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Havre High graduate releasing classic fairy tale set in Butte

Rob Cox translates Hans Christian Anderson story 'The Tinderbox' to modern day


Last updated 7/23/2021 at 12:24pm

Tinderbox Partners LLC

Brin Merkley and Mike Nance act in a scene from "The Tinderbox"

Havre High School graduate Rob Cox, who has an impressive set of film credits himself, and his wife, Liz, will soon be releasing a film described as a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Tinderbox" set in modern-day Butte.

"The original fairy tale starts with a soldier returning from the war for the king, you know, so we have a guy coming back from Syria. It was like mid 2000s, I think when Liz wrote it ... mid-2010s, I guess. So, we have a soldier going back from Syria back to Butte. ... We tried to showcase Butte," Rob Cox said.

Liz Cox not only wrote the film, but co-directed it alongside legendary camera operator and cinematographer David L. Butler, who Rob Cox said recently died.

Butler's camera work includes Jon Carpenter's "Starman," "Apocalypse Now," "Jaws 2," "Terminator 2," and "The Blues Brothers."

Cox co-produced the film and did post-production. He said his wife has previously worked as a writer for Disney cartoons.

"The Tinderbox," a comedy version of the Hans Christian Andersen story, will have a premiere at The Motherlode Theatre in Butte Friday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. The poster says an afterparty will be held at the Elks Club in Butte.

Tickets went on sale July 9 and can be purchased at http://buttearts.org and http://thetinderboxmovie.com .

"If (Montana Actors' Theatre Executive Director) Jay Pyette wants to invite me to come (to Havre) and show it in his theater, I'd be happy to do that," Cox added.

The film stars Mike Nance as Johnny and Brin Merkley as Anna. Cox said the film has mostly local talent, saying "half the town is in it."

After living in Havre, Cox said he went to college in Missoula prior to getting the role of Conroy in the 1992 film "A River Runs Through It," starring Brad Pitt. Cox then lived in Los Angeles for 16 years before he and his wife moved to Butte.

During his time in Los Angeles, Cox worked both as an actor and in post-production while his wife worked as a writer. His credits also include post-production work on shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "West Wing," and hundreds of motion pictures. When the couple moved back to Montana, Butte's Montana Movie Factory was born.

Liz Cox's past work also is top-level, earning her an Annecy Award and an Emmy nomination.

Cox said he felt like other movies make Butte look like a bad place and he and his wife wanted to help change that perception. He said the cooperation of the community helped save the film money on locations.

"I'd grown up thinking that Butte was where you'd go get your ass kicked, you know, like Butte has this reputation around the state of being this, like, rough and tumble town. But I've never met nicer people than when we moved here, and then we started looking around, and I was like, 'You know, we could shoot anything we wanted here,'" Cox said.

Cox said various diverse neighborhoods in Butte look like different periods in time ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s and 1970s. He said he worked on a movie featuring Demi Moore in November which was shot in Butte but set in New York.

Cox estimated "The Tinderbox's" budget was around a quarter of a million dollars, which he said is a low budget for a movie. He added that all the talent was local and most of the music in the film is as well.

"The music is local musicians, except my best friend in Los Angeles, we're using one of his songs. And we have a guy in Portland that we bought some songs from, but all of the other music in the movie is from local artists, mostly from Butte," Cox said.

Cox described the original fairy tale as one of a soldier who comes back from war in torn up clothes and with no money. The soldier meets a witch who tells the soldier about three chests - one filled with copper, a second with silver and one with gold, plus a tinderbox.

The soldier can have as much of the riches as he wants but must bring her the tinderbox, which releases enormous powerful dogs that grant wishes - the Cox film puts its own spin on the narrative at that point.

"So, in our adaptation, because we didn't want to have to have a big giant dog with eyes the size of dinner plates that we'd have to deal with, my wife just made it a leprechaun that lives under the Pekin Noodle Parlor. ... It's like the oldest Chinese restaurant in the state, or the oldest continuously running Chinese restaurant. It's a landmark up town," Cox said.

Actor Mike Verdon plays the role of the leprechaun. Cox said Verdon is well-known for a cabaret show in Virginia City.

The soldier then spends the rest of the film pursuing a princess.

Cox said the film was shot four to five years ago, adding that downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic meant the project could finally be finished. Cox said the main hold-up had been things like licensing music and post-production issues.

"That's been our setback. We did have some equipment problems, like, I lost several terabytes of information that I had to go recover and that took several months, but I got it all back. You know, there was some nearly catastrophic failures that we had with equipment early on," Cox said.

Tinderbox Partners LLC

Mike Nance and Brin Merkley act in a scene from "The Tinderbox."

"It was funny, because right about the time the pandemic was starting, I had said to my wife, 'What we really need is somebody to just pay us to stay home and finish this,' because we were getting close to the end, and then the lockdown happened and they sent us stimulus checks," he added.

Cox expressed he and his wife are very eager to have something to show after many years of hard work.

"My wife and I have watched it a million times, you know, over and over. And we've watched 8 million different incarnations of it and re-edited it, you know. I've seen it all and laughed at it a million times. Some of it I still laugh out loud when I see it, you know, but for the most part, I'm excited to watch other people watch it because I've just seen it too many times," Cox said, laughing.


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