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The Making Of

Director/cinematographer Michel Orion Scott talks about meeting Rupert Isaacson, his first film about the Kalahari Bushmen, and the challenges of filming on horseback.

Independent Lens: What impact do you hope THE HORSE BOY will have?

Michel Orion Scott: I hope that people watch this film and realize that, as a culture, we need to embrace diversity. I also hope that this program shows that taking an extra step for family and love can open lives into a whole new world of freedom and positive energy.

IL: What led you to make this film?

MOS: I first met Rupert Isaacson, the producer of THE HORSE BOY and father of Rowan Isaacson, at a book talk he gave on the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana…. We began to talk about the possibility of creating a film about the Bushmen, one that would help them in their fight for survival. A few months into pre-production, Rupert told me about his son Rowan. He asked me to come with them and record their trip [to Mongolia]. With a gulp, I said, “Yes, of course.” How could I pass up such an opportunity?

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

MOS: Beyond having to film a fair chunk of the movie on horseback, bouncing camera in one hand, reins in the other, galloping five feet above the ground, the biggest challenge of creating this film was to present a work that was as amazing as the concept. When speaking about a film that chronicles the journey of a family dealing with autism, riding on horseback across Mongolia, visiting mysterious Shamans in search of healing, the obvious question is, “How could this not be an amazing film?” And the answer is, “Oh, there are many, many ways.” I’ve been humbled again and again by the filmmaking craft.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in the film?

MOS: I had met the family several months before I began shooting. I found that we had many common interests. Rupert and Kristin were dedicated to presenting an honest, moving story and felt that I was dedicated to the same thing. I spent many hours with the family with the camera turned off before I ever began filming.

IL: What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

MOS: Endless hours of Shaman ceremonies and fascinating interviews with experts.

IL: Tell us about a scene in THE HORSE BOY that especially moved or resonated with you.

MOS: My favorite scene is after the horrible first day of riding horses across the Mongolian steppe, where Rowan tantrums for hours. Rupert says “I f***ed up” … this trip is for him and that’s what we should be focusing on. In that moment, I felt that the story shifted. If there had been any alternate intention or ego involved in the trip, at that moment, it all faded away. Then Rupert and Rowan run together, laughing and playing as Rowan “forgives” Rupert. This is the point that I said to myself, “Wow. There is no doubt — this is going to be an incredible film.”

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

MOS: The audience response has been absolutely phenomenal. Rupert, Kristin, and I have shed so many tears with the audience. Long emotional embraces with audience members are a part of every screening. It’s my favorite part, really, seeing how affected people are by this film, as I have been.

Rupert, Kristin, and Rowan have all seen the film numerous times. They love it. Especially Rowan, who watches and giggles with delight, often speaking about scenes with commentary such as “Rowan was upset!”

IL: What’s a commonly asked question that you get from audiences?

People often ask me “as the filmmaker, what do you think it was that ‘healed’ or helped Rowan?” My answer to this question is usually, I don’t know … but what I do know is that, if there was one thing it could be contributed to, without a doubt, it is that the parents took that extra step to follow their child into the unknown. To allow themselves to trust the love they have for their son and to do whatever it took to find a way into his life.

IL: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

MOS: I think it’s incredibly important to reach a wide and non-selective audience. Especially this film, which I believe transcends genre. It means a lot to me to be able to reach such a varied audience.

IL: What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

MOS: I would have liked to spend more time on the music score. Though it did end up being incredibly beautiful, I’ve learned that, for future films, it’s best to start early with the scoring as it is such an important part of the process.

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