A Star is Born


“Sucker” must be permanently branded on my brow. Never can I turn down a charming person telling me an engaging story. This inability to say, “No,” has proven to be one of my best traits. It has consistently led me down more interesting paths than I could ever imagine. One such path recently led to the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts.

Early last fall, I answered the phone to find an articulate and creative young man, Alex Pollini, on the other end. He was making a “cold call” to me by way of the number he had found under “Horses for Rent” in the yellow pages.

He earnestly implored me to provide a horse for him to use in a film he was producing as part of his program at the School of Media Arts.

He admitted that it would be something of a commitment, for he needed the horse to appear in Garnet Ghost Town, some 60 miles east of Missoula.

This sounded like a fun field trip with members of our equestrian club, an opportunity to learn something about film making, and a chance to see one of our beautiful horses grace the silver screen in a classic western. Naturally, I signed right up.

Not knowing what to expect, I did the logical thing and googled Alex Pollini, which took me to Pollini Productions. WOW – this kid has talent!

Indeed, as my interactions with Alex began to unfold, I became smitten with everything about this guy. Working with a crew of six to eight people, Alex and his project partner Byran Baldwin always handled themselves like pros – easily orchestrating complicated scenes, getting full cooperation from all involved, and maintaining a calm atmosphere throughout long sessions of just plain hard work.

To all of our delight, they ended up doing much of the filming on our ranch.

The horse we chose to be in the film was Smokey – yes, the same beautiful and stubborn horse that has stolen Danielle Lattuga’s heart and has been the focus of her prose and poetry.

Smokey fit the part to a tee – big, with an imposing presence and a forgiving nature that allowed him to maintain his composure while carrying a rider who knew little about horses.

Our November field trip to Garnet Ghost Town proved to be a wonderful finish to a year of trail riding. While our horses slipped and slid on the icy grass from the parking lot to the town, we savored the last bits of a glorious fall.

Smokey performed beautifully as he walked up and down the same hill numerous times to get each scene just right. The rest of us watched from afar, sitting relaxed on our horses while they quietly grazed and enjoyed the waning warmth of the autumn sun.

During the filming of various scenes, I found myself interjecting with tips about how the actor should perform certain tasks, in order to appear as a real horseman.

It made me realize that my own interactions with horses have become second nature – that my body’s muscle memory enables me to unconsciously execute routine tasks with fluid, efficient, and quiet movements.

Watching the actors handle Smokey seemed to magnify those small gestures that distinguish a horseman from a mere passenger on a horse. To the entire crew’s credit, my interference was not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Later, when Alex sent me the trailer for the resulting film Blood Money, I was blown away by the quality. Grateful for our joint venture, I wanted to continue Dunrovin’s involvement with the School of Media Arts, which led us to host an “Evening at the Ranch” with a barbeque, student films, equipment demonstrations, and the debut of Blood Money, to raise funds for the media arts lab expansion.

It is truly remarkable that the University of Montana, located so far away from the urban centers most associated with film making, has built such a strong media arts program in such a short time.

During his Christmas break, Alex visited a media arts program in California. They impressed him with their expansive labs and high tech equipment and he impressed them with his access to a horse and a ghost town for his film project.

That difference may explain some small part of UM’s success – while other schools may offer access to better equipment and facilities, UM offers access to incredible places and a community ready to embrace them – a city full of people who, just like me, have “sucker” branded above their brow.

Tell me of your own Missoula “sucker’ stories.  How have you or others benefited from people in the community who have said “yes”?  Scroll down and leave your examples in the comment section below.


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SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for high adventure.