[We were honored when Brokeback Mountain Locations Manager Darryl Solly graciously agreed to be interviewed. From his offices in Calgary, AB, Solly spoke with Jim Bond, Rob Freeman, and Steve Gin on 27 July 2006. This is Part 2 of his interview. Part 1 was posted here on 7 September 2006. A PDF version of the complete interview is available in Downloads.]
July 27, 2006
Part 2 of 2
Walk us through the process of securing a site. Once you have found a location that works for you and works for the producer, what do you do?
Well, even before a site gets selected, you have to filter some things yourself. The big question you have to answer before you show it to anyone is can you physically get the cameras, the trucks carrying all of the equipment, the sheep; can you get all of that stuff there in an amount of time that will make it reasonable for you to film there?
Next, are there any things about the site that are going to cause trouble? As I am sure you witnessed in Carseland, trains go through there quite a fair bit, and so those are the things that are on your internal checklist.
Sometimes our scouts were showing things where that was not necessarily the case. And as beautiful as those places were, it would mean having an eleven-hour shooting day with your actors instead of an eight-hour shooting day with your actors. Yet, you know it is all about getting that ideal performance. So there are a lot of places that you must eliminate before you show them to anyone.
Once the site gets selected, outdoors and indoors are two very different scenarios. Outdoors is a little bit easier. Usually, when you present locations you already have a plan in your head of what you are hoping to do. For example, we’ll use Mud Lake which was one of the camping scenes  with the stream that flows right beside it. We were driving down the road and said “You know what? This is a pretty spot here,” and we parked and walked out. We started wandering around and quickly we saw the spot. Inevitably, always, you gravitate to the spot. You usually see the spot right away. You wander over, and you find a position you like and begin feverishly taking pictures.
Once you get an idea of where they are going to be, you put a plan into place. For instance, at Mud Lake you are close to the road, really close to the road, the dusty road. So as you see in the movie, we had 40 or 50 trees that we had spiked right beside the road overlapping each other a) to hide the road and b) so the dust hit them first. We were watering the trees and the road with a Hudson sprayer because all you need is to drive over it once on a dusty road for it to be dusty again. Then if you wet the trees, the dust will stay on the trees. That is how we were able to keep the dust down there.
 “Gonna Snow” Lake.
I made contact with Jim Dennis  and he and I did a little dance. I made a proposal to him saying, “This is our plan; this is what we would like to do,” demonstrating how we will not be in the public’s way, or that the public will have access to the area. Since we were filming at night, there was little-to-no issue there.
The issue at Mud Lake was with the road and there we needed to contact a different Provincial entity, the Department of Transportation, to limit the traffic when we were filming. So, even though we were shooting at night, we had people blocking the road and doing stop and go traffic on a two-lane dirt trail. We also had to arrange for a donation to the parks community. We had to pay for a ranger. We had to make a deposit for the parks in case we spilled gasoline and lit the whole thing on fire. We had to make sure that the park was insured. We had to inform the rangers beforehand of our presence. Then we were more or less ready to go.
You said interior locations posed different challenges.
Yes, for instance in the case of the Laundry Apartment, there was a tenant and she was nervous about the whole thing. We gave her everything she asked for being away from that place. We gave her money and she was able to travel to British Columbia and Nova Scotia and see her kids.
The owners thought it was great because they knew they were going to get taken care of. Every day we shot we paid them to close [a Radio Shack store located on the premises], guaranteed their revenues, and paid all of their employees.
We also needed to make a deal with the Department of Transportation there because Highway 3 is right there.
 Special Events and Permit Coordinator, Alberta Community Development, Parks and Protected Areas.
Did you stop traffic?
We stopped traffic because for that shot out the window, no one could park in that parking lot. They had to park somewhere else and that caused problems. Inconvenience is an understatement, but it was okay. It was money well spent because we got that shot. Once we had that shot, everyone could park there again, and everyone was fine.
But again, everyone was looked after; all the businesses on that street were looked after. “What’s your average? You’ll get taken care of.” If they did not believe me, we had our Economic Development Coordinator there walk over and talk to them “If you do not want them [the filmmakers] to take care of you, I will take care of you. And that is fine. I walk by and see you on the sidewalk every day. You are going to be taken care of.” So we doubled our deposit with the town. Everyone knew that the town had some “just in case money” from us. That was a long process because we had to talk to everybody, and with some of them, you have to do a dance.
There were some surprises. We really didn’t expect a restaurant owner to say that he was losing business because we had rented every hotel room in town, and he depended upon tourist traffic. Since there were no rooms left for tourists and because we all ate food supplied by our caterer, he was out money. That was something we could not foresee, but we looked after him.
During this period, when people asked you, “What is this movie going to be about,” what did you say?
Initially, because I was intimidated and had, as I later found, an unjust fear of the movie, we said it was a modern western set in Wyoming in the ’60s, following two men from their 20s into their 40s and the trials and tribulations of their lives. I did not lie. Now, it does not take a wizard to find out what the story is. After we wound up in Fort Macleod, the paper published a nasty op-ed piece by a local pastor. Because we used local people as extras in the fireworks scene, the preacher felt that they had been taken advantage of. My response to that is, “You guys were there. Did you see anything offensive? Absolutely anything? Then what is your fear; what is your problem?” From my perspective, we offered everyone a chance to come by and watch a fireworks show and they saw Heath Ledger confronting two bikers who were infringing on his family. Where is the problem?
After that, we realized we needed to say more. We continued to describe the film broadly, but we did say that there were some undertones that might offend some people. I offered to make arrangements if anyone found they were offended by what they saw being filmed.
Only one person of whom we required assistance turned us down because of content, and that was in Carseland. There is that wood place across from the gas station across the railroad tracks, that funky kind of junk place. They had a teepee that the designer wanted to have taken down.
One of my guys had asked the owner, and he said, “I am a good Christian man and I do not believe in what you are doing. So I don’t want to participate.”
I told Michael, who told Ang, and they dealt with it. Although the designer, as always, wanted to be able to give the director a full 360° palette, I said, “If we can get away with having a 350° palette and avoid that teepee 150 yards away, we’re fine.” I went over and talked to the owner and said, “Listen, I understand and respect your belief and I hope you understand and respect my job. I am not going to bother you; you have made it perfectly clear that you are not going to bother us. I hope you have a wonderful day.” We shook hands and he said “Thank you very much for talking with me and respecting my opinion.”
That was it. We acknowledged his views and he respected the fact that we were trying to make a film. He was able to separate the content matter from the fact that my job was to set this up and make the movie. On that level I do respect the guy. His decision was wrong, but I am glad that he did not rally the troops and bring his air horn or do something else to ruin the shot. To me, that would have been the far greater evil.
In Rockyford, we told them there are some undertones to this that might be offensive to some people but, you know what, we’ll give you the [scripts for the] scenes we are filming here and if you find anything offensive in them, tell me. Of course, that was when we were in Rockyford with the rodeo scenes, the post office scene, the phone booth, and the T-Bird scene. They read all of that, and of course, found nothing wrong. We filmed the scenes, and they were happy. We raised $6,000 for their Lions Club, much less paid the Town of Rockyford and everyone else.
We did have a couple of hiccups in Rockyford. We had to re-side three of the businesses because our painting technique did not work out the way it was supposed to.
Is the (Rockyford / Riverton) post office a real post office?
It was at some point. It was gutted, but it was a post office, and it was used as a storage facility by the local gas company. It is where they kept their hoses and tools. Obviously, we were able to put the phone booth wherever we wanted because it was our phone booth.
The Set Decoration department forgot to bring the phone booth to Rockyford the day before filming. The night before filming everyone wanted to know, “Where is the phone booth?” “I don’t know. Where is the phone booth?” “Oh my God!” I drove back to Calgary in the middle of the night. I got the phone booth and strapped it in the truck, ratcheting it in there, and drove back up to Rockyford. [Laughter.] Thankfully, we were able to get it there in time.
There is a huge demand for a director’s cut.
This is now basic strategy for movie companies. They put out as little as they can for the first one. The first DVD is literally a teaser. Look at Star Wars. There are all of these other DVDs that they know people are going to buy later.
That is what’s happening with DVDs now. They will provide the absolute bare minimum on the release day and then Christmas or whatever, they’ll come out with a Silver Screen edition. And then two or three years later, they’ll come out with the director’s edition, and they are going to keep doing this because that is what the market demands. When I saw the extras on the Brokeback DVD, I was disappointed as well. I am quite certain there is going to be more. This is now a part of the cultural fabric; it’s not going to go away. And they know this is going to be a project that is going to go on forever.
I am quite certain that Criterion is going to get a license and you are going to see the Criterion Collection of Brokeback Mountain. I have been very tempted to phone Focus and phone Michael Hausman and offer to pay my own way to go down to do a commentary track. I will even pay for [Assistant Locations Manager] Jay St. Louis to go do a commentary track just about the locations on the show. I would love to do that.
There is talk about tours and other Brokeback projects.
Yes, I would want to suggest that [prospective tour operators] talk to the private property owners first, for one reason, to offer better tours.
There are a few places that have already gone away like the Twist Thanksgiving Dinner site  and the King Eddie,  and Jack’s parents’ place is going to fall over at some point. This is too bad. When we did a tour with tour guides from Shanghai and Korea, who obviously think that the sun rises and sets with Ang Lee, they were stunned when they went to the supermarket in Crossfield to find that it was for lease. They could not believe it. They were blown away. They thought why is this not a museum? Literally. “This is crazy,” they said, “In China the government would have bought this place and turned it into a museum.”
 The Calgary house was condemned and destroyed for a road widening project.
 Calgary’s King Edward Hotel was the site of the Electra (Clown) Bar scene. It has been closed and boarded up.
And then they went to the [Twist Ranch] house and when they saw that they could not see inside,  they could not believe it.
Making the Brokeback sites accessible will be a slow process but I think we will see progress. Every year come Stampede  time there are going to be people who are going to ask for a Brokeback tour. There were this year, there will be next year, and there will be the year after that. I am sure there are going to be tour companies that will do a Brokeback tour two or three times a year. But initially, that is going to be a slow process; someone is going to have to roll the dice first.
There are very few movies that connect to a specific niche market where people will go to the ends of the earth to follow it to its conclusion. Lord of the Rings is one. Saving Private Ryan, with its beach scene, is perhaps another. They have such remarkable impact that people say, “We have to go there.”
[Steve Gin:] Being a resident of Alberta and running a gay and lesbian theater company,  I am aware of the environment here and was happy to hear that you encountered so few problems. Are there any other stories you care to share? I know that in Fort Macleod when they first showed the film, people lined up for a block to see it.
People in Fort Macleod are really hopeful that this will create an opportunity. It has, it does, and it will. I believe that is how you make progress in those communities. They are going to accept you initially by your wallet. Money is an easy way to make that first inroad and to be accepted. That approach has worked in Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and a lot of communities. We shop in your stores, we eat in your restaurants; if you accept us, we will support you. Then, you vote and that becomes a very important factor.
 The Twist Ranch near Beiseker, AB is also boarded up.
 The Calgary Stampede is an annual festival celebrating western life and culture. It draws in excess of a million visitors to the city every July.
 Steve Gin is the founder of Calgary’s gay and lesbian theatre company, Teatro Berdache.
The Brokeback success story lies in the fact that a lot of people saw this film that you would not expect were going to see it. You can almost see a sociological pattern in the box office results from all over the US. It first opened in Los Angeles and New York and then Calgary. And then there was the event in Fort Macleod, which was a great triumph for the Economic Development Coordinator there.
I think that in the grand scheme of things, as Roger Ebert’s review pointed out, more than just the gay and lesbian community can identify with Brokeback. Anybody can recognize something that they regret passing up in their youth. “You know, I am going to wait until I am older before I do this.” “I am going to work for a year before I get my masters, my doctorate, whatever,” and you pass up that chance. “I wish I’d followed my heart and traveled to Europe that summer,” but you never did. “I wish I had taken flying lessons,” or “I wish I had tried to be a painter instead of being trapped in a cubicle.” These are the sort of regrets that, just as at the very end of the movie when Ennis, having given advice to Alma, Jr., realizes that he did not follow that advice himself, are universal.
Additionally, although there are a lot of scenes in the movie with which the straight community might not connect right away, everyone feels judged at some point for something, anything; everyone does. The movie touches all people there.
When you chart how people saw this movie, Brokeback did not follow the expected pattern. In fact, in L.A. and New York it broke records for the amount of money generated, given the number of theatre seats available. Of course, for films such as Pirates of the Caribbean they use, like, 3,000 theaters. For Brokeback they had to keep it small, but they were sold out everywhere. That started the talk, “Damn, it was sold out; we’ll have to go back next weekend,” and that created demand. Then the reviews came out and people were saying, “Wow, this is a good movie,” and then it built and built.
When it opened in the red states, women saw this movie and identified it as a love story. They saw it in droves. Had Brokeback stayed in select theatres, this would never have happened. They [the distributors] were very smart.
You are a young man, but it has undoubtedly occurred to you that this might be the film that defines your career.
I would echo what our Script Supervisor [Karen Bedard] said in the Swerve magazine article.  It is somewhat depressing knowing that you have already climbed to the top of the mountain. You’ve got this excellent film experience and everyone acknowledges the film’s importance. It will be very difficult to top.
The movie we are now doing, of course we will do our best, but odds are, it won’t do as well as Brokeback. But we are still aiming for the stars.
 Jacquie Moore, “The Real Brokeback Mountain,” Swerve Calgary Herald, 3 Mar. 2006: 18-28.
I know what you mean. Ten years from now I do not want to be saying “Life stopped in 2004. I remember when...” I want to be able to refer to things in the future, to anticipate.
It is a sad thing to realize that Ang is not going to be back. There is a chance that Michael might be back. He has a place in Montana and works on a number of different projects throughout North America, but when Ang is finished with a project, he likes to move on to different things. He likes to go from genre, to genre, to genre. The odds of him coming back here are very, very slim and it makes me sad.
But at least I got the opportunity. I suppose it is one of those things like on Oscar night when we were just devastated. You’d thought that you were going to be able to tell the whole world, “I worked on the movie that won Best Picture.” Then you say, “Well, that is a nice problem to have. I worked on a fantastic movie that got nominated, that won a bunch of other awards, but it did not win Best Picture.” What a shame, another Oscar-worthy show; bummer! [Laughter.] In the moment you are crushed, but it is a nice problem to have.
Speaking of opportunities, we treasure this time. Thank you very much for making this possible.
[Part 1 of this interview is available here.]
Revised 18 January 2010