Garrett Heath

Kevin Nations of The Nations in association with Femmewerks Productions will showcase his film “Champion” at the San Antonio Film Festival.

This family friendly movie will be showing at the Santikos Palladium Theater at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22. I got a chance to talk with Nations about his film, how it was to work with animal actors and filming in San Antonio:

Garrett Heath for the Rivard Report: Could you tell our readers about your production team? What is the relationship between you and Robin? 

Kevin Nations: Robin was gracious enough to marry me in 1995 and we have been in production together ever since. Our current team came together when crewing up for our 2011 movie “Angel Dog.” We loved everyone so much that we kept the same crew. An actress we met on that movie, Farah White, came on as producer for us with “Champion.” Farah is a great producer and we were fortunate to have her.

Kevin and Robin Nations, co-writers and directors of the film "Champion."
Filmmakers Kevin and Robin Nations, co-writers and directors of the film “Champion.” Courtesy Photo.

RR: Are you a native San Antonian? If not, what brought you here?

KN: We moved to Austin in 1997 with the intention of making films. We had heard that Austin was a hotbed of indie production back in that day and we wanted to move where the action was yet still be close to home (Louisiana). After living the starving artist life for a while, I ended up taking a job in San Antonio working for NewTek, a company who makes hardware and software for TV production and film visual effects. We continued production work during this time and plugged right into the San Antonio film scene. Back then it was very tiny.

RR: What is “Champion” about? What inspired you to make this movie? 

KN: “Champion” is a “diamond in the rough” story about a dog named Scout, a cattle dog who decided she didn’t like herding cattle. Scout’s owner Billy (Lance Henriksen), a rancher struggling to stay in business, pegs her as a useless, broken tool and has every intention of replacing her. But when his city slicker granddaughter, Madison (Dora Madison Burge) spends the summer on his ranch, the two outcasts form a special bond that ushers Scout into the new arena of dog agility competition.

Watch the “Champion” trailer.

With the help of a cute teenage farm boy, Eli (Cody Linley), Madison uncovers Scout’s uncanny skill at dog agility and the trio spend their summer training for the Annual Youth Trainer Challenge. Like most storytellers, our own lives, our kids and dogs inspire us. We like to tell stories about real people and how they would react in certain situations.

Lance Henriksen and Scout are now best buds on the ranch in the film, "Champion." Courtesy photo/production still.
Lance Henriksen and Scout are now best buds on the ranch in the film, “Champion.” Courtesy photo/production still.

RR: Did either of you grow up on a ranch? Did that experience influence the movie?

KN: We did not. Our ignorance and discomfort on the ranch definitely influenced the movie. At one point in the movie, Madison is confused by the fact that even female Longhorns have horns–this came straight from our own confusion. During preproduction, we visited many ranches and spoke to lots of ranchers before writing the script.

RR: What challenges were involved with working with an animal actor? How did you overcome them?

KN: Working with an animal actor can be very challenging. The dog has to perform with silent cues, its trainer at some distance, and with lights, crew and boom mics all distracting it. The key is to make the dog as comfortable and secure as possible on set. Coming off of a different “dog” movie just before this one, we had an advantage here. The methods we learned there translated to this movie.

Cody Linley and Dora Madison Burge train Scout the dog for his role in the film "Champion." Courtesy Photo.
Cody Linley and Dora Madison Burge train Scout the dog in the film “Champion.” Courtesy Photo.

RR: What is so appealing about shooting movies here in San Antonio?

KN: San Antonio is a very friendly city with beautiful locations and talented crew. We loved the fact that our cattle ranch, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, was actually only a 20-minute drive from downtown. Most business owners are very nice and willing to open their doors inexpensively. I like that we can keep our location costs down. The San Antonio Film Commission also plays a big part in making it easy for people like us to make movies.

RR: What future projects do you have planned?

KN: We are developing three projects at this time; all three will be shot in the San Antonio area. One is about Lefty O’Neal, a baseball player who was once a white pitcher for the San Antonio Black Sox (a South Texas Negro League team), another is about Pistol Packin’ Paula, a performer at Enchanted Springs Ranch who rescued a stray dog that pretty much saved her life in return and the last is a sci-fi teen adventure film to be directed by Buddy Calvo. All three scripts were written by San Antonio’s best scriptwriter, Richard Dane Scott.

RR: Where are the places that you go to watch movies in town?

KN: I love The Santikos Palladium IMAX and Alamo Drafthouse!

RR: Other than your film, what other movie are you most excited about seeing screened at the film festival?

KN: We are excited to see all the projects of our fellow San Antonio filmmakers. We got to see “Sanitarium” at the Dallas Film Fest, and are looking forward to seeing it again. Kerry Valderrama (co-writer/director of “Sanitarium”) is a longtime friend and a fellow supporter of building a San Antonio film community. We also plan to see “Arose the Coward” by Buddy Calvo and “Symphony of Silence” by Cedric Smith.

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...