(This story was first published in the February 27, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
|Members of the cast exit limo in front of the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre at the Premier of “Psghetti Western” – Phil Camp Photo|
The world premiere of a new children’s film called “Pasghetti Western” took place in Woodstock and featured a dress-up red carpet with photographs, star arrivals, music, merchandise, and an opening speech by the writers and directors, Jim and Myra Hudson of South Royalton.
“We wanted to make this movie just for the joy of making it,” said Myra. “And, if it was well received, then all the better. We have always believed in making our own good time and, instead of just wishing there would be a movie like this one, we would make it ourselves.”
“Pasghetti Western,” with its all-child cast, tells the story of a hardscrabble ranch woman whose husband is off seeking his fortune, leaving her on the land with babies and little money. To make matters worse, rustlers steal the family’s livestock in an attempt to take over the ranch. With no help from the local sheriff, the mother and her children are forced to take the law into their own hands.
Featuring 28 community children along with an equally abundant animal cast of ponies, lambs, and calves, the one-hour, six-minute comedy is the brain child of Myra’s husband, James, after the birth of their second child, Gideon. The movie will premiere at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre March 8 at 7 p.m.
“Our first child, Oliver, was watching a children’s video,” said Myra. “James and I had struggled with finding shows that seemed appropriate for small children. Either the movies had adult humor, were too violent or modeled behavior we didn’t like. We wanted something pure for our kids. Hence, we decided our Western could be what we were looking for but we couldn’t find it in the available children’s programs.”
So the Hudsons set out to create a story that would incorporate a child’s imagination and focus on a youngster’s world.
“The making of the movie was supposed to be fun and embrace make believe,” said Myra, “so I never wanted the children to feel the angst of being on the spot. Some of that will be unavoidable because we’re taking this project to the public, but I will continue to request journalists to ask the grownups most of the questions. I’m sure the kids would be happy to sign autographs, though!”
Recruiting children from the area, the Hudsons did all the filming and editing but enlisted the help of their friends and family to wrangle the children, as Myra related. James’s brother, Ross, was there to hold crying babies, save them from crawling off porches, drive children to locations on his four-wheeler, and manage them on horses.
“We had many more assistants who were there to help in every possible way,” said Myra. “From solving wardrobe malfunctions to smoothing over toddler disagreements, our assistants did just about everything.”
Myra’s sister, Emily Ferro, also helped with the directing, costuming and publicity.
The Hudsons filmed over four seasons in 2012, but most of the footage with children was shot in the late spring through the summer and fall. It was filmed entirely in the Upper Valley with locations in South Royalton, Tunbridge, Randolph and Orford, N.H.
“We live in such a beautiful place, and we took advantage of that,” said Myra.
Born and raised in the area, the Hudsons solicited their cousins to play the parts in the movie.
“It was pretty easy,” said Myra. “Many of our family and friends ride horses, so we didn’t need many stunt doubles. We had horses, pigs, goats, sheep, dogs, and cows swarming the screen, and we didn’t have to look beyond our own family.”
There are no adults in the film except for a few hands and stand-ins, and the narrator’s voice is that of a grown-up. Much of the music was recorded by local musicians.
As directors, the Hudsons allowed for great spontaneity.
“Jim and I let the children just play and be themselves in front of the camera,” said Myra. “We did give them some direction — to walk or run, to nod or shake a fist. It seemed the best way to capture the purity that is the most important aspect of our project.”
The other success was the children themselves.
“The innocence of childhood, the beauty of nature, and the simplicity of the story are all things that are a blessing of a zero to low budget,” said Myra. “We usually had one chance to catch a shot. The children were absolutely exhausted after filming, but what we got was absolutely precious. The children were so sincere, not trying to act cutesy, and that is the real gem of our movie.”
Some of the challenges of filming, Myra explained, included underestimating the amount of food needed on the set, the camera battery life, the weather, the availability of the actors, and the periodic chaos. Post production was the hardest part, she added.
“Learning everything on our own about editing and encoding was difficult,” she said. “The least interesting part to talk about was what took two years of work. It was also the most expensive. Designing surround sound, for example, on a home computer for a theater experience is a little like shooting in the dark. And, it is not cheap to get a movie to a theater including the cross-conversions and digital cinema package that we couldn’t do on our own.”
Myra grew up in Tunbridge, and is a graduate of South Royalton High School and Mt. Holyoke College where she majored in English and Geology. Jim was born and raised in Royalton and, after traveling to the West Coast, returned to Vermont as a seventh generation blacksmith farrier.