Blood, sweat, and really nice moms: The DIY making of Farmland Dynamite’s Savageland
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This is what it takes to make a western in Wisconsin: A plot of farmland, a stable of horses, a cache of guns, a lot of blanks, a gallon of mosquito repellent, a motorcycle-driving actor/gun expert, 25 extras, nine day jobs, movie blood, real blood, CGI blood, real sweat, fake sweat, three video cameras, an insane but game rock band, a kickass sound engineer, a top secret recording space, a man’s weight in hard drives, really nice moms, relatives with a Rocky Rococo’s franchise, naïveté, beer, Final Cut, After Effects, and a Kickstarter campaign.
“All these little things, we take them one at a time, based on what’s most crucial and easily obtainable,” say Adam Gilmore and Cole Quamme, two of the nine members in the Milwaukee-based filmmaking collective Farmland Dynamite.
You don’t often get a direct answer to a question posed to the group. Every answer is a discussion. Three or four opinions get thrown into the mix before they eventually settle into one stance. It’s similar to how the thousands of decisions are made in Farmland Dynamite’s nearly completed western short film, Savageland.
Farmland Dynamite is Quamme, Gilmore, Chuck Zink, Tom Trudeau, Dan Boville, Ryan Reeve, Mike Walker, Kelly Anderson, and Nick Eason, all early to mid-’20s Milwaukee filmmakers who met at UWM. They hold no titles in the group or in the Savageland credits. They’re what would happen if there were nine Coen Brothers, or if The State made gritty action dramas instead of sketch comedy.
The cooperative idealism of The State in particular seems appropriate when talking about Farmland Dynamite. Gilmore says he’s studying law at Marquette so he can be an entertainment lawyer for the group—part of their goal to be a completely self-sufficient enterprise. “We’re a collective,” Boville says. “We’re like a communist country,” Trudeau offers. “Socialist,” Gilmore counters. “We work like The Blob.”
The bulk of Savageland was filmed last July in Poynette, Wisconsin, a small town about 30 miles north of Madison. The story was based primarily on whatever materials the group had free access to that smacked of production value. Quamme’s parents own 20 acres of land in Poynette. His uncle had a cache of guns. His old babysitter, Peggy Bamberg, had horses. “So we thought a Western,” says Gilmore. “But we didn’t have a lot of old stuff. We had new stuff. So, okay. A post-apocalyptic Western.”
During filming, they all slept in a cabin in Poynette. Quammes’ mother made them food and helped with production design. His uncle’s scissor lift was used for a crane shot. Reeve’s parents, who own a Rocky Rococo’s/Subway hybrid five miles away, donated food. They convinced neighbors to let them film in an old shack by cleaning it out for them.
Young filmmaker projects are usually filled with their friends and classmates; it’s rare to see a main character with years and mileage on their face. One of the most unique aspects of Savageland is that its lead is in his 40s. Green Bay actor Scott Bailey plays the film’s hero, Sheldon Miller. Bailey doesn’t just play a badass post-apocalyptic anti-hero, he’s the fellow you’d want to saddle up with if you had to live through Armageddon. Bailey could already ride a horse, and he ended up an unofficial firearm consultant for the film. He would catch continuity errors during shooting that the others would miss. Then, after a 12-hour shot, he would kick back and drink with the kids half his age.
Bailey has a face like Bryan Cranston at his most grizzled, and a voice like Clint Eastwood on two packs a day. He came into his audition dressed all in black with his own gun and holster. “I thought, if we don’t pick him, he’ll hunt us and kill us,” says Boville. “It was almost a passion piece for him, too. He was done doing free work... [but] he wanted to do a Western.”
Now, after almost a year of post-production, hours of recording the soundtrack with John The Savage, and a Kickstarter campaign that topped its $7,500 goal by more than a grand, Farmland Dynamite is aiming to finish a rough cut for the Milwaukee Film Festival by the submission deadline of June 15.
The group meets Fridays to check everyone’s progress and plan the next couple of weeks. At a recent meeting, Rob Hickey, the score engineer, brings in the newest bit of John The Savage music to lay over a scene. Everyone gets excited. “We’ve never seen this,” says Quamme. At that moment, the collective is more like a group of fans waiting in line to see The Dark Knight Rises than a bunch of guys slaving over the same 20-minute story they’ve been working on for a year. It’s mad joy as 20 eyes stare at the flatscreen TV and the movie begins.
A final fundraiser/party for Savageland will be held tonight at The Hotel Foster.