Chuck and Tonto
During our recent filming for the new series, Home Strange Home, we learned the story behind iconic Southfork Mansion in Parker, Texas. Forty years ago, it was once a peaceful, rural quarter horse ranch named Duncan Acres. When the television series, Dallas began shooting exteriors around the mansion in 1978, this tranquil compound vanished almost overnight.
“After the second TV season, the horses went out the back door, and the tourists came in the front door,” Kelly Duncan says, one of three sons in the family.
We decided Chuck Nice, our host, would appear on camera riding a horse. In darkness, two AMS vans are loaded with cameras, equipment and a crew of six. We meet Chuck and Senior Producer Kim Clemons at Southfork, about 25 minutes from AMS.
Inside the main gate of Southfork, the crew set up a camera on a long pole. We wanted the camera at Chuck’s eye level, while he sits on the horse and delivers his lines. That means the camera is about 7 feet off the ground. We have a full day of shooting inside the mansion later. My thought was to get the exterior shots early, before the Texas heat becomes unbearable for humans and equine.
Everything is ready, except the horse is 15 minutes late.
I call the horse owner’s cell phone. There’s a problem! The horse refused to get into the trailer. So, in a panic, the owner’s daughter is riding the horse to the ranch. How long will that take? “By car, seven minutes, by horse, about an hour,” the horse owner says.
We must wait. Moving our cameras for a different shot will take too long. So we wait and wait. Finally, across the pasture, we spot a young woman on a horse. Think full gallop but in slow motion, horse and rider in perfect rhythm. A majestic soundtrack plays in my head as I watch the two get closer and closer. Maybe there is a chance we can stay on schedule.
The paint horse, named Tonto, arrives on the set agitated and frisky. Whoaaaaaa! WHOOAAAA! Chuck gets on the horse, as we give Tonto water and ice chips. More whoaaaaaas! Chuck pulls back on the reins. The horse keeps moving, fast! Chuck pulls hard! No response. We have only 15 minutes to get our horse shots. One attempt, two attempts, three attempts. Chuck can’t get Tonto to slow down and walk in front of the pole camera as Chuck says his lines. Audio Engineer Ryan Sprinkle can hear the horse breathing hard through Chuck’s wireless microphone. Heavy horse breathing. We can’t fix that in post.
Then, Chuck realizes his own breathing and his own touch could be contributing to Tonto’s excitement. So Chuck calms himself, lightens his touch, and lowers his voice. “Walk, walk,” Chuck slowly commands. Suddenly, Chuck has transformed into the horse whisperer!
Within a minute, Tonto walks and obeys. Chuck speaks the lines: “I’ve saddled up my horse for a trip to the second most famous white house in America. I’m in Parker, Texas, ya’ll, down on the ranch. Do you recognize this strange home?”
What a relief! I’m watching Chuck and Tonto, professionals working together, as if they were on a real horse ranch instead of a film set, kind of like Duncan Acres 40 years ago.
Tune in this fall to HGTV to find out more about this strange home, and WHY the Duncan family homestead was chosen for the television series.