Interviewed by Patricia Duran
Photos by William Mclane and Dan Whitehead
We caught up with our friends Bill Darmon and Christ Ernst, co-founders of Bright Rectangle (BR) Films and interviewed them about their time filming “The Hill and The Hole” (THATH) in Raton. Bill is the movie’s director, writer, and producer, and Chris is also the director and producer, as well as the director of photography.
For your viewing pleasure, THATH was recently released for rental streaming on Vidi Space on April 20. But first before microwaving your popcorn, let’s see what the movie’s directors had to say about their masterpiece and experience in Raton, N.M.
Where are you from?
Tell us a little bit of history behind Bright Rectangle Films.
Bill: Chris and I had been developing film projects since 2008. Chris shot two experimental films, “In Carcosa” (2011) and “Corpse” (2013), based on scripts that we formulated in the early 2010s.
Based on that experience, we realized we would need funds and some means of distribution to get these projects out to a wider audience. So, BR was originally created as a micro-studio and outlet for our film, documentary and experimental projects. Since then, we’ve been developing and producing documentaries, music videos, and features including THATH as our first narrative feature.
What inspires you to create?
Bill: The process in and of itself is habit forming. Usually it begins with a stark image or mood, and then it’s a matter of following that initial line to extract more of what you only hope would be some un-guessed, reality or story, doing whatever possible to preserve as much of that for the page, and then ultimately the screen. It’s difficult but rewarding when everything comes together. That is likely what makes it addictive
In the case of THATH’s “voodoo of location” (Werner Herzog’s term), plus a solid narrative meat-grinder was my true north. I’ve always admired Clint Eastwood for filming “High Plains Drifter” at Mono Lake and the Sierras. I’ve also been a lifelong admirer of Fritz Leiber and his weird fiction. Intending to adapt THATH for some time as a short film, Chris and I decided it might work better as a feature when we formed BR. The mood and imagery has been consistent since the beginning—a lone land surveyor in a remote spot, surrounded by trouble and absolute cosmic dread.
Chris: Honestly, creating films is a compulsion. I have these concepts, ideas and images I need to form into cinema in order to process and expunge them from my psyche. Consequently, creating films is about crafting an emotion or mood that communicates something complex, which would otherwise be inexpressible as simply words or a single picture. At the same time, collaboration and creating something that is the product of multiple imaginations—in this case, mine and Bill’s—is very important to me. I’ve played in bands my whole adult life. The creative dynamic of a musical group creating a work that is greater than the sum of its parts (or players), is something I try to bring to my filmmaking, for better or worse.
Who came to New Mexico and Colorado to help film THATH?
We actually brought quite a bit of the crew out with us to shoot on location. Caitlan Williams, our production designer and a New Mexico local, [allowed us to shoot the Caster Farm sequences at her family’s old farm in Vallecitos, N.M.]. She recommended we take a look at Raton and Trinidad after she extensively scouted most of the state.
Denver Photographer Matt Slaby helped get us access to Huerfano Butte in Colorado, and an artist in Santa Fe, Billy Mclane who played Zeke, helped us with travel logistics.
In New Mexico, aside from Caitlan and a few other folks she brought to help, it was mainly film crew from the East or West Coast.
How long did it take to complete the project from start to finish?
Bill: Approximately 2 ½ years from script to finished film. We only really started preproduction in spring 2017. We had a window of two weeks that summer to shoot as both Chris and I have pretty demanding day jobs.
We shot 10 days total (not counting travel days between Vallecitos, Santa Fe, Raton, Huerfano Butte, and Massachusetts). After a rough cut, we realized we needed some additional material and coordinated two more weeks of pick-ups in spring and summer 2018. The film was finished in fall 2019.
Why did you choose to film THATH in our area? What sealed the deal for you?
The way the area looks and feels. Beyond the obvious natural beauty, there’s something special about the high desert environment.
Our approach to designing this film’s look was really based around what we like to call “turnkey” locations, where the art direction and production design is baked into the natural setting without set construction and artifice. In the end, we presented a sort of hybridized, fictional version of Northern New Mexico created by combining several different locations across the state into a single area.
Had you previously been to the area beforehand?
Chris: Bill and Caitlan, along with Ryan, Bill’s brother and THATH co-producer, spent time traveling doing location scouting. We visited the locations in Raton and Trinidad before arriving, but for many in the cast and crew, it was their first time.
Huerfano Butte is a well-known highway sight to locals. How was climbing it (if you did)?
The butte is pretty extraordinary! We misjudged its dimensions when we initially scouted it. Weather was also a factor. We actually never ended up climbing the entire thing to the top with our crew. At best, we only made it about three-quarters up with our camera gear for the main character’s ascent. Unfortunately, the summit had too small a footprint to actually shoot the finale up there, so we used movie magic to substitute another butte summit. The climb on Huerfano Butte is pretty rocky to begin with.
What specific type of research did you have to do to prepare yourself and everyone for the adaption of Fritz Leiber’s short story?
It was a bit of marathon filmmaking. There was very little we could do to prepare a cast or crew for this. And that was the intent—the story needed a sense of intense dislocation.
That said, we asked our actors to entirely focus on grounding and expanding their characters within the scenes and locations and to really draw on some of the remote settings.
How was your experience in Raton and Southern Colorado?
We could not have had a better experience in Raton and Trinidad. Raton Pass Motor Inn and Casa Lemus Inn were ideal accommodations for cast and crew. Jessica Barfield and the City of Raton made recommendations for locations and assisted us with access. Raton Police Department was also extremely helpful.
We were extremely fortunate to have met Jason Bennett and Bunny Bunker [Raton Pass Motor Inn Owners]. We cannot thank them enough for all of their help. Jason’s truck named Maynard is prominently featured in the film.
How long were you in the area for?
We shot between Raton, and Trinidad and Walsenburg, C.O. for four to five days in 2017 and 2018.
What was your most memorable moment of filming here?
Bill: It was all extremely memorable. Anything that involved filming with Maynard was a very good time. Capulin Volcano and the surrounding vistas exploded my brain.
Chris: Same. The locations exploded my brain.
Any places in Raton or tips for here that you recommend to future productions?
Raton is a gem. Any future production lucky enough to shoot there will have everything they need from local accommodations to food. Would only add to visit in advance and scout in earnest! With the variety in locations—from high deserts to volcanic fields and wilderness/recreation areas—Raton is one stop for unique and riveting scenes.
Also, plan to screen your film at the El Raton Theatre. Can’t beat the true movie theater ambience.
What were the most difficult parts of filming?
Really, the most difficult part was the travel between locations. New Mexico is an amazing place, but it’s very large and we spent much more time than we expected traveling from location to location. In the end it was worth it, since they all look great.
Who designed THATH movie poster?
We actually have a few designs by dome amazing artists. Allie Hartley, Dan McCarthy and Jonathan LaMantia created very different, but equally cool takes on the concept.
Do you have any future projects in the works at the moment?
We have a ton of projects in the works and more always bubbling up. It’s really a matter of financing and the business end of things (isn’t it always). Any investors or fledgling movie producers should get in touch with us because we even have another project set here is Raton!
Tell us about your visit to film our Run To Raton event.
We covered the Run To Raton event in summer 2019, and we were bowled over by it. There isn’t anything like it—the mass pilgrimage of custom bikers and the enthusiasm and solidarity from the town and vendors—we didn’t know what we were in for! We captured three days of events and interviews, which we’ve cut into a short documentary that we hope, will go live soon.
How can people follow you and get in touch with you?
We’re pretty old school, mainly correspond by email at bill@brightrectangle and chris@brightrectangle. Best way is through brightrectangle.com or through our Instagram or Facebook page.