Coming of age in the Elk Mountains
VAIL – Cole Claassen was happy to pick up an award for best children’s film for his feature “Fern Hill” at the recent Tiburon Film Festival in California – even if he was puzzled by the choice of category.”We don’t really consider it a children’s film, although it features children in it and it’s about childhood,” Claassen said, speaking on a cell phone in the wind from somewhere in Florida Monday. It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Claassen, who recently finished editing “Fern Hill” for the Tiburon festival and for the film’s second premiere this weekend at the Vail Film Festival. Like many independent filmmakers, Claassen speaks of extremely small budgets (he shot “Fern Hill” for the low, low price of $15,000), long hours and a love of film that made it all worthwhile.
“My dad always taught me that, once I found something that I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning to do, then that’s what I should pursue,” Claassen said. “I love the medium of film, the process of editing. This was my baby; I was involved in every element of it.”Claassen said “Fern Hill” is loosely based on events from his own childhood. In the film, which he said took him five years to finish writing, a 13-year-old boy named Colin goes searching for answers about his father, who perished in a plane wreck in the Colorado mountains eight years previous. “He has this vivid dream, which is shown in flashback, of a moment he shared flying with his father in the Elk Mountains,” Claassen said. “That’s what drives him to find an answer, since he’d been forced to move on without closure.”Claassen, who studied English at Western State College in Gunnison, said he chose the Elk Mountains because of their remoteness. To make the lost plane story more plausible, he created a restricted airspace and used the wilderness around Crested Butte to shoot the film last August. It’s against that setting – the fictional “Fern Hill” – that Colin sets out with three friends to try to find his father’s missing plane.Challenges
“Fern Hill” was shot on digital video, but even so, $15,000 is a miniscule budget for a feature-length film. Claassen credits friends and family for making it happen.”But that was also the most difficult part of the process – asking people to work for little or no money,” he said. “Everyone put a lot of heart and time and energy into it, and I just wasn’t able to pay people what they were worth.”While Claassen said there was a lot of stress associated with the making of “Fern Hill,” it was an overall positive experience.”There’s nothing else I’d rather have been doing,” he said. “But it was all hard work.”The hard work started years ago, when Claassen first started looking for funding to make his film. Originally from the Thousand Oaks area just west of L.A., the director learned the ropes by shooting skiing and snowboarding videos before moving to Hollywood and working in the film industry for a few years.”That was film school for me,” he said. “And then I started shooting my own short films and videos, and I just became fascinated by motion pictures.”
Not surprisingly, the unknown director didn’t have much luck finding funding for his project, so he said he committed to finance it himself. At that point, he said, he “ran into” some funding that helped get it off the ground.”I’m very happy with the finished product,” Claassen said. “It’s a compelling story, very touching – and the response we’re getting is that it’s just a good family film. I hope people in Vail come out to see it and support a Colorado-made movie. It was shot in everyone’s backyard.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado