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2014 Unbranded Interviews, Part One

Published: 10/3/2014
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Editor's Note: A year after the team of Unbranded 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. Read 2013 trip interviews here.

In this installment, we talk with Masters and Aig.
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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.

This amazing project has been honed to a feature-film length documentary with a strong message of mustang awareness and open space advocacy.

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
Part I

NN: Ben, you’ve been on two long journeys: the one from Mexico to Canada and the one from 500 hours of footage to a feature-length film. How do they compare?

BM: The trail going through the wilderness was a lot easier. It’s been a huge learning process for me. It’s such a great opportunity for me to work with people with so much experience. To watch it all come together has been really, really cool. We didn’t know what we had as we were doing it.

NN: You were the team leader on the trail. But in this process, you had to concede that role since you weren’t the one with the most expertise?

BM: Yes, definitely. I trust these guys.

NN: Did you feel more like a passenger?

BM: Yes, I felt like a passenger but I also wrote a book. I had my skill set. I helped support them as much as I could, but I have no idea how to edit compared to Phill and Scott. I’ve just been there for support and to let them do what they do best and try to stay out of their hair.

NN:A lot of people don’t understand the role of a producer. Can you be specific about your contributions?

DA: There are different kinds of producers and different levels of producing. Basically my role, which I assumed about the time they left Arizona, was to keep everything organized, keep everything going.

Because they were in the backcountry most of the time – although we had satellite phones and they would come out periodically -  very often it was very hard to communicate with them because the phone service was so weak.  I’ve had an easier time communicating on filming in the Amazon than this time with the guys in Utah. Seriously.

I don’t know how many conversations we had where we were yelling at each other on our respective phones because we couldn't hear one another clearly.

My job was to keep things going. To make sure that the film team - Phill and Korey and a few other people - had what they needed and the riders had what they needed and the horses had what they needed.

Clearly, each day was different.

It was very odd because usually I go out in the field. I really couldn’t do that here because the trip  was so long and because there was no room for me. You can only have so many riders. It was very different.

I thought when I came on that it was going to be a bit easier.

NN: Can you give me an example of something you had to do that you definitely wouldn’t be doing for a more conventional movie?

DA:  The food. Keeping them supplied with food. At one point, I had to go to REI and purchase ridiculous amounts of backpacking food. Freeze-dried stuff. There I am cleaning out all the REI shelves. They were asking, ‘what exactly are you doing?’ I should have said, ‘I’m just going on a long hike.’

But it was good, I’d tell them about the film. Four guys. Rescued mustangs. Mexican border to Canadian border. You could tell that there was a lot of interest in it.  People involved in the outdoors, in the West, with horses.

We had production assistants with varying levels of skill. Some of them were outdoors-y. Some of them, you’d have to describe the trail head and you’d just pray for them to be able to find it.

When the guys got close to a trail head, usually Phill would come out to recharge batteries and download footage with a production assistant and resupply.  We had to buy hundreds of batteries. And, of course, you had to take out whatever you took in.
NN: And how about your Unbranded work in Bozeman?

DA: You have to keep an eye on the books. You have to keep an eye on legal matters. Ben did a great job with the permitting, but the permitting is a long process. A lot of them weren’t finalized at the time they left. We took that on. There weren’t necessarily any problems, but there are questions. When? How many horses? That sort of thing.

We did have a lot of help.

-- Especially the BLM and Forest Service in Utah. We had to change the route at one point. They were very good about trying to understand what we were doing. They were really, really helpful. Did a great job.

-- Even in Yellowstone. They were there during tourist season and there was a concern about the horses crossing a major road at one point.

-- In the Grand Canyon. Usually horses don’t go down the Grand Canyon. They use mules.

In every case, they were open. We would compromise by going at certain time of days, for instance. We worked to make it happen.

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Read more about Unbranded here.
Riding with Unbranded's Dino

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10/10/2014 Alison Hamm
I've been watching this whole ride unfold and I'm so excited to see the finished product on film. I'm a horsewoman and the trek is a dream ride for me!!

"There are no problem horses, only problem riders" - Mary Twelveponies