Summer may have just begun, but two Missoula filmmakers are planning to bring “Winter in the Blood” back to the Hi-Line in the next few months.
The 1974 novel by James Welch, the late writer of Blackfeet and Gros Ventres bloods, is being directed for the screen by Alex and Andrew Smith, Montana-born award-winning filmmakers and professors at the Universities of Texas and Montana respectively.
The brothers were raised on a ranch about 30 miles outside of Missoula, where Welch used to spend time and in fact met his wife, they said.
As they grew older, “Winter in the Blood” not only grabbed them, but has held on to this day.
“As teenagers it really helped us, ” Alex said. “We’ve read it several times over the years, using it as a map home, something to get strength from. ”
It’s that strength that they want to share with all of the unfortunate non-Montanans.
“We feel Montana has been under-filmed, ” Alex said. “So we were excited to bring a bunch of film folks up to Montana. ”
As most of the story of novel was heavily drawn from Welch’s life, growing up on a ranch on Fort Belknap, the Smiths say that they couldn’t imagine filming this novel anywhere else but here, and on the Hi-Line in particular.
The brothers said that throughout the filmmaking process, they’ve faced pressure to film the movie in other parts of the state, like near Bozeman, or even in Canada, where the production could get larger tax breaks, but they’ve insisted on the Hi-Line.
“We’re excited to expose that part of the state to a wider audience, ” Andrew said. “That’s part of why we want to shoot it there.
“We’re sort of sticklers for authenticity. We feel like it’s called us up there. ”
Ensuring the film is made in north- central Montana isn’t the only struggle they’ve had with the process. They had earlier hoped to film last year, but decided to wait a year to get on more stable financial ground, that they believe they’ll be on later this summer.
“It’s tough out in Hollywood, ” Alex said. “If there’s no vampires or explosions or ghosts it’s hard to get made, but a lot of people have had resonance with this story. ”
But the brothers have been through all this before.
They also co-wrote and directed the 2002 independent film “The Slaughter Rule, ” a film starring Ryan Gosling and David Morse about a high school football player in rural Montana, that was filmed around Great Falls and screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
Morse is returning for this film, and will be joined by actors from projects like the “Twilight” series and the TV-show “Friday Night Lights. ”
The Smiths are working with award-winning Casting Director Rene Haynes, who worked with Lakota actor Chaske Spencer and Choctaw actress Julia Jones on the “Twilight” sequels, who will each play lead roles in “Winter in the Blood. ”
Haynes has, over the past year, held auditions for other actors across the state, including at Montana State University-Northern a year ago.
The rest of the main film crew have also made a few trips to the Hi-Line in the past year to scout locations and prepare for this summer’s filming, including renting out space in the Masonic Temple as a production office.
The crew, in helping to make the Hi-Line itself as much of a character in the story as Welch did, are looking to involve the community. They have considered bars and other buildings from Rudyard to Malta to be used in the movie.
The film’s third co-writer, UM-trained writer Ken White, has said they are still looking for a lot of vehicles, appliances and art from the 1950s through 1975 to recreate the setting of the novel.
They’ve also got a number of online methods to make financial contribution at www.winterintheblood.com/contribute, and “participation and in-kind contributions of the Hi-Line communities.”
They hope to be ready for a 21-day shooting extravaganza by August.
“You spend four years trying to get to the place that you can spend 21 days trying to get it all on film, ” Alex said.
“It’ll be sort of strapped to the front of an airplane, you can’t get out until you land, ” Andrew said.