Stories can be full of surprises, and that I've worked on the short documentary film The Mushroom Hunter has delivered to me many unexpected gifts. Even if hunting the roonies isn't your thing, I think this story will have surprise gifts for you too. My friend Keegan, who has worked on artwork for the project, reported to me that when he watched a cut of the film, he couldn't stop thinking about his grandfather. If you've lost a dear friend, spent good times engaging in an activity with your best friends, or maybe even lost the ability to do that thing you love, I think this story can take you back to the people and places you care about most.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has hunted morel mushrooms. It was an activity I never took to, at least when I was a kid. In high school, I joined my dad for one major hunt. We left in the middle of the night, picked up my dad's friend Vic Heater, and drove seven hours to Durand, Wisconsin, almost all the way from Indiana to Minneapolis. We climbed through the pre-dawn darkness and thick underbrush and briars up what seemed like a mountain. Dad and Vic called the place Knife Man Hill after they once encountered a guy with a huge unsheathed knife. The Mushroom Hunter is full of such stories. I remember being cold and wet with morning dew, as I sat on a fallen tree and waited for the sun to come up so we could start hunting. We looked for the roonies until sunset when we returned to the car, picked ticks off of one another, tried to ignore where we'd been scratched by thorns, and we rode home into the night. I had been up for over twenty-four hours straight. It was not my idea of any kind of fun.
In 1997, my dad began to experience heart trouble, and he underwent a procedure to have a stent placed in one of his arteries. I think he suspected his hunting days might be over, and I'm certain he felt as if he might not live much longer. I've heard him say more than once, "It could be my last hunt." After the procedure, dad bought a video camera and began filming some of his mushroom trips. The idea was that even if he couldn't go out into the woods, he could sit at home, watch himself and his buddies, and remember the pleasures of being with friends and looking for morels. Some of that old footage will appear in this film.
Two of my father's best friends (also mushroom hunters) have passed away in recent years. A friend of my dad's named John, who is mostly confined to his home, wrote me this line via Facebook: "Billy, it is hard to pick up anything, much less a mushroom when you get to be a certain age. You are not a minute too early in making this documentary about your dad." For my father, who recently turned seventy-five, traipsing (sometimes alone) through the woods up and down steep hills is not physician recommended activity.
So why this story now? A series of events led me to this film: I wrote an 80's music and movies themed novel that I adapted to a screenplay. It won a film festival award, and so for the first time in my life, because I was given an all access pass, I immersed myself in festival culture. While I might click around on Netflix for an hour before I find a film I want to watch, the festival films were a treasure in the spirit of my favorite works of literary fiction. When you watch many of the films that screen at festivals, the pleasures of viewing are often deeper and more nuanced than the more predictable Hollywood blockbuster.
As part of a collection of short films, I saw Two's a Crowd. It tells the story of a Manhattan married couple who had chosen to live separately. Who has ever heard of such a thing? How in the world would that work? Turns out it worked great for the couple featured in the film, but an extreme hike in rent forced the couple to move in together. It was an unusual story with quirky main characters. I immediately thought of my dad's unusual (at least from my perspective) hobby of hunting mushrooms, and his own quirky personality which was easily matched by his hilarious friend Vic. I leaned over and whispered to my sister who was sitting next to me, "We could make a film like this about dad."
For financial reasons, I almost never got started on the project. The camera I thought would work cost nearly $2,000. I needed a new computer, and I needed video editing software. This equipment seemed like the bare minimum investment, and I knew I would spend something near the $5,000 mark to get started. I decided it was a frivolous and too-expensive venture.
My wife saved the project with a passionate speech she made to me in my parents' Indiana kitchen. She talked me into plunging forward on the merits that it would be something I could do with my dad, and the film could become a sort of family heirloom. It turned out the experience was something four generations of our family were able to share.
So if we succeed in funding the film, what will I do with the money? First, it will go for film festival entry fees and to defray the cost for myself and other members of the filmmaking team to attend festivals. One of the great surprises of working on documentary film projects has been the people I've been able to meet. Although I haven't seen my old high school basketball rival Jeremy Vogt for nearly twenty years, we collaborated virtually on this project.
Jeremy scored the film and recorded an original song. He's penned another that we hope to work into a future cut.
Keegan Laycock, who was a student in a Language Arts class I taught over fifteen years ago, has worked on artwork related to the film. His iHunt Morels logo will go on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other gear we'll give as rewards for various levels of support. See examples along the right hand side of the page.
Attending festivals will help me continue to make the sorts of connections that will enable me to build our storytelling team. This might mean I meet someone who wants to be a director of photography on a future project, or that I meet people who can help The Mushroom Hunter become a feature film. If the project gets funded and there's extra money, it will go to pay artists such as Keegan and Jeremy and for equipment like external hard drives to hold video files, a light kit, and sound equipment such as lavalier microphones.
Even if you're not able to help fund the film, I hope you enjoyed this story and the fundraising video my family and I created one Saturday afternoon. You could still help out by copying and pasting the link from this page and posting it on Facebook or emailing it out to friends who might be interested. If you can give $5, you'll receive regular updates about how the project is going, and I'll let everyone know the when and where of any screenings at festivals so we can all get together. If The Mushroom Hunter comes to a fest near you, I'd love for us to meet up.
If you're not sure about how Kickstarter works or have questions for me, please contact me through this site or the Torg Stories website. Love to have you join me or The Mushroom Hunter film on Facebook.
Thank you for giving your time to read this post.
Risks and challenges
One of the things I say about myself as a storyteller and a teacher of writing is that I identify ideas for stories, and I take them through to completion. I hope that two published novels and a first feature documentary that won an audience choice award will serve as evidence that--God willing--this project will get finished.
Among the initial challenges, the film will have to be accepted to festivals. That it's thirty minutes and a short gives it a good chance to be programmed. As you can hear in the accompanying video, Jeremy Vogt is a talented musician who has written a great song. Artist Keegan Laycock has been sending me new pieces of art for the Mushroom gear every day. We three are determined workers with long histories of finishing what we start. I'm very appreciative of your time and support, and I promise to work hard to deliver this film and any rewards you are deserved for the various levels of support.
If you scroll up to the upper right hand of the page, you'll see the various levels of support and rewards that you can offer. Thank you for taking the time to read. God bless!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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