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‘Butcher’s Crossing’ Producer on Working with Blackfeet Nation to Tell Buffalo Decimation Story

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Many stories have been told about Westward expansion, but few have focused on the impact and consequences. John Williams’ 1960 novel “Butcher’s Crossing” follows William Andrews, a Harvard student who leaves his life behind to join a buffalo-hunting expedition, facing many harsh realities on his journey.

Producer Molly Conners sat down with Variety for the film’s DVD release to discuss director Gabe Polsky’s journey adapting the story, financing the film, casting its star Nicolas Cage and working with the Blackfeet Nation to tell the story about the destruction of the buffalo population in 19th century America.

There’s a surge of interest in the Western genre thanks to shows like “Yellowstone” and “1883,” was it always going to be a feature film?

Gabe was developing this as a feature for many years before I became involved. But I felt like this was something that actors would respond to. We talked about it as a television show at one point, but I felt it was a movie that you’d want to see in a theater with an audience and on the big screen.

How did Nicolas Cage get involved?

Gabe and Nic met on “Bad Lieutenant.” I worked with him on “Joe,” but I think they had talked socially about it when they were working together, so it was something we were kicking around for many years – before “Yellowstone,” and it was more challenging to get Westerns financed. The subject matter was challenging, and there’s so much livestock in the movie, when we were talking to financiers, they were skeptical about how we could pull this off.

What were the other challenges of shooting on location in a short window and on a tiny budget?

It was very challenging. We had 600 buffalo every day. There were horses, mules, wagons and everything in the movie is a period piece. Also, we had to move so many animals around. We would not have been able to do that without the participation and partnership with the Blackfeet Nation. This is their herd and something outside the scope of our experience. We were also shooting up in Glacier National Park so our supply chain was very limited.

What was important to the Blackfeet Nation in this story?

We met them through our producer Jeri Rafter. Danny Edmo, our stunt coordinator was Blackfeet, and we were introduced to Ervin Carlson (buffalo project manager of the Blackfeet Tribe). We had a general meeting, and there was skepticism about what our intentions were and what we were going to pull off. But it was important to them to tell this story about the decimation of the buffalo population in 19th century America. Ultimately, they felt like it shined a lot of light on how they worked so hard to replenish the species over the years. So it was important to them, and we built trust, and they ended up being wonderful partners.

Going back to Nicolas Cage, where did the idea of him going bald for the role come from?

I didn’t have conversations with him about establishing his look, but, Gabe had spoken to him. What was relayed to me was that it was his idea. It worked and looked great and worked for the character.

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