The making of ‘Mushtown’
STRATFORD — Every farm is unique, the Chally homestead outside Stratford no exception.
Rustic barns, shining silos and weathered red sheds line the property, which is owned by Jerold and Arlene Chally.
This week, jigs, rigs, camera equipment and film crew were welcomed to shoot the short film “Mushtown.”
Filming officially began on Sunday and will continue today.
The Chally’s farm place was chosen for its beautiful and rustic look, which fit in perfectly with what the film’s Director Matthew McWilliams had in mind.
“I thought this was just the perfect place for it. I thought this is where the story should be and this is where the life of it will be,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams, 33, got the idea for “Mushtown” from his childhood experiences growing up on a farm.
“I grew up in the farm country in Minnesota and ever since I was a kid this story has always been in the back of my mind,” he said.
“The full idea came to me while I was in film school. I was taking a screenwriting class. At the beginning of the semester, the professor said just start freehand writing some memories you have and this story, ‘Mushtown,’ was actually one of the memories I had.”
His professor encouraged him to focus on “Mushtown,” which led to the first script being written nearly 10 years ago.
“This whole process has been like 15 years now in the making from its conception.”
McWilliams showed the script to colleagues in Los Angeles, but they all turned it down due to the graphic nature of the story.
While filming “The Bachelor” in Iowa two years ago, McWilliams met Kristian Day, a Des Moines filmmaker who decided to take a shot at the story.
“It’s a coming-of-age story about two boys who are having a great time, but then learn very quickly life is not always nice,” said Co-Producer Kristian Day. “I don’t want to give anything away about it, but it’s a tough ending. It’s a tough film, but it teaches these kids that they have to grow up and that not everything is going to work out for the best.”
Day worked on the Square documentary, “Made in Iowa,” that was filmed in Webster City in May and thought the Stratford landscape was an ideal shooting location for “Mushtown.” He mentioned it to McWilliams and plans began.
“I was actually in Webster City back in May for the Square documentary. That was my first scout of the area,” Day said. “Because the experience with Square was so positive, I though it would be a great idea to bring this other project that I was working on.”
“I told the director, Matt, that this would be a great location,” Day said. “Especially after the positive feedback we got from Square, because sometimes when films move into locations, it can be a negative experience.”
Jerold and Arlene Chally’s son, Bill Chally, who farms the land, was on scene throughout the filming process. He assisted with props.
“It’s very interesting. I didn’t realize how much it took to do something like this,” Bill Chally said. “It’s nice to see them come here and get this area on the map.”
The Challys’ neighbor, Mary Sealine, hosted the crew for lunch and spent some time at the Chally farm during filming. She likes the idea of the film shining a spotlight on small town Iowa.
“What I like about it is the fact that central Iowa is getting some recognition for our beauty and the opportunities we have,” she said. “It’s terrific.”
McWilliams hopes to encompass the Midwest and bring viewers back to a simpler time in life.
“What ‘Mushtown’ is, it’s a real story. It’s things that happen every day. People who live in the city are disconnected from this sense of realism. I don’t think we should be afraid of it,” he said. “I’m trying to take people out of that bubble and bring them back to a simpler time when things were different. “The funny thing is in this area in Iowa, things are still the same as they were when I was a kid. This is “Mushtown.'”
“We’re telling a real story,” said McWilliams. “It has heart, feeling, a lot of emotion and at the same time it is a little graphic. It is a little violent. But you know what? We are so sheltered every day that we forget that we’re surrounded by violence and things aren’t always safe.”
McWilliams is quick to say that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.
“There are some graphic images with animals and I just want to set the record straight that everything we have used is either a prop or live animal, and all live animals we have used are being taken care of,” he said. “There is no animal cruelty and there are no animal deaths. This movie is 100 percent animal friendly.”
More than 20 people are involved in the making of this film. The cast is out of Chicago. Four crew members were involved in Chris Soules’ season of “The Bachelor,” which was filmed in Iowa. Other workers are from Minnesota and even Texas.
Day estimates the film will be completed in late November or December.
“It’s amazing to be able to do this here. Just the look of this, it’s amazing,” Day said. “You really can’t buy this anywhere. You have to find it in its natural habitat.
“The fact that we’re filming here in Iowa and having this location is just amazing. The owners have been so friendly. It’s just nice to come back to the Midwest and know that Midwest hospitality is still there and that there are really genuine people that are willing to help and willing to have a new experience,” he said.
“We couldn’t have done this without the community getting behind it,” Day said. “Everything from the cars, the dog that we have on set, this location, the neighbors, the county, even the Chamber up in Webster City, everyone has been really supportive.”