GHOSTS OF THE WEST
BEHIND THE SCENES
A SET AS BIG AS ALL OUTDOORS
Lost mines, abandoned diggings, ghost towns...
The very words conjure enigmatic images of the Old West, of the stampede following the discovery of gold in California and the thousands of towns and mining camps that boomed during that brief time when men scrambled through unexplored territory searching for the next big strike. Though the gold rush era lasted little more than a generation, the stories that followed in its wake captured the imagination of the world.
Principal photography on what would become GHOSTS OF THE WEST began in the mountains of Colorado on July 6, 2002 and wrapped in the Black Hills of South Dakota on September 6, 2010. Extensive research and planning was conducted every year from late fall to early spring. Once the spring melt-off began in the high country, the road trips began; and each year's shooting season contained as many as 30 production days before ending in early fall. All locations were shot using Kodak motion picture film (16mm and Super 8). [LEFT: Writer-Director E. S. Knightchilde on location with 16mm rig.]
THE FIRST-LOOK TEASER
Two weeks after location work ended, the Estes Park Film Festival screened a four-minute sneak preview of the film, entitled GHOSTS OF THE WEST RAG. Billed as an armchair tour of selected towns in the Four Corners states, it featured a sample of the footage accompanied by the film's theme song, and coincidentally aligned with the original vision of the ghost town project (i.e., a short observational-style film accompanied only by music). Programmed as the Opening Short, ‘THE RAG’ screened between the opening night party and a Hollywood movie in pre-release. The moments between the start of the end credits and the audience reaction were unbearable for the filmmakers. But the roar of applause, shouting and whistling quickly turned that anxiety into affirmation; and post-production on GHOSTS OF THE WEST began in earnest. [RIGHT: GHOSTS OF THE WEST RAG one-sheet in theatre poster case on premiere day.]
THE TEST SCREENINGS
Two years later, the filmmakers again returned to Estes Park with the finished film in hand. Saturday, September 29, 2012, was a perfect early autumn day. Elkfest was in full swing and apparently Rocky Mountain National Park was handing out free passes. Against those odds, an audience remarkable for its size of 75 paying patrons joined the cast and crew of GHOSTS OF THE WEST for a matinee test screening. Nothing however prepared the filmmakers for the evening performance, which until 48 hours earlier they had seriously considered canceling due to discouraging advance sales.
But on the day before the screenings, tickets for the evening show began selling like a Powerball lottery. Ticket holders began lining up outside the theatre an hour before showtime. Theatre employees even had to guard the one-sheets and flyers against theft. Within ten minutes of opening the doors, the souvenir programs had run out. And by the time the house lights dimmed, one of the best crowds of the summer season (according to the theatre owners) filled the auditorium. [LEFT: Early Morning on Test Screening Day]
After each screening, audience members completed survey cards, on which they gave the film an average score of 4.5 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “hated it” and 5 being “loved it”), and provided the following comments:
"Loved the narration" • "The score is magnificent" • "Outstanding research and script" • "Attention to detail was impeccable" • "Loved the cinematography" • "The film shots were awesome!" • "Amazing blending of historic and contemporary photographs" • "This is something that begs to be viewed more than once" • "Could be an American Experience series!" • "I want more!" • "Great job! Publish a book!" • "The film touched my heart" • "Haunting" • "Awesome!" • "Perfect"
On February 16, 2013, even though it was shot throughout the western states, a panel of TV and motion picture industry executives, film critics, and academics honored GHOSTS OF THE WEST with the BEST DOCUMENTARY AWARD at the annual Filmed in Utah Award ceremony. Executive Producer Todd P. Prescott and Writer-Director E. S. Knightchilde were in attendance for the black-tie televised event. As the other three nominees in the category had shown theatrically and/or had successful (and award-winning) film festival runs, the director was so convinced that GHOSTS OF THE WEST would NOT win that he did not even prepare an acceptance speech. Fortunately, the executive producer convinced him to have three or so people in mind to thank so he wouldn't look foolish in front of the cameras. [RIGHT: Best Documentary Award]