Last fall found me in Belle Fourche with Venice-based production company Farm League. Although the other commercials we worked to shoot in both Wisconsin and Minnesota during the month of October placed us in unexpectedly beautiful small town locales, the western leg of the job was perhaps the most cinematic and spartanly beautiful.
I rod shot gun all the way to Belle Fourche in a rented Budget moving truck. My coworker, Tom –with a bristly mustache and an affinity for baseball caps — had packed up all the props and the gear we would need for the following week of filming the night before, and he was outside my apartment five am sharp; rear lights flashing red in the early morning dark.
I took blurry photos of abandoned barns and tractors from the passenger side and watched as the highway narrowed to two lanes and two directions. When the repetitive thwap of the wind against the window and the subtle jostling of the cabin made me sleepy, I pulled my suede buckskin jacket over my head to rest; content to warm in the sun and hopeful that when I awoke there’d be something to see again.
We crossed the Missouri river, landed in town, and crashed hard that night after having one too many IPA’s at some Deadwood bar, where windows glowed red with neon against wormy wood paneling and the jukebox rotation was heavy on the Dolly Parton and the Dwight Yoakam. Red Cedar pines — tall and slim– dotted the cliffs rising above our small town hotel, and their coniferous, dry scent was strong that morning as I set out from the lobby; hell-bent on hoofing it to find a decent coffee, a local newspaper, and some Advil gel caps.
Memories of two locations and two people from the Belle Fourche commercial are still something I’m stuck on. Amanda Richardson, a young bootmaker whom I found and reached out to after digging through the online archives of the Spearfish weekly was intelligent, kind, and so very talented. When we needed her to ‘play rodeo’ one early morning and barrel race, I lent her my ratty Levi’s jacket to wear over her plaid snap shirt. It looked perfect against the dusty morning sky. Clay, our intrepid and always expertly-styled cowboy was that perfect mix of grit and grace. He and his pet longhorn, Gary, were a pair if I ever saw one and his 35,000-acre ranch was arresting in its natural drama. I still remember the late afternoon light moving slowly across his fields — endless sky and endless space.