Daniel Bielinski, the director of the University of Mary's theater department, spent the past year visiting with ranchers to learn about the western culture of North Dakota.
He also spent time soul-searching in the North Dakota Badlands, where he drew inspiration for an upcoming film set in the rugged terrain.
The Wisconsin native, who came to North Dakota in 2015 by way of New York City, wrote a script and shot the film in the fall — all with the help of some locals.
The period Western is set in 1895 in the Badlands. The film is about a frontierswoman, Maggie, who's caught in a love triangle between a local rancher, William, and her old flame, Jacob, who is a cowboy. A band of outlaws descends on the ranch and she has to fight for the man she truly loves.
The film was shot over a period of five days at the Logging Camp Ranch, which is located about 45 minutes south of Medora. Bielinski said the Logging Camp Ranch, owned by John and Jennifer Hanson, who sponsored the film, was the perfect location for the movie, not only for its rugged buttes, but also its ponderosa pines.
"We were able to get a variety of looks for different scenes just all on the same property," Bielinski said.
The money raised for the movie came from North Dakotans, said Bielinski, who spent about six months getting donations and securing the location.
The film was sponsored by the University of Mary, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, in addition to donations from people and local businesses, who supported the project financially and by providing contributions, such as guns, horses, food, transportation and lodging.
"I think a lot of people were excited for the idea of a North Dakota Western film," Bielinski said. "People in Western North Dakota are so connected with the land."
This is Bielinski third film set in North Dakota; the first was a thriller called "The Good Father," set in Bismarck, and the second was a romantic comedy, "You Beautiful Crazy Blind Cripple," shot in New Salem. In each film, Bielinski has enlisted help from University of Mary students and faculty members. In addition, professionals from Los Angeles, New York City and Minneapolis were part of the film crew.
Gracie Burns, a University of Mary graduate student studying education, was a production assistant for the film. She had never been on a movie set before the film.
"It was really cool working with all these professionals who do this for a living," Burns said. "It's a great opportunity for students."
Screenings of Bielinski's latest film, "The Badlands Girl," will be held later this month and next month in Bismarck and Belfield.
Bielinski said he enjoys shooting in North Dakota, partly because not many films have been shot in the state. This summer, he hopes to expand "The Badlands Girl" film and shoot a feature-length film in the Badlands based on the story.
"My philosophy has always been, 'Use what you have,'" Bielinski said.