Filmmaker to appear at Farmington library

Mike Easterling
Filmmaker Travis Hamilton's 2011 mockumentary 'More Than Frybread' could soon become a full-fledged television series, if the Flagstaff, Ariz., resident has his way.

FARMINGTON —While visiting dozens and dozens of Native communities and reservations across North America for screenings of his various movies, filmmaker Travis Hamilton has consumed his share of frybread, a dietary staple in many of those places.

And even though he loves the dish, somehow, he said, he’s managed to avoid becoming an expert on it.

“I have no idea,” he said, laughing, when asked what he thinks the secret is to making good frybread. “I love frybread. I have a frybread addiction. And some is definitely better than others, although it’s always pretty good. It’s funny how in certain parts of the country it tastes better than in others, but I’m not going to say where.”

Hamilton marvels over how small differences in quantity among just a handful of ingredients can produce those differences, but he’s the first admit his “frybread palate” is not terribly refined.

“I enjoy pretending I know what I’m doing,” he said, laughing again.

The Flagstaff, Ariz., resident may downplay his tasting prowess, but when it comes to the particulars of frybread culture, he’s quickly becoming an expert. Hamilton has already made one film dealing with the subject — the 2011 mockumentary “More Than Frybread” — and is currently at work on a pilot for a potential television series that picks up where that movie off.

Those unfamiliar with Hamilton’s work will have a chance to check it out for themselves when he makes a pair of appearances at the Farmington Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 22 and Friday, Oct. 23 for free screenings of his “More Than Frybread” and his 2015 sci-fi flick “Legends From the Sky.” A frybread contest will be held after the “More Than Frybread” showing on Friday.

Actor Edsel Pete, left, discusses the scene with director Travis Hamilton during the filming of 'Legends From the Sky.'

The TV pilot represents yet another shift in direction for Hamilton. The independent filmmaker already has five feature films to his credit, and each one resides in a different genre. That’s part of his long-term plan, which calls for making 12 films in various genres, at which point he believes his extended “apprenticeship” will be over, and he’ll be ready to make the film he’s always envisioned.

“Legends From the Sky” is his most recent product, and Hamilton believes it was a major step forward. Its budget of approximately $250,000 — which he said was financed almost entirely through credit cards — was more than the funding behind his first four films combined. And he believes that additional investment led to a noticeable improvement in the production values, making it his most polished project to date.

“‘Legends’ had over 100 visual effects,” he said. “I’d never had more than one or two on my previous films.”

Hamilton also went to the expense of bringing in someone to shoot “Legends,” a task he had taken on himself in his first four movies. He also hired a musician to score the entire film.

But one thing he still does himself is write the scripts. He feels that one of his strengths is being a writer, so he’s trying to let go of the things he’s not as accomplished at and concentrate on the things he does well.

Hamilton also believes nothing can take the place of a good story.

Filmmaker Travis Hamilton, left, poses with actor Leonard Tsosie III on the set of 'Legends From the Sky.'

“It still starts with the script, and that’s the heart of the film,” he said. “Rather than trying to stay up with the most current technology, that’s where I’m putting my effort in.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t consider projects by other writers.

“I’m definitely open to finding a great story or a great script,” he said. “But I’ve got a stack of projects in different stages of development. That door will open more and more, but we’re a family-oriented filmmaking company, and it can be difficult to find scripts where (off-color) language isn’t an issue.”

Hamilton prefers to work with a small group of people on a regular basis, rather than hiring a new staff for every film, and he makes a point of working with largely Native crews and casts.

“We definitely want to have that core team on the crew,” he said. “Making a film is a big enough battle itself. You want it so that everybody can focus that effort on the film instead of (getting used to) each other. I compare it to sports teams in terms of cohesion, and strengths and weaknesses. … On an independent film, you don’t have a hundred people as crew members, but the upside of that is, their work is not defined by union lines. Everybody can do a little bit of everything.”

Hamilton has learned to relish that kind of freedom, pointing out that if a line of dialog in one of his films doesn’t seem to be working, it’s a simple enough matter to convene a quick meeting with the actors and determine what wound sound better. On a Hollywood set, he said, that streamlined process would never happen.

Still, there are a lot of obvious advantages to being well funded. Chief among them might be the pace at which a project is filmed, Hamilton said. A typical Hollywood production manages to shoot two and a half pages of script a day, while Hamilton aims for 10.

The Seeker Coin from the film 'Legends From the Sky' is pictured.

But he’s working at a far more deliberate pace on his “Frybread” spinoff pilot. He’s already been at work on it for a couple of years and estimated he’s got two-thirds of it finished. The project is designed to fit in a half-hour TV slot, which means its actual run time is only 22 to 24 minutes. He hopes to have it finished by early 2016 and release it to viewers directly online by March or April.

Unlike “Legends,” most of which was shot on the Navajo Nation, Hamilton said this project is being shot on reservations or in Native communities all over the United States and Canada, so it will have less of a Four Corners flavor. But like the feature film on which it is based, it will be a comedy that reflects “the ups and downs of the frybread world,” as Hamilton described it.

In addition to filming the pilot, Hamilton finds himself engaged in doing the marketing for the project, which he hopes draws enough interest to be picked up as a full series. He is targeted the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Canada as a possible home for that potential series, and he plans on trying to seek distribution for it through Netflix, as well.

Security officers struggle to get control of a crowd in this scene from 'More Than Frybread.'

Provided Hamilton does manage to complete his 12-film “apprenticeship” and finally get to make his first “real film,” as he calls it, for lack of a better term, he isn’t likely to ditch his independent philosophy. He said he enjoys the challenge of doing more with less and the team approach that making a successful small-budget film requires.

“I’m happy if we stay where we are and make the same level of movies,” he said.

James Bilagody reacts in this scene from 'More Than Frybread.'

Hamilton acknowledged he occasionally gets frustrated about the limited budgets he works with, particularly when he ponders the magic of, say, having a helicopter available for four days to shoot some of those striking Southwest landscapes he has all around him in the Four Corners or to capture a particularly intricate action sequence.

But those moments are fleeting. Hamilton knows better than to think ample resources make all the difference.

“I’ve heard this from friends who have worked with people like Spielberg and other big names, and that is, throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve a problem,” he said. “Sometimes, that would make it very easy, yeah, but it’s not always the answer.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Screening of “Legends From the Sky”

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22

Where: Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave.

Admission: Free

What: Screening of “More Than Frybread” followed by second annual frybread competition

When: 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23

Where: Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave.

Admission: Free

For more information or to register for the frybread competition: Visit or call 505-599-1260