From Horse Lover to Filmmaker
September 26th, 2008
FROM HORSE LOVER TO FILMMAKER
Horse Breeder Ron Hevener Makes Documentary ....
Like many horse lovers, I grew up fascinated by movies and television. To me, a kid from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, whose family roots were in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, television was something many people didn't have and movies were a special treat. I guess that sounds like a long time ago, and almost as if I came from another land to some of my readers. Maybe so. But, it was a good land.
I didn't start out knowing how to produce films. I started out as an artist, and I was lucky. I painted pictures, and I made clay souvenirs for tourists at the popular farmers markets throughout Lancaster County. Every week, I rented a space at places like "Roots Sale" or "The Green Dragon" or the Downingtown Farmers Market. Every week, I showed up with my clay, and my figurines of dogs, horses and all kinds of animals. Every week, I had new stories to tell.
I chose animals because I loved them. I understood them. I was fascinated by how excited people became when they found their favorite animals on my table, or on my easel.
I started out selling my souvenirs for fifty cents apiece. Today, that doesn't sound like much, but it was enough to cover my rent every week. It was also enough to officially make me a professional artist, making a living from my own work and on my own terms.
NATIONAL ARTIST . . .
Because my customers were tourists from faraway cities, it wasn't long before they were asking me to send presents to their friends and loved ones. My work began to reach New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami and Los Angeles. At nineteen, the skinny kid telling stories as he made clay souvenirs of dogs and horses, chickens and cows and wildlife was a national artist.
It was an exciting time. I loved wrapping the figurines and carefully boxing them up for shipment to places I had never seen. How well I remember my first order from another country.
In time, as my studio developed, orders for Hevener figurines became so great that my home was taken over by stacks of shipping boxes, rows and rows of shelves for storage, and tables covered with paints and art supplies of every kind. By then, I was setting up my wares at horse shows and dog shows, too. I was packing my car, and traveling for weekends to places I had never been before. I was making new friends and learning about the fine skills of animal showmanship. One might say, I was part of "animal theater" on the world stage.
As an artist, it was a natural progression for me to seek out information. True, I had always raised animals of one kind or another. Birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, puppies, kittens, lambs, calves ... just to name a few! But, something in me wanted more. Maybe I wanted to "catch up" with the mystery of the ancients, I don't know. But, the serious side of me ended up studying at a place called the North Museum of Natural History. I studied there, as the unpaid apprentice of the museum's preparator of exhibits, for two years. I loved it there. As the only student of the retired professors who maintained offices in the museum's various departments, I left my years at the museum appreciating astronomy, art, oceanography, anatomy ... in ways I could never have discovered otherwise.
CHANGE OF LIFE . . .
My personal life was in a turmoil in those years. Looking back at all the responsibility I shouldered, I don't think anyone realized how much stress and pressure I was under. From week to week, I never knew what my income would be; but the costs kept rising. The biggest cost was emotional, and it wasn't long before my beautiful little family broke down. The years of doubt and sadness that followed weren't pretty, as anyone who goes through such things knows. But, I think anyone studying my work through the 1970's and 80's would be hard-pressed to find any sad-looking Hevener figurines or paintings.
Maybe I was able to "compartmentalize" my life. Maybe I was lucky. Maybe I was just a realist, accepting that there could never be a "normal" family life for one who was -- and always would be -- so devoted to his work. On the other hand, maybe I was just like so many other horse lovers out there, patching together my jeans, holding on to my dreams and starting over.
I started thinking about horses in a different way. After all, they couldn't feed themselves. They couldn't take themselves to the vet. They couldn't take classes or go to shows and see others of their own kind .... Hey .... Wait a minute. This feels just like having kids! Changing our outlook can make all the difference in how we handle life. I would have lots and lots of animals!
Once that was decided, I was happy again. Hevener figurines became more distinctive and the team of people who really put the Hevener Collection together -- and who manage it today -- came into being. The studio, the kennels, the stables all in a setting surrounded by wildlife ... it's a good place to think and to dream. It's a very good place to write stories like "Fate of the Stallion," and launch those stories into films.
FILMMAKER . . .
Because feature film production is out of my league, it was necessary to convey the story in a brief film version. Generally, a ten or twenty-minute presentation is made to "shop" or "pitch" the idea to professionals in the entertainment business. In our case, we decided to expand our presentation into thirty minutes and produce it as a documentary of the novel. With that approach in mind, "Fate of the Stallion ... From The Pages of a Novel" was born.
Production started in October 2006, with the purchase of the stallion to portray the lead character in the film. He wasn't easy to find.
Since the story was about "Nahgua" a real Arabian stallion known by many people around the world, the one to portray him in a film had to be the same breed, the same color, and bear the same markings that he did.
There was one complication, however. When painting the illustrations for the book, I had taken some "creative license"... I had made Nahgua "cuter" and more appealing in the face . . . And (OK, I admit it) I had made him "a lot" taller than he really was -- at least a whole "Hand" taller, to be precise.
In horse terms, a Hand can make quite a difference. Measuring about four inches, it not only makes a horse taller, but -- with the accompanying body mass -- considerably bigger the whole way around! In Arabians, this is especially hard to find.
FINDING THE RIGHT HORSE . . .
There was only one place to find such Arabian horses, and that was in the herd of my friend, Jim Andreson, of Selket Arabians fame. Being over six feet tall himself, Jim has always bred his horses taller than average and his herd goes back almost fifty years. Did he have a horse for our film? Not only did Jim have a horse, but he had a bay colt who fit the bill perfectly.
The colt was well into his show career. A grandson of Jim's 16.2 Hand world champion named * Furno Khamal, and a son of U.S. Reserve National Champion Da Vinci FM, he was already making a name for himself on the regional level. Very soon, he would become a Supreme Champion Sport Horse (in hand) and he was on his way to a promising show career. Sight unseen -- strictly on Jim's word -- Louchiano was purchased for the film. I was hoping I had made the right choice!
I met Louchiano at the U.S. Arabian Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky. I arrived on a rainy night and wanted to see Louchiano right away. Together with Jim and fellow breeder Jan Campbell of "Influence
Arabians," I was driven through the back lot of the show grounds to the stalls of trainers Al and Glenna Gruppen. Others may have seen me riding a golf cart in the rain, but I was remembering when I first met Nahgua, so many years before. It was raining then, too. Only, this time, instead of finding my horse in a back stall of an auction barn, I was finding him in good hands, with people who loved him.
The stall was glowing with light. In the center, beautifully groomed and cared for, was the tallest young Arabian stallion I had ever seen. I'm sure my heart forgot to take a few beats when I stood there, asking
myself if this horse was real. I stepped closer ... and then he did what only Nahgua had done until that moment. He leaned his head down and kissed my face. I was a goner.
I had found a horse who loved people. That much was certain. But, what would he be like in front of a crowd? The next day was the real test. I didn't have long to wait.
As Aretha Franklin wailed "Who's Zoomin Who" over the sound system and the arena echoed with applause and screams, over twenty young stallions rushed into the ring for the Stallion Futurity class.
Towering above the rest, Louchiano calmly handled the lights, the cameras, the action. I knew, if Paramount Studios itself had hired me to find a stallion for a movie, I would have picked this one. I knew we had found ourselves a star.
ON WITH THE SHOW! . . .
That moment is when production began in earnest for "Fate of the Stallion." Although he was scheduled to travel to Scottsdale for the prestigious Arabian show there, Louchiano was moved to Pennsylvania,
instead. We had work to do. We had to know how he would handle a different kind of crowd. We had to get him started under saddle. And, of course, we needed to secure foals to him.
Within months, Louchiano was presented at one of the most widely-attended horse Expos in the Mid-Atlantic region. A few months later, he was winning at regional shows in the East, and by Summer --
after being under saddle only one month -- he was competing at the East Coast Arabian Championships. Much of our filming took place at that show, on the beautiful grounds of the old Quentin Riding Club, where the story itself took place.
Rick Fett, the innovative horse photographer, came in from Michigan and spent a week filming for us. Maxine Bochnia, the popular animal photographer got some wonderful stills for us. Judi and Christi Scott of WaterGap Stables handled and trained Louchiano beautifully. Christi rode him very well in the film and his biggest fan, Olga Link, was there to cheer him on. Louchiano was surrounded by friends.
When filming was done, the work of editing began. This wasn't easy! It took many months and a few tears over what ended up on the cutting room floor. Finally, we had ourselves a script, and a film about the making of a novel ... but what about music?
Anyone who loves movies knows how important music is to a story. In our case, we thought we might use material I had previously recorded over the years. But photographer Maxine Bochnia had seen the award-winning film, "Mystery of the Nile" in her travels and she had fallen in love with the music. We had to hear it. She insisted! Finally, I gave in ... and I knew this exotic sound was right for the story. Could I license one of the songs?
It took a while to find the production company for "Mystery of the Nile," but we finally got through to them, in Spain. No, we could not use the song in their movie; but, they were kind enough to put us in
touch with its composer, David Giro'.
I liked David right away. He was serious about his work and very professional. I felt like we could get something important done. We sent him some of our footage and he agreed to write a special song just for the film. As it turned out, he ended up scoring the whole film and I hope to work with David on all of my productions from now on.
David wrote the music, and words were added to the song that became known as "Never Let Me Go" -- an exotic, passionate call for love. It was exactly what "Fate of the Stallion" had always been about.
There are many people to thank when it comes to making a film. Nobody can do it alone. "Fate of the Stallion" . . . from novel, to film, to song . . . has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. I hope its message -- that love is just around the corner, just around the far turn, just across the finish line -- is understood. I hope - every time they fall and get up again -- that horse lovers reflect on second chances in this crazy world we live in, and find their way . . . over, under or around anything that ever stands in their way.
- Ron Hevener.
TV Broadcast Dates for "Fate of the Stallion"