By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Don’t be fooled by the cowboy hats, western accents, and mountainous background “Three Card Draw” was filmed entirely at Truhaven Ranch, just outside of Winsted.
The seven-minute movie was screened at the Z-Fest Film Festival in Minneapolis March 6. To see a 30-second trailer, click here.
“Our ultimate goal, if we can get funding, is to use this as a promo piece for a feature-length film,” said filmmaker Conrad Flemming of Winsted.
Local actors include Flemming (son of Candy Phillips, executive director of Truhaven Ranch) and Melissa Lou Norton (Truhaven’s equine director). The three other human actors are from the Twin Cities, and have all worked on films together in the past.
All five horses in the film are also local. One of them, Bella, is owned by Truhaven’s president, Sarah Smith.
“That horse loves the camera,” Norton laughed.
“She always has the right expression for the moment,” Phillips agreed.
Months of planning
Flemming began working on “Three Card Draw” in September. First, he recruited Norton, as well as two of his good friends from the Twin Cities screenwriter Harrison Matthews and director Mike Ascher.
“I met Mike in October,” Flemming said. “We were both extras on a set, and we had a lot of time to get to know each other in between takes.”
Flemming also found talented volunteers for music, sound, photography, and other elements.
Filming took place the end of November and the beginning of December.
“The first weekend, it was in the single digits,” Flemming recalled. “It was really windy, and so cold.”
“I had a lot of layers on,” Norton said, adding that actors also put heat pads in their gloves and boots.
In addition to weather, another tricky element was working with animals on set.
“I had to teach two of the actors how to ride horses, just for this,” Flemming said.
Fortunately, due to clever editing, no horses had to be around for the gunshot scenes.
Between takes, wranglers helped keep the horses in line. During the last weekend of filming, the horses were happy to stand and sun themselves the entire day.
“They just stood there they were perfect,” Norton said.
After the filming was complete, there was still plenty of work to be done.
“It took two-and-a-half months just to put mountains into the shots,” Flemming said. “Very few of the shots were filmed on a tripod, so I had to 3D track most of the shots, which is time consuming.”
Speaking parts were recorded afterward, and original background music (by composer Dillon M. DeRosa of New York) was also added. DeRosa also developed the music for “Ash Land,” another one of Flemming’s movie projects.
“Three Card Draw” was initially 20 minutes long, and per the Z-Film Festival regulations, it had to be whittled down to seven.
The storyline remains intact in the final version, and centers on a bounty hunter who refuses to hand over her prisoner to the small gang that hired her. In a last-ditch effort to save himself, the prisoner suggests an alternate plan.
“I wanted something other people can relate to,” Flemming said.
In the future, Flemming hopes to make a movie that features three separate western-inspired stories.
The theme is being carried over into Truhaven Ranch, and the staff plan to create an old western scene that can be used for reenactments. The “town” will feature buildings like a jail, hotel, saloon, sheriff’s office, and general store.
Wild West Day at Truhaven Ranch is planned for Saturday, Sept. 13.
Cast and crew
The creation of “Three Card Draw” by Truhaven Studio involved several people, including:
• Conrad Flemming, actor and producer from Winsted
• Harrison Matthews, actor and writer
• Melissa Lou Norton, actor from Winsted
• Krisha Saxon, actor
• HT Altman, actor
• Mike Ascher, director
• Jon Springer, director of photography
• Dillon M. DeRosa, music composer
• Vee Washington, sound effects supervisor
• Candy Phillips, executive producer
• Stephen H. Koontz, assistant director
• Team JMC, editing
• Emily Rizer, special makeup
• Tiahna Flemming, horse wrangler
• Amanda Olson, horse wrangler
• Sarah Smith, horse wrangler
• Taylor Jade Niece, horse wrangler
• Horses: Flicka, Bella, Sarge, Chaucer, and Hickory