The man in the window booth of the Uptown Diner sports a torn T-shirt and a bruise on his forehead that’s shading from purple to yellow. He pores over a map of the Missoula area, checking it periodically against the bleached leg bone of an elk that’s resting on the table in front of him. A waitress pours him coffee and then hassles him about the bone being unsanitary. Fumbling it, the disheveled man drops the bone and notices someone watching from across the diner when he bends to pick it up again. Rising from his booth, the man moves toward the person watching him. “Were you at the funeral?” he asks, standing over the observer, bone in hand. Against a rising level of commotion in the diner, the observer lowers the newspaper he was concealing himself behind, looks around the room and says, “I didn’t hear them say ‘Cut.’”
By “them” he means the half-dozen black-shirted men festooned with cables and burdened with movie cameras, boom microphones and digital tape machines: the crew of Moneybone, a tragicomic tale of a dimwitted caretaker in search of his miserly former employer’s fortune that was filmed in Missoula over four days last week. The film is the first for Crosstrees Pictures, a joint effort of writer/producer Craig Varley—an Englishman in Missoula as his wife works on a Ph.D. in American history—and director Jason Crabbe, who was born in Clinton and returned to Montana two years ago. Mark Vargo, Moneybone’s director of photography and a 30-year veteran of big budget films like Outbreak and 2006’s Poseidon, is the biggest name involved with the project.
While the principals look on, it’s the black-shirted crew who are in constant motion. Feverishly moving past and around each other whenever the camera is not rolling, they handle the details needed to create the elaborately organized artifice of a narrative film.
While they do, leading man John Chaussee, a local actor, asks the script supervisor to check his bruise while waiting for another chance to confront his fictional surveillor, admitting “I feel like I have the easy job.”