
In just one short year, Morrison graduated from the “Breaking Through” Section of the 2012 Below-the-Line Impact Report to being listed amongst seasoned DP Veterans Roger Deakins and Rodrigo Prieto in the 2013 Below-the-Line Impact Report.
That same year, Morrison was honored at the Women-in-Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, where she was the recipient of the Kodak Vision Award for her outstanding achievements in cinematography. She was also recognized by Indiewire’s “On the Rise: 5 Cinematographers To Watch in 2013.”
Morrison has lensed seven Sundance premieres in the past six years; among these are DOPE, directed by Rick Famuyiwa, FRUITVALE STATION, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, winner of both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture, LITTLE ACCIDENTS starring Elizabeth Banks, Josh Lucas, Boyd Holbrook and Chloe Sevigny, and SOUND OF MY VOICE released by Fox Searchlight. In 2012, she also saw ANY DAY NOW premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Picture.
She has garnered numerous awards for her imagery, including an Outstanding Cinematography Emmy Nomination for her work on Showtime’s RIKER’S HIGH, a documentary about the high school within the Riker’s Island prison system.
Rachel’s work has been featured on most major TV networks including HBO, SHOWTIME, ABC, and CBS. She is currently filming the Mudbound movie directed by Dee Rees with Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, and Jason Clarke.
Since completing her MFA in Cinematography at the American Film Institute, Morrison has photographed twelve features, ten in the last four years.
From New York to Los Angeles, the desert of Qatar to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Morrison has traversed the globe with an eye attuned to the beauty, sorrow and emotion of the shared human experience.
Maureen Mayer – Executive Producer
Maureen Mayer brings a wealth of compassion, precision, and performance to her role as Executive Producer of “Druid Peak.” Trained as a neonatal ICU RN, she learned as a part of the University of Utah’s elite flight nurse team to take potential disaster and turn it into success. She has spent parts of over 30 years in the Intermountain West and the last 20 in Jackson, WY. She has worked as a volunteer at Lake Hospital in Yellowstone National Park and has a deep familiarity with the world’s first national park. She believes strongly that, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
She is a prolific fund raiser for numerous causes, including Chair of the INOVA Health System Gala, which raised over $1 million for emergency and disaster preparedness in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, as well as the 2002 Ride to Remember, a bicycle ride from Ground Zero in New York City to the Pentagon over 4 days. She has served on the boards of the Snake River Institute in Wilson, WY and Indian Springs Ranch HOA in Jackson, WY as well as the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Virginia and currently serves on the board of Vital Ground Foundation. She is a member of the Sundance Institute and Women in Film. Maureen and her husband have 3 sons, all of whom share a love of the outdoors and the integral connection between adventure, wildlife and the development of the human spirit. Her son Kevin is a United States Marine Corps Infantry officer, who commands a mobile weapons platoon. Its call sign is “Wolf.”
Julie Buck – Producer
Julie Buck is a New York based producer whose films have played in hundreds of festivals including Tribeca, Clermont-Ferrand, SXSW, BFI London Film Festival, Palm Springs, Venice, Nantucket and Outfest. She has worked regularly with James Franco’s production company, Rabbit Bandini, including producing the upcoming film, Black Dog Red Dog with Chloe Sevigny, James Franco, Whoopi Goldberg and Logan Marshall Green and is currently in production on the Tim Blake Nelson feature, Anesthesia. Before moving into production, Buck served for six years as the head of film conservation at the Harvard University Film Archive and has worked as a guest film curator at Harvard, MIT, George Eastman House and other venues in the US and abroad. Buck has an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, a certificate in film preservation from George Eastman House, and an MFA from Columbia University.
Dana Morgan – Producer
Dana Morgan worked as James Franco’s assistant for two and a half years, during which time she was involved in the creative development and production of numerous film and art projects including the short film The Clerk’s Tale, which screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and Saturday Night, a feature-length documentary on Saturday Night Live due to be released later this year.
She also explored the convergence of performance art and film while acting in “Three’s Company: The Drama” which was part of the New Frontier selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and with her creative collaboration on the multi-medium homage art project Rebel. Dana grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which founded the deep appreciation for the outdoors that she now brings with her into the production of “Druid Peak”. She is a lover of literature and storytelling and looks forward to helping Marni Zelnick turn the vision of her moving script into an equally moving film.
Jeff Petriello – Producer
Jeff is very happy to be producing Druid Peak. Having worked with Marni Zelnick since day one on the job, he is both honored and eager to craft Druid Peak into the best movie ever. It is with infinite thanks to his family and friends, with whose constant and remarkable support he’s able to do anything at all, that he presses forward on this wild adventure into new filmmaking.
Jeff studied Philosophy at Columbia University, but owes much to the graduate film program at NYU, through which he’s met so many wonderful and inspiring coworkers, mentors, and friends.
With Writer/Director Marni Zelnick
Q: What inspired the script?
I had been coming out to Jackson for many years and was always deeply moved by the beauty of the area. When I thought about making my first feature, I knew I wanted to shoot out here. So I was already thinking about Jackson when I heard about a $100,000 production grant offered through the Sloan Foundation for projects dealing with science and technology. It’s incredibly difficult for first time directors to get a feature project off the ground, and I knew the grant could mean the difference between making my first feature immediately and struggling to get something financed for years. There was no way I wasn’t going to apply for it. I just needed the right science angle.
The wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone had always fascinated me because no matter how you felt about wolves, the program was unquestionably at the cutting edge of the conservation movement. It was the only successful predator reintroduction program in the world and was asking us to think not simply about conserving species but about conserving ecosystems. As soon as you start reading about the wolves, you realize that the restoration of the wolves didn’t just change the future of the wolves, or the lives of wolves and elk, or the behavior of wolves and elk and bison—it changed the entire Yellowstone ecosystem right down to what bugs breed in how many ponds created by what beavers. So it was a program that was pushing the intellectual bounds of the conservation movement, and at the same time was saying something really beautiful about the nature of life on earth: that we’re all connected, every single one of us.
It was an idea I felt passionately about and knew I would always feel passionately about– which is critical when you’re making a low budget indie because you’re going to be living with that idea and pitching that idea and thinking about that idea for a very long time.
Q: You mention conservation and the idea of species interconnectedness as inspirations for the script—are there any other important themes in the film?
Absolutely. This isn’t a documentary about the wolves of Yellowstone. It’s a fiction film about a troubled kid who is changed by his interaction with the wolves and the wild places they inhabit. One of the themes that drives the material is how external geography can effect our internal selves. I think environments are like relationships—different people bring out different things in us and different places can do the same thing. Owen is an angry kid and anger is a classic sign of depression in young males, but Owen isn’t mature or self-aware enough to understand or analyze what he’s feeling. It isn’t until he’s removed from the small town environment he starts out in and set down again in the vast wild wilderness of the west that he starts to feel at ease. He’s a kid with a wild soul who needs wild places to scratch and bare his teeth at and ultimately be awed and humbled by.
On a related note, one of the points we try to make in the film is that every person’s needs are different. I didn’t make this film because I think every person needs to run with the wolves to feel peace. But some people do. And maybe part of what we talk about when we talk about conservation should be empathy and diversity. We preserve these things because somebody out there— maybe not you, but somebody—needs them or wants them or finds them beautiful. I think any time we make choices that acknowledge the diversity of our needs and interests as human beings on this planet, it’s a good thing.
Which brings me rather neatly to the last point the film is trying to make. As much as I’ve talked about wolves, the film is also about ranchers. When Owen becomes involved with the wolves he automatically becomes involved with the challenging politics that surround the wolf issue. So the film isn’t just about wolves, it’s about the effect the wolves have had on the communities where wolves have gained a foothold and the tricky business of navigating the competing interests on both sides. For Owen, part of growing up is understanding that people who don’t agree with him aren’t necessarily bad or even wrong. They’re just people with different backgrounds and interests. So it’s a film about understanding and dialogue– about acknowledging that there’s more grey in the world than there is black and white.
Q: You won a $100,000 production grant from the Sloan Foundation for this project—was that the entire budget for the film?
No. But it wasn’t that much more. We raised some additional funds through private investment, but it was important to me to keep the budget low. For one thing, I wanted to be able to raise what we needed in a timely fashion. The Sloan grant had a one year expiration on it. If I didn’t raise the additional funds I needed and go into production within a year, I lost the $100,000 from Sloan. So it was important to plan for a number we knew we could hit.
I was also aware from my experience as a producer that the realities of the current market seem to favor the extremes—huge 50, 100, 250 million dollar studio movies on one hand and ultra low less than half a million dollar indies on the other. The ones in between struggle to recoup their budgets. I wanted to be in a position where breaking even seemed probable.
Perhaps most importantly for me though, I was very conscious of the fact that this was going to be my first time out as a director. I wanted the stakes to be manageable. I didn’t want to feel so much pressure because of an inflated budget that I was distracted from the real task at hand—telling the story I had the best way I knew how. And if I failed, I didn’t want the failure to be so great that people would be gun shy about taking a risk on me again. So I felt like keeping it small was the right choice personally and for the film.
Q: Did you ever regret the choice to keep it small?
At least once every day. I continue to think keeping the budget small was the right choice for the project, but I would by lying if I didn’t say I wished almost every day that we had more money.
When you make a film with a teeny tiny budget, you know you’re going to have to get a lot of stuff cheap or for free. It means pitching yourself and your script over and over and over again, and calling in a lot of favors from a lot of people. All of that can be exhausting as a filmmaker and increases the workload on your producers and executive producers two thousand percent.
As a director, it also meant I was much more involved with the producing process than I wanted to be or would ever recommend being. I think it’s important for a director to have creative headspace. But a lot of the favors we were asking for were coming from people with whom I, or our Executive Producer Maureen Mayer, had personal relationships. And you can’t ask someone else to call your friend for a favor, you have to call them yourself. So it was ultimately impossible to carve out a space where all I had to think about was my script. I would have liked to have spent more time talking to my actors and less time talking to my friend with two cars who was going to loan us one so we could save cash on a rental…
But I will say that making a film on a tiny budget is also a bit like writing poetry in verse. You’re constrained, for sure, but sometimes limits can inspire great creativity. Also it meant that every single person involved with the film was there because they cared deeply about the project. No one—from our crew to our talent– became involved with Druid Peak for the paycheck. People felt passionately about what we were doing. That was a really nice thing to think about on tough days.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for making a small project like this happen, what would it be?
Hire Maureen! Seriously, you do need at least one person who knows how to move mountains. Ultra low budget filmmaking is a very particular kind of animal. It requires producers and/or executive producers who can think outside the box twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. It required people who are willing to get their hands dirty. You can’t produce an ultra low budget film from inside an office in LA. You have to be on the ground, meeting and talking to people and asking for advice and favors every single day. I credit Maureen not only with the fact that this film got made, but with the fact that the people in the communities where we made it still like us. It’s easy to come in and steamroll a place—bleed it dry and burn it down. I’ve seen productions do that. It’s harder to build a kind of grass roots filmmaking experience where everyone from top to bottom feels involved and feels a kind of investment or ownership over the product. If there are producers who are better at the latter than Maureen is, I haven’t met them yet.
Q: Speaking of talent, you had some high caliber actors involved—how did you get them to sign on to such a small project?
I think it’s a testament to the script that we attracted the cast we did. I had been working for James Franco’s production company, Rabbit Bandini, for a few years, so I knew we could get the script into the right hands and that agents would read it. But beyond that, whether they signed onto the film was entirely up to the agents and actors themselves. We certainly weren’t going to convince them with fancy perks. But I found from the very beginning that people responded to the material. They were excited about the story. We were fortunate that our first choice for all three leads said yes.
Q: The other critical cast members were wolves. The old adage says never work with kids or animals– what were you thinking?
You know, it’s good advice. And yet the first short I ever made at NYU was a coming-of-age story about a thirteen year old girl who sneaks out of the house in her parents’ car and hits and kills a deer.
I’ve always been drawn to animals because I think they’re good foils for humans. They’re everything that’s beautiful and ancient and wise in the world—but they’re also immensely vulnerable, and silent in their vulnerability. They have no voice to explain or advocate on their own behalf. So how we interact with them I think is very telling of who we are as individuals, but also as a species. And of course animals are also great keepers of secrets. Anyone who’s ever cried into the fur of their dog knows that. So I think they can be both witness to and reflection of our most complicated internal selves.
As for kids, nothing has ever really interested me as much as coming-of-age stories. Maybe because I think how we become adults is less about a long continuum of experience and more about a few moments when things really change you. I read a book once that asked you to sit down and list the ten most important moments of your life. But I think most people could do it in three or four and at least half of those would have happened before they turned eighteen.
Q: Were the wolves used in the film wild or trained?
If I learned one thing on this film it’s that there’s no such thing as a trained wolf. The wolves we worked with were 100% wolf—not wolf-dog or wolf hybrid. They were handled by some of the most accomplished trainers in the business: Lynn and Doug Seuss of Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife. But they’re still wild animals. You have to have a lot of patience, a lot of understanding and an ability to adjust your expectations on the fly and use what the animals are ready to give you on that day in in that location.
For me, one of the things I thought was really fascinating about watching the wolves on set was that unlike other animals I’ve seen handled, they didn’t seem to have any particular instinct to please their human handlers. A lot of animals do and you can see it in their eyes and their behavior. The wolves just watched the food. There seemed to be a constant calculation going on about how to get the most food with the least wolf-human interaction. Wolves are independent. They want a lot less to do with us than we do with them.
But that’s one of the things that drew me to wolves to begin with. In the film one of the scientists says, “Wolves are elusive by nature. They’re one of the toughest animals in the world to see.” And it’s true. Here’s this species that takes up so much space in our imaginations. We’ve built incredible myths around them that involve deep fear and sometimes loathing. And yet ultimately they want very little to do with us. There’s a grave misunderstanding there that’s certainly been detrimental to the wolves, and probably to both species.
Q: Is there anything else about the film that you’re particularly proud of?
Yes. This often goes unnoticed because it’s a father-son story so the first thing you see on screen are the men. But I’m proud of the fact that this film was made almost entirely by a team of women. That includes myself as Writer/Director, Executive Producer Maureen Mayer, Producers Dana Morgan and Julie Buck, and our incredible Director of Photography, Rachel Morrison, who has since lensed the Oscar buzzed Fruitvale Station and was the recipient of the 2013 Kodak Vision Award. It’s not often that you see a film where the Writer, Director, Producers, Executive Producer and DP were all women. This is a tough industry for women and I’m proud not only of the women involved—because each one was absolutely instrumental in bringing the film to life—but that we created those opportunities to begin with.
Q: What’s next for the film?
Distribution we hope! We are premiering at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival this fall, where we’re one of four finalists in the Best Theatrical category. We’ll continue screening at festivals through the winter. We made the film independently of course, so getting to festivals is about getting the film in front of audiences, but it’s also about sales. We’ll be speaking to distributors and trying to find a good home for it.
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