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UW-Stout video production seniors shoot Western short ‘Ghosts of Gold Creek’ in Montana

Fourteen capstone movie trailers screened at School of Art and Design Senior Show May 3

By Abbey Goers, UW Stout

Traveling 1,200 miles from Menomonie to Anaconda, Mont., nine University of Wisconsin-Stout students recently hiked through snow-dusted mountain meadows, wooded gulches and streams to film a Western short.

Loosely inspired by true events, the video production seniors’ capstone project “Ghosts of Gold Creek” is set in 1868, when a U.S. marshal investigates the murder of a mayor in a small mining town.

Fourteen senior capstone movie trailers, including “Ghosts of Gold Creek,” will be featured at the School of Art and Design Senior Show from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 3. Meet with nearly 120 graduating SOAD seniors and talk about their creative works in exhibits throughout Applied Arts and Micheels Hall.

The making of ‘Ghosts of Gold Creek’

For their period piece, which runs 12 to 13 minutes, co-writers Zach Hoffmire and Nicos Wiard researched the region of western Montana and the era they wanted the movie set in. They found the story of Thomas Francis Meagher, a territorial governor who supposedly drowned but whose body was never found.

“But what if he didn’t drown? What if he was murdered?” said Wiard, of Minneapolis, who also served as sound recordist.

“Based on Thomas’ death and suspected foul play, we wrote the story having him as an over-the-top villain, choosing to do more of a suspense/investigation piece instead of a classic shoot-’em-up Western. We felt a bit bad taking a historical figure and twisting him to be a greedy monster, when in reality, he was mostly just an unsuccessful politician. But that's fiction, I guess,” added Hoffmire, of Kenosha, who directed the film.

Hoffmire and producer Payton Kosiorek wanted a location with a ghost town feel. In their online search, they found three locations and also reached out to the Montana Film Office for suggestions.

They landed on Gunslinger Gulch, an Old West-style guest ranch in the Leavengood Gulch, between Bozeman and Missoula.

“Gunslinger Gulch was our favorite by far. When we asked if we could film there, the owners said yes right away. They let us shoot and stay there for free,” Hoffmire and Wiard said, adding that they did some photography and drone footage for the ranch’s website as an in-kind trade.

Kosiorek, of St. Paul, raised funds for the crew’s food and travel and to pay the three-member cast found through the Montana Film Office website and a casting Facebook page. After virtual auditions and line recordings, they cast Joseph Garland, sheriff; Mark Plonski, miner; and Jake Barciz, mayor.

Members of the movie crew were:

  • Parker Cmeyla, director of photography, Menomonie

  • Lucas Falkavage, assistant director, Stevens Point

  • Marshall Jacklin, best boy, Slinger

  • Ethan Kulinski, assistant producer, Stevens Point

  • Will Pilegaard, first assistant camera, Edina, Minn.

  • Sydney Schmidt, second assistant camera and makeup, Menomonie

With a project so ambitious, the crew was challenged most by their limited budget and time. Where a movie of this scale might have an actual budget of $40,000-$50,000, they had about 10% of that with the funds Kosiorek had raised as producer.

After their long drive to Gunslinger Gulch, they had one day of planning and three to shoot their film the week of April 8.

“It was tough working with locations we hadn’t seen in person before. We were finding locations at the last second,” Wiard and Jacklin said. They used the hunting app on X Maps to find public land to film in the gulch and surrounding hills.

“We were working on the fly and trusting each other,” Wiard added.

Wiard and Hoffmire think that was the best part of the process. “There’s something satisfying in working with everyone, knowing each other’s strengths and each of us focusing on our own job. The professionalism makes it all possible,” they said.

As they graduate and begin working with new teams in their careers, they remember their professors’ advice to focus on what they do best.

“We show our new teams what we can do and prove it to them,” Jacklin said. “There’s a lot of word of mouth in this industry. Networking is how we find our jobs. Since we know each other’s strengths, we can let each other know if someone is looking for them and that they fit the role.”

Program Director Keif Oss believes the merit and execution of “Ghosts of Gold Creek” align with the program’s goals for graduates and is the most location-ambitious project he’s seen.

“But it’s also a period project, which is difficult in its own right. It speaks to the tenacity of our students to make great work while navigating a complex project environment,” he said. “I’m so impressed with this team's ability to execute on a budget with high expectations. They raised the funding necessary and were organizationally savvy in securing their location, professional acting talent, everything necessary to complete the work.

“Our program's professional advisory committee advocates the need for strong communicators who know how to plan and play well as a team. These students embody those qualities; their only trajectory is up. I already miss them,” Oss said, as the seniors will graduate on Saturday, May 4.

SOAD Senior Show exhibits

During SOAD Senior Show, video production and animation seniors’ movie trailers will run on one-hour loops at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., in Applied Arts 210. Other Senior Show exhibit spaces include:

  • Ceramics and enameling: AA room 101

  • Painting and sculpture: AA room 121

  • Printmaking: AA rooms 202 and 203

  • Photography: AA room 205

  • Studio Art: AA Gallery 209

  • Industrial and product design: AA room 216

  • “Illuminate”: AA room 217

  • Interior design: AA rooms 219 and 220

  • Graphic design and interactive media: AA room 221E

  • Furniture design: AA room 226  

  • Comics: AA room 234   

  • Game design: Micheels room 184

  • Animation production: Micheels room 290

Fine art sales by students will be held throughout the buildings, and cow sculptures will be on display in the Furlong atrium.

The Stout Game Expo, western Wisconsin's largest game developers’ event, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, in the Memorial Student Center Great Hall.

SGX features demo games, virtual reality and interactive experiences created​ by students, including Boogie Beyond, a dance-style detective game choreographed by members of the Blue Devils dance team.

Unspooled Film and Animation Festival

Many of the seniors’ capstone films, including “Ghosts of Gold Creek,” will be featured at the Unspooled Film and Animation Festival, Thursday, May 9, to Saturday, May 11.

The annual juried event features films and animations by regional and international independent storytellers – professionals and students, alike. Films are screened at UW-Stout’s historic Harvey Hall Theatre. The event also offers workshops and guest speakers. Tickets are available online.

  • May 9, 4 to 9 p.m.: Student films and awards, Harvey Hall Theatre. The “Ghosts of Gold Creek” crew will also lead a panel discussion.

  • May 10, 4 to 9 p.m.: Independent films and awards, Harvey Hall Theatre and Brewery Nønic

  • May 11, 1 to 9 p.m.: Animation films and awards, Harvey Hall Theatre and Zymurgy Brewing

An exhibit of Unspooled film stills will be showcased over the summer in the Art Lab, on the University Library’s first floor.

UW-Stout, a member of the Universities of Wisconsin, is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes. Learn more via the FOCUS2030 strategic plan.


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