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Arts & Culture

Boise Filmmakers Turn Idaho Author’s Short Story Into A Movie

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio

There’s something breathtaking about watching a real-life cowboy ride his horse through this green pasture near McCall, Idaho.

This Roy Rogers – not the 50’s era icon – is Alan Heathcock’s version of the star. The actor pulls the reigns gently, swings to the ground, and saunters over to a young man leaning half-dazed against an aspen tree.  

"Hey, Vernon," he says.

"Hey Roy. She's a hot one, ain't she?" asks the young man.

"It's hotter than a bull's breath out here."  

From behind a camera about 20-feet away, "cut" is called. The crew and directors adjust camera angles, costumes, fix hair and makeup, and help the actors stay focused in the downtime.

This is just one scene in the film version of a short story by Idaho author Alan Heathcock. Heathcock has had a lot of success since his short story collection Volt came out two years ago. Now two Boise filmmakers are turning Smoke, one of the short stories from that collection, into a movie. 

"I just write my stories and I don't think about, 'I'm going to write this scene for potential for cinema,'" Heathcock says. "But once I was done with it I was keeping my fingers crossed that someone would want to take these stories and turn them into movies, just because it's one of my great passions."

Smoke is the story of a father who asks his teenage son to help him cover up a self-defense killing. The characters travel a long distance with the dead body, while wrestling with what the father has done -- and what will come next for their family. Heathcock says he didn’t aim to catch the eye of filmmakers, but says the story has complicated characters and descriptive visuals. And he admits, he loves movies. The writer says he watches at least 200 a year.

“I just write my stories and I don’t think about, ‘I’m going to write this scene for potential for cinema,’ " Heathcock says. "But once I was done with it I was keeping my fingers crossed that someone would want to take these stories and turn them into movies, just because it’s one of my great passions.”

Cody Gittings and Stephen Heleker are co-directing the screen adaptation of Heathcock’s Smoke. They were Heathcock’s students at Boise State around the time the story was published two years ago. They approached their former professor last year and asked him to help produce the film. Heathcock says he quickly gave them the green light.

“And that it’s Cody and Stephen, two guys who I think are wonderful and brilliant? Well that’s a no-brainer."

The directors raised money this winter to produce Smoke. They spent the next few months hiring crew members, holding auditions, and scouting locations.

Gittings says seeing their movie idea actually in production is surreal. They had eight days to shoot the film, and he says they were able to get all the tape they needed.

“You feel like you want as much time as you had for pre-production for production just to get everything right," says the young director. "But it just doesn’t happen that way. But it’s really exciting at the same time; it’s a weird mix of feelings.”

Gittings and Heleker have worked on a couple dozen projects together since meeting six years ago. But Smoke is the first film they plan to enter in big name festivals.   

They shot the film using southern Idaho’s landscape. Their locations included a cliff, a light flooded cave, and an aspen grove. The directors hired cast and crew from around the country, including Idaho. Heathcock says they brought in New York City actor Joel Nagle.  

“Joel, who plays the role of the father -- which is based off of my grandfather -- I showed him a picture of my grandfather when he was around the [same] age," says the writer. "And they have a striking resemblance to one another. So it’s a very surreal but completely beautiful thing to witness.”

Nagle says his experience with the filmmakers has been sincere and refreshing, beginning when he got off the plane.

“Stephen was there, and Alan was there," says the actor. "I knew I would meet Alan. I didn’t really have any expectations, but he was certainly much nicer than I could have imagined. He’s a fine man and very talented.”

Nagle really embodies the father and stays in character between takes. Heathcock says the level of professionalism displayed by cast and crew makes him feel at ease.

“I just feel a complete sense of peace, and that the thing is just happening," says Heathcock. "I don’t want to get too sentimental about the whole thing, but it’s really a very very cool thing.”

Gittings and Heleker are now cutting through the hours of tape they shot earlier this month. The directors plan to submit the 30-minute final version of Smoke to Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals this fall.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio