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Dreaming up a Western: NM provides perfect setting for Netflix miniseries ‘Godless’

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Michelle Dockery plays Alice Fletcher in the Netflix miniseries “Godless” (Courtesy of Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Scott Frank wanted to do a Western.

He was already well regarded for his screenwriting work in such blockbusters as “Minority Report” and “The Wolverine,” but fulfilling his desire to write and direct a Western took more than a decade – with many false starts.

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Yet, he kept at it.

Eventually, Frank’s project, “Godless,” found a home on Net-flix – and all over New Mexico.

“I just always wanted to write a Western,” he said. “I had been thinking about doing one. It’s a genre I never worked in before.”

Jeff Daniels as Frank Griffin in “Godless.” (Courtesy of Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

“Godless,” which is now available on the streaming service, follows Frank Griffin, an outlaw played by Jeff Daniels, as he hunts down former gang member Roy Goode, played by Jack O’Connell.

Hoping for a more peaceful life, Goode had deserted his brotherhood and sought refuge with a widow named Alice Fletcher, played by Michelle Dockery.

An outcast herself, she lives in the isolated (and fictional) town of La Belle, N.M., which is run by women after most of the men were killed in a mining accident.

“It was always New Mexico,” Frank said of his ideal production site. “What’s so funny is back in 2004, it wasn’t economically feasible to film in New Mexico. We looked at Calgary and the like. As you know, a lot of people began filming in New Mexico and it became the option for us to get this made.”

The series “Godless” was filmed for five months in northern New Mexico. Pictured is Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher. (Courtesy of Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

Production for “Godless” began in September 2016 and was housed at Santa Fe Studios, though most of the film was shot on location throughout northern New Mexico. It is executive produced by Casey Silver and Steven Soderbergh.

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“Godless” features the largest Western film set ever built in New Mexico.

La Belle was built on the San Cristobal Ranch, an 81,000 acre working ranch south of Lamy.

The set is comprised of 28 buildings, including a hotel, livery, saloon, dry goods store, jail, several shanties and a mine. And it was built in 12½ weeks by a construction crew of 130.

“The only brick structure in La Belle, the hotel is where the women take shelter and defend themselves from the future attack,” said Carlos Barbosa, production designer.

From left, Samantha Soule, Merritt Wever, Kayli Carter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster in a scene from “Godless.” (Courtesy of Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

Though Alice Fletcher’s ranch is located on the outskirts of La Belle, it was also built on the San Cristobal Ranch, a few miles down the road. A crew of 12 completed that project in five weeks.

In addition to the San Cristobal Ranch, fashion designer and director Tom Ford’s ranch in Galisteo, served as the site for the fictional town of Creed, which is laid to waste by Griffin and his gang.

Other scene locations included the fictional town of Olagrande at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe; a Paiute Indian camp near the Chama River in Abiquiu; and the gang’s camp and hideout in Jemez Pueblo.

More filming took place at Diablo Canyon, El Rancho de las Golondrinas and Cherry Meadow north of Pecos.

And several creek and river scenes were filmed at Santa Clara Pueblo.

Frank remained in New Mexico during the entire three months of pre-production and five months of filming.

Getting the miniseries on Netflix gave Frank the time to tell a complete story because it is broken up into seven episodes. The original plan was to make a two-hour feature film.

“Because it’s multiple episodes, I was able to tell a much deeper story,” he says. “I’ve worked on a lot of films before and this production schedule was intense.”

Frank and his crew also focused on making each frame of the film spectacular.

“We knew exactly what we were going to shoot for each scene,” he said. “We’d scout the location and decide what time of day was best to film there. ‘Was the light going to be right?’ That was a question on all of our minds. When we got out to film, it went quickly because we had already planned out each shot.”

Frank often found himself traveling for hours with his crew in order to scout locations in northern New Mexico.

“These areas haven’t been in too many films,” he said. “That was one of the pluses in being in New Mexico. Not only is the area gorgeous, it upped the possibilities of what we wanted to do.”

According to the New Mexico Film Office, “Godless” employed approximately 280 New Mexico crew members, 30 New Mexico principal actors and 2,350 New Mexico background talent.

After spending five months filming, Frank said, the editing process was a big task.

“We had so much footage,” he said. “We weren’t shooting it like a normal series. The editing was pretty tricky because it had to fall in line with the overall vision.”

The series is available for people to watch now, and Frank is excited to start receiving feedback.

“The story of these women is powerful,” he said. “Casting became interesting because we found amazing actors for each role.”

He added, “It’s amazing I’m at this moment. For the longest time, I wanted to give up on the project. I’m glad I didn’t.”


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