Cowboy Dreams
Crew films "Connecticut Kid" at Vallecito ranch

1st Assistant Cameraman Nick Neino watches the actors on set as he prepares for the next take./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The ground is covered with snow at a working ranch in Vallecito. Several film cameras are directed at a corral, where horses and actors mill around, waiting for someone to yell “Action!”

The moment approaches.

“Everybody stand by...everybody quiet please...” Just then, as if on cue, a horse farts and begins a mighty bowel movement.

It was Dec. 12, a few days before wrapping on the set of “The Connecticut Kid,” an independent film eight years in the making – well, eight years of looking for financing, at any rate.


Kitta Larsen prepares to document a scene and snap the slate shut during shooting Friday at Wilderness Trails Ranch./Photo by Todd Newcomer

The film is based on the experiences of writer/director/star Jack Serino, who worked at the Wilderness Trails Ranch – where the movie was filmed – for a summer when he was 20 years old. In the film, Serino, now in his early thirties, plays a city slicker from Connecticut who gets a hard time from the ranch hands but eventually “saves the day and wrangles the horses when they start running around,” according to a crew member.

“Don’t let him tell you it’s a true story,” says Lance Roberts, an owner of the ranch, with a sideways glance.

Because of the film’s tight budget, Roberts and many crew members were drafted to act in the film.

“Everybody’s doing four jobs – it’s a pretty small crew,” said Michael Black, 2nd unit director of photography. “It’s funny because most of the crew is acting as well. They’re doing a good job, but it leaves us short on crew for some scenes.”

Crew members’ dedication is evidenced by the long hours and cuts in pay they took in making the film. For most, working on the film is a favor to Serino, who works in the Los Angeles film industry as an art director. The cast and crew members are coworkers and friends, and his best friend, Jim Rosenthal, is producing it.


Art Director Gyll Huff snaps a Polaroid of an actor’s costume so it can be accurately duplicated in later scenes./Photo
by Todd Newcomer.

Rosenthal said he first read the script eight years ago and has wanted to make the film ever since. He was producing a film in Salt Lake City, where he often works despite living in LA, when he got the long-awaited call from Serino.

“Jack called and said, ‘I think we found the money,’” Rosenthal said. “I called all our friends and said, ‘Come help us out – this has been Jack’s dream forever.’”

The friends came through, and the first meeting for the film took place Thanksgiving Day at Denny’s in Durango. Just a few weeks later, the film was in full swing.

Today, after setting up a shot, Serino changes hats – falling off a horse onto a pile of mattresses. He stays on the ground even after someone yells, “Cut!”

“Jack, are you alright?” People start yelling. “Is it your shoulder? Jack?”

He pops up and grins.“Was that good?” he teases.

But the crew has reason for concern: The one major mishap of the film occurred when Serino “took a big header off a horse and the horse just wouldn’t stop,” Rosenthal recounts. “I’m not sure if Jack would want that mentioned.”

But then he calls over a red-headed woman and announces, “She’s the one who saved Jack!”

The redhead is Amanda Williamson, a Vallecito local who has worked at Wilderness Trails Ranch for seven years. The crew met her at Virginia’s – where it hangs out every night – and promptly cast her.

“They needed a wrangler named Red, and here I am!” she laughs as she throws her hands in the air. Incidentally, her dog “Rowdy” also was cast in the film, though his stage name is “Killer.”


A camera sits unmanned as the crew prepares the set for the next scene. /Photo
by Todd Newcomer.

Rosenthal says that half the crew is staying in cabins at Virginia’s, likes the restaurant’s food and is especially fond of the pay phone, since cell phones don’t work at Wilderness Trails Ranch. “At the end of work we go to Virginia’s, and we all fight for the pay phone, our link to civilization,” he says.

And the business is great for Virginia’s Steak House.

“It gives a little economic boost – we’re glad to have them,” says owner Steve Dudley. “They’re all young or middle-aged and have a lot of energy.You can tell they’re working their buns off.”

And apparently they are – Rosenthal says the crew works from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and has had only one day off in 14 days of filming. Everyone – aside from production assistants, the indentured servants of the film industry – is paid the same amount each day: $100, approximately four times less than normal.

“I just promise them three meals a day and lots of beer,” Rosenthal says fondly.
And aside from a couple of trucks getting stuck in the snow, and “city kids getting horse bites,” filming has been relatively smooth and the friendships are intact, Rosenthal says.

“We all sort of grew up together in the film business,” he says. And they have high hopes for what he describes as “a wholesome little family movie about a guy living out his dreams.”






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