A location scout is in many ways a very exciting part of the pre-production process. It’s the time when all the story dreams that have been swirling around your head begin to take physical shapes. The characters acquire their rooms and buildings, their lakes and mountains.
The hero of our story, Solomon Bibo, was a merchant in the areas around Santa Fe and Albuquerque, trading with various local pueblos. We visited a number of the pueblos to introduce ourselves to the indigenous leaders who decide on what films are permitted to shoot on their lands and to see potential locations. In particular, we went to the Zuni Pueblo, the Acoma Pueblo, the Laguna Pueblo and Zia Pueblo.
Needless to say, we saw some spectacular scenery. There is nothing quite like the horizon-bound New Mexico vistas and its radiating skies. You feel closer to the sun, its light crisp and powerful. The air is clean and a little bit heavy (making every action feel more profound somehow). Certainly, being at least a mile above sea level in most of these places has a real effect. Another powerful effect is the frequent absence of people. As great as humanity is, it’s nice to take a break from it once in a while and remember something even more impressive.
Of course, we went to the town of Bibo which was named after Solomon’s Bibo brothers who traded in the area (seems either for Simon or Ben). The town is small but has a great bar named in honor of the Bibos. It’s famous in New Mexico for it’s great green chili. The bar is a bit off the beaten path but has great atmosphere and very friendly people. A nice local man gifted us some Bibo Bar t-shirts to remember the occasion. There is also a cozy new B&B right across from the bar so you can just stumble over after a particularly memorable night. We are considering staying there when we shoot in the area.
Another remnant of Bibo life is area around the town of Cubero, located near the Acoma Pueblo. Solomon and his brothers Simon and Emil all appear to have traded from a Cubero trading post at one time or another. When Solomon was getting married to Juana, he was described legally as Solomon Bibo de Cubero. From what I gather, the trading post that is still in Cubero is standing on the very spot the original Bibo store was standing. The lands around Cubero were owned by Bibo descendants until fairly recently (80’s) when it was bought by Acomas and developed to house the Sky City Casino – an impressively-run operation with a nice hotel and restaurant.
We need to recreate as best we can the kind of life in the pueblos that Solomon Bibo and Juana Valle experienced during their life in New Mexico. As that was over a hundred years ago, much has changed. On the other hand, some things have stayed close to the same.
One major challenge we have is that shooting on the top of the Acoma Pueblo mesa is very complicated, due to the sensitive nature of the area. It is a sacred space for the pueblo and is also home to Acoma elders. They’ve allowed almost no filming there since the invention of cinema. There was a John Wayne picture shot here a long long time ago. In fact, it is told that the road leading up to the Old Acoma mesa was built by the movie people for that specific shoot. Since then, people haven’t been able to get permission to shoot much of anything at the old pueblo. We met with Acoma’s government representatives and are going to go through the necessary process to be considered for a shooting permit on Acoma land. It seems hopeful that we may be allowed to shoot something non-invasive on a part of the reservation but filming on top of the mesa is very likely out of the question. Movie people that we are, we need to come up with a different solution. The natural thing would be to shoot some exteriors involving the mesa on the Acoma lands and shoot closeups of the houses and the pueblo life elsewhere. For that reason, and also to show other pueblos that Solomon was frequenting during his life, we have searched for locations where we can re-create the old pueblo life. The hardest thing to match are the specific colors of the Acoma pueblo houses (and the ladders that are used to go up to different levels). But we think we can get this done, especially with a talented production designer.
Here is how the top of Acoma mesa used to look and how it looks today:
And here are other places we scouted where we should be able to recreate the look we need:
WILD WEST TOWN
Solomon Bibo came to Santa Fe in 1869-1870, and we will capture his first experiences arriving in the capital of the Wild West. He saw an amazing array of people – outlaws, Native Americans of many radically different tribes, soldiers, merchants, fellow pioneers. Santa Fe at that time was a central location for the westward bound. It’s important for us to portray the remarkable human stew that boiled within it. We won’t have the budget to recreate it fully of course, but we plan to focus on some memorable vignettes that will convey the color of that time and place.
We scouted the Bonanza Creek Ranch and El Rancho de las Golondrinas, which provided quite a transformative experience. It really felt like stepping back in time. It also felt like that’s why we make movies. To be able to be in places like this, to dream these kinds of dreams, to create what has never been or to re-create what is no longer.
Here are some inspiring pictures:
THE SHEEPHERDER’S CABIN
Sheep (yes, sheep!) played an important role in Solomon’s life. Managing the family’s herds of sheep was one of his early businesses in New Mexico and one he came back to once his fortune was wiped out by the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. We are looking to incorporate sheep into our story and found a very romantically-located sheepherder’s cabin on Zia lands. It can be a getaway cabin for Solomon and Juana, since they had to live in her mother’s house once they got married (and we can imagine how that probably turned out). Acoma is a matriarchal society (property is passed down through women).
Here are some more pictures from that area:
We are also considering some other locations for the shoot. New Mexico is an amazingly beautiful land, and we can only imagine what Solomon felt when he first encountered it, at a time when it was even more pristine and unmarred by man. His businesses took him all over. He helped supply the military, he chased lost and stolen sheep, he traded with indigenous people, stood up to challenges by his enemies, and romanced Juana. He traversed deserts, lava fields, encountered nature at its most divine.
And here are a few other places we are considering: