The Making of Hanna Ranch
If you are a Colorado cinephile or filmmaker, chances are you have heard about Mitch Dickman’s Hanna Ranch. The feature documentary, about an eco-cowboy who struggles to protect his ranch’s ecosystem from the encroachment of development and misuse, has been making the rounds of the film festival circuit including Denver’s very own STARZ Film Festival. “The idea of an eco-cowboy was something I had never heard of and I wanted to learn more. As I discovered more, I realized that Kirk Hanna (the film’s focus) was a microcosm of something much bigger.” says Mr. Dickman, Director/Producer of Hanna Ranch and founder of Listen Productions.
Mr. Dickman set out to make a dramatic narrative about a despondent cowboy. “But we decided to make it a documentary in the fall of 2009 after I had met Ann (Kirk's wife) that summer. I had approached her about optioning her life rights to make a narrative feature after reading about their story in the Rocky Mountain News in the fall of 2008. Ann was definitely not comfortable with the idea of a narrative and I'll never forget her rolling out hundreds of laminated newspaper articles about Kirk on the floor of her house saying ‘there's your film’... and she was right.”
Ann and Kirk did an excellent job documenting their lives together. Mr. Dickman and his crew had access to tons of VHS and 8mm home videos as well as an entire archive of still photographs. “It was a huge get for us. I had underestimated the importance of archival footage and when we started the project I had no idea how much footage there was. The two things it did for us was first to help bring Kirk to the film as a character, and in a certain sense, he helped make the documentary because he was behind the VHS camera documenting the story of Hanna Ranch.”
Spoiler alert! Hanna Ranch does a fantastic job visiting several themes: of religion, Kirk Hanna’s suicide and sustainable farming. “I definitely thought it would be more of an environmental message film and while that is still part of it, I am glad that the family story became such an equal part. There was pressure to lean into one side more than the other, but I wanted to make sure that we just listened to the story.”
The production crew consisted of director/producer Mitch Dickman, the director of photography Zack Armstrong and a sound mixer. Though the crew was small, they were effective. They spent over 130 days shooting interviews and B-Roll on a DSLR while taking advantage of the natural light in Colorado’s exteriors. The Hanna Ranch crew hopped around Colorado Springs, Fountain and Pueblo for a majority of the production.
Post Production was a sporadic 2 years with the most dramatic change being the inclusion of an additional editor who trimmed 11 minutes off of the film to tighten the picture up. When asked, “What is Hanna Ranch about to you?” Mr. Dickman responded with, “That's a tough answer -- I spend 73 minutes trying to answer it, so putting it in a sentence is something that I always struggle with.”
Hanna Ranch will release theatrically and on Video On Demand in May, 2014. In the meantime, Mr. Dickman is staying busy. “I'm currently working with Daniel Junge on his Being Evel documentary as a Line Producer, but the next two Listen Productions films are both narrative. One is a modern expressionistic take on Henry David Thoreau's Walden. The other is a book I optioned called The Silenced.” To keep in touch with Hanna Ranch and Mitch Dickman check out the following sites: www.hannaranchmovie.com and www.listenproductions.com
Henry McComas is the senior video producer for Exclusive Resorts and owner of Crooked Lake Productions. He is currently producing his next short film, Wrong Side Up, in Colorado. WSU is a coming of age story about a twelve-year-old boy whose fate is determined by his father's departure and the impending Dust Bowl as he is forced to care for his family and their farm. www.DustBowlMovie.com