Here's how "The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter" ended up being made.
There are not a lot of movies out there about deer hunting. We get it, it's a niche subject. We know that only a small percentage of the population participates in the activity. As a result, hunting movies are few and far between these days. However, every so often, one featuring larger, recognizable names slips through the cracks and into the mainstream.
That's exactly what happened with the Netflix exclusive "The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter" in 2018. It's a simple story of a father taking his 12-year-old son on a hunting trip to bag his first deer. Things don't exactly go as planned and the result is a series of adventures typical of Hollywood.
It's rather unusual to see a movie like this, that explores a father-son dynamic and portrays hunting in a "somewhat" realistic fashion, find an audience beyond the usual outdoorsmen and women. Here's how this unusual film came to be and some interesting facts you may not know about it.
The Filmmakers, Cast & Inspiration
When this movie was first announced, the names attached to it were a bit surprising. They were names we had not expected to be associated with a hunting film, albeit one that is heavily satirical. Director Jody Hill is better known for comedy movies like "Observe and Report," "The Foot Fist Way," and some HBO TV shows like "Vice Principals" and "Eastbound and Down."
Hill teamed with well-known stoner comedy actor, and more recently, horror film writer Danny McBride and John Carcieri to pen the script. Hill said in an interview with The A.V. Club that the inspiration for the film originally came from a friend of his who had some of Roger Raglin's old hunting videos. For most hunters, it's obvious that's where the main character of Buck Ferguson, played by Josh Brolin, came from. Ferguson is an aging professional hunter who produces his own hunting video series titled "Buck Fever." In fact, it turns out that the production uses some music and real footage from some of Raglin's work. It even features one of Raglin's real harvests in the film. Raglin later posted the original footage to his YouTube channel after the fact. One of Raglin's hunting films even shares the title of the Netflix film.
In an interview with Tulsa World, Raglin revealed he got to read the script ahead of time and was flattered by how the filmmakers used his work as inspiration for the title character. Raglin also later attended the film's premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW).
"Reading the script I had to chuckle a bit," Raglin told the paper. "In the opening few scenes of the movie, Josh Brolin shoots a number of different bucks and full of excitement and enthusiasm he jumps up and down and yells 'Jumpin Joseph!' instead of 'Jiminy Christmas!'
McBride took on the role of Buck's raunchy and dirty-minded cameraman Don himself. For the role of Buck's son, Jaden Ferguson, casting became a little more difficult. Child actors are notoriously hard to cast and Hill and McBride said they auditioned a staggering 10,000 children throughout the U.S. and Canada before finally finding Montana Jordan, a kid with zero previous acting experience. A family friend had seen a casting call for the movie on Facebook and forwarded it to Jordan's family. The rest was history.
It's obvious in the final film the filmmakers did their research into hunting videos and the industry in general. In the same A.V. Club interview, Hill says he's never hunted before. Brolin said he tried in the past and didn't care for it, although he did research via books and magazines to prepare for the role. McBride said he tried hunting once and got bored. It seems that young Montana is the only one of the group to hunt more than a few times on the crew.
The film has an incredibly simple premise. Brolin's Buck Ferguson has been divorced from his ex-wife Linda, played by Carrie Coon, for approximately three years and she already has a new man in her life, Greg, played by Scoot McNairy. Worried about getting his son hooked on hunting and wanting a chance to reconnect with him, Buck takes Jaden along on his latest hunting expedition in hopes of helping the boy bag his first deer with Don there to document the whole thing.
Early in the hunt, the group spots a monster non-typical buck which serves as a MacGuffin (plot device) for the rest of the film. Of course, things don't go quite as expected in their quest for a big buck as Jaden is more interested in other pre-teen things besides hunting. To make things worse, as the hunt goes on, he divulges some information about Buck's ex getting remarried that makes the old hunter realize he's having a hard time moving on in life. It also drives more of a uncomfortable wedge between Buck and Jaden for him to learn the father role that Greg is starting to take in Jaden's life, making Buck instantly jealous.
What results over the rest of the film is a series of tender moments interspaced with madcap, over-the-top adventures and a hunting accident that force father and son to work together and ultimately bond for the greater good. We won't spoil it all for those who haven't seen it, but both end up learning a series of lessons along the way. The whole story is straightforward and predictable, but for the most part, harmless in its presentation. McBride and Hill have both said it's probably the most family-friendly project they've worked on, aside from a few key scenes with McBride of course.
The making of The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter
Once the script and cast were set, work on the film began in October of 2015 with Rough House Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions. According to IMDB, Brolin gained 40 pounds for the role. He filmed this smaller movie role right before working on Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Even though this was a smaller movie than those big blockbusters, filming wasn't easy. Brolin stated in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes that filming took approximately three months. Hill agreed the terrain and scenes made for a difficult shoot.
"Every day was a 45-minute hike uphill, you know, like carrying stuff, going down rivers and stuff," Hill said in an interview.
McBride noted that shooting in the winter months made for an additional challenge because the crew had fewer daylight hours to work with, something that was made more difficult because they may have been a mile or two back into the woods.
"You have to wrap before it gets too dark so people can see how to get back to their cars at the end of the day," McBride said.
The movie was filmed mostly in North Carolina. Locations included the Flats Offroad Park in Marion, parts of Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Eric Treml was the cinematographer that beautifully captured the North Carolina landscape you see throughout the film. The production also had to deal with many challenges in the weather. Brolin said there was everything from hot weather to a total whiteout snowstorm. Through it all, Brolin heaped high praise on his young co-star Jordan, for never complaining or being nervous through the whole shoot, making most of the work much easier. Some of the harder scenes required the actors to be in 50-degree water in cold weather.
"There's nobody I've met yet that's been more comfortable in front of a camera than him," Brolin said in the Rotten Tomatoes interview.
We weren't surprised, given the subject matter, that The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter was met mostly with negative or mixed reviews upon release. Aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes has the movie at a 30% with critics and 41% with audiences. Metacritic's algorithms were a little kinder, with the film holding a 49 metascore and 6.4 user score of generally favorable reviews. Most reviewers stated that the cast was strong, especially Brolin, but that the father-son dynamics of the film are not wholly original.
It is also possible that some of the film's satire of hunting was not obvious to reviewers and general audiences with little or no knowledge of hunting. Scenes like the "Buck Fever" highlight reel at the beginning of the film seem to land only if you're already familiar with Roger Raglin or similar shows.
For most hunters online, the movie gets generally favorable reviews for being one of the better and more honest depictions of hunting and family of recent memory, even if things are exaggerated to an extreme degree. We already know of some hunters who are making this film a must-watch at deer camp every season!