‘Surveyor’ dir. Scott Blake

1848. In the last days of the Mexican-American War, a government agent surveyor attempts to return home after surveying land on the Western frontier. His journey becomes a nightmarish trek through an American gothic landscape.

Writer-Director: Scott Blake
DOP: Clyde Garrido
Editor: William Blake
Key Cast: David Kulcsar, Jay Hill, Nathan Fisher

C8: What inspired you to make ‘Surveyor’?

SB: Reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ was a revelation. I was stunned that my idea of the American West was so off from the realistic world presented in McCarthy’s story. Through additional research I came across surveying, which was the most dangerous job in America in the 1800s, and a practice described by the Comanche tribe as a “dark magic.” That hooked me.

C8: Was this the first script that you had written and what was the writing process like?

SB: ‘Surveyor’ was my first script that I felt compelled to turn into a film. I did some film collaboration projects in my undergrad but I wasn’t passionate about them. After talking with surveyors and conducting a lot of research about the American West I felt I was good to go. The writing process is enjoyable if you love the idea.

C8: How did you cast your film and how did you work with the actors to achieve the performances you desired?

SB: I was based in Seattle when I made the film so I reached out to local acting groups. Just because you have guys wearing stetsons and smock coats doesn’t mean you have a western. It was important to me to look at the nomenclature of the time and the way people moved. Being honest and seeing yourself in others helps in working with actors, but I have much to learn on that front. I want to gain more experience working with actors.

C8: You label ‘Surveyor’ as an anti-Western. Why did you want to subvert traditional western cliches and how did you achieve this?

SB: It’s just about telling the truth. A good film is a mirror going down the road. My hope was that ‘Surveyor’ would reflect what actually happened, rather than the lie that is the Hollywood Western. It’s a disgraceful genre that has very little concern with the people living and surviving during the time period it pretends to portray. What occurred during the United States in the 1700 and 1800s was a holocaust. It was capitalism working itself out. I don’t know if ‘Surveyor’ achieves anything.

C8: Where did you shoot the film?

SB: We shot most of it near the Alvord Desert in Southeastern Oregon. An additional scene was shot in Quincy, Washington State.

C8: You’ve received no formal film training. Do you think there are advantages to going to film school over learning from just making films, or vise versa?

SB: After I made ‘Surveyor’ I went on to film school. I spent three months there and it wasn’t for me. School wasn’t creatively stimulating at all. It depends on who you are and how you engage with creative work. For some film school is a great option. The one advantage that you have is your gut instinct. Trust it.

C8: You also produced the film. Was it difficult juggling different roles and did it limit you creatively?

SB: Producing ‘Surveyor’ myself was not a great idea. The shoot was somewhat chaotic. But sometimes you have to go and do it and not wait around for permission. The plus side to producing the film was that it didn’t limit me creatively because no one was telling me ‘No.’ I think it’s important to remain naive in filmmaking and not be aware of all the limitations. Only be concerned with possibilities!

C8: Your name was included in this years ‘25 New Faces of Indie Film’ from Filmmaker Magazine. Has this recognition helped the film and any of your future projects?

SB: I’m very humbled about being included in the list of 25. It’s kind of embarrassing because I’ve made one film. But being on the list makes you want to earn it more. So it’s time to roll up the sleeves and try to make another film.

C8: What brought you to filmmaking in the first place?

SB: I don’t have a good answer. I like stories.

C8: What is the best piece of advice you received about filmmaking?

SB: I haven’t received good advice about filmmaking yet. This quote by Francis Ford Coppola has always stuck with me though: “Suspend your self-doubt, do only the work you love, and make it personal.”

C8: Do you have any favorite shorts and why do these stand out for you?

SB: The films ‘Needle’ and ‘When the Kid was a Kid’ by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, another ‘25 New Face of Indie Film,’ are incredible. The storytelling is flawless.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes a good collaboration?

SB: Working with people who are in love with the cinema and what it promises to be makes for a good collaboration.

C8: ‘Surveyor’ was your first short film. What is next for you?

SB: I hope to make a short film this summer. It’s about a violent urban insurgency group. Very Joseph Conrad-y. We’ll see if it actually happens. Money is the barrier.