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Sunday, July 26, 2015

'Southbounders' Director Ben 'Sundown' Wagner Tells Us to Take a Hike

Ben Wagner Picture

The celebration of the recently reviewed VOD release of the 10th anniversary of the 2005 roughly "based on a true story" essentially docu-drama "Southbounders" continues with this post on an awesome telephone chat with writer/director/hiker Ben Wagner. The most groovy thing about this movie is that both folks who are familiar with the approximately 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail (AT) that provides the setting for the film and "goofers" can strongly to the beautifully filmed story.

The shared insights included the three stars of the film being college classmates of Wagner.

Happy Trails

Wagner, whose trail name was "Sundown," shared regarding his successful completion of the AT trek (i.e., thru-hike) that he "wasn't necessarily the fastest hiker." His primary advice for completing this arduous journey was that every hiker "must go at it with the idea that you are going to finish." These observations were consistent with the "hike your own hike" philosophy in "Southbounders."

Wagner also stated that wanting a big challenge on graduating from college motivated his thru-hike. He further emphasized that he considered Europe a perfectly fine continent but had a stronger desire to explore part of America than to backpack across the old country.

Highlights of this undertaking that "Southbounders" perfectly conveyed included "getting to know this broad spectrum of people" who hike all or a portion of the trail, and the fun of hanging out with "trail angels" who open their homes and provide other support. This realism extended to every actor other than the trio of thru-hikers around whom the film revolve either being a hiker or an "angel."

Wagner further had art imitate life in having lead character medical student Olivia bring a tent on her hike only to abandon it. Wagner shared that bringing a large tent that would allow stretching out at night was a primary indulgence (along with often buying cheese and peanut butter) during his trip. He added that he abandoned having solitary shelter due to the burdensome weight associated with that luxury.


Commenting that the aforementioned review of "Southbounders" advocated imposing "Deliverance" style mayhem on the highly annoying and intrusive lead character "Slackpack" evoked a valued chuckle from Wagner. The filmmaker added that "I did hike with someone like that," and that people on the AT "start protecting and caring for them."

Wagner further stated that "I pick on him [Slackpack] so severely, I needed to give him a happy ending." Those who have seen "Southbounders" can appreciate the humor in this sentiment regarding the highly unexpected elements regarding the final scene with Slackpack.

Behind the Scenes

Wagner declaring "what's special about this film" explained some of the aforementioned extraordinary realism regarding this fictional flick. When asked if a scene in which Olivia threw off her heavy backpack and pummeled it out of frustration was improvised was that the scene was staged but that the expressed emotion was genuine.

The staging extended to predetermining which settings to film, but the flexibility of taking advantage of an opportunity to film when the crew "happened on the right scene" while out in the woods was a large part of what made "Southbounders" special.

Asking about any off-screen romance between Olivia portrayor Amy Cale Peterson and Scott Speiser, who played dreamy thru-hiker Rollin, prompted the response that the pair were good friends who were like brother and sister in real-life. The gossip aspect of this response was that Peterson and Speiser were dating friends of the other at the time of filming.


Wagner shared regarding his 2010 single-take short "6:00," which lasted the titular amount of time, was that he intended that this tale of a woman cop battling a gang "to be a fun action experimental film." He added that the classic single-take Hitchcock classic "Rope" did not "really" inspire him and that that film greatly differed from his.

The cited inspiration was the recent film "Children of Men."

"Dead Within"

Wagner expressed intense enthusiasm regarding his  2014 "docu-style" horror film "Dead Within" that the synopsis for that film stated was about a couple that was living in a remote cabin in the aftermath of an outbreak confronting "the horrors that threaten them from outside and from within."

Wagner stated that he "loves the tension that you can build in long takes."

End of the Trail

Speaking with Wagner awesomely validated the sense that "Southbounders" was a labor of love that accurately portrayed both the AT and the human characters in the film. He also confirmed the speculation in the review of the film that that movie and the recent Reese Witherspoon film "Wild," which followed "Southbounders" by nearly a decade, had many common elements.

Wagner followed this up with the perfect statement that his film will inspire someone to attempt a thru-hike if that is something that you are destined to do.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding Wagner, "Southbounders," or the AT is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.