When he started filming on his harrowing “Hostile Territory” of the West, the filmmaker Brian Presley knew he needed a special group of young people to tackle such a grueling project.
Fortunately, the former high school quarterback Jenks knew exactly where he could recruit a team of coachable kids.
“I needed kids who were tough kids. … I knew I couldn’t bring in a bunch of kids from Hollywood with parents I don’t know and make the movie … with an indie budget dealing with of winter and snow,â Presley said.
“I knew I could have my own kids…and I coached my son’s soccer team for years. So I decided to bring all the other kids into the soccer team. I coach these kids since they were 7. They had never been in front of a camera, but I knew each other’s strengths.”
Inspired by a true story, “Hostile Territory” â which Presley wrote, directed, produced and starred in â opened Friday, April 22 in theaters and is set to open April 29 on digital and on-demand.
“All the kids did an amazing job, and they’re all looking forward to seeing the movie in theaters,” Presley said by phone from Los Angeles, where he and his family live. “It’s a fun keepsake to have not just with my kids, but with all of their friends…and those families.”
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‘Hostile Territory’ delves into post-Civil War history
Set right after the Civil War, “Hostile Territory” stars Presley as Union officer Jack Calgrove, presumed dead after his capture by the Confederate army. Upon his release, Calgrove is horrified to learn that his wife has died and his three young children have been put on an orphan train to meet their older brother, Phil (Cooper North), a soldier on the move to Montana, where he was charged with protecting the settlers of angry Native American tribes from encroachment on their lands.
Determined to protect his children, Calgrove sets out through the winter countryside to intercept the orphan train, accompanied by another former POW (Craig Tate), a troop of Native American snipers, and a former slave ( Natalie Whittle) looking for hers. displaced child.
“I love historical movies and I love Western movies, so I wanted to find something that would allow me to mix the two worlds,” Presley said. “I was doing some research and I came across…the Movement of orphan trains. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s quite fascinating that for 75 years hundreds of thousands of children have been ferried west by train to help give them a chance at life.’ â¦ So, I wanted that to be the backdrop.”
Although he cast his three children in the period drama â Jackson, Emma and Ruby Presley play the three youngest members of the Calgrove clan â the filmmaker said portraying these difficult times meant playing out many violent moments, which earned the film an R rating.
“During war, terrible things happen. Do you blame Native Americans for being hostile? No. … The Trail of Tears was unforgivable, what the government did to Native American tribes,” Presley said.
“I didn’t want your typical western where you had cowboys as good guys and Indians as bad guys. There’s good and bad in all races and cultures. … There were good people who were fighting to end slavery, people who were fighting for equality, at the time – and not just white people. There were Native Americans and African Americans who wanted peace, who wanted a chance to have freedom.
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The filmmaker follows the advice of Kurt Russell
Born in Midland, Texas â land of the âFriday Night Lightsâ â Presley was still in elementary school when his family moved to Oklahoma’s Football Home.
A graduate of Jenks in 1996, Presley played on the 1993 state championship football team and honed his musical theater skills in high school. He played football for a season at the University of Arkansas, but later chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
In 2000, he was cast as a series regular on the “General Hospital” spin-off “Port Charles”. He met his wife, as well as one of his “Hostile Territory” co-stars while working on the soap opera.
“Cooper North, who plays my oldest son in the movie, his dad played my brother (on the show),” Presley said. “I remember when Cooper was born and watching him grow up.”
After ‘Port Charles’ ended in 2003, Presley turned to acting, starring in ‘Guarding Eddy’, ‘Home of the Brave’ and the 2012 football drama “Touchback” against Kurt Russell.
“At the time, I was thinking of getting behind the camera and directing, and he said to me, ‘I’ve had the opportunity to do different projects, and my biggest piece of advice I’ll give you is, if you don’t don’t get the movie seen, then don’t make it,” Presley recalled. “I would never set out to make one of those movies that I didn’t see visually and didn’t have a vision for. â¦ I’ve always taken Kurt Russell’s advice.”
Presley made his directorial debut with “The Great Alaskan Run” of 2019 another demanding project in which he also starred, wrote and produced. Based on a true story, the action-packed drama follows a dog sled that travels hundreds of miles during the winter of 1925 to deliver diphtheria medicine to Nome, Alaska.
“It’s not much more difficult than making a movie in the mountains during the winter with dogs and children at 12,000 feet … and then it was the same with this one,” said he declared. “They were both very tough physically. It was hard to keep their spirits up and make sure the crews were treated properly.”
Oklahoma Work Ethic Shapes Career
As with “The Great Alaskan Race”, Presley filmed “Hostile Territory” primarily in Colorado. But with Oklahoma’s New Movie Incentive and growing film and television industryhe said he hoped to bring some of his upcoming projects to his home country.
“Growing up playing football at Jenks, the level of work ethic that they instill in you while you’re there, I carried that throughout my professional career. When times get tough… you you get together and come up with a new game plan,” Presley said.
As for his plan to cast his son and his football team in “Hostile Territory”, he seems to have scored.
“When we made the movie, they all had high-pitched voices. Now they all go to high school and they all look like adults,” Presley said. “But I still get messages from them saying, ‘Hey, Coach, thanks for having me in the movie. I can’t wait for it to come out. “”