Oh, what the Bourbon Trail hath wrought.
Filmmaker David McCracken was doing some research for a documentary about bourbon and invited a friend, producer Josh Riedford, along on a tour of some distilleries.
“We both grew to really, really love everything about bourbon, and not just the taste, but the history of it and how it’s so earthy and natural,” McCracken says. “That kind of appealed to our love of nature — us and a group of friends are always going on camping trips about once a year.”
So, when the Evansville, Ind., natives started contemplating what kind of movie they wanted to make together, bourbon was a logical subject. But what would the story be?
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It had autobiographical roots, about a reunion of good friends, like McCracken and Riedford frequently have. But then, things change. These friends reunite in 1977, 10 years on from their college years. Their hope is to visit some distilleries, but that plan goes off the rails when they discover that the bourbon industry has hit the skids, and some of their favorite haunts aren’t open.
“They happen to hear about this legend of Prohibition money in the woods of Bullitt County,” McCracken says. “So they decide to go do that, and you know, we’ve all seen movies where friends find money, and that’s usually never a good thing, and we have some other twists and turns in there.”
Riedford says, “We wanted to send characters out into the wilderness, out in the elements, and then play with how they react to that environment. Some of the most interesting stories are seeing what people do in situations that are completely out of their control.”
The duo premiered their movie, “Bullitt County” in October at the Austin Film Festival in Texas, and now they are bringing it back to Indiana and Kentucky for screenings before getting back on the film festival trail in hopes of gathering some awards and distribution offers. They also want to say thank you to the states that they say made the film happen.
Shooting between Kentucky and Indiana, the Hooiser State town of New Harmony being the primary backdrop, Riedford says the film never spent enough in Kentucky to take advantage of controversial film tax credits, and Indiana doesn’t offer any. Rebates for “Bullitt County” came in the form of good ol’ Midwestern hospitality.
“We pretty much got what would have been tax incentives just through the generosity of people in Kentucky and Indiana,” Riedford says.
McCracken jokes, “The ‘special thanks’ section in the end credits is longer than the credits.”
People in the Evansville area were happy to loan the film items from locations to period-specific cars and guns, the filmmakers say, as well as other courtesies to help keep production costs down, which were not unsubstantial given most of the primary on-screen and off-screen talent was brought in from Los Angeles, where McCracken was working after earning his masters at the University of Southern California.
Given the subject matter of the movie — peppered with regional pride — the filmmakers were determined to shoot in Kentucky and Indiana, unlike some other Kentucky-based dramas that have shot elsewhere — we’re looking at you, “Justified.”
“We wanted Midwesterners to know that it was shot here, and that it wasn’t faked,” McCracken says. They gained the back-in-time quality of towns like New Harmony and color palate of autumn in the Bluegrass State that Kentuckians know well. McCracken says, “It’s the color of bourbon.”
And that, of course, is where this all started.
Rich Copley: @copiousnotes