Not long after we both found ourselves with e-mail accounts, my friend Rob and I began writing a film script in near-Exquisite Corpse fashion. We had long wanted to make a movie in Butte, Montana, because we loved the place so much and also because it was such an incredible setting. Rob made the first stab at the script and a couple times a week we would each add something or other until we had a long and sprawling treatment for a film that we could never afford to make. With that script under our belt, we planned an April 1997 trip to Butte to do some planning for the film we were eventually going to make.
Rob lived in Seatte and I lived in Minneapolis -- Butte was right about in the middle (actually much closer to Seattle than it was to Minneapolis). A former housemate of mine introduced me to a man named Howard Morris, who lived in St. Paul but was long enchanted with Butte. Howard was working on several writing projects about the city. He had done tons of research and knew dozens of people in Butte. Before I left for the trip I visited him and he helped me fill a couple memo book pages with the names and numbers of people who I should contact in Butte about our film idea.
A couple weeks before the flight to Seattle I sat with my mother and partner Kristine in a church in Minneapolis. It was Easter Sunday, one of the few days that, out of some ancient pattern, took me into a church. During the sermon in the dark brick turn-of-the-century Lutheran church, my mind wandered with thoughts of history, the past, Butte and genealogy. Rob had been telling me about some of the genealogical research that he had been doing and my family on both sides had a number of members who took genealogy very seriously, and I had long heard stories about the people who came before me.
All these ideas coalesced into the simple image of a woman arriving at the Butte bus station (that had been the first scene of our sprawling Exquisite Corpse treatment, tho the woman may have been a man in drag in that version). The reason she walked off the bus there was to research her genealogy.
So I flew to Seattle, Rob met me there, he drove us to Butte, and we spend a few days in the mining city lining up interviews, talking to people, visiting the sites and brewing the story in our heads. Every morning I would sit at my laptop and spend a couple hours putting together some of our ideas into our first treatment.
Over the next two years that treatment evolved through additional e-mail and phone calls between us. Our initial concept of shooting the film in 16mm changed into shooting it on digital video, which allowed us to have money to spend on actors and all the other things we would need to spend money on. And now, after more than two years of brewing and changing we were finally meeting once again, as I flew into Bozeman. We had two of the three main parts of our film cast, and interviews scheduled to cast for the third role, the lead role, set for the following morning. I had moved about four thousand dollars from my savings account into my checking account, and had bought within the last couple months a three chip digital camera, a short shotgun microphone, 20 hours of DV tapes, and of course plane tickets for Kristine and I to Bozeman. Including equipment costs, I had budgeted under ten thousand dollars to make the movie. Nearly half of that had already been spent on equipment; the rest lay in wait in my checking account.
I got off the plane with all this new equipment bulging out of my bags, as well as books and props. I barely had any space left to pack my clothes.
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