John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” a complicated Christian allegory written in the 1600s, may not seem like an obvious inspiration for a modern children’s movie.
But with Kalispell’s Andrew Wiest in the director’s chair, the story of one man’s spiritual quest has been turned into an action-adventure flick packed with classic kid-friendly elements.
“It’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ with explosions and giant mutant bugs,” he said. “I just made a version of the story that I would have wanted to watch when I was 10.”
Wiest, 31, started filming his independently produced movie, “The Wylds” about two years ago in locations throughout Northwest Montana, mostly in the Flathead Valley and using mostly local actors, especially the children. The movie is going to be out on DVD this week, marked by a release party at the Boiler Room in Kalispell Tuesday night.
The whole movie won’t be shown at the event, but the trailer, a music video and special features on the DVD will be part of the entertainment, along with appearances and poster signings by the cast and crew. The event celebrates the first smaller release; a broad national release is planned for November.
“The Wylds” is the third movie for Wyoming-native Wiest. His first feature-length project, “Pizza, Pesos and Pistoleros,” he called mostly a learning experience. (The tagline on the Internet Movie Database entry for the movie reads “Topped With Danger, Romance, and Extra Cheese!”)
“Dead Noon,” a “zombie Western,” was picked up by Lionsgate DVD, but Wiest said he wasn’t completely happy with the end product because he lost much of his control after signing away his creative rights to the film.
On “The Wylds,” Wiest said he applied all the lessons from what he did wrong on his first two films to make something he is proud of.
“‘Dead Noon’ was a painful experience,” he said. “So I asked myself if I wanted to make something that really means something to me. That led to ‘The Wylds.’
“A lot of kids’ movies are dumbed down, and I wanted to make something kids would appreciate without talking down to them ... and still blow a lot of things up.”
Solomon Ray of Whitefish, 16, is the star of “The Wylds.” His character, Chris, is a runaway living in a junkyard in a post-apocalyptic world. As part of a group of misfits, he steals to survive under the guidance of an older man, Iggy. Chris discovers that his father is alive elsewhere, and he sets out for a celestial city to find him. On his wilderness journey, he encounters oddball characters and creatures and, of course, has numerous adventures.
The filming in itself was a nonstop adventure for Ray.
“I would come home every day with scrapes and bruises,” he said. “That was the fun of it, I’d roll down hills and jump into icy bogs, swing swords around.”
Ray, who is home-schooled so was able to take time off for filming, said Wiest was a demanding director — but always fair.
“There’s one scene where I’m falling out of a hot air balloon into this tree,” he said. “He wanted me to climb up on a van to jump into the tree, and he said ‘this might hurt a bit,’ so he put on my costume and jumped into the tree before me. Then I did it, and I got beat up a little, but he wouldn’t let you die.”
Ray had never done any acting before he auditioned for his part, though he had taken some acting lessons in California before his family moved to the Flathead Valley. His father, Brian Ray, was impressed with his son’s performance.
“I felt like he was a natural,” he said.
Choosing Solomon Ray for the movie was fortuitous for Wiest in other ways. Brian Ray owns Metro One, a label that mainly produces music with a Christian element. Ray felt “The Wylds” was a good fit for his label, and took on the marketing and promotion end of the project.
Metro One’s involvement brought Word Entertainment, a division of Warner Brothers, into the picture, and the Christian-entertainment company will be handling the distribution.
The Ray family has a strong presence in the project. Solomon’s sister Izzi wrote the song for the end credits, “I Know I’ll Make It,” and some previously recorded songs by their mother Crystal Lewis, an award-winning Christian recording artist, were included in the soundtrack. Lewis also has a cameo in the movie as the Gatekeeper.
Wiest is nothing but grateful for the wealth of talent that he found locally. Wiest said one of his older actors on the shoot, Larry Laverty, was amazed at the cast he had assembled.
“He told me you could have scoured the whole United States and still come up with the same kids you found here,” he said. “He couldn’t believe I found them in the Flathead Valley.”
Purely from auditions at the Little Brown Church, Wiest discovered Ray, as well as Stacie Crow, a 17-year-old from the Kila area, Judah Justine, 9, and the other children he needed to fill out the cast. They were all home-schooled, he said, which gave them the opportunity to be on the set as needed.
Wiest also received help from unexpected places. Ron Wilson of Bigfork created a score for the movie. Ryan Reed of Columbia Falls contacted him and said he’d be willing to help at anything. Wiest accepted his offer with enthusiasm as he used him both on the set and in the effects editing.
“He basically dedicated the last year of his life to this for very little pay,” Wiest said. “He made it happen; the movie wouldn’t be out yet if it weren’t for Ryan.”
He also said he couldn’t make his movies without his wife, Marianne, billed as the producer of “The Wylds.” She also worked extensively on the effects and used her formal artist’s training to create the poster and illustrate an accompanying children’s book version of the movie. The text of that book and a junior novel were both written by Wiest’s sister Hannah.
The local settings turned out to be as much of a boon for Wiest as the pool of available talent. Though a few shoots took the cast to places as far-flung as Browning and Libby, most were set within the Flathead Valley. Filming was done in Woodland Park, in a brewery in Whitefish, a salvage yard on the way to Bigfork, and “in the woods all over,” Wiest said.
“People are so accommodating,” he said of his freedom to shoot at any desired location.
Brian Ray said that Wiest did an impressive job of capturing the beauty of Northwest Montana.
“We felt like they were able to do stuff on a small budget that usually takes a great deal of money,” he said. “When you watch it, it almost feels like it had to be shot in the studio on a green screen. It’s unbelievable that it’s really shot here in the valley.”
Many of the film’s special effects, Wiest said, were done in his basement editing studio rather than on the set, but with technology, he can produce compelling action in post-production. The effects include a 25-foot robot, giant killer bugs, a 10-minute animated world and lots of explosions.
Though the list of effects sounds like pure Hollywood, Wiest said there’s no need to go the big-money route to make a high-energy independent film. He believes that many independent directors take the path of least resistance because they don’t want to invest the time and effort it takes to add action elements.
“When you look at a lot of low-budget movies, they’re not pushing for anything, it’s just two people in a room talking,” he said. “I want to push the boundaries of what you can do on a low budget.”
The release party for “The Wylds” at the Boiler Room, 525 Eighth St. E. in Kalispell, is 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. DVDs and posters will available for purchase. There will also be DVD giveaways, DVD and poster signings, and live music with performances by Crystal Lewis, Izzi Ray and Ron Wilson. The movie will be available in Kalispell at Hometown Movies and More, and Video Plus; and in Bigfork at Flathead Video. It can also be purchased at www.thewylds.com
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4431 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org