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Christmas on the Trail

Our Story -
Christmas on the Trail

Christmas on the Trail was initially written and produced as a stage performance, celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, and all of the traditions generations have held dear, from the vantage point of the American Cowboy. After six years of performances, delighting tens of thousands of fans, the decision was made in late 2008 that it was time to stop just singing about cowboys, trails, horses, campfires, and Christmas out on the range, and actually head out to a ranch, with cowboys, trails, horses, campfires, and a Christmas celebration out on the range! At that point, Yeller Dog Productions began planning with Frank Gamble, founder and owner of One Stone Media, to undertake the incredibly ambitious mission of producing a DVD of this beloved, unique Christmas experience. However, even the clearest of crystal balls could not have revealed the magnitude of this endeavor, which would lead to months of planning and preparation, countless man-hours of scouting locations, procuring props and costuming, set design and set-up, livestock coordination and management, rehearsals, shooting, and above all, editing. The purpose was not just to video a re-creation of what has become a beloved Christmas show to countless families, featuring rock-solid performances from some of the finest musicians and cowboy poets anywhere, but to also capture additional footage, shot over a period of four months, which would take the viewer to a different place in time, and actually tell the story conveyed in the lyrics and poems, visually – much like a music video would. The other challenge was to find the right balance of traditional Christmas classics, both popular and sacred, and the unique lyrics and harmonies, as well as poems, which capture the romance and iconic imagery of the American Cowboy. The ultimate goal was simply to allow families across the country to come together each Christmas, and for a couple of hours be transported to sit around this Yuletide campfire, framed by longhorns, horses, and an authentic 1800's chuckwagon, and join us, as we look at this most treasured of all American holidays, through the eyes of one of her most revered and honored American heroes – The Cowboy!

So what did it take to pull of such an ambitious undertaking? Well, to begin with, it took a cast and crew of more than fifty people – musicians and performers, sound techs, a lighting company, multiple video cameras and cameramen, an enormous lighting array, a huge camera boom, microphones to capture both individual and ambient sound, a couple dozen instruments, a chuckwagon, several longhorn steers, horses, whisper power generators and oversized straw bales to "mask" the generators' sound, food, straw bales and saddle blankets for the cast, and pages and pages of script, production notes, sound and lighting cues, set design diagrams, and scene storyboards. It brought together talent from all across the Ozarks to a location outside of Branson, Missouri, along with the best chuckwagon cook and storyteller in America (a combination that is truly rare), complete with an authentic 1876 Studebaker chuckwagon. It required hours and hours of preparation in City Walk Studios in Branson, to prepare all of the song charts and cues, and think through all of the minute details, that would either make or break the production, once this small army descended on the remote location to begin shooting. It demanded countless production and planning meetings over the months leading up to the actual shooting, which seemed exciting and full of promise at the outset, but tedious and seemingly never-ending by the final weeks and days before the production began. There were calls made, reservations for gear and locations confirmed, contracts signed, schematics drawn, and perpetual questions and second-guessing about whether or not something had been overlooked or omitted. There were lodging accommodations made, food procured, not only for use during the shoots, but to feed cast and crew members who were on location virtually around the clock, and the coordination of schedules of dozens of individuals whose talents keep them in constant demand for their time. And the biggest challenge of all was to bring all of this digital, state-of-the-art technology to bear for the sole purpose of bringing a time and lifestyle to life, which owed its broad appeal to a simplicity and purity that resonates in our fast-paced society, due in large measure to a lack of technology! You might say it was the clash of two cultures – two worlds – using all the high-definition and digital technology possible, to convey the look, feel, warmth, and romance of a time where such things weren't even a thought, much less a possibility.

There were two completely different types of shooting schedules, which required that the entire project almost had to be laid out backwards, clearly beginning with the end in mind, while storyboarding the scenes. Because of the goal to provide what is referred to as "b-roll" footage, which simply refers to scenes which are acted out to provide images of what the lyrics are saying, it was an absolute necessity that two completely different scenes be laid out for each song or poem, which would include the "b-roll" scenes that would be shot independent of each other at separate places and times, and then blended together in the editing suite with the main footage shot 'round the campfire, to become a seamless experience of word and song. While this may at first sound like a typical music video, seen on television daily, the primary difference was that there would be a running narrative that had to be preserved, which was the experience of the cowboys at the campfire, while dropping in the enactments of the vignettes within different songs, much like a listener would conjure up their own mental picture of the scenes they were hearing described in lyrics or poems. Simply put, the end product would provide the "mind's eye view" for the listener/viewer.

And never to be understated was the weather. The primary scenes around the campfire were shot in February, and it doesn't take much imagination to realize that winter in the Ozarks can be a dicey situation. While it was important to shoot in the winter, concerns for travel, comfort, equipment performance, and protection of valuable equipment and instruments had to be factored in, also. At the same time, some of the scenes required harsh elements, such as snow, as a key component of the story, which reduced grown men to the little kids they once were, wishing for snow, at Christmas! It virtually required those involved to become amateur meteorologists, with hasty phone calls pulling together lengthy shoots, on the heels of an unexpected 8" snow, while weeks later causing the campfire shoot to be delayed by an entire week due to conditions that would be too harsh. Even then, in what might be described as "moderate" winter conditions for the Ozarks, a crew that assembled at 8:00 am on day one of the main shoot, was joined at 4:00 that afternoon by the cast, and they all endured what can only be described as a mildly miserable night of cold temps and damp winds, forcing all to take comfort as close to the fire as possible during every break in the shooting schedule, no matter how small. All in all, the primary shoot around the campfire lasted 48 hours, with a 4-hour break called for rest at 4:00 am, at the end of the first 24-hours, only to resume with an all-day shooting of the chuckwagon cooking segments.

Of course, it goes without saying that all of the best equipment and technology available, if utilized flawlessly, would only document the performances given, so this made the most critical element of all the quality of performers, and the talents they would bring to the campfire! We'll let you, the viewers, decide this for yourselves, but suffice it to say that we are confident that the collective resumes of the performers around this campfire, from studio work to performing with nationally renowned artists, will not disappoint! So join us around the fire, for Christmas on the Trail!