North by Northwest
While the title of this post isn’t about one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, it is about a location that famed film featured – Rapid City, South Dakota. In the late 1970s my family traveled by motorhome across the county. After stopping in Minnesota to visit some family, the next stop before we travelled to Yellowstone National Park was Rapid City, and more specifically, Badlands National Park.
Some forty plus years later in the summer of 2020, my mother and I were looking for some places to holiday that were still open. Places that were wide open in space, but with plenty of “touristy” things to do. We then remembered the trip we took to South Dakota all those years ago. A quick call to the state’s travel bureau and we received a wonderful catalog that outlined countless things to do, particularly in the Black Hills region. From the welcoming hospitality of South Dakotans to the numerous sites to visit, our nearly two-week holiday was one of the best.
A few weeks ago a business opportunity presented itself in the state capital of Pierre. It didn’t take long for me to make travel arrangements back to the “Mount Rushmore State.” There is something quite spectacular about traveling in the off season. When I arrived on Thursday, I first found myself at Mount Rushmore. With probably no more than twenty people at the memorial, it was a unique experience as there were no crowds to “rush” the moment. The history of how Mount Rushmore came into existence (and almost didn’t) is a fascinating one. I highly recommend the book Mount Rushmore by Gilbert C. Fite to learn more.
The next day took me to my meeting in Pierre. Being from the east coast one hears about a 2.5-hour drive and we cringe because of traffic and congestion associated with this part of the country. But in South Dakota the drive from Rapid City to the state capital was uniquely pleasant through sheer natural beauty, fields and wildlife. There were a few moments when I stopped for “Bambi” and family.
Saturday was my day of touring. I made arrangements to visit a store that my mother and I discovered in 2020 – House of Scandinavia. Being Scandinavian (Swedish), the store was a must visit and didn’t disappoint. My next stop was something I wanted to visit in 2020, but didn’t have time – the Minuteman Missile Historic Site.
With three sites along Route 90, the tour started with the visitor center which offered a museum and insightful 30-minute movie on the history of the Cold War, the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system and the reasons behind their development. The second stop (Delta-01) featured a tour of a launch control facility. It was in these underground bunkers where two Air Force officers were ready to launch nuclear missiles. The third stop (Delta-09) was a view of an actual missile silo with decommissioned Minuteman missile. You can imagine the tour provided some ideas for SOS United States! If you want to learn more about this important time during the Cold War that prevented World War III, this is one attraction I highly recommend.
After my third stop on the Minuteman tour, the Pinnacles entrance station to the Badlands was literally just down the street. There is nothing in this world quite like the Badlands. In fact, it looks and feels like you are on another planet. I think what struck me the most during my visit this year versus 2020, was the void of tourists and how remarkably quite it was. Peaceful and tranquil are just two of the many words that come to mind.
For those that have ventured down the road of producing a film, there are numerous details to attend to. But one thing that is truly paramount is character and story background. This week I sent the actors and crew a multi-page document that provides not only the character backstory but terminology associated with the “First World” universe.
While Justice Is Mind was about mind reading, I honestly can’t expect actors or crew to read mine. First, I find the phrase “motivation” to be terribly overused. Rather, I like to give the actors and crew the big picture. It’s easy for a director to drone on about this or that or whatever. But when someone reads in black and white what the backstory is or universe they are in, it makes the process so much easier. It also fosters thoughtful creative input.
As for creative, this week also yielded some interesting conversations regarding costuming. In First Signal, four of the characters have very specific looks. Two are outfitted in Nehru styled suits, while two are Air Force officers. It’s the latter that saw the progress we were looking for. From discussions with an Air Force base military store to a costume company that outfits the military in my favorite TV show, the aim is to have these actors outfitted accordingly.
Speaking of actors, I received a call a few days ago from an actress that was beyond frustrated with the fact that she hasn’t secured representation. Is she talented? Yes. Does she have a solid resume? Yes. The one thing I stressed in this industry is that nothing is simple or easy. There are no shortcuts. And the one unwavering thing you need is patience. But comparing my work to yours or another actors is not the route you go. And when you start tuning out the advice you sought because you aren’t hearing what you want, you might need to rethink your career. This industry is waiting for no one, but it may respond if you have talent, a viable idea or a unique project (film or TV). I say may because I will quote the late Maximilian Schell, “This an industry of chances and luck.” Even after all his years of fame from Happy Days, Henri Winkler still auditions.
I do seem to be having good luck with the DJI Spark. I have to say this is a very smart drone. It takes a bit of getting used to operating virtual joysticks (there is an optional controller you can buy), but there’s so many flight options that are brilliantly automatic. At the end of the day all a filmmaker wants is a great shot.
Finally, I just finished reading James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty. No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, this is an important read. In the hyper partisan, media obsessed world we live in, it’s too easy to make snap judgments without knowing or caring about the facts. That’s really what our country comes down to does it? Facts, truth and loyalty to the constitution of the United States and those that defend it.