“Pasghetti Western”: Royalton’s Movie-in-the-Making Is Truly Kid’s Stuff
Lilly Hudson, 9, of Royalton, left, and Avry Loftus, 5, of Tunbridge, are part of Jim and Myra Hudson's movie "Pashetti Western." Lilly Hudson plays Ma, the film's main character. (Emily Ferro photograph)
Ira Ferro, 5, of Tunbridge, pulls a reluctant pony in a still from Jim and Myra Hudson's movie "Pasghetti Western." (Emily Ferro photograph)
Cast members are shown in a film still from Jim and Myra Hudson's movie, "Pasghetti Western." (Emily Ferro photograph)
Jim and Myra Hudson and their children Oliver and Gideon give a few treats to their horses at their home in South Royalton. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
Moviemaking isn’t what Myra and Jim Hudson do.
Jim is a seventh-generation horseshoer; Myra stays home with their two boys, and recently had a solo show of her oil paintings.
But they are consummate do-it-yourselfers, living in a straw bale house, off the grid in Royalton. They had talked about making a movie for a long time, and last year they shot what is likely to be a unique cultural object: Their film, Pasghetti Western, features a cast consisting entirely of the children of family and friends in the White River Valley.
With all the small children and cute ponies around, the idea of shooting a film seemed natural, Jim said. But they were also motivated by the absence of movies for children that are without violence or snarky adult humor.
“The idea of creating something for kids was really prime,” Jim said. He believes that children love watching other children.
Myra sewed most of the costumes. A niece, Lilly, 9, played the lead role, Ma. None of the characters are named and the film has voice over narration rather than live dialogue.
Everything about the film was stripped down to its essentials, by necessity.
The film had no budget, so they just shot when time permitted, and their ideas about the cast had to be scaled back.
“Originally, we planned to have scores of children,” Myra said. But Ma’s four children turned out to be more than enough. All told, 28 children appear in the film, among them their own two boys and many of their young nieces and nephews.
“It was interesting and it was sort of fun,” said Lilly Hudson. She enjoyed holding the babies, two of whom learned to walk during filming last year. As Ma, Lilly had to wear a period wig. “It was really itchy,” she said.
She and her sister Iris, 13, both rode their own ponies in the film. Iris played a schoolmarm who helped Ma with her children. “It was hard to act,” Iris said. “At one point where I had to be mean to the kids I couldn’t stop laughing.”
The story is set in 1888, the year a huge blizzard paralyzed the East. Ma is forced to go it alone when her husband leaves their hardscrabble ranch to seek his fortune. Rustlers steal the family’s livestock, and Ma is forced to defend her property.
The Hudsons started shooting about a year ago and finished last fall. They shot some scenery during the winter to give the film a taste of all four seasons, and the ponies, costumes and scenery give it a period charm.
None of the children are trained actors, so the filmmakers set up scenes with the understanding that things wouldn’t always go as planned. Often, they didn’t.
“We weren’t able to shoot six takes of a scene,” Jim said. “We weren’t even able to shoot three takes.”
Sometimes, the young actors declined to participate, or to follow the unwritten script for a scene. As a result Pasghetti Western lives up to the mispronunciation in its name: It’s full of incidental actions that were incorporated into the story.
As with anything involving children under age 9, snack breaks were important.
“We did learn that we need a bigger catering budget,” Myra said.
Whoever gets to see the film will come across something largely absent from movies. The only notable film cast solely with children is Bugsy Malone, a 1976 musical gangster movie. The Hollywood production featured Scott Baio and Jodie Foster. A gangster movie might seem like unusual fare for a children’s film, but the pint-sized mobsters shoot each other with custard and no one is shown dying, which helped the film earn a G rating.
If there were a rating milder than G, Pasghetti Western might be eligible to wear it, as the film contains no guns, not because the Hudsons are opposed to them, but because guns are so prevalent in entertainment.
The film is about an hour long, far longer than anything either of them had made before. While both have an interest in art and photography, and Myra had made a humorous cooking show as a Christmas gift for family, the film was a new experience.
“It was an enormous learning curve for us,” Jim said. They researched and bought a digital movie camera, then had to buy a new computer to edit the film. Both have some experience with digital film editing, the stage Pasghetti Western is at now.
Film making requires an investment. The Hudsons have spent around $9,000, including $2,000 for the camera, $3,200 for a computer that could handle the workload, and $200 for editing software. “This equipment will be ours for the future,’’ said Myra.
The scene in the Hudsons’ house demonstrates both their DIY lifestyle and the state of moviemaking, which has become more user-friendly with the advent of digital cameras. The timbers of their home were cut within 300 yards of the house site, said Jim, who did much of the construction work. But with solar power and satellite internet service, their life is a mix of the 19th and 21st centuries.
“The beauty of digital is it’s so there when you want it,” Jim said. It doesn’t require a great deal of equipment or power, and when they have a technical question, it’s easy to find a tutorial on the Internet that provides precise answers.
The Hudsons said they have mixed feelings about television and other entertainment viewed on a screen, and they went back and forth on whether to make a film. Ultimately, they hope their use of 21st-century technology allows the children who see the film to envision its 19th century environment.
“I’m hoping it just gives kids a stepping off point for their creativity,” Jim said.
The film’s trailer is available on YouTube. At the end of the trailer, the title reads “Coming to very select theaters 2013.”
To screen the film in the Upper Valley, as they hope to do, they will need to have it converted into a “digital cinema package,” a cartridge that can be put into a theater’s digital projector. While they’re working on the editing, they’re also hunting down ways to finance the conversion. They also plan to make the film available on DVD.
“People keep asking me, so I’m feeling the pressure,” said Myra, who is devoting much of her time to editing the film. “I think they really deserve to see the finished product.”
Alex Hanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 603-727-3218.