A Star is Born
The Proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness - Along with its Friends - Makes Movie Debut this Month
From points on either side of the Idaho/Montana border, people launch themselves into an 88,000 acre piece of paradise that’s home to soaring views, rushing streams, tumbling waterfalls, seemingly never-ending forests, stunning rock outcroppings, enough prickly plants to shred a million legs and some of the area’s most iconic wildlife: the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Area. A couple of years ago, a trio of young men from the East Coast crossed that imaginary line on the map, toting heavy packs full of camera equipment and a dream in their hearts to make stars out of this piece of land and the people who love it and strive for its protection. That dream becomes reality this March 14 as their movie, Grass Routes, premieres at Sandpoint’s Panida Theater. (By the way—for you die-hard westerners who pronounce ‘route’ to rhyme with ‘doubt;’ be aware that many pronounce it as ‘root,’ and thus the wordplay in the movie’s title.)
Although their intention was to make the movie that became Grass Routes, a second movie, En Plein Air, was made along the way; the Grass Routes premier will include a showing of this film as well, which follows a group of local painters into the wilderness.
Jake Glass, Joe Foster and Matt Stauble are the trio behind the lenses. Jake is a student at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College, pursuing degrees in Environmental Science and International Studies. Joe is a Mechanical Engineer and inveterate globe trotter, racking up stints in New Zealand and Peru, along with his time in our Idaho/Montana hidden gem. Matt is a photographer who’s traveled the world in search of the perfect shot. Their company, Wildman Pictures (www.WildmanPictures.com), offers as a mission the goal to combine video and still photography in a way designed to motivate viewers through producing “informative and socially constructive projects.”
In advance of their arrival for the Grass Routes premiere, Jake and Joe participated in an electronic interview about the film, the Friends, and the “philosophy of grass roots projects” that they believe can not only protect a wilderness, but potentially save the world.
How did a group of young, East Coast filmmakers hook up with a western environmental group?
Jake: Believe it or not, in my dorm room my freshman year at Muhlenberg College! I was looking to become involved in environmental conservation work, and stumbled upon Friends of Scotchman Peaks’ website. After speaking with FSPW’s leadership and learning about their story, together we decided a film documentary would best spread their message in a powerful and communicable fashion.
Joe: My start with filming was structured around mountain biking and skiing. That’s actually how I first met both Jake and Matt (the other Wildmen). Jake approached me with the idea of an environmentally focused film, and with my love for backpacking and filming, his academic plans, Matt’s photography skills and outdoor experience, it fell together pretty easily.
Was the movie’s original focus the wilderness itself, or the group that’s looking to have it designated as such under federal legislation?
Jake: As young filmmakers and environmentalists, I think we originally planned for the movie to focus on the wilderness itself. We wanted to do everything we could to promote the Scotchman Peaks as a potential wilderness. However, as our research and own academic experiences progressed, we realized that a documentary focusing on FSPW itself was truly unique and stood as an inspirational story in and of itself.
Joe: Being able to tell a story that reaches a broader audience was important to us. The film had a lot of objectives. First, show how the philosophy of grassroots politics, open conversation, and positive outreach can lead to strong, balanced communities. Second, generate more supporters. This is a national matter and is supported on a local level; we just need to bring the majestic scenery to more people. I think people will respond positively to hearing about the means in which the ‘Friends’ operate.
There are hundreds of special interest groups just in our area alone. What’s so special about the Friends of Scotchman Peaks?
Joe: After spending a lot of time with Phil (Hough), Sandy (Compton), and the other board members of the peaks, along with other supporters and members of the community... I realized that FSPW was the real deal. These were honest people who were deliberate and considerate in all of their moves in organizing and further gaining support for the Scotchmans. But the place itself, I just haven’t been anywhere like it before. I am looking forward to seeing it in the winter.
Those who venture into the Scotchmans tend to find it a bit magical. What did you think when you explored the area?
Jake: My first experience inside the Peaks came on a 6-day backpacking trip through the heart of the proposed wilderness. If I had one word to describe the Scotchmans, I would say... rugged. I struggled with the actual backpacking the entire week; blistered feet, hungry stomach, mosquito bites, the whole nine yards. But each afternoon, we would reach our camp and I finally had the chance to take a deep breath and look around me and realize the majesty of the area. I think the fact that my physical pain was overmatched by the beauty of the area says a lot about it.
Joe: The colors are all so deep... truly deep. The peaks you see throughout the Scotchmans take all shapes, jagged, round, steep, sheer cliff drop-offs. Look for that in Grass Routes. The terrain varies from deep cedar springs through layers of varying bush and trees, up to dramatic peaks of all different color, size, and cut. The film does not exaggerate. The pre-screeners enjoyed the story but the take-away comment was people slowly looked up from the film and said, “I want to go there.” I can relate. I really enjoy being in the Scotchmans.
What are some of your filming stats?
Joe: We think there were around 50-60 people interviewed, plus hundreds of hours of footage and audio sampling. We made two almost-30 minute films and don’t repeat more than 10 shots; we still have many in our stock footage. We were very fortunate that Sandy and Phil are organized and beast hikers... we had a lot of filming opportunities. And a big thanks to Chris ‘Crash’ Compton for taking us up to film from the sky.
How do the two of you break up your ‘roles’ in Wildman Pictures?
Jake: I would be nowhere without Joe, I am absolutely sure of that. While on location, he is the one behind the lens making the shots look beautiful. Back in our studio, he is the one logging countless hours fighting with computers to make this film what it is. My role is more focused around research, planning and conducting interviews, writing scripts, and putting together grant applications. Generally speaking, Joe is a master of detail while I work from a broader standpoint. I think we complement each other very well because of it. So saying, Joe has also contributed immensely to the story line and writing of our film, while my skills behind the computer are rather minimal. He does it all! I couldn’t have asked for a harder working partner.
Joe: Wow, thanks. There is a lot of value in collaboration and that is actually something that I am marketing myself as, a collaborator (www.iamdapperdan.com). This project kind of grew beyond what our initial plans were and was influenced by a lot of people. Where some of my weaknesses are, Jake and Matt are more experienced, and vice versa. The direction of the story when we really started digging into the interviews was lead by Jake. To be honest, I had a lot of ideas but I wasn’t making the connection between all the different reasons why the movie exists and who we wanted it to reach.
The three of us benefit from solid brainstorming and kind of beating around each other’s ideas until they are polished. Almost every aspect of our image and the film is a product of individual and group brainstorming.
I was the primary cinematographer for Grass Routes but actually many shots that made it in the final cut were from Matt Stauble’s still photography and some filming and same with Jake. Rikshaw Films made a big impact in the direction of the film by giving us their footage from the Brower Youth Award filming (see sidebar). That allowed us, as Wildman Pictures, to join the story in the way we intended. We also reached out to the community and featured some stunning photos from Phil Hough, Sandy Compton, Jim and Sandii Mellen, Doug Lynch, Brad Smith and Andrew David Klaus. We thought it would be great to include local photographers’ images!
So what’s the finished product like?
Joe: I think if people are going into the film expecting to hear a juicy story of controversy because they see industry and majestic wilderness, they will be disappointed. Grass Routes is about introducing an overarching philosophy that is effective in changing the outcomes of political conversation. FSPW has done a really good job bringing together a diverse group of people. The Scotchmans span two national forests, two states, and three counties. Grass Routes is the story of how FSPW brought together the communities that surround the peaks and are reaching out further on a national level. I learned a lot through seeing them operate.
I think people will enjoy the soundtrack and we have an exceptional narrator, Chris Lemmon.
And, well, the wilderness. After all of these hours of editing and being in the Scotchmans, I still enjoy seeing them.
The movie has an obvious appeal in our local area... but what about elsewhere? Why would people in other areas want to see the film?
Jake: I think the fact that our film is applicable outside of the local area has been one of the motivating factors that has kept me excited about it throughout the grueling production process. We situate the film in Idaho and Montana, but really use it as a case study with which to promote a different type of political advocacy in our country. Our goal was to say something valuable about what it means to be an interest group in America.
The Grass Routes premiere and a showing of En Plein Air takes place at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint March 14 with doors at 6 and the movie at 7. It will also premiere online at the Wildman Pictures website, where En Plein Air can also be viewed, along with trailers for both movies. The website includes information for those who would like to buy a copy of the film. Tickets ($8 in advance, $10 at the door) for the show can be purchased at Eichardt’s or at the Readery, in Sandpoint, or buy some from Sandy Compton if you happen to catch him in town.
After Sandpoint, the film duo will be taking the movie on the road throughout the U.S. with several additional premieres and what they call a “broad spectrum” of film festivals. (See related story, "Glass Wins Brower Youth Award," here.)