Our American journey is over.
It’s strange to be at a point where Spirit of the Frontier, our epic homage to the western genre, is now something we are looking back on, rather than anticipating. The film has come together better than I could have hoped, considering this is our biggest and most ambitious film to date. A lot could have gone wrong. It didn’t.
Inspiration came from Dartmoor itself; driving across those sweeping plains, seeing the vast, dull-yellow hills rolling away beyond the mist, and the clouds casting huge shadows from overhead. Cows and sheep and horses, too, and though none were caught on camera, they nevertheless witnessed proceedings with a certain indifference.
Dartmoor provided everything we needed; exploring the wilds of Burrator, we discovered the reservoir, which became a centerpoint for a couple of scenes in the film; and further along, deep forests where cowboys met mysterious apparitions. Photographs from our two days of location scouting can be found here.
We began out on the plains, where I walked as determinedly as possible despite high winds deciding I looked better without a hat. Rain stopped play only a couple of hours into that first shoot, though subsequent days would be more productive.
Further into the shoot, my cowboy mercenary was joined by a native of the land, the tracker played by Annie Knight. The character is calm, collected and aloof throughout — but watch the scene where she and Cash are at rest in their makeshift camp: She steals the scene with a few brief glances and lines. I think there’s a certain power behind the character in that scene, which of course was the intention; especially in regards to that spirit-warding water bottle.
The bottle thread was something that developed during shooting, mostly as an attempt to justify the confrontation scene towards the end. Is Cash genuinely being menaced by the killer of his prey? Has he encountered something beyond his comprehension? Or, with his health failing, is he succumbing to fits of hallucinations? The bottle perhaps indicates the latter may have befallen the once-straightforward mercenary.
Whatever his true role in events, Allister Gall (of Imperfect Cinema) as the “apparition” was the man who saved the film. Without him, Cash would have had no one to combat, and no one to be thrown around by. Allister dressed up in his gentleman’s attire sold the scene, and he’s one menacing man! Getting thrown around by him felt like I was being duffed up by the big, bald Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In a good way.
Fortunately for me, I was ill on the day of the final scenes: Having to slump down wearily, croaking out a few choice words, I found I didn’t have to act nearly as much as I had thought. Thanks, weak immune system!
Sound recording was the biggest problem we faced out on the windy plains, and among rustling leaves, but a couple of days doggedly editing kept the soundtrack relatively smooth. Let it be a lesson: Sound is important, and it’s what’s often left to chance in amateur filmmaking. Go prepared with the right equipment, take sound tests and get as much ambience and additional sound as you need. Couple that with effects and a decent editing package (say, Soundtrack Pro) and you get not just sound, but a soundtrack.
The music seemed to come together for this film better than it has on our previous projects. Inspiration from Ennio Morricone (and Metallica) helped, too. The soundtrack can be found as a digital album here, along with a few bonuses. I’m proud of it.
So, the film exists. It’s available right here. Our little journey has created something epic, and dark, and cool, and it might just be the best thing we’ve ever made. Thank you to everyone who got involved: To Mike Kinsey for being a good sport and coming along to take photos of us acting silly; to Håkon L. Tandberg, whose wonderful cover of “Waitin’ Around to Die” sadly couldn’t have been used in the film, but is still wonderful; to the Media staff at the University of Plymouth; to Annie and Allister for brilliant performances; to Jim, for being on every step of this journey; and to everyone who has watched the film, or is going to watch it. Good spirits to you all.
– Tom Menary, 31st May 2011