Though the generational divide between grandparents and their children is a product of life’s natural course, their love and respect for each other outshines the decades that separate them. Besides family ties, grandparents and grandchildren also have shared interests in common; interests that also get passed down from one generation to another.
In that sense, the new short film Calf Rope is the story of how an ex-cattle auctioneer/junior rodeo champion (Mac, played by actor and real life dude ranch co-owner, Gorman Ruggiero, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) passes down the lessons learned from his past to his 8-year-old grandson, Brandon (played by newcomer Lukas Barnett).
Connecting Mac’s present with the memories of his youth in Calf Rope is the performance of real life teen Pennsylvania State junior calf roping champion Brock Beltz, who portrays the younger Mac in a flashback sequence that dramatically recalls his days as an athletically skilled rodeo hero. As Brandon learns about the dangers and glory of calf roping from Mac, they each form an unbreakable alliance that impacts Brandon’s life for decades to come.
Now in post-production and slated to be submitted to film festivals next Spring, Calf Rope is also a multi-generational family affair for the father and daughter who joined forces to make the film: director/writer Bradley Hawkins and producer Sarah Hawkins, doing business as Dadley Productions (a combination of Dad and Bradley; more on that ahead.)
Having previously made two short films — Roller Coaster and Filling In — the award-winning pair have found that their multi-generational bond has grown even stronger thanks to their collaboration in filmmaking. Dadley Productions also prides itself on giving women in the film industry ample opportunities to contribute their expertise in areas from cinematography and production design to high-level production coordination and oversight.
As the third project produced under the aegis of the Hawkins’ company, Calf Rope is not simply another film for the elder Hawkins. Like the grandfather/grandson relationship at the heart of Calf Rope forever touched the life of its younger character, the same bond Hawkins shared with his real life grandfather (also named Mac) continues to carry him forward. In making Calf Rope, Hawkins used his storytelling gifts to create a film that honors the memory of his grandfather while showing the timeless power of familial love.
What (and/or who) inspired you to create Calf Rope?
Bradley: Calf Rope is loosely based on my boyhood memories of my long-deceased granddad Mac, and concludes with a hint of the legacy that he unknowingly left behind for me as a role model for how I hoped to be remembered as “Grandpa” to my own two young granddaughters.
Bradley, how did your own childhood memories of your grandfather — himself a cattle auctioneer — and your memories of rodeo/calf roping itself, factor into the development of the film’s story and characters?
Without giving away “spoilers” to the story, I’ll just say that I still have extremely vivid memories of specific moments with Mac, most notably attending a cattle auction with my granddad Mac as a young boy and how I idolized his presence at the podium once it was his turn to perform his “cattle rattle” on that platform.
Mac also knew how to turn a potential frightening or disturbing situation into a playful and non-threatening experience, and was the type of grandparent that, when in his presence, was always given his full attention no matter the situation.
Discuss how you created and developed the storyline and characters for Calf Rope.
Bradley: Relying on memories from over 50 years ago is a challenge. How much is the truth, and how much of it is the way I want to remember him are undoubtedly combined. I think of Calf Rope much like a painting by Norman Rockwell, who created images of small town America and the citizens in those communities the way he wanted to remember them and not necessarily the way actually were.
How did you find the film’s cast?
Bradley: Casting Calf Rope was the toughest task for this particular film in that it required an older actor (60–70) who smoked, and a small 9–10 year old boy who could play age 8, as well as there being a strong sense of chemistry between the two. The film was additionally challenging to cast because both Mac and Brandon are seen at two very different stages of life within the film (young Mac at age 12, old Mac at age 65, Brandon at age 8, and another actor to play the role later in life, as well).
It also required building a family around Brandon at age 8, which includes his younger brother Wyatt (age 6), his parents, and his grandmother, Corah (Mac’s wife); all who needed to resemble each other enough to be believable as an extended family.
Discuss your memories of working with Brock Beltz, who plays the younger “Mac” in Calf Rope. How did you prepare him for the challenges of acting in the film, and of performing on camera?
Bradley: I discovered Brock at age 12 at a local rodeo in Annville, Pennsylvania in March of 2018, and learned that he was a Pennsylvania State Junior Rodeo Champ after meeting him. There was something about how stoic Brock was when mounted on his horse that really grabbed my attention. After meeting his parents and performing a screen test of him on his family’s ranch, I knew I had found my “young Mac”.
Within the context of the film, there was very little “acting” involved for Brock. He needed only to lasso a calf on-camera like he had already done countless times in calf roping competitions throughout the state and the mid-Atlantic region, and then just reenact segments of the process for me for tighter shots and cutaways that would’ve been impossible to capture during the actual roping of one of his family’s own calves. What you’ll see of Brock in the film is all his own performance as an actual pre-teen calf-roper, and he’s flat-out amazing in the film.
Bradley: what was it like working with your daughter, Sarah, on the production of Calf Rope?
Sarah and I started our working relationship as father/daughter on our first film together, Roller Coaster (2015) which I wrote and directed and she starred in. (The film) earned 30 film festival awards, including several for Sarah as Best Actress and for myself, as Best Director. We then became co-founders of our own film production company, Dadley Productions, which was coined from her feeling awkward calling me “Dad” or “Bradley” in front of others on our crew and, so she created the nickname of Dadley for me when addressing me onset.
After Roller Coaster, Sarah and I (as Dadley Productions) teamed up on our second film, Filling In, with her as producer and myself as director and co-writer on that comedy-fantasy short. (It) ended up earning 61 film festival awards and 37 nominations. Calf Rope is our third project together under the Dadley Productions umbrella with Sarah primarily serving in producer/talent roles on our projects, whereas I focus on the directorial/story & screenplay end of things.
The fact that my adult daughter is even able to work with her 63-old-dad(ley) on anything at all (let alone the deeply complex and time-consuming creative challenge of making films) is obviously a rarity. It’s often advised by financial experts worldwide to never be business partners with relatives. What makes Sarah and I unique is that though there are at times lively spats between us, we both have shared respect for each other’s talents and (we) know that we are stronger together.
Sarah: what was it like working with your dad, Bradley, on Calf Rope?
I believe my job as a producer, in relation to my dad directing, is to create the best environment for him to be able to do his thing. For Calf Rope, this is really his baby — a love letter to his grandfather, and to our family as a whole. Seeing him in action on this particular project has been truly incredible, and I’m honored to have been able to create the elements and team around him for his work to shine even more.
Sarah, how did your work on the project help to make production of the film possible?
Producing is paying attention to the small details and decisions, while having always the bigger picture in mind always. For this project, I came onboard to produce and run the Seed & Spark campaign (for Calf Rope), found our locations and crew, and was the boots-on-the-ground producer for physical production. Now that we are in post-production, we are still actively seeking to raise finishing funds, and are simultaneously working on the edit. It’s an exciting phase, and we are eager to see it out there in the world.
Sarah and Bradley: how has that partnership made you better filmmakers, while helping to bring you even closer through your shared passion for filmmaking?
Bradley: Over the course of our now-three projects together, Sarah and I have been working out the kinks and improving our working relationship as each stage of a film is completed. Along with our plans to expand Calf Rope from a short into an indie feature, we are also in development on an ensemble cast (based), cinematic light comedy “love letter” to Lancaster County called Whoopie! (in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine and Amélie), as well as a gritty, coming-of-age drama/thriller with the working title of Dylan (reminiscent of Mud and Short Term 12).
Though there will undoubtedly be some dark turns involved in all three stories, as in all of our previous work through Dadley Productions, audiences will ultimately be left with a sense of hope and inspiration once each journey has reached its conclusion.
Sarah: We’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to communicate ideas clearly, get input from each other, and not run away from conflict. It’s just not productive otherwise. Calf Rope was a good example of that. Bringing together our collective experiences and our shared passion for a common goal: a heartwarming story that will live on through our film.
What opportunities has Calf Rope, and Dadley Productions, provided (and continues to provide) for female filmmakers and filmmakers based in Pennsylvania to succeed in the industry?
Bradley: With Sarah as Producer on Calf Rope, and as co-founders of Dadley Productions, it is part of our mission to do all we can to bridge the gender gap in the film production industry. Besides Sarah, other women on our production team include our co-producer, Lauren Zehr, associate producers Brenda Ellis, Ginger Greenfield and Jackie Walker, our director of photography (Sofia Monzerratt), second assistant camera (Liz Baiera), production designer (Lyndsey Hinkle), and hair/make-up supervisor (Shelly Lynn Koch), along with several women who served as production assistants during the seven-day shoot.
What do you hope people take away from watching Calf Rope?
Bradley and Sarah: We believe that Calf Rope serves as a strong reminder of the inter-generational importance of leaving a positive legacy for those that may be following in our footsteps, long after we are gone. We also discovered during the production of Calf Rope that there are several scenes in the film that may initially seem like small “slice-of-life” remembrances but that will resonate long after seeing the film, causing audience members to reflect on their memories of their own grandparents in a positive light as well.
Find out more about Calf Rope at its official web site:
Love this quiet moment as our terrific featured background extras prepare to roast marshmallows for the campfire scene…