By Ann McCreary
A jaded, junk food-eating, hard-partying reporter travels from Seattle to a remote valley to interview a once-famous 1960s beat poet who has become a monkish recluse.
The reporter encounters a very different person than he expected, and during his brief stay in the beautiful valley he makes discoveries about people, relationships, nature and himself that are transformative.
In his first attempt at a feature-length film, Terry Hunt weaves the theme of transformation into a story set in the Methow Valley, starring a cast of local residents including Donald McLane (the beat poet), Danbert Nobacon (the reporter), Laura Love, Tara Dodd and Lynx Vilden.
Hunt is a Twisp musician, composer and filmmaker, who won an award five years ago for a documentary about farming. He began filming his new movie, called Haiku, in May.
He began contemplating making a movie after writing music a few years ago for a film produced by Sage Bannick, another Methow Valley filmmaker.
“I got the idea that I could probably do this. Once I decided I could actually pull it off … I started telling people. And then I had to do it,” Hunt said.
“I’ve been formulating the story for a long time,” Hunt said. He wrote the screenplay “with the idea there was going to be a lot of improvisation in it.”
Hunt lined up a cast and crew of valley residents willing to work for no pay, rented “some really nice lenses that I can’t afford” from a California supplier, and began shooting.
“It’s guerilla filmmaking. Get in there, shoot it, and then move on to the next thing,” Hunt said.
“It’s been a blast,” said McLane, who has been involved in making feature films in the past, including working as assistant director to independent filmmaker John Sayles.
“As far as throwing together a low-budget movie, Terry was great at it. He was very energetic,” said McLane, who has performed in several local theater productions at The Merc Playhouse including Proof, On Golden Pond and Over the River and Through the Woods.
Room for interpretation
Hunt gave the actors plenty of room for artistic interpretation, McLane said.
“It was a little more Woody Allen [approach]. We had the script and learned the gist of it. A lot of it was sort of ad-libbing our speech to the idea he had developed,” McLane said. “It was a masterpiece of low-budget film in that he would get what he wanted and say, ‘That will work.’”
The actors, said Hunt, have exceeded his expectations. “Every one of them, their characters are even better than I wanted,” he said.
Directing a film, Hunt said, is “basically like conducting an orchestra,” which he did for several years as conductor of both the Pipestone and Omak orchestras.
“It’s shouting at people, bossing them around, and trying to be nice to them so they’ll still like you and do their best,” he said.
Hunt is largely self-taught as a film producer and director, and learned most of what he knows from reading and taking on-line classes. He used script-writing software to develop the script for Haiku.
“I could never do what I’ve been doing without the Internet and computers,” Hunt said.
His work as a music composer helped guide his script writing, Hunt said. “One thing I’ve learned from music composition is you just start the thing, don’t expect it to be perfect, then edit, then write some more.”
Among the characters in the film are “wild people” who live in the forests around the valley. In creating those characters, Hunt knew exactly who to cast. Vilden, who operates a wilderness living program in the Methow Valley, and some of her program participants, play those roles.
Methow Valley residents will recognize many of the locations for scenes in the movie, including Lookout Mountain, the Twisp River and Washington Pass.
Hunt also tapped into local musical talents for the film. Two of his cast members — Love and Nobacon — are singers and songwriters who have extensive performing careers and sing in the film.
In fact, the public can see Nobacon’s film performance and a trailer of the movie on Saturday (June 14) when Hunt films a scene at the Twisp River Pub.
The evening will begin with a performance of The Family Dog and Laura Love from 7 – 8:30 p.m., followed by a dance set from 9 – 10:30 p.m. At 10:30 p.m., Hunt will film a scene in which Nobacon performs as a member of a grunge band.
The band members in the scene will include Hunt’s son, Galen, and other local musicians, Hunt said.
Hunt said his son’s band will provide music for the movie, and Hunt is writing and performing some of his own music for the film. “I hope to use all music somehow connected to the valley,” Hunt said.
Hunt also tapped into local talent to provide technical assistance on the film. Phyllis Daniels of Twisp served as art director, Don Mendro worked on sound, Tony Purtell operated a second camera and Alan Fahnestock was production manager.
Filming will be almost complete after the pub scene is shot this weekend. Hunt estimates he has 15 – 20 hours of footage for the film, which will run about 83 minutes.
Hunt plans to show Haiku locally to focus groups next month, and hopes to have the movie completed by August, in time to submit to some independent film festivals.
“I’m just thoroughly enjoying the process,” Hunt said. “It’s probably the most fun I’ve had doing anything.”