Alex and Andrew Smith are two Montana boys who made their debut with the football drama “The Slaughter Rule,” which starred Ryan Gosling, at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. For “Winter in the Blood,” the brothers are again using their home state to illustrate an interior world with an adaptation of the novel by award-winning Native American author James Welch. And the man they’re illustrating is portrayed by Chaske Spencer, best known as one of the werewolves of “Twilight.”
“Winter in the Blood” tells the story of a man, Virgil First Raise who comes home from a bender and realizes his wife has left him. He heads on a journey across the small towns of Montana trying to find her — always just missing her, but his trip leads him to reflect on his own life and his priorities in it.
Virgil is in nearly ever single scene of the film, except for some flashbacks. “Our casting agent Rene Haynes said (of Spencer), ‘This is really the guy,'” said Alex. “He lives in New York, but he’s from Montana and Idaho. He understood this character and he told us he has been waiting for a role like this for a long time.”
Andrew added, “He’s an actor from our first feature and we became friends after that. We have similar backgrounds in certain ways; he grew up in Northern Idaho. He’s become kind of like a brother to us.”
Welch was a friend of the Smith family and his novels were familiar in their home. “Our friend and co-writer Ken White was staying at our mom’s ranch, and while he was hanging out, he took the novel off of the bookshelf and read it in one sitting,” said Alex. “He said, ‘Why aren’t you guys making this movie?’ We were so close to it that we couldn’t see that this was a movie we needed to make.”
Andrew added, “The book helped us through different parts of our life. Jim was a friend and a teacher to us from when we were teenagers. Anytime I needed to get back to where I was from, that book was there for us. At that point, we knew we needed to make this a film and have more people connect to this film.”
The Smiths were grateful to able to shoot in their home state, thanks to special incentives from the Montana Film Commission. “The movie seems simpler to shoot than it is,” says Andrew. “It’s set in the ’70s and there’s flashbacks to the ’50s. To recreate both of those periods with a limited budget was a challenge but the community in the ranching towns and the reservations we shot on rallied on and got this stuff together that really allowed us to make this film on this budget. It was relentless and very rewarding at the same time. We shot hawks and cattle drives, stunts and horses, rain and snow, frozen bodies, and somehow it all worked out. We shot in the area where the author grew up, so people really embraced the project and allowed us to get it in on schedule and on budget.”
The brothers are currently looking for an editor who’s ready to start editing the film in Los Angeles. They hope to complete the film by the end of the year.
“Winter in the Blood”
Directors: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith
Writers/Co-producers: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith, Ken White
Producer: Susan Kirr
Executive Producers: Carl Hampe, Jason Miller, Heather Rae
Associate Producers: Sherman Alexie, Casey Camp-Horinek, Patrick Cook,
Cast: Chaske Spencer, Julia Jones, David Morse, Gary Farmer
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