When the Montana Film Office launched a contest, Pitch the 406, to encourage filmmakers to pitch the office on shooting a film in Montana, they didn't know their judges would choose Montana natives. That result reflects well on what is proving itself to be an interesting place for filmmakers to shoot stories that need a certain look. Recently, "Taking Chance," "My Sister's Keeper," "Hoot," "Hidalgo," "The Slaughter Rule" (and this film from the same filmmakers) and the documentary "Sweetgrass" have all used Montana vistas as their backdrop.
For the Pitch the 406 contest, which awards its winner $20,000 for shooting in Big Sky Country, filmmakers needed to upload pitches to YouTube, which would then be considered by a panel of well-established filmmaking judges. Here's the winning pitch, from "Magpie" director Matthew Smaglik and his production team:
"Magpie," a film about a family torn apart and a cow country town infiltrated when the oil industry moves in, was chosen from 28 video pitch submissions during the contest's inaugural year. Sten Iversen, the Montana film commissioner, assured Indiewire that the Film Office will be making the audience an annual event, an integral part of their business.
Iversen has been in his role for the papst eleven years and has overseen 36 feature films, three-quarters of which have been indies. The tax incentive program, he told Indiewire, is geared to help productions in the .5-10 million dollar budget range. In describing the incentives, he highlighted no sales tax, a 14% incentive on labor and 9% incentive on everything else. The Film Office works with 300 local freelance crew members and can handle a couple of films at a time.
Smaglik, the prize's winner, was a student at Montana State University at Bozeman until he recently graduated. "Magpie" is shot in what is for Iversen a part of Montana not usually scene on film: "This is about Eastern Montana, plains country, nto typical mountains. It's great because it's an area of the state that isn't typically talked about."
During his last year at MSU-Bozeman, Smaglik and his producers filmed a feature last summer with no budget, called "Cooper," which is still in post-production. "After we made that film, we kept hearing stories from North Dakota and Eastern Montana about towns changing, to capture stories about millionaires being made over night, grocery store owners stocking the shelves and having them be empty by night.
"We wanted to set it in Montana again. You can't beat the locations."
The team was set to go on a scouting trip with members of the Film Office after our converation last week.
Smaglik, though, seemed intent on a little town called Plentywood. If all goes well, perhaps Plentywood will be the home of a fictional oil boom — and "Magpie"
Writer/Director: Matthew Smaglik
Producers: Steven Hilton, Alisha Dyk, Michael Gaughan, Jason Settvens