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MONTANA FILM REVIEW: Two Yellow Lines Interview with Producer Zeb Smith

Whiskey Leatherworks is excited to share a new film, shot on location in Montana
Two Yellow Lines.
We are honored to have had the opportunity to connect directly with one of the producers of the film: Billy "Zeb" Smith.   

Hi Zeb, 
Our entire family loved your new film, Two Yellow Lines.  Our 15-year-old daughter has actually said, in quiet moments, "I really loved that movie"- completely unprompted.
This is a tough movie for a homesick Montanan. The film captured well Montana's ethos.  Olfactory memories, triggered by charred forest and camp smoke. The shocking ice cold river plunge. We reveled in the swirling evening Montana air, from the back of the bike.  In short, you brought us home.
Why this place, these people, and this story?

Zeb Smith: 

What an introduction! Wow. It’s always such a surprise when something so deeply personal to me, can have such a visceral affect on someone else, so far away. But then I guess I had a very immediate reaction to your hand forged belts. So maybe hard-loved and brow-beaten efforts are just something some of us have an extra soft spot for. 

This film was put together by four best friends, all fathers of young daughters, and all with deep ties to that part of the country. We had no studio support, no big financial backing— just this burning desire to make a film that meant something to us, after years in Hollywood had left us… well, feeling less than fulfilled.

The film’s main character is played by my best mate, Zac Titus. Zac and I became fast friends nearly twenty years ago, after serendipitously landing as neighbors in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon. Despite being surrounded by Hollywood, it was our shared love of the mountains that brought us together. We would leave LA at 2 AM to drive the five or six hours up to Mammoth whenever a big storm came in to find fresh tracks, before driving those same five or six hours back after the lifts closed.

After a few years, his eldest daughter Alexis started coming along. Zac would hike up small hills in the backcountry with her in his arms, stand her up on her little snowboard, and send her twenty feet down to where I’d catch her. Ten years later, that little girl would grow up to play our film’s second lead, and Zac’s on-screen daughter. Halfway through the filming, Lex pulled me aside and asked if I would be her godfather. The love runs deep.

 One Thanksgiving, we went to visit Alexis’ grandfather at his ranch outside of Helena (Montana), where Zac and I would spend long days looking for elk. Waking up at 3:30 each day, taking the truck as far as we could in the pre-dawn snow, only to then hike deeper and higher into the forest service lands surrounding the family ranch. It wasn’t until our last day that we finally came upon a bull, and our two families shared that meat for the better part of the year to come.

It was no surprise when the following year, our good pal, fellow storm-chasing Mammoth rider, and our Two Yellow Lines co-producer, Jake Olsen, decided he wanted to come looking for elk, too. Despite our individual histories with these parts, and my childhood growing up a few hours south in Jackson Hole, it was these days traversing Montana’s hinterlands that really made her something special, something spiritual, to us collectively. So when it came time for us to make a film, it was obvious where we were headed. 

The fourth member of those early morning Mammoth runs was Derek Bauer, our film’s director. Derek grew up skiing and mountain biking in the Cascades, so it took zero effort on any of our parts to convince him of the untouched majesty of Montana.

Our film was inspired by the events and aftermath of the Mann Gulch fire, famously recounted in Norman Maclean’s harrowing novel, Young Men and Fire. But though that stands as the inspiration for the film and the lead character’s backstory, our story was actually sparked by a long distance motorcycle ride Alexis took with her grandfather from Montana to Ohio, and the accelerated forge that bike became for their deepening relationship. Turns out, there aren’t a whole lot of places to hide on the back of a Harley, from your copilot, or yourself.

And while Montana is undoubtedly the unspoken star of our film, it was the Montanans she spawned that made this film possible. Every town we shot in, every coffee shop we swarmed, the endless support of each individual and every community from Helena to Thompson Falls and the half dozen in between, is directly reflected in pretty much every shot of the film. We are endlessly grateful for that, and for all that the state provided, and we only hope our little love letter back does the state, her beauty, and the local populations, some justice. We can’t wait to get back there to make another. Or to just enjoy.


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