'Savage Lands,' a movie about Davy Crockett, needed to be filmed in Tennessee | Column

Some nights I stare at the ceiling in my bedroom and wonder if I’ve forgotten how to dream. When I was younger, they came easier.

There was a time when the canvas of my mind had no borders. Then I grew up. Family, jobs, and a mountain of responsibilities consumed my waking hours and darkened my sleep. Thankfully, some legends don’t care whether you’re ready to dream. They’re stories that find a way to be told. That’s "Savage Lands."

A few years ago, a couple friends and I wanted to create content for our children. There wasn’t a grand agenda other than the realization that the stories we tell and repeat matter deeply to our culture. Even the most well-intentioned aspirations mean little without perspiration.

Thankfully, we met a writer, producer, and director by the name of Derek Purvis who had moved to Tennessee. Prior to our encounter Derek engaged Bob Raines, the executive director of the Tennessee Entertainment Commission, who asked him what kind of Tennessee story he was going to write. “When he asked, I didn’t really have an answer,” Derek recalls. “So I figured I should write one.”

The result is quite literally a legend. "Savage Lands" tells the story of Davy Crockett’s journey to rescue his family, befriend the Cherokee, and ultimately oppose the Indian Removal Act.

"Savage Lands" found us.

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Executing the director's vision is a difficult task

After securing the script, we began to engage investors. We quickly learned that it’s difficult to find anyone who hasn't been pitched at least one movie idea. Many of them turned out poorly. It’s a risk. There’s no way around it.

Scenes from production of "Savage Lands," a movie being produced and directed in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.
Scenes from production of "Savage Lands," a movie being produced and directed in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.

The true magic of the movies we watch on Netflix or at the theater is that they happen at all. They’re small businesses that start out of a script paired with acting talent, escalate to employ a significant cast and crew, and then wind down shortly thereafter.

Nevertheless, "Savage Lands" gained momentum. Doctors, dentists, insurance brokers, and family friends agreed that the "Savage Lands" story needed to be developed and ultimately created.

We secured William Moseley, best known for his role as Peter Pevensie in the film series "The Chronicles of Narnia," as the lead actor. William is not only a consummate professional with his craft, but he’s also a gentleman. There couldn’t be a better actor to play Davy Crockett.

As we began negotiating contracts, one attorney asked me to include a “double banger.” In a rather Southerner moment, I informed the attorney that I was happy to bring in a double-wide trailer as we have plenty of those in Tennessee. After a few moments of talking past each other, we agreed on a dual actor trailer which is decidedly less common in the Volunteer State.

With talent and a script, "Savage Lands" moved closer and closer to becoming a reality. Producer Michael Mailer joined the film. One of the most difficult parts of movie production is building the team to execute the director’s vision.

Mailer’s experience proved invaluable. “Tennessee has excellent talent, but it’s still in a growth phase,” Mailer said. “Pairing local creatives with talent from around the country makes for a great production team.”

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The movie needed to be told in the Volunteer State

Our production team knew that "Savage Lands" needed to be told in Tennessee, but we faced serious pressure to relocate to neighboring states with more robust film incentive programs.

Scenes from production of "Savage Lands," a movie being produced and directed in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.
Scenes from production of "Savage Lands," a movie being produced and directed in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.

We were fortunate to win a state grant, and the project was off to the races.

As we moved into filming, the tremendous effort necessary to bring an epic story to life shocked me. Recreating 1813 in the rural farms of Kingston Springs is a wild undertaking. I’ve never seen so many people work so hard for weeks on end. Every detail matters as we ask the audience to travel back in time.

Production has been a vortex where modern technology meets history. The crew deployed a light so bright it replaced the full moon. The tents for the trapper camp set up in days looked as if they’d been in use for years.

My sons visited the set and ate pizza with Davy Crockett, James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson, and Daniel Boone.

The surreal experience made me wonder if I was dreaming, and that’s the point.

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This film has allowed me to dream once again

Making movies isn’t for everyone, but we shouldn’t leave the craft to Hollywood. The stories we tell, where they’re told, and the people who make them impact our lives in ways we often fail to realize.

Cameron Smith, columnist for The Tennessean and the USA TODAY Network Tennessee
Cameron Smith, columnist for The Tennessean and the USA TODAY Network Tennessee

Our world is too often chaotic and dark. We need to be reminded that good can triumph over evil. Our families are worth fighting for. Heroes can face unimaginable pressure and still choose what is right.

It’s also a reminder that those of us who have been jolted by stories that need to be told shouldn’t give up.

We need a moment with our families where our minds can again drift into another world. Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched horses ride through the moonlit fog.

I’ve helped build a smokehouse in a 19th century trapper camp. I’ve seen Davy Crockett fight to reclaim his family. It’s been a wild ride that isn’t over yet.

But I know one thing has already changed: My dreams are back.

USA TODAY Network Tennessee Columnist Cameron Smith is a Memphis-born, Brentwood-raised recovering political attorney raising three boys in Nolensville, Tennessee, with his particularly patient wife, Justine. Direct outrage or agreement to smith.david.cameron@gmail.com or @DCameronSmith on Twitter. Agree or disagree? Send a letter to the editor to letters@tennessean.com.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Davy Crockett movie: Why 'Savage Lands' is being filmed in Tennessee