Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Out on the Highline

Back in October of 2006, I went to Great Falls to do my first location scout. It was more of a study of the towns and landscape of Eastern Montana and less of a full on scout. I wanted to get a feel for the place with the film in mind. I stayed with Pete Fromm and his family in their home in Great Falls. We put lots of miles on their car as we drove all over. We went from Augusta to Shelby to Havre, Big Sandy, Judith Crossing, Coffee Creek, and back to Great Falls in one long day. We saw some amazing stuff while out on the road.

I was able to put together a group of images that gave an impression of the types of things we'd see in the film. The landscape, the buildings, the clouds and the texture of the Montana landscape. These are just a few of the images I captured.

The small towns on the highline are getting smaller by the minute. They were once happening little towns along the railroad, but today, they are quiet places just hanging on. Names like Inverness, Kremlin, Rudyard, Chester and Galata were some of the ones we explored.

Always keeping a mindful eye on the weather, we'd see some interesting formations, but Virga always alluded us on this trip. Seems like an event more suited to summer heat, than cool autumn days.

One thing we found is that many of these small towns have cafe's and bars and other businesses, but all of them under one roof. You can get away with that in a small town. Espresso, tanning salon and oil changes aren't unheard of in one establishment. We were on the search for a cafe that was just a cafe, not a bar/cafe combo. We found that these kinds of singular businesses were only available in bigger towns. Like this cafe above. We found this one in the town of Big Sandy.

Our mini road trip had us through some of the more scenic areas of central Montana. I hadn't been to some of these places before. Many of these wide expanses are untouched, unmolested. One place that I can't get out of my mind was Judith Crossing. We headed south out of Big Sandy on a high-speed gravel road. After the road plowed through a large bluff, the Missouri river appeared and stretched out in front of us. It was amazing to see. This must be how Lewis and Clark saw this very spot, minus the bridge, of course. The light was gorgeous and the shadows falling perfectly. We had to stop on the bridge and take it in.


Corvair in Denton, Montana.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Virga: –noun (used with a singular or plural verb) Meteorology. Streaks of water drops or ice particles falling out of a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground.

Virga or Dry Rain is a funny event out on the plains. The clouds bring the expectation of rain, leading to growth and rejuvination. Then, Mother Nature tricks the thirsty earth with a depressing show of evaporation. Just when you think its going to rain, the wind blows away all hopes of precipitation.

Pete Fromm's story, Dry Rain, is a fascinating journey of a father and son traveling through the Canadian plateau. I was struck by the simplicity of the story and how well he was able to capture the complicated moment with ease. Every page I read of the story took me further on a cinematic journey. I knew that Dry Rain would be the basis of a great short film.

In late winter 2006, I called Pete out of the blue to ask him if I could make Dry Rain into a short film. I got his number from a friend of a friend. Pete had sat on some writer's panel with my friend Jess. Seems as though they realized that they had friends in common. With luck on my side, I talked with Jess about Dry Rain and how I could get to the writer without dealing with the agents. I didn't have any money to offer Pete, I could only offer the opportunity to collaborate on a film project. Jess nonchalantly brought up the mutual friend. Give him a call he said. I called the friend, then called Pete.

Pete listened to me ramble about my idea of making his story into a film. He tried to sound interested, but he probably thought I was some crack pot. Some how, I convinced him to think about it. We exchanged emails and a few phone calls. Then, when I finally had a break in my schedule, I called Pete up and said I was coming to see him. Could we get a cup of coffee and talk about Dry Rain? I think he was surprised that I'd drive all the way to Great Falls, Montana to see him. Well, we met and immediatly got along. Our conversation was productive and we struck a deal. That was March 2006. Later in the spring along about May, we had a first draft.

Working with Pete is like working with an older brother. It is never boring and he knows how to crack a joke or tell a story. He's thoughtful and listens to input, but sticks to his guns when it comes to the backbone of the story. He's a smart ass, but that didn't surprise me. I think the one thing that did suprise me about Pete was how dedicated he is to writing. He doesn't mess around. He's up at the crack of dawn, sometimes even as early as 3 or 4am, (and that's with out an alarm clock) because he has a character beating his way out of his head that needs to live on the page.

One thing to remember about Pete is to never get in a rock throwing fight. You won't win.

Matthew J. Clark

**Top Photo: I shot this photo near Helmsville, Montana just recently on my last location scouting trip. The second image is from a location scouting trip this last May with Dry Rain's Cinematographer Doug Hostetter.