The Making Of
The fimmakers talk about early morning hunting trips, the environment around Picher and eating fried food.
What led you to make this film?
It was a conspicuously large and old environmental site lying off a rural highway with a town that appeared to be becoming a ghost town at its center. It was also happening in our backyard and we wanted the world to know about it.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
This was a very slowly moving story. The static nature made it troublesome as to whether we'd ever find resolution. The community had also been studied, probed and profited from for over 25 years. It seems we were suspected of being just another government-funded project trying to make a buck off their misfortunes, or they simply saw us as outsiders invading their town.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
There are probably some intangible things to gaining trust, but more importantly our repetitive presence in the town really helped. I think maybe after attending the fourth or fifth high school basketball game, a few town meetings, going hunting a couple times and clocking several hours at the Dairy Inn, people figured that while they didn't know what we were trying to do, we probably weren't going to just disappear and produce another cursory news story.
What didn’t get included in your film that you would have liked to show?
The high school prom! We shot all the kids getting ready and then followed one group as they went out to dinner and then to the prom. It was such a small town slice of life—it would have been nice to include. In fact, we started out in Oklahoma when they were getting ready and then ended up in Missouri for dinner and then Kansas, where the prom was held. It was a fun little tri-state evening. We also could have depicted the poverty of the place in a more explicit way but didn't due to certain considerations.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
James: The sermon where the charismatic preacher suggests to the congregation that Picher can be perceived like heaven or hell. He really echoes the perspective of the film and made me want to jump up and shout an Amen!
Bradley: When Jon Mott tells us that he went to school with “kids that couldn’t learn—in fact, I went to school with a boy that spent 28 years in the second grade.” Not sure about the validity of that statement, but even eight years in the second grade would be monumental. I always die laughing during that part.
Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?
Waking up for early morning hunting trips, snow, rain and acquiring music rights for various scenes we loved with music ever-present.
Also, don't drive your two-wheel drive truck up a mountainous pile of mining waste in the snow or otherwise.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
We've had positive audience reactions. As for the people featured in the film, in September 2007 we screened the film for the Picher community. It was a success, having scheduled it the same night as the OU/Tulsa football game as well as a local high school game! We had a great turnout in a beautiful theater in downtown Miami, Oklahoma, which is just a few miles from Picher. The screening was hosted by the Quapaw Tribe and was attended by the film's Orval "Hoppy" Ray, former miner Walter Jones, environmental activists Earl Hatley and Rebecca Jim and Picher Housing Authority's JR Sparkman, who all joined us for a post-screening Q&A. While we got plenty of thank you's and approval from the audience, the Q&A quickly turned into an hour or so long town hall discussion about current Picher politics: what is happening with clean up efforts, when will the utilities terminate for the remaining residents and other stats that they are dealing with. There was no discussion as to the division it created within the community, however. I can only assume they are just anxious to keep moving forward on what has become a life-long issue for these folks. There are still things to be resolved and the people are still dedicated to working through it. I think what amazed me most about the discussion is the litany of scientific knowledge they have about Tar Creek—they were tossing around all kinds of EPA terminology and acronyms that were mind-boggling to me! They are very well-versed on the subject and obviously still very dedicated to a positive outcome.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
James: I like the idea of finding strange compelling stories, seeing places and meeting people I wouldn't have otherwise and working with friends.
Bradley: I am not very employable and I love the process of film production. It enables us documentary filmmakers to escape our own lives and problems and dissect someone else’s triumphs and sometimes mishaps.
Julianna: Seeing good documentaries keeps me motivated. I'm a big documentary film buff and watch as many as I can. Seeing what is out there (good and bad) is always inspiring.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
PBS is a great platform in which to have your work seen by millions, and we had a great experience with a previous ITVS/PBS film, OKIE NOODLING, and this was no different.
Is there one question viewers most commonly ask?
People commonly asked, "Why didn't they just move?" As with any situation looked at with any depth, it just wasn't that simple. While the questioner makes a decent point, it's likely that he or she hasn’t felt the economic constraints and lack of options that people of the Tar Creek communities have.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
It would have been nice to capture a catastrophic mine cave-in—with no injuries of course… or maybe just one filmmaker—there's three of us for Christ sake. We didn't have a meal that wasn't fried. We didn't exercise. Bradley desperately wanted to film a young boy who had bragged that he was able to give himself his own haircuts.