Columbus, North Dakota

Posted on April 21st, 2011 in Behind the Scenes, Travel.

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What happens to a dying town when it discovers oil? Welcome to Columbus, North Dakota, a tiny prairie town with a shrinking population in the low 100’s.[break]

This is a story that was brought to us by first time director [highlight]Kelly Neal[/highlight]. An American living in Glasgow at the time, she had directed a short film in Columbus back in 2007 called How to Save a Fish From Drowning , which won a Scottish BAFTA.[break]

When we saw the stunning landscape and fascinating characters we all agreed that there was a bigger story to be told. Months of development and fundraising eventually led to a green light and filming of Columbus: Oil Rigs & American Dreams finally began in June 2010. We have been back and forth to ND five times over the last year, to capture the unfolding story. The production is mainly self financed and therefore the field crew has been small, just [highlight]Adam Docker[/highlight] and Kelly. It’s filmed on a Sony PDW700.[break] At present we are at the rough cut edit stage and have just made a presale to Channel4/More4. Finnish channel YLE and Danish channel DR are also going to put pen to paper in the next few days and we are waiting on a few more European channels to come on board and most importantly a US broadcaster.[break] It is Exec Produced by [highlight]Mark Wild[/highlight], [highlight]Ces Terranova[/highlight] and [highlight]Adam Docker[/highlight].


Kelly Neal

Adam Docker

A once booming community, these days Columbus’ liveliest parties are funeral processions. Columbus’ youth and small-hold farmers have fled to the bright city lights of Fargo. This is about to change. In the next 6 months the sleepy little town’s residents will have their lives turned upside down in a modern day gold rush, in this case black gold.

Sitting on top of the Bakken oil formation, Columbus’ elderly residents are unwittingly the owners of part of the biggest oil find in the lower 48 States. Drilling has just begun, bringing with it a steady stream of out-of-state oil workers and a chance for wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Columbus is about to get a new lease on life.

Meet Wiley Post. A wise-cracking, sly old dog with a limp and a ready-grin, Wiley is one of the main characters that guide us through the film. At 76 years old Wiley was born and raised in Columbus. He’s seen it through its good days and now through the not so good.

He leads us through a tour of the town, limping his way along the barren Main Street that’s awash in memories for him. We learn of the town’s former glory, its population of over 800 people and the hustle and bustle of abundant local businesses. But as Wiley says, “That’s all gone now. All we have left is a bar and a café. And by God I never thought I’d be mowing grass on the sidewalks of Columbus North Dakota. But that’s what I’m doing.”

Wiley Post

Filming started in Summer 2010 and we return every 3 to 5 months.

The old abandoned theatre

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Winters in North Dakota are harsh. It was a new experience for me and for my trusty Sony PDW700. Average temperatures were around -20c so I decided to take a jacket and heat packs for the camera but it was cumbersome. It meant unzipping to set it on the tripod and a hassle to change discs and to film on the shoulder, the access for the hands wasn’t easy and I couldn’t get good maneuverability with it on, so off it went. [break][break]We drove everywhere, even from our rented accommodation to the cafe which was about 50 metres and the engine was always left running to keep it warm. Shooting outside was so cold that we limited ourselves to around ten or fifteen minutes max. Nostril hairs and the cables on the camera would freeze but the 700 was robust and trusty as ever and we didn’t have a single problem arise from the extreme conditions.

Adam Docker