Q & A with Filmmakers Andrew and Alex Smith
First of all, can you provide a brief synopsis of your most recent movie, “Walking Out.”
An estranged father and son are forced to rely on one another to survive an unforgiving wilderness in this riveting, richly emotional thriller. Once a year, fourteen-year-old David (Josh Wiggins) travels from his mother’s home in Texas to visit his loner father, Cal (Matt Bomer), in the remote mountains of Montana. There, the two embark on their annual hunting excursion, during which the taciturn Cal attempts to connect with his smartphone-addicted son. But when a terrifying turn of events leaves Cal critically wounded, it’s up to teenage David to summon enough strength for both of them. Infused with a deep reverence for the rugged beauty and harsh realities of the Montana landscape, Walking Out is both a tense survival saga and a disarmingly moving father-son tale. Featuring Bill Pullman.
What inspired to you to make this movie?
The story, to us, is about “primal knowledge”, which is the practice, teachings and exploration of primitive skills. “Primal Knowledge” is passed among animals by way of instinct. Humans, self-reflecting complex beings, have considerably lost most of that instinct, that access to primal knowledge. This is a tale of two human beings, through real trial by fire, are able to re-acquire that form of primal knowledge. The unity of “one with nature”. This project has haunted us, Andrew and Alex, since we first read the landmark short story “Walking Out”, written by David Quammen, when we were rural ranch-kids attending high school, in western Montana. Since then, this powerful father-son story was engraved into our brains, like it cauterized some of our own paternal loss or something alike. A few years later, while attending the Sundance Film Institute Filmmaker Lab to develop our first feature film, we ran into our fellow filmmaker friend, Rodrigo Garcia. Rodrigo planted the idea of us all making “Walking Out” into a film. Tens years later, Rodrigo and his producers commissioned us to adapt the story into a screenplay for him to direct. But as things happen, we all kind of realized it was meant to be a Smith Brothers film. So it returned back to us, back to the source of the wooded, scenic and sometimes still wild mountains of central Montana.
Filming an epic story of survival as independent filmmakers, without a big budget, is an impressive feature in itself. Tell us how you were able to achieve this.
Having grown up in the woods of Montana, we knew we could make this film an “intimate epic”. We really dug deep under the skin of our three main characters, David the boy, Cal the father, and of course the mountain. By that, we could deliver the beauty, the emotion and the survival story, on a limited budget. Already having made two features in Montana, and by having a rugged, willing, experienced and ‘outdoorsy’ crew also helped us achieve a grand vision without having the deepest of pockets. We kept it real.
You choose to film on location in Montana, a state the two of you grew up in and where Andrew still lives part of the year. Tell us a bit about what Montana means to the both of you and why you choose to use it as the location for your films.
Montana is in our DNA. Having grown up rural, on a small ranch, in a mountain meadow, surrounded by forest, creeks, cliffs, we are very attuned to its particular beauty (and danger), its ‘organic’ calendar and clock. We know how the light hits in Montana, how it looks and feels so the only real challenge was about accessing that childhood sense of wonder, with the wild feel of the place. Which pretty much happens automatically when we go back into the woods. We’ve been all around the world and country, but Montana is our true northern experience.
When putting together the visual of the story, the landscape, the costumes and timing, what drew you to use Woolrich?
From the get-go we wanted the film to feel classic, almost timeless, especially when dramatizing the generational ritual of bonding between parent and child while out in the woods. Even though ‘technology’ is a component, David the city-boy’s smartphone, we wanted everything else to feel fully integrated with the wild. So what’s a better way to show “classic, timeless, rugged,” cinematically than Woolrich? Our costume designer, Nicola Dunn, who is from another rugged land Australia, really gravitated towards Woolrich’s patterns, colors and materials. And Andrew and I just nodded ‘Yes.’
In the beginning of the film, the father, Cal, played by Matt Bomer, wears the Woolrich Wool Plaid Cap and there is a moment in the film where the son, David, played by Josh Wiggins, gives Cal his knit cap and then dons on the plaid cap himself. Was that a purposeful moment? If so, why was the cap used as a signifier?
A hugely purposeful moment. Indeed, the first time we see that hat, it is seen as being worn, in flashback, by Cal’s dad, Clyde, played by Bill Pullman. So we set up the plaid cap to be a generational ‘passing-of-the-torch’ hat. When David puts it on, he has really become a man; he has gained ‘primal knowledge’. The child is now the father of the men. The plaid cap IS the totem of generational bonding. To us, costume design is, in so many ways, the most important part of production design. It drapes the actor’s. It’s always in focus, and hugely identifying. And the cap, well, it anchors an actor’s face from Indiana Jones to Clint Eastwood’s ‘Blondie’, so it becomes a vital part of the iconic performance. It’s featured on our movie poster three times and in so many of our stills!
You shot during the winter in Montana – what did you do to keep yourselves and the crew warm during those drastic cold months?
It got bitter cold, especially in the early mornings and late nights, when we were setting up or tearing down the set. We wore LOTS of layers. We emptied Livingston and Bozeman of all their hand-warmers. We had warming tents. We wore Woolrich. We hugged a lot. And there was a lot of jumping up and down in the snow. Every night, after wrap, I’d take a very long, very hot bath, to warm up my core. And then I’d sleep five hours.
Last but not least, growing up in Montana, did you wear Woolrich?
Great question – and one that ties back to the cap! The short answer is: Yes. Tons of Woolrich. Our parents were pragmatic, yet stylish. They didn’t have deep pockets. Our parents liked “ stuff that works,” as Guy Clark wrote. Our parent’s wore and purchased things that looked great, functioned well, and lasted a long, long time. Andrew and I have two older brothers as well, so we grew up wearing a lot of hand-me-downs. The clothing that seemed to last long enough for us to inhabit them, was often Woolrich. And then, after our father passed away when we were six, we ended up, over time wearing a lot of his clothing. In part, as a way of knowing him. Also, because it was cool stuff! The key item among his clothing was a coat made out of the same fabric as the cap featured in the movie. Andrew and I would take turns wearing it. And, so, well, we found that coat, and brought it to set, and our costume designer hired this amazing couple, Gina and Louis Still Smoking, to actually MAKE the ‘hero’ cap (well, three identical caps) out of our father’s coat. Our father is still ‘present’ in a large amount of the film.