Prairie Love, and an interview with Holly Ellis

Before you, all around you, stretches a tundra that makes you feel as small as the faint hope for warmth inside your thoughts. You are mocked by the endless glaze of white, and the ever-present wind that whispers and howls "give up" in turns. Warmth is more precious than money. Warmth is more precious than food. Warmth is more precious than fuel. Warmth, in whatever its form. Is this a hellish dream? No. This is North Dakota.

Dusty Bias's Sundance darling Prairie Love is a weird little stolen-identity adventure about the lengths a guy goes to to find warmth, which in this film, takes the form of a woman simply called The Girl. Unbeknownst to The Girl, on the day she is to be released from prison, a Vagrant shows up in place of the man she's expecting -- her penpal of several years, whom she has come to love dearly, in her own odd way. The tale is a love letter from Tom Ripley to Fargo: strangely sweet with a surprise that's no surprise at the end.

For the inside scoop on this indie gem, I went to the film's source of warmth, the fabulous Holly Ellis, who plays The Girl in the film. Enjoy.

ML: How'd you prepare for the role of the The Girl? Did you study and/or mock anyone in particular?

HL: I grew up in North Dakota, so the accent came quite naturally. Dusty Bias (the writer/director) and I spent a lot of time before we started filming, talking about her attitude and outlook. We wanted her to be determinedly optimistic: someone who's faced true hardships and setbacks, but who represses those memories in order to find the light. Perhaps this is the one way in which I looked around me at my fellow Midwesterners - there's something quintessentially Midwestern about dismissing bad thoughts and staying positive. Beyond that, we wanted The Girl to be completely original. I think she brings the love to the film (pun intended) - partially because she's the only woman in the film, possibly because she is the literal love interest to the two men, but I think most especially because she's so willing to fall in love with someone she's never met. Even when she has doubts about him, she ignores those thoughts and presses forward. It's encouraging to me that she's the lone survivor of this film.

ML: What kind of impression do you think people have about North Dakota?

HL: I think North Dakotans are generally paranoid about the impression outsiders have of our state. It doesn't help that with the possible exception of New Jersey or Mississippi, we're the most likely of all the States to be the butt of jokes. Since I've lived outside of the state for over 15 years, I can say that the most common impression outsiders have of North Dakota is that it's cold and sparsely populated. Both are true - though the summers are lovely and population is now growing as a result of the recent oil boom. What North Dakotan's fear people think of them is that they're stupid and have ridiculous accents. Movies like Fargo haven't helped North Dakotan's feel better about this, though you'd be hard pressed to find a NoDak who's actually seen Fargo. We had a hard time deflecting questions like "you're not going to make another one of those Fargo movies, are you?" the whole time we were shooting in ND and trying to drum up local support.

ML: How'd you feel when the film hit Sundance? Anything fun happen as a result of it? Rub elbows with Brad Pitt?

HL: Sundance was an incredible experience. None of us could get over that we actually got in. It's paved the way for us to continue making films, though we still have to work plenty hard. I think one of the coolest things that happened was when the Festival's Director of Programming got up at our premier and told the audience (including James Franco in the front row) that ours was his favourite film in the festival. My heart still leaps when I think of that moment.

ML: What was the most memorable thing about making the film?

HL: The cold. Dear god, the cold. We shot in what was then the coldest winter since 1937, or something like that. Temperatures were consistently around -15 degrees, before wind chill. There are no hills, in ND, no trees, no big buildings to slow the wind. So every day, for the very, very brief periods of daylight (about 9am-3:30pm) we stood outside and got our asses kicked. Cars broke down, 1-ton trucks drove into ditches, and grip stands snapped in two. When people ask what cold like that feels like, the best explanation I give is that at some point you no longer feel cold, you only feel anger.

It's a good thing we always hear that audiences can feel the cold when they watch the film, because that makes all the suffering worth it.

ML: If your character had her own movie, what do you think it'd be about?

HL: Oh man, I don't know! Maybe about her adventures with that crazy old lady The Girl kept talking about, the one who always told the best stories. Maybe The Girl would pick up that lady when she got out of prison, and they'd hit the road, Thelma and Louise style.

ML: What else are you working on now for 2014?

HL: I'm currently looking for funding for a feature-length documentary about Magic: The Gathering. It's a follow-up to a documentary short I made called Friday Night Magic.

Dusty and I are also talking about a script he wrote a couple years before Prairie Love. We're very excited to work together again!

Stay hooked to Prairie Love's Facebook page for more on upcoming stuff from Dusty (and Holly)! Want to write to The Girl herself? She loves mail. hollylynnellis at

Check out the trailer for Friday Night Magic below:

My thanks again to Holly!

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