Few film sets can say they had a crew member wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon” T-shirt like last year’s “Terror on the Prairie” shoot.
Then again, “Terror” isn’t a Hollywood production.
Gina Carano famously got fired from “The Mandalorian” for inconvenient social media messages, and she’s the star of this indie western. As for “Justified” alum Nick Searcy, cast as the heavy, he bounces from mainstream fare to conservative content.
Together, they’re the core of this indie western, one lacking the woke theatrics of too many films today. Just don’t expect much, if any, overtly political banter between takes. This crew is all business.
Makeup artist Jeff Dawn, he of the “Brandon” T-shirt, sent “Terror” producer Dallas Sonnier his resume when he first heard about the “Terror” project.
Said resume includes decades of work on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, including “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”
Comedian Tyler Fischer, who plays the villainous Long Hair in the film, ran into sizable headwinds for being a white male prior to “Terror.” His agency couldn’t find work him based on his skin color, and they told him just that.
He even developed an informal support group of fellow white actors who share how the industry consistently discriminates against them.
“I’m not going to get into Hollywood,” he says of his mindset prior to joining the “Terror” team. “I was pre-canceled.”
Yet here he is, nursing a faux bloody arm and adding his presence to the film’s outlaw gang.
Sonnier, sporting a thick knit cap and near-permanent grin, takes a hands-on approach to his producing work. At one point he shows a just-wrapped stunt, captured on his smart phone, to on-set visitors. A horse rider is yanked, violently, off his steed during the video clip.
Sonnier beams as he shows the sequence off, giddy with its ‘cool’ factor. This is a man in his element.
The “Bone Tomahawk” producer points at the Montana earth and jokes the crew covered up most, but not all, of the fake blood splattered from a previous sequence.
Sonnier is a stickler for practical FX on his sets. “No CGI blood, ever,” is his mantra.
“Terror on the Prairie” doesn’t skimp on gun violence, whether it’s Carano’s Hattie McAllister defending her turf or Searcy and co. threatening her brood.
The “cold gun on set!” cry rings out, a standard comment on a safe film environment. The warning took on a whole new meaning coming weeks after the accidental shooting on the set of “Rust” that killed Director of Photography Halyna Hutchins last October.
No live rounds are allowed anywhere near the set, Sonnier’s team says.
The atmosphere is purposeful, but light. During Halloween week some crew members dressed up in decidedly un-western-like wear. Jokes careen around the set, as does Sonnier and co-producer Amanda Presmyk, adding their expertise as needed.
Director Michael Polish (“The Astronaut Farmer”) is more reserved, a lean figure focusing on the tasks at hand.
Screenwriter Josiah Nelson is on set, too, describing “Terror” as “iconic” in nature, a story “that can fit into the western mythology.” He’s eager to explore the female heroine played by Carano, a city slicker trying to adjust to frontier life. It doesn’t help that her husband is away when a gang of outlaws come a calling.
“She’s not a gunfighter,” he notes, but given Carano’s action chops audiences know she’ll get a swift education on the subject.
Nelson shaped the story, in part, on the oral stories he heard growing up. His great-great-grandmother had to move from her Kansas home in the 1870s following a conflict between Native Americans and local cowboys.
He cited movies like “Hush” and “Don’t Look Now” as creative inspiration.
“Terror on the Prairie” lacks the budgetary muscle of most Hollywood films. Much of the action takes place along a modest strip of Montana soil. Other scenes are shot in an existing western town set employed by other westerns.
The production team didn’t skimp where it counted, though.
Gun safety was on everyone’s mind during the shoot. A short but pivotal scene involving Native Americans found Team “Terror” uses authentic garb made on a reservation to bring both authenticity and respect to the shoot.
Carano, who toured part of the country in an RV before starting the “Terror” shoot, leans hard into the film’s gritty nature.
“It’s always a good day when you can smash something,” she says with a grin.
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