Like the protagonists in his current film project, Ken Spurgeon faced some challenges while making “Sod and Stubble” this summer.
First came the strike by the actor’s union, SAG-AFTRA. Then came the blistering heat.
After shutting down for a few days, Spurgeon received a waiver from the union that allowed him to resume filming, as many independent movie and TV projects did.
As for the weather, the show had to go on, and it did.
“We filmed many days when it was over 100 degrees, and most of it was filmed outside,” Spurgeon said, adding that most interior scenes were filmed in buildings without air conditioning.
“It was a hot film set, for sure. Everybody stayed healthy, which was our biggest chore. We had a nurse on set every day. You can see how important that is with 40 people” in the crew.
“Sod and Stubble” is based on a non-fiction novel by University of Kansas professor John Ise that was first published in 1936. The book closely follows the good and bad real-life events involving Ise’s large family, who were pioneer farmers of German descent in Kansas in the 1870s.
“It’s a bit of a pioneer love story — love of family and love of the land,” Spurgeon said.
Spurgeon, a history professor at Friends University, wrote the screenplay five or six years ago. Work on the film began in earnest about a year ago, with funding from an investment group formed for that purpose.
Filming took 25 days. The crew used Old Cowtown Museum as a backdrop for six days and spent a day each at the McCormick School Museum and the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, where Spurgeon is a consultant. Most of the filming was centered in Downs in north-central Kansas, about three miles from where events in the book actually took place.
“We had a set and house built there by incredible people in Downs,” Spurgeon said.
The film’s leads are Bailey Chase and Dodie Brown but the best-known cast member is Barry Corbin, who’s appeared in “Urban Cowboy,” “Northern Exposure,” “Yellowstone” and many other films and TV shows. Mark Mannette, Newman University’s director of theatre, served as Spurgeon’s assistant director.
Spurgeon’s previous films, “Home on the Range” and “Road to Valhalla,” both won Best Documentary awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He considers “Sod and Stubble” his first full-length feature and says it’s much more ambitious in scope. He hopes to wrap up post production work by the spring and find a buyer for the film.
“When you get out there and actually do it, it’s a lot different than talking about it,” he said of making a movie. “It’s a lot of work, and you’re constantly evaluating what you’re doing and saying, ‘We can do better tomorrow.’0”