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The wilds of Taos, New Mexico are home to eleven-year-old Bo Groden (Valentina de Angelis) and her free-thinking parents, Arlene (Joan Allen) and Charley (Sam Elliott). When a hapless IRS agent (Jim True-Frost) arrives to investigate the Groden’s tax history, he proves to be a catalyst in their lives. Embraced by the Groden’s idyllic, peculiar world, the agent soon falls in love with the magical landscape and its extraordinary people and quickly forgets what he came for. Screenplay by Joan Ackermann, based on her play. Directed by Campbell Scott (co-director of Big Night).
 

 The Quiet Joys of Off the Map

If you've ever heard a pack of coyotes howling and cackling from somewhere "out there" beyond the black curtain of night, you'd be hard-pressed to describe them in any other terms beside "loud," "frightening," or even "lunatic." But working with them on a movie set is a different story.

When Cody and friend (I can't remember the other coyote's name—it was three years ago, after all) were preparing to perform, their excellent and patient wranglers had two simple directives for all of us on the set: "don't move" and "don't talk." Since, as both a director and an audience member, I believe the value of good, solid quietude can't be overestimated, these moments with the coyotes became highly regarded and fondly remembered.

Some others come to mind: sitting inside the Groden cabin with most of the cast and crew, everyone quietly waiting for bad weather to pass, the rain on the tin roof louder than any dialogue we might attempt to record; or coming upon a particularly silent group between set-ups one day, all focusing on the arm of one of our lead actors, newcomer Valentina de Angelis. When I saw the enormous tarantula making its way up her arm, the producer/director in me wanted to flick it off and crush it with the nearest grip stand. But instead I turned to the crew member who seemed to have wrangled the spider for Valentina's delight and said calmly "is that...uh…gonna be o.k.?" I should have expected his response: "Sure, as long as everybody moves slowly and stays quiet."

While filming Joan Ackermann's script in the high desert of northern New Mexico during the summer of 2002, moments of saturated near-silence began to seem not only immediately important to many scenes, but also to take on broader implications as markers pointing to what might be the soul of the movie itself. In an (appropriately) unspoken way, the "language" of quiet began to inform every collaborator’s input to the film. Writer Joan Ackermann; actors Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Valentina de Angelis, J.K. Simmons, Jim True-Frost, and Amy Brenneman; cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia; editor Andy Keir; designers Chris Shriver and Amy Westcott; composer Gary Demichele; artist Stan Berning—everyone trying to find ways of economizing, stripping down, doing more with less (except, thankfully, caterers and producers), and of course, quieting down.

The result? That's up to us in the audience now. Hopefully something along the lines of a movie-watching experience we don't often get these days, whether we're a group of teenage girls, two people on their second date, or a couple who've been together for 30 years: we take a few minutes to shed our outside selves, to relax to the different rhythms and quiet sounds of the Grodens’ existence, then we find ourselves leaning forward a little, getting pulled along gently, like a boat on the horizon, and afterwards, on the way back to our slightly noisier lives, we carry with us the feeling of having been somewhere else entirely, an off the map location we can't quite describe, but one we might try to pinpoint for some friends, or even revisit ourselves. Hopefully, if we do, as a courtesy to the coyotes and the rest of the inhabitants, we'll switch our cell phones to "vibrate," or maybe even turn them off altogether.