Back in Butte, where in 1987 I came to town, a stranger to all, sat at a stool at the Silver Dollar Saloon, and the person next to me inquired, “What are you doing here?” To which I replied I was there to make a film. They asked, “About what?” And I replied, “You.” That night I had a free place to stay, and 3 months later I had a new film in the can, Bell Diamond. Despite the subsequent mangling by the now defunct San Francisco Film laboratory, Leo Diners, which trashed the original footage on processing, and then ran one edited reel of originals over a printing sprocket wheel on making the second print, the film did get in a nice handful of festivals and garnered some very nice critical comment. And if I recall correctly it was broadcast on New York’s PBS station.
I liked Butte back then, for many reasons, and have returned a few times since. And on decamping from 4 and a half years in Korea, with an itch to do a narrative film, I decided I’d head that way again. Though with the thought I’d shoot in nearby (25 miles) Anaconda, the town that smelted the ore that Butte dug up. While the town of Anaconda itself didn’t leave a nice visual imprint on me, the adjacent landscape of slag heaps did, and it seemed to suit my purposes story-wise. About a week ago, coming into the town from Missoula, I was disappointed to find that a Superfund clean-up had grassed over most of the black and chemical signs of the slag heaps. Which had me pondering.
Staying with my friend, Marshall Gaddis, who played the lead in Bell Diamond (only non-local in the film), up in Walkerville the last days has seemed to turn my head. While a little of the earlier film had been shot up there, most was down lower in Butte, and nosing around here, the visual qualities, juxtaposed to the odd social ambiance, has convinced me to shoot here. Part is practical – it saves a 30 minute commute to Anaconda and it seems time will be short with some of my actors. But most is aesthetic and visual: this place just has “something” and it nicely happens it has something to do with the underlying content of the film I’m out to make. Butte was a rich mining town at the turn of the 19th century, the Berkeley Pit being one of the largest deposits of copper and other metals in the world. It drew miners from around the world, leaving traces of a rich ethnic mix. And, as it is America, when the ores ran out, the place was basically abandoned. Money wasn’t kept here to build a sustainable future. It left. What remains here is the collapsing skeleton of a culture which revolved around real work and making things, and what’s left of the working class that didn’t flee as the owners and managerial class did. The money went to a handful of “industrialists” and bankers. When the utility of the mines ran out, the money ran away. Sound familiar? It sure does to me.
So there’s about a month to research, sort out what needs sorting, and to form enough of a clear idea to accommodate the realities imposed: two of my actors can only give me 5-9 days, not sure of another, and two can give me almost a month. As usual for me I’ll find the jig-saw pieces available – people, places to shoot, weather, light, circumstances – and see how I can fit them together. The core “story” or event is clear in mind, as are a few images. My usual kick-off point for these things. With a bit of luck and some enjoyable “work” hope to have another work, well, not “in the can” but on a hard disk, come the end of August. In the film are a handful of what have become my “regulars” – a little troupe which I happily work with as they appear to do with me: Roxanne Rogers from Slow Moves (1984), Kate Sannella from The Bed You Sleep In, Frameup and Homecoming; Ryan Harper Gray from Homecoming, Over Here, and Parable; and Stephen Taylor, also in the last three mentioned film, lead in Parable. And then there will be James Benning, the filmmaker, whom I have known since 1978, acting as well in a significant role. I hope we all have a good time. The film’s title will be Coming to Terms. It’ll be kind of serious.
In about a month we’ll be taking a shot at a Kickstarter campaign, trying to raise some money to help pay for the travel and living costs while here for the actors, and a bit to pay them. They’ll deserve it. For the moment it’ll come out of my erstwhile “retirement” pittance. We’ll post it here.