Not far from the hustle and bustle of Branson, hundreds of actors are working to tell the story of a famous group of vigilantes who called the Ozarks home more than a century ago.
The motion picture production, “Bald Knobber” began about 18 months ago at the grave of Nathaniel Kinney, in a Forsyth cemetery, and is now about halfway complete, according to producers.
“We’re probably about 60 percent finished,” said Mike Johnson, director and producer of the film. “We’re trying to get done by August, but it’ll be a miracle if that happens.”
Johnson, a director and producer from Texas, moved to the area nearly eight years ago. He produced a film called “The History of Branson,” which is where he first learned of the bald knobbers.
“I wanted to go back and learn more about them, and I was planning on doing another documentary,” Johnson said. “Someone suggested I do a feature film and I wasn’t too keen on that because I knew it would be complex. Once we got into it, we just sucked it up and moved forward.”
The script, 225 pages spanning more than 80 scenes, is more than double that of a usual studio script.
“That is one of my main worries,” Johnson said. “The damn thing is going to be like ‘Gone With the Wind,’ except twice as long.”
Johnson met Associate Producer, Assistant Director and actor in the film Curtis Copeland, who also works for the city of Branson engineering department, at Kinney’s grave and began talking about the possibility of doing a movie about the bald knobbers.
“I’ve always been interested in history, ever since I was a kid,” Copeland said. “This subject is very near to me and we want to be as historically accurate as possible. There are still some hard feelings about this around here.”
According to Johnson, producers took major historical events and told them around five of the major families involved, focusing on their relationships.
Due to the scope of the film, filmmakers were looking for the best way possible to tell such a sweeping story.
“The way this film is ... it isn’t a story about a bunch of hairy-legged guys riding around on horses shooting one another,” Johnson said. “We had to tell the story without leaning one way or another, and let the audience decide. It is an epic.”
According to Johnson, the scale is one of the major reasons for the lengthy production shoot. Another reason is because so many crew members have other jobs.
“Most of our shoots are on weekends,” he said. “We have 51 speaking parts for actors, and many of them are from the area.”
For such a large-scale movie, the producers don’t have much of a budget.
“It is considered by (Screen Actors Guild) and the movie industry as ultra-low budget, and it is,” Johnson said. “But our main problem is that we’re making an epic movie on this low budget.”
Johnson and Copeland consider the fact production got this far as a testament to their drive, as well as the kindness and passion of local residents involved.
“The actors are doing it for the love of the movie and the experience, like our camera and effects,” Johnson said. “Everyone is putting their all into this thing, and we appreciate it.”
Johnson said he had some trepidation before starting the film, but that everything has come together nicely.
“I was concerned about the local cast, and would we have the quality actors that we needed to make it real?” Johnson said. “They really have been a pleasure to work with, and they’re all doing great work.”
The producers have not locked up any theatrical distribution for the film yet because the film must first be completed before they tackle distribution.
“We get one premiere in Branson, then we’ll start submitting it to film festivals and such,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to take it as far as we can.”