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Wamego's hot for a movie
There's purity in the way Steve Balderson makes movies.
For him, it's not just a living but life.
And here's the thing: I've never seen a movie Steve Balderson has directed.
But after watching the documentary Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere,
I can't wait.
The documentary was largely the idea of Balderson, who had a camera operator
follow him during the process of making Firecracker. The documentary,
more than any other movie-in-process film, actually demonstrates how to
make a movie. Its not a tedious and silly art school exercise, but
a deep look into the thinking, perspective and determination that a filmmaker
has to have in order to get a vision on the screen.
Wamego is good story telling. While Balderson is biased, it is
still a rich tale with fully developed characters, a well-developed plot
and layers of conflict that begin with the director himself.
Balderson is a perfectionist. He has a vision that is the finished movie
in his head. The people who work with him have to adjust themselves and
their attitudes to his, which, simply put, is this: Find out how to do
it. It doesnt matter that the money isnt there; he will find
someone to donate the time and materials. It doesnt matter that
the stars dont line up to get into his film, their contract arrangements
and needs dont groove with his. It certainly doesnt matter
that the Hollywood types that he has to work with in the middle
of Kansas dont want or cant understand how to do things
his way, they have to.
Balderson makes people angry. He sics his dad, whos basically his
business manager and a real can-do guy, on them. He ignores them, walks
away from them, lets them stew. All the while, he has a willing chorus
of Wamegans who pick up hammers, drills, and wrenches and believe in him.
Ultimately, the Hollywood types drop their Hollywood ways, realize they
are in Kansas, and join the Wamegans in getting the film done.
Meanwhile, he has either angered or turned away Dennis Hopper, Edward
Furlong and a host of other male stars while landing on Debbie Harry as
his female lead. Harry has conflicts and cant make it, and other
female leads either wont come to Kansas or wont bend to Baldersons
In the end, Karen Black joins a cast list that include young Mike Patton,
Baldersons sister Brooke (who has also starred in Baldersons
first major film, a horror/thriller Pep Squad), a host of local
and working Hollywood actors, and such notables as George the Giant, Lobster
Tail, The Enigma and Silent Luna.
Wamegos other great asset is the town of the same name. Its
a place of great beauty, situated at a bend in the Kansas River at the
beginning of the Flint Hills. The streets are wide, heavily shaded with
elm, oak, and sycamore, and patrolled by cops who know people by name.
The town, of course, plays heavily into the setting of Firecracker,
as well as he people, who are extras, workers and suppliers of decidedly
non-Hollywood equipment that gets Hollywood quality shots accomplished
cranes, carts, tracks for dollies, heavy equipment, etc. Moreover,
Balderson and his crew make best use of the spring prairie burning, when
cattle ranchers burn off the stubble and dried grass of the previous year
to make for new, tender grazing, with wide panoramic shots. While they
are there, they joke with the locals, take in the grandeur of the prairie
and become enthralled again with the place they call home.
Wamego is recommended viewing for any Midwesterner. Balderson,
in his own, family-oriented, artsy-but-hardnosed way, shows those professionals
from LA how things should be done.
The only weakness in the documentary comes in the form of an old journalistic
watchword: Show, dont tell. The last quarter of the film is pure
self-stroking people talking about how great Balderson is, how
great Karen Black is, how great working with Balderson was, etc. At some
point, we already got it. Balderson has already shown how great he is,
and hes done something much more important hes demonstrated
how much work, time, thought and talent leads to a great movie.
And devotion to the vision. Lets not forget that.
Patrick Dobson is a journalist, poet, and freelance writer and editor
based in Kansas City, MO. He publishes and edits the online literary magazine,
His award-winning columns, editorials, and articles have appeared in PitchWeekly,
eKC, and Discover Mid-America. His poetry and short stories
have been published in the pages of The Kansas City Star, Review,
Friction Magazine, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Same,
and Thorny Locust. He is now pursuing a doctorate in history at
the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Patrick Dobson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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