[We were honored when Brokeback Mountain Locations Manager Darryl Solly graciously agreed to be interviewed. From his offices in Calgary, AB, Solly spoke with Jim Bond, Rob Freeman, and Steve Gin on 27 July 2006. This is Part 1 of his interview; it was posted here on 7 September 2006. Part 2 of his interview was posted on 20 September 2006. A PDF version of the complete interview is available in Downloads.]

Interview with Darryl Solly,
Brokeback Mountain Locations Manager

July 27, 2006
Part 1 of 2

Darryl Solly
Darryl Solly


Tell us something about your early life and how you got into this industry.

Well, I spent my high school years in Vancouver and then I moved to Edmonton. In my high school we had a television course where they had VHS cameras and we were allowed to experiment and make programs. When our family moved to Edmonton there was an art school there, Victoria Composite, where I got into theatre and television production and was exposed to a lot more of the behind-the-scenes process.

From there, I went into technical theatre school, learning about lighting and set construction and seeing things evolve from an empty stage to a full blown production. I then decided to jump into filmmaking and went to SAIT [1] to study film production. Once that was done, I starved for a year. This is a fairly difficult business to get into; it is definitely “who you know.” Cool Runnings was my first show. From there, slowly but steadily, I kept working and getting to know more people to the point where I am now a location manager on an Oscar winning film. It’s cool.

An understatement, no?

There are not many opportunities to, if you want to use the term, “climb to the top of the mountain” and it’s inarguable that Ang is one of the top directors on the planet. So I guess when you get the chance, you really know that this is something that is going to last forever. When you first read the script, you sort of look behind yourself to see if I am really in this position.

You don’t fully grasp the opportunity you have until you start. Then, as the film takes form, you realize you are going to be working with a legendary director on a truly great project. Everyone involved is an icon: that’s who they are, and they are doing their part. During that time you are only getting six hours of sleep a night, just trying to get the movie done, but when it’s all said and done, upon reflection you say, “That was an incredibly special time.” That’s why you do this, to be part of, to be given the opportunity to be part of, something great.

I didn’t know Brokeback was going to be as successful as it was. Of course, it was going to be a good movie, but I didn’t know how much the greater public would appreciate it. But I was certain that it would be around for a long time because Ang has always done remarkable things.

[1] Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary, AB


What in your own approach to filmmaking helped you most in the context of making Brokeback?

Well, I think that when you make movies that it is very much a team effort. It should be a team-oriented thing.

What can you say about your approach to finding locations? Do any of the locations in the film have special importance to you?

I don’t know if you read that Chicago Tribune article [2] where they came here and they went to Wyoming. There is a line in that article that is absolutely perfect. The author first drove to all the small towns and made his snappy remarks, and then he went to the Kananaskis Lakes.

In that article he says, “Now I know why I am here.” That’s exactly the reaction that you are supposed to get: you go there, and you know right away that this is where it is going to be done. This is it.

Upper Kananaskis Lake
Upper Kananaskis Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, AB

Another example is the gas station at Carseland. [3] I saw it on a perfect day under magnificent cumulus clouds which, as you know, give photos depth. At those moments you say, “Look at that, this is going to be it.” You know. It’s a good feeling, of course, that you don’t have to scout for another three weeks, but more deeply, you know you’ve found a place that your boss will be happy with. You know. No problem, this is it.

[2] “The lake was rich blue on the big screen and a spit of timbered land extended into it. It was all white now, except for the timber, but even though it wasn’t like this when I’d seen it onscreen, I knew exactly where I was. And, for the first time, why I was here.” Alan Solomon, “Going for Brokeback,” Chicago Tribune 23 Apr. 2006.

[3] This scene was cut.


A lot of sites in the Kananaskis area I knew would work right away but there are always political things that happen. You have to bring both an emotional and a logical approach to every place you find. There are some locations that we scouted that are amazing, but you just can’t get there.


Oh yeah, we went right to the Rocky [Continental] Divide. There was absolutely no way we could get a) permission and b) equipment and crews there for the amount of money that we’d been given. That was not going to make our movie.

But we wound up with Moose Mountain, which is relatively close to Calgary. The other place that we would have considered was actually near Cowley on the east side of the Livingston Range. In the story, Brokeback Mountain appears to have two steps to get to the peak but everywhere we found had only one step. The problem we had with Livingston Range was that although it is high, the base is high as well. From 3,500’ to 8,000’ is not enough distance for you to believe that it took them all that time to get from there to here. But on Moose Mountain it looks like you’re on the moon. You’re up so high you know you are above the tree line and that’s important. The whole point of getting sheep above the tree line is that because sheep can eat anything, so it’s more efficient to put the sheep up there and leave the cows lower down where there is more grass, allowing for more animals and yielding better returns in the fall. And when you get up there on Moose you can buy that. Once you get up that high, you realize, “Okay, it all makes sense.”

We also had difficulties obtaining permission to use sites from Provincial entities. Did you read that Swerve [4] magazine article? That process took a whole lot of working through.

When we first started looking at Fortress Mountain and the Livingston Range in January, the authorities suggested that we look at Moose Mountain and the flats to the north of there and because the sheep carry a bacteria that can wipe out wild cloven hoof livestock. Everywhere we scouted we were frustrated. Fortress Mountain, the Livingston Range, a mountain in the southwest, way, way near the [U.S.] border that we looked at, those just didn’t work out. One of them had already had an epidemic that had wiped out a lot of bighorn sheep five years ago because one domestic animal got out and wandered off. In the case of the Livingston Range, we were too close to ranchers so we thought “It’s a hornet’s nest.” That is how we ended up with Moose Mountain.

[4] Jacquie Moore, “The Real Brokeback Mountain,” Swerve Calgary Herald, 3 Mar. 2006: 18-28. The article explains that domestic sheep carry a bacterium that could infect and jeopardize the wild sheep population of the region. A lengthy negotiation involving biologists, the filmmakers, and Provincial authorities was required to secure permission to use certain sites.


Moose Mountain
Moose Mountain

Moose is higher than some of the other ranges we had been to. It still had two feet of snow when we started in January and since no one had been crazy enough to try to drive the goat track up there, we had no idea what it was going to look like when it was time to shoot. We were shooting for three weeks before we actually got to see what Moose Mountain looked like under that snow and to make sure that it was green. We had no idea.

Our reactions to the film teach us things about ourselves. We would be honored if you would share with us some of your own reactions to the story.

This was the best script I had ever read. First, I obviously was into it already because I knew who was involved in the production. But there were a couple of moments when reading it I knew this was going to be agonizing, emotionally overwhelming.


Yes. You know, for me, it was the “I wish I knew how to quit you” scene, which on the printed page was horrible; it was just gut wrenching. Having to read that and know, oh so frustrating to be able to care for someone that much and not be able to control yourself.

Then at the end of the film, what really got me was Ennis’s chat with his daughter because in that scene he gives his advice. As he did it, from the way [Heath Ledger] gave the line, I don’t think that he realized that he’d given the absolute opposite advice of what he himself did. “Do you love him? Well then, you should be with him.” Totally not what he did in his own life. He loved Jack; he should have been with Jack.

I think that on some level, Ennis is a character all about regret. It is amazing; regret is a theme in a lot of Ang’s movies where true love is postponed for something more important. And the character always regrets it. Falls because of it. If you look at The Ice Storm, a couple passes over true love trying to get by in the suburban jungle. They could be happy but instead they opt for the politics of the suburban jungle. And in Crouching, Tiger Hidden Dragon, the lead swordsman passes on true love for duty. Here, Ennis passes over true love for the judgment of other people, out of fear. It is a theme throughout Ang’s movies. When you read it for the first time, you can see it. It’s there. It’s jumping out at you. You’re enjoying reading it, but you are also feeling so bad.


The script had a “made-for-Ang Lee” quality?

As you know, that script had been around for a long time. For the longest time this was the “best screenplay that could never be made.” They didn’t think that anyone could tell the story in the manner that Joe Six-pack would be able to appreciate. Then Ang saw it, loved it, and knew that he could do it.


Ang Lee
Ang Lee

Ang Lee is the rare director that can make a film others deem impossible. First of all, movies like this are made to win awards–not to make $175 million. So you know that if you are making this for awards you’ve got to have someone heading this project who will draw acting talent. You don’t necessarily have to find them, they will come to you.

Actors really want to work with Ang because he is a magnificent person. Not at all dictatorial...he’s just fantastic. So they are attracted to the project and when that happens, it’s a ball that just keeps rolling. Now everyone will do what it takes, not to make Ang’s movie or to act out of fear; you do this one out of pride and desire to make this film for the greater good. That’s his true genius, getting people to contribute to the project emotionally, as well as simply doing their jobs.

He has that keen eye and an observer’s mentality. In fact, he really does not say very much. He’s very, very quiet. As such, when you do get something out of him, it’s always a treat. You find that his favorite restaurant is Dairy Queen because when he got off the plane from Taiwan, that was the first restaurant as he was leaving the airport and he went in there. It became his emotional connection to his new life in America.

I tell that story because it says something about him. Dairy Queen, whatever, is a big deal for him. If you think about it in the big picture, it symbolizes his new life. So, he treasures things like the bus station. When we walked in the bus station, we knew this was going to be our diner. Where we’d encounter potential problems, Ang’s reaction was, “Don’t worry about it, this is going to be it; it’s perfect. We are going to do some stuff [set dressing] here and there but this is going to be it.” He walked around, loved the whole thing-the cafeteria line, everything is stainless steel-you know, fantastic.

Another thing, he likes is to take his time. There is no rush; there is no panic. We’d show him all these places but he wouldn’t commit to anything until the next day. He’d sleep on it. I’m used to working with the “General” type of director who walks in and makes a decision on the spot. Ang is not like that at all. For instance, take the bus station; everybody knew that was it, perfect, right? But we learned not to say anything, even though everyone was bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm inside; nobody said anything. We waited until the next day when Ang said it was going to work. Then we knew everything was going to be okay.


Were the choices he finally made close to the ones you had anticipated?

Well, there were a few locations that were kind of different from where I thought we were going to go. I think a lot of that had to do with a tour they made of Wyoming during prep so they could get an idea of what things look like there. There are cultural things that are different between Wyoming and Alberta, which is odd because Alberta was largely populated by Americans emigrating north from Montana.

In most of the bars located in smaller Alberta towns the bar setup is oriented around beer as opposed to Wyoming where it is about liquor. Our bars, I am sure you have been to them all, typically have a cooler [refrigerated display cabinet] behind the bar; the focus is not on the bar. In Wyoming, the culture of the bar is about the bar and commiserating with your bartender. The bars they saw in Wyoming were simply the bar and two pool tables; that’s it. There was no real table-and-chairs setup. In southern Alberta, it’s all about the tables and chairs. So we had to figure out how to make that work. All of the bars we could find were way too small, way too small and we did not have the money to make this monster bar that everybody felt we needed.

Electra (Clown) Bar
Electra (Clown) Bar, King Edward Hotel, Calgary, AB

It became sort of a mad adventure where we kept digging. The definition of insanity is where you repeat the same action, again and again and again, expecting a different reaction that never happens. “Okay, let’s keep looking for bars,” “No, they all look exactly the same, the tables, the cooler,” “Okay, then I got an idea; let’s keep looking!” “No, they all look exactly the same, the tables, the cooler,” “Okay, let’s keep looking.” [Laughter.] We went out, and we went out, and we went out and still nothing. It was unbelievably frustrating. Eventually we had to pull the brake, someone had to pull the brake, and we had to give up and figure out something else.

When you are making a movie on a smaller budget you need to group things together. The way you guys did your maps on the website [see: www.FindingBrokeback.com, “Geographic Locations”] is exactly the way we had our pre-production meeting.


[Executive Producer] Michael Hausman showed us a map of Alberta and said, “Guys, we are going to find everything in these three places.” He puts a tack on Canmore; he puts a tack on Fort Macleod, and then points to Calgary. “That’s it; we’re not going anywhere else.” We had to house people at Fort Macleod, and we had to find everything there. We had to find everything in Canmore, and we had to house everybody there. And Calgary, everything had to be a drive from Calgary which is why that square is bigger; you are able to drive out to some of those places.

By doing that, he enabled Ang to make a better movie because instead of spending money on hotel rooms, we spent it on cranes and film. It allowed him additional time to make better shots and more time with the actors. I think that is what Michael and then Ang needed. This was a drama. In drama, you need time to make performances work.

The choice of Moose Mountain, with its proximity to Calgary and accessibility, gave Ang so much time everywhere else because he was able to get that hour of overtime in order to make sure that he got those extra two shots for a scene, to make it just right; that extra hour with the actors to make sure that the sun dropped just a little bit more; that extra day or two of Second Unit so we could have truck shots.

For instance, the opening shot. The amount of time it took for us to get that shot organized would boggle your mind. We filmed it in late July or early August; it was near the end [of shooting]. We were trying to schedule it earlier, but the problem was that we were again trying to find the perfect road, even though that was the first place we thought of. We needed a north-south road so we could look east-west and see the sunset, pretending it is sunrise, and it will look fantastic shot from up high: the little, tiny truck so you could put credits here [gestures] in the negative space. I am trying to remember if they did credits or not, I don’t think they even bothered; it was too perfect, right? But that is the sort of thing you take [still] pictures of. The reason that our pan [panoramic] photo of that shot is not in there [gestures to a book of production photos] is that it is so big. We did that to show that you could hold that shot for a really, really long time to establish both where you are and how small they are in the whole grand scheme of things.

Hwy 22, south of Longview, AB
Hwy 22, south of Longview, AB


Once they decide “Okay, this is going to be the place; it will work,” then you have got to get permission from the government to control the highway so we don’t have any bogeys in the shot and that was [inaudible]. That is why I whispered it to you so you wouldn’t get it on tape. Then the other thing we needed to do was to get one of our guys out there to do what we call a photo test. Say the sun is going to set at nine o’clock, we get to the camera location at seven with a battery operated clock and take the picture looking toward the mountains at 7:00, 7:15, 7:30, etc. and keep going until it is black. That helps the DP [Director of Photography] to decide when he wants to shoot this. Once we knew that he wanted to shoot during a particular period, we had to make sure that we had all the vehicles and that the parking was going to work. We talked to the neighbors so they knew what was going on...all three of them! [Laughter.]

Little things like that just take forever for some reason, and sometimes major challenges prove to be quite easy. When I read the script for the first time, I thought, “How in the world are we going to find a supermarket that we can afford to be in so she [the Set Designer] can dress it to look period?” Supermarkets nowadays, they ring in $100,000 a day. How in the world are we going to get that? And within two days we had found two! One supermarket in Beiseker that was closed down, had all the shelf space, all the old registers, the old, if you remember way back when they had the spinners, instead of the belts, and wow! And then we went to Crossfield and they still had all the stock! When I got there it was two weeks before the closing and the move to their new store. I thought that was going to be the nightmare of the show, finding this supermarket and being able to afford it, and two of them fell right into our lap absolutely perfectly. Meanwhile, the scenes where you go “No problem, no problem, we’ll be able to do this,” those are the ones that take forever! That is a lot like life. Some things, some opportunities fall right in your lap; some you’ve got to work for, and they are rarely the ones you think of, you know.

In your answer, you made the transition from the mountain locations to the flatlands. When we talk about the flatland locations, we often use the word “gritty.”

Yes, what we found very early, like in the first three days of our scouting, is to avoid the highways. It made a lot of sense given that the way that rural North America was built was first with agriculture and when you had agriculture, then you had railroads. We wound up focusing on rail towns, off the highway, because all of these rail towns basically have been “on pause” for development since World War II, which is roughly when the rail stopped being a primary source of transportation. After the war, the defense factories needed to make something else. So instead of building tanks, they produced cars. Then highways started getting built. The towns that were on the highways have moved on, but the towns that do not have highways, for example Blackie [5], have not changed since the ’40s. They have not changed. Cowley [6] has not changed. Fort Macleod, even though some might argue that is on the highway since it is on [secondary] Highway 3, I would say since it is not on the [major] Highway 2 corridor, it has not changed.

[5] Thanksgiving Fight Bar.

[6] Signal Streets, Aguirre Trailer.


Blackie, AB
Blackie, AB

Our alternative to Fort Macleod, Lacombe [railroad, off the highway] is exactly the way that it has been since the ’50s. Lacombe still has the awnings over every building; it is mind-boggling. Lacombe did not work because there is nothing else around it. Fort Macleod had Claresholm [7], it had Cowley, and we were able to find things around it. That is how we searched; we took a map of Alberta and highlighted every rail line, current and former. These were the areas where we scouted, and that approach paid off. We found all the period stuff we needed, boom, boom, boom; it was so much easier then. We had tons of stuff that is not in there [gestures to volumes of pre-production photos]. The stuff we did not use would be three times higher!

It really shows how smart Ang is. In his head, he was able to make Fort Macleod, parts of Cowley, parts of Carseland, Blackie, Crossfield, Rockyford, and Calgary all one town. As we did this we all were trying to figure out how it would look when it all came together. Well, it does work.

In Rockyford, a block down [from the Childress Dance Hall exterior, Riverton Post Office, JT’s Bar, and phone booth locations], there was a period gas station right there. We could have used that. We could have saved a gazillion by shooting there instead of going to Carseland, but the gas station in Carseland [8] was too perfect. That was the hill to die on . It’s fantastic. Those are the ones where you say, “It’s worth it to come here for this” and there were compromises for a lot of other places which we knew were too far to go, like that Texas gas station [9]. It looked great, but it was too far to go.

On the other hand, we still felt it was worth it driving out to Dorothy [10]. It was a long way, but it looks great. I asked, “What would you like, Ang?” He told me “I would like it very dusty.” Okay, that’s no problem; we just went out and scouted everything that was within two miles of Dorothy.

[7] Divorce Cabin and Lonesome Ranch.

[8] This scene was cut.

[9] This scene was cut.

[10] Ennis’s Flashback.


Dorothy, AB
Dorothy, AB

Describe your first meeting with Ang Lee.

Um, at the Palliser Hotel [Calgary], and it was quite funny. I was worried that this was a big-time Hollywood director: very demanding, very I am the star of this show. Our production manager Tom [Benz], told me, “Don’t worry Darryl; you would not spot him in a line-up, so unassuming, so unlike the stereotype. Everything is going to be fine.” When he came up to his room, he was just a regular person. I knew they were in the elevator, and I knew it was our floor. And I knew that it was him coming out, but I still looked in the elevator [laughter] to see if there was somebody else in there! Where is this big-time director? Where is he?


Yes, a very big thing in their culture. I would not say shy, I think reserved. I almost want to say shy because there were some times when he did not want to meet everybody, though he does like meeting people. I’ll say reserved.

Then there was the producer [Executive Producer Michael Hausman], what a contrast. You could tell the leadership just bounced off of him, right, “Hey, you guys allow New Yorkers [expertly accented] in here?” That was his big line to break the ice in all of the smaller communities and right there, they thought, “You are okay.” “Yea, we’re not from here; we’re from out of town. Just get that over with; I know, you know, okay.” And it was.


[Part 2 of this interview was posted on 20 September 2006;
it is available here.]



  Revised 10 April 2011