Behind the scenes at Dry Creek
The little show that could proves it can. Behind-the-scenes photo gallery below article.
By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
In Manhattan’s W Hotel, Les McDowell no doubt felt a sense of awe in gathering with some of the biggest names in the television industry. It wasn’t that he was in awe of the personalities; as an award-winning former Tampa Bay area country music radio host he was accustomed to working with big names. Rather, he must have thought about the path that led him there, to a television awards ceremony in New York City. His path didn’t include multi-million dollar production budgets backed by networks and actors that were household names. His path was more of a rutted dirt road, formed by the hooves of horses and wagon wheels. It was a path created by passion, dedication and sheer faith.
Les McDowell dreams. And then he makes those dreams come true. Shortly after signing off of the radio airwaves, he found himself with time, idle hands that yearned to be active, and a mind filled with dreams and ideas. On his 40-acre ranch near Parrish, he began building an 1880s town, which, on the surface, at least, was to be a backdrop for cowboy poetry that he broadcast via a YouTube channel. Beneath the surface, it is likely he was building a time machine, a place from another era when things seemed clearer than they do today. It was a place where problems are much like we have now but the solutions were apparently so much easier, so much more heartfelt.
And with that, the town of Dry Creek was born, and a calendar had been turned back by more than a century.
It wasn’t long before McDowell and a handful of friends and volunteers began thinking of Dry Creek in terms of a television show, with much the same value and family orientation as Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons. Armed with a $100 digital camcorder, they began filming episodes — sometimes they could complete two in a single week.
McDowell’s vision was to create a television show that parents could comfortably watch and enjoy with their children. That meant no cursing, no subtle sex scenes, no violence — simply a show from the heart with common-sense answers to the basic problems people have faced since the dawn of time; the answers that have somehow been lost in the avalanche of information and imagery from the Internet, iPhones and Xboxes.
Dry Creek soon found a home on the cable channel BlueHighways TV. And after the second season, McDowell found himself with a nomination in hand in New York’s W Hotel with people from Disney and other big networks. They had huge production budgets, while McDowell’s budget for Dry Creek was whatever his pocketbook could bear. The event was an awards ceremony, and Dry Creek, sometimes referred to by friends of McDowell as the “Little Show That Could,” picked up an Honorable Mention in the category of Best Family Friendly Series at the annual CableFAX awards. With that, people took notice of the guy from Parrish competing and being compared to those in the big leagues. This was now far more than a dream.
On a recent Saturday morning, the little town of Dry Creek was bustling with activity. It was straight out of the 1880s, with children and adults alike in period-correct clothing, and men on horses riding into town. Things have changed in town.
The $100 digital camcorder had long since been replaced, but now there was a high-end, professional camera mounted on a dolly. Just out of town, off the set, there were trailers for dressing rooms, a table for cast and crew meetings and for lunch or dinner, editing and lighting trucks, even a satellite truck. There were cameramen and a director, production assistants and actors with Screen Actors Guild cards in their pockets. Instead of filming a few episodes in a week, now an hour or three could be spent filming a mere moment of a single scene.
Things have changed in Dry Creek, and although the budget is still a struggle and a concern, the dozens of people on the set had turned out because they had heard of McDowell’s dreams and they, too, believed. They believed in him. They believed in making something happen on a television landscape that often seems overly populated with divisive reality shows. They believed in making something good happen.
“I recently sent out a letter to our Dry Creek family explaining where we were at on our journey,” McDowell said. “We started the trip with just a knapsack and a few folks climbing the mountain to where we dreamed that good family programming lives. With prayer, passion and hard work we got so far and started running out of oxygen. I yelled out for the cavalry, and they came.”
After many days of work and filming, the third season pilot, “The Doll,” was nearing completion. Networks have expressed interest, but in a fleeting industry nothing is ever certain until it actually airs. McDowell wants to stay with BlueHighways TV, but he also hopes to find perhaps a second television home, perhaps the Hallmark Channel, and perhaps to find connections with those who can help to build on the dream, financially and professionally. But that doesn’t necessarily require a network, it simply requires asking. People want to help. People often talk about the “good old days,” and McDowell is trying to bring them back, at least for 30 minutes to an hour each week. He wants to make a positive impact on a nation that increasingly seems to be struggling to find its moral center.
“We just wrapped filming of it [the pilot episode] and it brings tears to my eyes to have all these people come and and help us raise Dry Creek up into the air like an Amish barn raising,” he continued.
Back on that Saturday on the set, a horse-drawn wagon repeatedly rumbled through the small town of Dry Creek, running again and again to get this or that just right for the discerning eye of the director and the high definition camera. Between each pass, production crew members ran out to the town’s dirt road to shovel the dirt kicked up by the fast-moving wagon back to its normal state of footprints and the tracks of horse hooves. No detail was too small. Cast members waiting for their turn before the cameras mingle in costume as one actor rides up on a horse. With the exception of the cameras and the crew, along with an occasional truck seen just off the set, it might well have been the 1880s.
McDowell’s dream has come true. He built it on faith, and then help arrived when he needed it. More is needed, but that, too, is a matter of faith. Something good is happening in that little town, and everyone on the set seems to know it. They are all volunteers; they are all there because they believe.
“We are so thankful they came out to Dry Creek,” McDowell said. “Everybody knows where Dry Creek is, ’cause it’s inside each and every one of us.”
Dry Creek is broadcast in the Tampa Bay area on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. on BrightHouse Networks channel 195 or HD channel 1316.
Dry Creek may be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DryCreekTV.
Information about BlueHighways TV is available at www.bluehighwaystv.com.
Les McDowell can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to Dry Creek Productions LLC., P.O. Box 58, Parrish Fl. 34219.