Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Guest blogger - Gary Keller

Former South Dakota Film Commissioner Gary Keller has agreed to share some of his memories from several years of promoting the state to the movie industry. I know he's got some great stories and here's one from "Dances With Wolves" -

During location scouting for the Fort Sedgewick site in the spring of 1988, I was hosting Producer/Director/Actor Kevin Costner and co-producer Jim Wilson, and location manager Tim Wilson on a location scouting trip about 15 miles west of Ft. Pierre along the Bad River. It was a location where there stood an old log cabin and another building right along the Bad River. We were in the Tourism Department Suburban and the spring rains had the Bad River flowing pretty swiftly. Being an Iowa farmboy, I knew how to drive two wheel drive trucks in mud but had never crossed a river as big as this one and didn't really know much about how to drive four wheel drives. I had been told by then Tourism photographer Mark Kayser to just put it in Four Wheel Drive low and crawl across the crossing, which did have a rock bottom, but only where you were supposed to cross. As I look at the river, I am thinking to myself, "I'm 10 miles from the next ranch and I have one of the top Hollywood stars in this truck...I CANNOT get stuck in this river or my career is over!"

Now, to back up a bit, this group of guys had come in and out of South Dakota several times scouting to make sure South Dakota was the right place for them, so I was starting to get to know them fairly well. And they could see I was stalling. So they started all pitching in with how exactly to get across this river. Kevin himself had a suburban so he probably knew a little better than the others, but I got the sense he'd never done anything quite like this before either.

I finally knew I couldn't wait any longer, so I dumped the truck into drive, prayed and floored it. We dropped down into the river, a wall of water hit the windshield and it was instant blindness. The Wilson boys were in the back seat, and Tim had his window open. Needless to say, he got soaked. And nobody had their seat belts on. I managed to whack away at the windshield wiper and found it, so we could see again but the truck was bucking, wheels spinning and throwing mud and water all over the place. It seemed like an hour but within seconds we were across to the other side. I look over at Kevin sitting in the passenger's seat next to me and his face is white, he's staring out the window.

We drove up around the hill and Kevin spent about an hour getting a feel for the ranch to see if it would be wiser to bring the Houck Ranch's buffalo down to this location, which was closer to town. Now its time to go back. I pull up to the river again and look at the gigantic ruts I have left in the crossing. Big, deep ruts that will surely swallow the truck, and I'll slide off to the side off the rocks and will surely get stuck in the muddy river bottom if I am not dead on lucky to find a track that will hold us up and get us through. Now everybody in the truck is an expert, and I'm getting loud and multiple suggestions. I had no choice but to use the same technique I had earlier...floor it, pray and go!

This time, the ruts were taking the truck where they wanted it to go and I was sure I wasn't going to make it. My life flashed before my eyes. There must have been someone watching down on me, because we were once again successful and got across. I'm sure the rancher was p.o.'d when he saw the mess I made.

As it turned out, Kevin chose not to use the location and instead shoot the Fort Sedgewick and buffalo stampede scenes, as well as most of the Timmons' wagon trek across the prairie on the Houck Ranch. Which turned out to be a good idea, or so seven Academy Awards would indicate.

The funniest part of the entire situation was, a few years later, I was at a party at the Los Angeles area home of a film commissioner friendly industry exec Phil Nemy following a Location Expo trade show and struck up a conversation with a film commissioner from Texas. When I introduced myself, she said, to my surprise, "Oh, YOU'RE the one." I asked her what she was talking about.

Turns out that a couple of films after Kevin did Dances With Wolves, he was scouting locations with this young woman for "A Perfect World" which he would end up doing with Clint Eastwood, and as they were driving across the Texas prairie looking for locations, they must have ended up in a similar situation, and Kevin told her about the whole nasty Bad River story., which by then had become a sort of funny legend I guess. So, if I did nothing else in my 12 years as the film commissioner for South Dakota, I made a lasting impression on our first really big film producer!

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