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.
If you’ve seen Justice Is Mind, First World or Serpentine: The Short Program, you know I don’t shy away from using multiple locations to tell my stories. I’ve been very lucky with my productions to secure some unique locations.
Each one of those projects had one or two critical locations. For Justice Is Mind it was a courtroom and MRI facility. For First World it was a presidential suite and a horse farm. For Serpentine it was a figure skating complex. Each of those locations brought gravitas to their stories.
For this new project, my aim is a simple one. Keep the story largely contained to one interior room and one outdoor scene. My goal is both for story and cinematography. With the primary story taking place in a windowless bunker one of my inspirations is Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. For those that have seen this classic, the story primarily takes place in an apartment. As that film was first produced as a play, it largely makes sense that it would be confined to one location.
This new story is a prequel to First World and revolves around one particular meeting. While I would obviously love to see First World produced, I also know that it’s a science fiction epic that would require, while maybe not an “epic” budget, certainly one in the seven figures. For this project, the aim is to contain production costs for independent production.
While Dial M for Murder is one inspiration, another is Fail Safe. The scenes in the Pentagon’s “war room” worked on a variety of levels. What I particular liked was the rear projection that was used to display the military crisis between the United States and U.S.S.R. Because this type of “special effect” was produced while the movie was being photographed, it saved time in post-production.
With a good amount of my research completed, I’ll shortly start the writing process. The fall and winter months are my favorite time to write an original story. Believe me, it’s the cold weather that will set the mood for this piece!
This story will revolve around a particular signal intercept and how certain government and military officials are responding to it. To give you an idea of the conflict in this story, I’ll borrow a quote from Valkyrie, “This is a military operation. Nothing ever goes according to plan.”