Was this a school project? What were your academic requirements?
Gem of the West was made as a school project to fulfill Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degrees for Executive Producers Joe, Jared and Dan. Some consider the BFA program at Emerson College to be the most rigorous, and challenging accomplishments a film student can academically achieve. The BFA program is set up as a two-semester workshop class that primarily focuses on students' projects. Students interested in being enrolled in the BFA program must submit a project proposal application and pitch their project to a BFA board of appointed Emerson College professors who decide which projects are admitted into the BFA program each semester.
Not all projects are film; some are feature length or TV show scripts, animations, audio or installation projects. As BFA students creating a film, we were expected to write and produce a story all the way from writing the script to finishing it and shown to a wide audience. Our professors were our resources, helping us create deadlines for ourselves and achieve the most well crafted story we could. Our peers were there to offer their comments, critiques and sometimes a helping hand on set. The class taught us how to completely think through a project both creatively and logistically while simultaneously creating an admirable portfolio piece.
Of all genres, why did you decide to make a western?
Deciding to make a Western was actually the very first thing we did. Writer/Director Joseph Rechtman and Director of Photography Danny Gamache were having lunch in the dining hall their freshman year and were talking about how much they enjoyed the genre. The 3:10 to Yuma remake had just been released and they had been watching a lot of the Clint Eastwood Westerns in their dorms. From there it was only a matter of time before one of them looked up from their plate and said “Let’s make a Western for our BFA film.” After that was decided, everything else started coming together.
Where did you shoot Gem of the West?
Gem of the West was shot at the Whitehorse Ranch in Landers, California. After originally trying to find suitable ghost towns to shoot in and looking into a lima bean plantation in Lompoc, California, we decided to research movie sets that are set up for just this sort of film. One of the first places we came upon was the Whitehorse Ranch and the film would not have been possible without that location.
The owners and operators were invaluable to the making of the film, not only providing us with sets, props, costumes, extras, and lodging, but getting us discounts on animal wranglers, using their expertise to help us build the cabin set, and sharing their vast knowledge of the period. Much of the film’s success is owed to the ranch and the great people who operate it.
What was the film’s budget? Where did you get the money from?
The final budget for the film came out to be $22,000. This money went into travel expenses, location costs, lighting equipment rentals, camera equipment rentals, building supplies for our sets, rental fees of the set, per diems and living expenses for our cast, and transportation and food for the entire crew and cast.
As students in the BFA program, we were only given $500 from Emerson College to finance the project. Emerson also offers free rental of all their equipment, but because we were shooting on the other side of the country, we needed to rent everything from rental houses in Los Angeles.
About $10,000 came straight from the pockets of Joe, Jared and Dan combined. The other $12,000 was raised through private donations. Our donors were enticed by our sponsorship from the Jacob Burns Film Center, a non-profit organization. Being sponsored by the JBFC not only gave us credibility, but it made all donations made to our film tax-deductible. We reached out to friends and family through a mail campaign describing the project and asking for support. We are incredibly blessed to have received so much support.
Are your actors amateur or professional?
The actors in the film are for the most part professional. The midwife in the beginning is actually one of the owners and operators of the location, and Katherine, who plays Pearl is just beginning to act. Marie Polizzano (Maya Anderson), Scott Winters (Judah Gordon), and Rich Manley (Nathan Anderson) are all professional actors of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
Who and how many people worked on set?
There were nearly 25 crew members on set, and all but 5 or 6 of them were Emerson College students that paid their own air fare just to gain experience and be a part of the film. In addition to these students, there were some Emerson Alumni, a young professional camera operator named Adam Bricker from 3 Guys and a Red and a professional stunt and fight coordinator, Anthony Delongis worked on set. Mr. Delongis has had significant professional experience, including stunt credits on Batman Returns.
How does Gem of the West compare to other BFA films at Emerson College?
One of our goals while making this movie was to go above and beyond what was considered normal at Emerson College. We wanted to set a higher standard for both production value and general ambition with our film. Not many students attempt period pieces, especially not ones that take place in the 19th century. We wanted anyone who saw the film to point to every frame and say, “That doesn’t look like a student production,” and we think for the most part we accomplished our goal.
Has Gem of the West had any type of premiere yet?
The film premiered in December at one of the biggest and busiest movie theaters in New England. Just over 200 people showed up to the multiplex in downtown Boston and enjoyed the free screening.
What film format did you use and why did you choose it?
We decided to shoot the film in HD Video with the RED camera to “modernize” the western, and to present something in the genre that hasn’t been seen before. While the aesthetic value of most westerns has the gritty “film” look, we wanted to introduce the genre to HD and experiment with the genre in an unconventional format.
What made you select the RED camera?
The RED camera has become a very popular choice not only at Emerson College, but with production companies all over the world. The RED can produce an absolutely gorgeous image at a very reasonable price, and our crew was very comfortable with the camera on set and with the RED workflow in the editing room. For the price we paid, this was the most professional and comfortable choice for the film and for our crew.
What were some of the challenges while on set?
The biggest challenge on set was the heat; the crew was working out in the middle of the desert on days that easily reached 107 degrees by noon. We battled dehydration and dangerous sun burns, and there was always concern that the camera might overheat.
On one day the power went out. Luckily, this happened while the crew was filming outside and lighting was not affected, but everyone’s eyes were on the camera’s battery life until the electricity came back on.