A Longview movie legend is in the spotlight for the first time in his life after spending decades behind the scenes.
John Scott’s fascinating life as a cowboy, stunt co-ordinator, wrangler, rancher, teamster, animal trainer and advocate for Alberta’s entertainment industry is told in the 48-minute documentary True West: The John Scott Story.
The documentary won the Peoples’ Choice Award during its premiere at last month’s Calgary International Film Festival.
“There was 160 films there so to win that is quite an honour,” said Scott from his 116-year-old, third generation ranch, which served as the backdrop for such award-winning films as Unforgiven, The Revenant and Legends of the Fall. “I prefer the behind the scenes stuff.”
Scott sees the documentary as a way to honour the many people who helped build up the Alberta movie industry over the years from world champion chuckwagon driver and stuntman Jason Glass to Alberta Film Commissioner Luke Azevedo.
It also offers the opportunity to portray Alberta with its stunning cinematography of the rolling Foothills, he said.
Scott, founder of John Scott Productions and Stunts Canada, got involved in the movie business through his connections in the rodeo circuit in 1969.
At the time, Scott was entering bareback riding, wild horse racing and wild cow milking events, but wasn’t winning a lot of money.
“I was hired to put some horses and riders together for the movie Little Big Man in 1969, 1970,” he said. “Once I got a taste of it with Little Big Man I thought that was the real deal and that’s what I wanted to pursue.”
Since then, Scott served many roles in films from supplying and wrangling animals to co-ordinating and performing stunts.
Twenty years ago, he transformed a portion of his ranch into three sets depicting turn-of-last-century settlements.
The list of movies and television shows shot on Scott’s property exceeds 250. Among them are Hell on Wheels, Diablo and Little House on the Prairie, as well as commercials for Alberta Beef, McDonalds, Red Bull and Travel Alberta.
Six films shot on the John Scott Ranch received Academy Awards and in 2019 Scott was awarded the Gene Autry Award for the preservation of western heritage at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The idea of showcasing John Scott was that of Calgary director Vicki McFadyen.
“I just think he’s an incredible man,” she said. “He’s done a lot of awesome things. He’s a behind the scenes guy and that’s pretty commendable.”
Filming began on the John Scott Ranch a year ago with a full Alberta crew, and was finished in barely enough time to enter the Calgary International Film Festival. It received a $52,000 grant from Storyhive, a Telus funding program that supports content creators in B.C. and Alberta.
“They did the judging before my film was finished so I wasn’t able to qualify for any other awards,” she said. “Dropping a film in these times is incredible and it’s incredible we were even able to get into a theatre.”
McFadyen said the purpose of the documentary wasn’t to win awards, but to tell a captivating story.
“We wanted to educate, we wanted to entertain, we wanted action and I think we did a really good job of that,” she said. “I’m really happy with the cinematography and I’m really happy with the pacing of the film. It really showcases Alberta.”
McFadyen said Scott played a large role in the film industry moving forward in Alberta.
She said Alberta was the first province to have a film commissioner and the province has the most amount of Academy Awards, with Scott playing a role in seven of them.
“Despite the fact that there aren’t a lot of films being produced here right now – most of the films are going to B.C., Ontario and Manitoba because of the grant system – we are still the leaders,” she said. “A lot of this is due to John Scott. He deserves the recognition and this film is a really good way for us to really celebrate him and our province and our industry.”
True West: The John Scott Story will be screened at High River’s Sunset Drive In for free on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. with a donation to the High River Food Bank.