Thursday, February 1, 2018

Lethbridge filmmaker wins funding for Kootenai Brown short film "Western Steele"

  • Project features Kootenai Brown Village locations
Press release - There's a new sheriff in town, and on local screens, thanks to a Lethbridge filmmaker and the funding he received from Telus in a recent province-wide competition. Local radio broadcaster Ryan Mennie created, wrote, directed and stars in the pilot episode of "Western Steele," one of 15 Alberta projects each awarded $10,000 to bring their ideas to life on the screen. Mennie is the only recipient of funding in the Lethbridge region in the latest Telus Storyhive web series competition.

An experienced stage actor who has also starred in several short films and who started his big screen career as a background extra in Alberta-filmed "Legends Of The Fall," Mennie leapt at the chance to create his own world on screen after learning of the competition. "As a young adult, I had created original programming for local TV stations in Lethbridge and Drumheller, as well as cities on Vancouver Island, but until now had never been able to focus on becoming a filmmaker. The Telus Storyhive initiative helped me channel what I think is an exciting and locally relevant story idea into a high quality finished product, thanks not only to financial support but industry mentorship as well."

Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village Education Coordinator /  historical advisor Gord Tolton with Western Steele star Ryan Mennie

A history buff and former board member of the Fort Whoop-Up Historical Society, Mennie decided to focus his series on the Canadian wild west adventures of John George "Kootenai" Brown. Mennie says "I'm a big fan of the HBO series Deadwood, a show that featured the stories of real people in
America's Wild West. I challenged myself to find the Canadian equivalent of those epic, dramatic stories and characters and found that in the life of 'Kootenai' Brown." Mennie was familiar with the name of the local legend, but not of his adventures. It was during discussions with Gord Tolton, local historian and author of "Healy's West," about the builder of the original Fort Whoop-Up, and "The Cowboy Cavalry: The Story Of The Rocky Mountain Rangers," including tales involving "Kootenai" Brown that Mennie realized he found the wild local stories needed for his series.

After securing Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek and Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook, BC as the main shooting locations for his series about the former lawman and miner, Mennie 'struck gold' after connecting with members of the Lethbridge Independent Film Society. Mennie relates, "My biggest struggle entering the world of film-making was finding experienced and enthusiastic collaborators, and I found the majority of my team in the society. In fact, I'm proud to say the entire cast and crew, with the exception of one actor from Calgary, are all locals."

With months of writing, shooting, and editing behind him, Mennie is proud to finally showcase the "Western Steele" team's hard work. The pilot episode debuts online and on Telus Optik On Demand Monday, February 5th. There's also a free local premiere that same night at 7pm on the big screen at Victory Church in Lethbridge. Mennie promises a blooper reel and Q&A session about the making of the short film to follow. The "Western Steele" team is also now battling the other 14 Alberta projects for the final prize of an additional $50,000 in funding to complete their series. Voting takes place February 5th to 9th. More details can be found online at and at

Ryan Mennie - Voting for my project (and/or others) will go live at Monday, February 5th until Friday, February 9th.  15 Alberta projects (including Western Steele) and 15 BC projects will be competing for another $50,000 in funding to complete their proposed series (one winner in each province).  

The idea came to me while attending a one day Telus Storyhive event 10 months ago here in Lethbridge. It was an introduction to what Storyhive does to encourage and enable local filmmakers. I started working on very early versions of the script, hoping there would be a funding opportunity through Storyhive later in the year that would fit what I was writing, and sure enough... they announced their web series competition just a few months later!

This is my first foray into the world of filmmaking as a writer and director at a funded level. As a young adult I created original programming for local TV stations in Drumheller, AB and Nanaimo and Campbell River, BC. I've also starred in several short films. As a 19 year old I wound up on the WW1 battlefield as both a Canadian and German soldier in different scenes of the Brad Pitt/Anthony Hopkins movie Legends Of The Fall when it filmed just outside of Calgary, Alberta in the summer of 1993.

The biggest challenge for this project was rounding out a team with experienced filmmakers to bring a level of quality to the project that I was aiming for. I was very fortunate to have discovered the Lethbridge Independent Film Society and several of their members ended up as part of the crew. The second biggest challenge was the elements! We faced winds of 100 km/h the first week of filming in the Waterton and Pincher Creek region of Alberta. The second week it snowed 40 centimeters the night before the cast and crew had to drive through the mountains of the Crowsnest Pass to film at Fort Steele. We survived the weather that was thrown at us, and it really added to what you see on screen!

Along with my passion of bringing a piece of epic and exciting Western Canadian history to the screen, I'm incredibly grateful to have found shooting locations that brought a big budget feel to the show, and in return have been able to increase the profile of those attractions and the non-profit organizations that run them. Fort Steele is a major part of the first episode and I couldn't have done it without the behind the scenes support of their staff and the Friends Of Fort Steele Society. The same can be said about Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek, AB. Both attractions were not only substantial to bringing Western Steele to the screen, they're also favourite destinations for myself and my family!

Again, all of the Alberta and BC web series pilots that were successfully funded $10,000 each (30 in total out of about 280 submissions) will be viewable at the week of February 5th. They'll also be shown as free programming to subscribers of Telus Optik TV On Demand. Western Steele big screen premieres for one showing only are this Sunday, February 4th at the Plaza Theatre Calgary, and Monday, February 5th at Victory Church in Lethbridge and The Garneau Theatre Edmonton.

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