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2014 Unbranded Interviews, Part IV

Published: 11/2/2014
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Editor's Note: A year after the Unbranded team reached the Canadian border and on the eve of submission deadlines to major film festivals, NickerNews interviewed founder Ben Masters, producer Dennis Aig, director Phill Baribeau, editor Scott Chestnut and others.

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Read 2013 trip interviews here.

In this installment, we continue our visit with Masters and Aig.

Masters founded the massive project and led the team of four young men from the Mexican border to Canada, with more than a dozen mustangs. The trek of 3,000 wilderness miles over five and a half months was captured in about 500 hours of footage.

Aig, director of Montana State University’s School of Film and Photography, served as the film’s producer.
Read more about Unbranded here.
Riding with Unbranded's Dino

NN: On the trail, you told me it was going to be about mustang advocacy, open space, conservation. How would you describe it now?

BM: I think we’ve stuck really true to the vision. I really do. It’s a story that I think is kind of symbolic of a lot of people my age. It’s that age where you’re not married, you’re not tied down, you just want to go out and go on an epic adventure.
I think a lot of people can relate to that.  It translates in the film. It’s not necessarily something normal otherwise, but it’s something we tried to take advantage of because of this time in our lives.
Hopefully, it will inspire people to do whatever it is that’s their goal.
And then another big thing, from Day One, is the mustang awareness and mustang adoption. We’re trying to get people aware of the issues and also showing that these wild horses we used are really just kick-ass animals.

To watch them over the course of 90 minutes go from an animal that you can’t even go up to, to in the end, they were nibbling on your shoulder. It’s so powerful to see the transformation, as they become total puppy dogs.

We have a good mix, between characters, the human interaction, the funny stuff, and then undertones of reason, purpose, and having a message of wild horse adoptions.
Through it all you have the bigger picture of the incredible landscapes we’re going through. They speak for themselves.

DA: It’s a truism in film: Show. Don’t tell:
Watching these animals for an hour and a half. Watching what they do. Watching the guys. Seeing at the landscapes.

We know people will be seeing things one usually doesn’t see, do and doing with horses. I think we have stayed really true to that initial vision and are trying to do it cinematically. We want people to feel the value of these horses, to feel the epic nature of what they’re doing, rather than us telling them what they’re doing.

BM: It’s good. It’s better than I possibly could have imagined from Day One.

NN: Are there things you’re worried about being misinterpreted?

BM: Some people might not understand some things. We showed the story. By no means is there any animal abuse. But if you’re doing to train a horse that’s never been touched and he tries to get physical with you, there are times you have to get physical back. Anybody who’s worked with colts knows that.

The nature of the trip – ourselves and the horses – we were exposed to a lot of dangerous elements. Whenever you watch it, you’re going to see something that’s hard to watch. We felt like it was important to put those elements in there because that’s what happened. In a way, it’s a glimpse into transportation methods that have been used for hundreds of years. That’s how the west was settled. We didn’t have pretty trails.

There are some tough scenes to watch: human and horses suffering. We felt like it was important to put that in because that’s what happened.

DA: I’ve worked on a documentary of mountain climbing on K2 (the second highest mountain in the world). That’s not really pretty either. Whenever you’re doing something in the backcountry, it’s a challenge. That’s why people do it. We show what happened.

BM: There are some tough spots to watch, but what’s amazing to me is the how well those horses did. It still just blows my mind. How in the world were those horses able to do that? They are so sure-footed. They’re just so tough.

DA: The guys, too. The thing is, when you look at the span of five months and no one getting seriously injured, it’s almost miraculous. It’s a testimony to those guys, what kind of horsemen they are. And Phill. He wasn’t really a horseman when he started.

BM: We had horse two injuries on the trip. Pulled muscle. Foot caught in halter. Tendon issue.  Both have had a full recovery.
Phill got kicked really bad. In the leg. Brutal kick.

[Photo, L to R, director Phill Baribeau, assistant editor, Paul Quigley, editor Scott Chestnut.]

NN: Regarding the personal relations between four guys. Is that part of the movie?

BM: It takes a backseat. It’s a captivating movie. People will want to see more, to learn more about the horses. And I think people will feel proud to be an American and to have so much land.

DA: It is a very American story. You can’t do this in Germany or something.  I mean you could try. Ben, you could see if you could do it through the Alps.

BM: I’m game

DA: I can only imagine what the German permitting process would be like (laughing).

NN: Anything else we can say about the movie?

BM: Donkey steals the show.

DA: Yes, Donquita is the star. That was the smartest thing, putting that donkey in there. She’s a born star.

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Coming Next:

Part V: Renowned editor, Scott Chestnut, talks with NickerNews. Read more about him here.

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11/4/2014 Steve
A great story, a great adventure and a great cause, can't wait to see this film for so many reasons

"Want to end up with a million bucks in the horse business? Start out with five million." - Anonymous