From the Hollywood Hills to the Flathead Valley

By Beacon Staff

SOMERS – Fourteen-year old Solomon Ray can attest that starring in a movie isn’t all glamour and spotlights.

Over the past two weeks, the Whitefish resident has been chased through a scrap yard by a motorcycle, hung out in abandoned cars, repeatedly climbed stairs and mountains and spent hours standing in the freezing water of the Flathead River fighting a “bog monster” – all while trying to remember his lines.

“I’ve always really liked movies, so it’s really cool to actually get to see how they do things,” he said. “And watching Larry (Laverty), and the other professional actors, is amazing. They’re so good that just watching them is really fun and teaches me a lot.”

Since mid-October, Ray and 17-year-old Staci Crowe have been performing the leading roles of a film being shot by Kalispell residents Andrew and Marianne Wiest in the Flathead Valley. Another approximately 25 local children, ranging in age from 6 to 17, are also in the film, acting in supporting roles and as extras.

The movie is a children’s adaptation of the book “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” a Christian allegory and the most famous work of English writer and preacher John Bunyan. First printed in the 1670s, the original tells the story of a man, Christian, and his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City.” Along the way, Christian encounters characters, places and challenges rife with religious symbolism.

Director Andy Wiest, left, of Kalispell helps cinematographerJustin Silvey changes lenses during a recent shoot in Somers. Wiest is working on a movie being produced by his film company Blue Collar Flicks.

In order to translate the book into a children’s story, Andrew Wiest, the film’s screenwriter and director, combined themes from several popular works with his own plot twists. “It’s a bit of Pilgrim’s Progress, the Prodigal Son and Oliver Twist – in a post-apocalyptic future with giant robots and insects,” he said.

In the Wiests’ film, war has turned Earth into a wilderness and wasteland and people live in small pockets of civilization. A runaway child named Chris, played by Ray, lives with a group of misfits in a junkyard, stealing to survive. When a traveling preacher tells him that his father is alive and wants him to come home, Chris begins his journey, meeting strange drifters, bandits and “things that go bump in the night,” Andrew Wiest said.

When the film’s completed, the Wiests plan to premiere the movie in Kalispell.

It’s the third feature film by Andrew, a Glendive native who grew up in Wyoming, and his wife Marianne, a Bigfork native and the film’s producer.

Their first feature, an action-comedy titled “Pizza, Pesos, and Pistoleros” made in 2003, garnered praise at the 2005 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. The follow-up, “Dead Noon,” is an action-packed, horror-western that will be distributed by Lionsgate in February. Both were filmed largely in Montana and Wyoming.

“With technology now, you don’t have to be in Los Angeles to make a film anymore,” Andrew Wiest said. “I think you just have to make the decision that this is where you’re going to do it, and then you do whatever it takes to make it work.”

Judah Justine, 11, back left of Kalispell and his brother Liam Justine, 6, front left, visit with Staci Crowe, 17 of Kalispell, center and Solomon Ray, 14 of Whitefish while on set of a Blue Collar Flicks movie being filmed in the valley.

This is the first film, however, where the Wiests have had child actors in lead roles.

While the child actors they cast out of the Flathead have little or no acting experience, Marianne Wiest said their enthusiasm and willingness to jump into parts and scenes have made for easy work.

“We tried to cast kids who really fit the character they’d be playing – just look at Judah (Justine), he’s adorable,” she said of the 11-year-old playing the role of Duck, Chris’s tag-along friend who sleeps in the trunk of a car.

And, she added later, in an adventure film where actors are asked to do odd tasks, there’s another benefit to working with kids: “You tell the kids what to do and they say, ‘Ok. Cool.’ You tell adults and they ask, ‘Why?’”

Last week, Ray and Crowe, along with their fellow actors Justine and Travis Gee, 12, described the acting experience as “amazing” and “awesome” – even as they ate a packed lunch in a scrap yard, dressed in used clothes and covered in dirt. In fact, the crazy parts of the shoot seemed to be the main selling point for these young stars.
“I like this because I get to do things I normally couldn’t, like jump on old cars and trip adults and play in a junk yard,” Justine said. “And I get snack food at lunch time.”