In mid-December 1999, a Seattle attorney was snow camping in Taos when he realized hed forgotten to bring matches or a lighter.
It was before the Ski Valley had opened, Brandon Schmid said in a telephone interview from Seattle. I was freezing to death. It was probably 10-orplus below zero.
As his whole body shook like chattering teeth, a vision flooded Schmids mind, as crisp and clear as snow glinting across the Sangre de Cristos.
That story grew into the screenplay that became Taos, slated for a screening 3:45 p.m. Thursday at the Scottish Rite Temple, 453 Paseo de Peralta, as part of the Santa Fe Film Festival.
Filmed primarily in Taos and Santa Fe, with some interiors shot in Seattle, Taos is about a young corporate lawyer at a big Washington, D.C., firm who trades his nights and weekends for extra cash. Plan- ning to fly to Aspen, Colo., to see his fiancée and her family over the holidays, he detours to New Mexico when a snowstorm cancels his flight.
Portions of the story mirror Schmids own life. Nine years ago, he flew to Taos from Seattle, limp with exhaustion and devoured by work.
I was reading that book Tuesdays with Morrie and it was just crushing me, he said. I felt sorry for the people on the flight because I was just crying. Id had to stuff my humanity to function in that environment. Every six minutes I had to write down what I was doing to try to bill eight hours or more a day. You have to work extra just to get that. And Seattles pretty laidback compared to D.C. or New York.
I was burned out, he said. I hadnt taken a vacation of any length probably in two years.
Although Schmid freely admits to borrowing from aspects of his own life for the film, he insists the narrative is far from autobiographical.
It certainly does express my own experience, perspective and beliefs, he said. When the story came into my head, I fully identified with it. But the individual facts and circumstances are completely fictional.
In the film, Schmids protagonist, John Wahlberg, drives to Taos, where he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a ditch. A Taos Pueblo mechanic rescues him and he checks into a hotel as he waits for his car to get fixed.
His father committed suicide five years ago, Schmid said. He hasnt dealt with it yet. Its the genesis for him putting blinders on and focusing solely on his work.
Wahlbergs fiancées family is encouraging his workaholism by pushing him to join a New York investment banking firm where he can earn even more money.
In Taos, Wahlberg meets a series of characters a Native American, a Hispanic and an Anglo artist who open his eyes to some kind of balance.
As he camped out on that frozen mountaintop, Schmid scribbled 14 pages in his journal before falling immediately to sleep. When he returned home, he had no idea what to do with the results.
Id never experienced anything like that before, he said. Id never even seen a movie script, but I figured it was action, dialogue and description.
A film seminar showed him technology would allow him to make a movie for between $5,000 and $50,000. After about two years, it was burning a hole in me, he said.
Schmid left his job and moved to Taos in 2002. He gave himself two years to make his film, relying on his savings. Everything was already written and done, he said. It was in my head as if it had been downloaded.
He culled actors from Hollywood, as well as local theater groups. Rib Hillis of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition stars as corporate attorney John Wahlberg.
(He) could look the part of someone you could see in that environment toeing the line getting the crewcut and going for it an American businessman, Schmid said. Hes really human, also, and hes kind of a card. That ability to go both ways was really important to me.
Schmid ran out of money and returned to Seattle in 2005, where he showed his rough cuts to a local studio, Flying Spot Pictures. They agreed to co-produce the film.
It cost a lot more than I expected, Schmid said. Over $100,000, which of course in the film world is a drop in the bucket.
The movie premiered at Santa Fes New Mexico Film Expo in October. Schmid is making the rounds of the festival circuit as he aims for TV distribution. People who have seen it really respond to it, he said.
An experienced outdoorsman, Schmid had survived both alpine climbing and slept on glaciers before heading to the spot near Williams Lake on Wheeler Peak.
I had never thought of writing a film in my life, he said. The only explanation I can think of is working five years at firms in Seattle had just built up so much that somehow in some weird way it all accumulated as this fictional story in my head.
I dont go snow camping anymore, he added. If I have another vision, my God, here we go again ...
WHAT: Taos, shown as part of the Santa Fe Film Festival
WHEN: Screening 3:45 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Scottish Rite Temple, 453 Paseo de Peralta
TICKETS: $10 each, available at SFFF Box Office, 519 Cerrillos Road, or call 989-1495
MORE INFO: Schedule for the Wednesday-Sunday festival is available at www.santafefilmfestival.com