Steven Lewis Simpson

The story behind making Kent Nerburn's novel Neither Wolf Nor Dog into a movie & Indiegogo campaign

Four years ago I was screening my Pine Ridge movie Rez Bomb around the reservation and surrounding area. At one of the screenings Kent Nerburn introduced himself to me and gave me a copy of his novel Neither Wolf Nor Dog and mentioned it would make a good movie.

I’m not the biggest reader and it took me a while to read it but when I did I could see what he meant. But more than that. There was an aspect of his character (based on himself) that articulated the incredible experience it is being an outside who is privileged to be taken in and embarrassed by communities in Indian Country. Not in some phony “searching for a ceremony” way or cultural tourism but something truly open and authentic. So I related somewhat through this book to a kindred spirit.

So we opened a dialogue and two and a half years ago I boarded the project to produce and direct Kent’s adaptation. It’s been an interesting journey and things got exciting when a year or so ago we had an educational fund in Indian Country tell us they had approved funding the film as they saw the great value in the story as an educational tool.

From there we started pulling the elements together. Lead actors were sought and legal work done. Sadly due to changing circumstances the fund couldn’t go through with their commitment and we found ourselves with elements in place getting ready to shoot with no money.

One of the reasons Kent approached me is not just because of my years of experience filming in Indian Country but because I had a habit of getting things made regardless and could do the film justice even if shot with a low budget. Crucial in our setting up the film was finding the perfect Dan. I traveled around the US and Canada looking for the right person and found one that has the potential to be more than perfect. No names will be mentioned here as don’t want to jinx anything as he is very old but if we can get him on screen we have the chance of creating something extraordinary. If we wait too long he may no longer be around. Dan is such a unique character that there may be no one else perfect to play it which would render it pointless to make the movie. Without a perfect Dan it would do the novel and its fans a major disservice.

The novel itself has been out 18 years or so and has been very popular and makes an extraordinary impact on the readers. The reaction within Indian Country to it is amazing. I people coming up to me saying it’s the “best book about Indian Country ever written by a white guy”. Throughout this time Kent has had attention from Hollywood about doing a movie version of it and some have come closer than others but all have struggled to get over the final hump. The key for us here though is for it to be as authentic as possible. There are no Hollywood additions, just a true, natural and moving narrative. The movie has been a dream for him and we’re so close we can taste it but still far enough that it may all come to naught.

Films in Indian Country have a hard time getting an audience and so that’s why we’re coming to you for support through our Indiegogo campaign. Through crowd funding we can prove there is an audience out there. If we can get over the hump with this then we can keep moving. Anyway please pass on the word as that is essential.

The story has impacted so many people as a novel that it is still one of the top selling contemporary stories set in Indian Country 18 years on. The movie has a chance of being that rare breakout film set in Indian Country. The more such films that are successful the easier it is for other films to get made in Indian Country.


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