By John C.
A few weeks a go I spoke with Michel Orion Scott, director of the new documentary The Horse Boy. The interviews happened over the phone, and we spoke about everything from getting the movie made, to Where The Wild Things Are. Here’s part 1 of the interview. Part 2 is coming tomorrow. You can read my 2-part interview with Rupert Isaacson here, and our reviews of The Horse Boy will be coming this Friday.
Can you tell me about any previous film projects you have worked on? Yeah. I'm new to directing actually, I started working on skating videos, I've done camera work and sound - stuff like that.
How were you approached to direct The Horse Boy? Actually, I met Rupert at a book event that he was doing about the Bushmen in Africa. I was trying to find a shift in my career, and was looking for more projects. I was interested in nature, and about the human rights thing about the Kalahari Bushmen. So, we came up with a plan to make a documentary, but about 3 months into the project, the Bushmen actually won their human rights case, so the urgency for a film about it wasn’t as strong.
So Rupert and I got talking, and he said, ‘Well you know, I also have this thing that I’m going to be doing next summer. I have this strange feeling that we need to go on an adventure with the family. So I’m going to take Rowan to Mongolia, the birthplace of the horse, where we can meet with some Shamans - it might help him. Worst case, it would just be an adventure. So, I’m planning on doing that. Would you like to come?’ As a filmmaker, I said yes, since I knew that even if Rowan wasn’t healed, and it could be horrible for the family, it was a case of stepping outside the box, and it was amazing the love they have for their child. And that's how I got on board.
What was it like accompanying Rupert and his family to Mongolia? It was an incredible challenge. Tech wise, I had to plan for about 6 months. Then when we were in Mongolia, riding and filming at the same time, with saddle bags mounted with sound mixers - it was quite a feat. Jeremy, our sound guy, was actually doing some mixing while riding. It was difficult, but really stunningly beautiful. It was a great adventure for the family - really gratifying. And I tried my best to step back, be a filmmaker, and let the family have the adventure that they did.
How much did you know about autism before making this film? I knew very little before making the film. When Rupert told me about his son, I knew it was a disorder, and that because of it, he would tantrum for hours on end. But when I began to make the film, I read books, and a lot that I learned was from speaking with experts for the film.
I really liked the experts that were chosen to talk about autism. You know it's one of those things that everyone is going to have their own personal theory, but absolutely I went from knowing nothing, to knowing a great deal. Autism - it's still a mystery. We know a lot, but not the best way to treat it, what causes it, etc.
Who made the decisions of who to interview? Those were joint decisions. The first interview we did, was with Temple Grandin. Both Rupert and I were fascinated with the work she was doing, and the fact that she is an autist herself. Then there was Richard Grinker, who’d done articles for The New Yorker, and was an anthropologist, and there was Simon Baron-Cohen, who is one of the best autism experts in the field. So it was really about who knows the most about autism, like Temple Grandin, autistic herself, and then people like Richard Grinker.
What were your favourite moments to film? I had many favourite moments. One that really sticks out in my mind, was when Rowans crying, with his hands over his eyes, and Rupert sits down and says ‘I f***ed up’. We had turned an amazing adventure into something horrible. We needed to stop thinking as an adult, and do this trip for Rowan. It was a turning point. As a filmmaker, I was thinking, ‘What is the point behind this? They were going to make the greatest effort for their child, and that’s when you know what this film is going to be amazing, because these parents, that's what this was about. How far you would you go for someone you love?’ Some of my other favourite moments were in Ghoste’s tent, the first Shaman ceremony, and the wonderful cinematography there is out there.
...and what were some of the hardest moments? The second day of riding was physically the hardest. I was pushing myself to get every single detail I could possibly get, holding the camera in one hand, the reins in the other. By the second day I kind of had to take a break. So I was lying on the ground, and Rowan would come over and walk on my back, and I was sore and it felt so great. It was the second or third day - I can't remember which. Other hard moments were whenever Rupert and Kristen were at serious lows. To see Rupert and Kristen at Lake Charga going up and down, thinking about maybe Rowan will be healed, maybe not, and to see Rupert on the verge of tears. As a filmmaker, despite being objective, they were becoming friends of mine.
How much footage did you actually shoot, compared to the running time of the movie? We shot about 200 hours of footage, so yeah. That was a lot of editing to do, considering that the actual film was only about 95 minutes...
Come back tomorrow for part 2, where I asked questions about what it was like watching the movie with an audience, and what his greatest inspirations are as a filmmaker.