Earlier this year, we caught wind of a new film in production along the banks of some hallowed Montana waters. Upon further investigation, we found out the upcoming film was entitled “Mending the Line“. Directed by Joshua Caldwell, written by Stephen Camelio, and starring Sinqua Walls, Brian Cox, and Perry Mattfeld the film follows a wounded Marine veteran (Walls) as he deals with his emotional and physical trauma, eventually finding mentorship and healing through fly fishing.
Naturally, our interest was piqued, and we reached out to the film’s director to learn more about the project, healing on the water, and his own connection to fly fishing and finding peace. He introduced us to the writer of the film, Stephen Camelio, and we decided a behind-the-scenes interview was a must. Check out our interview with the pair, below!
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Josh. Where are you from? How did fly fishing become part of your life?
Joshua: I was born and raised in Bellevue, WA, just outside Seattle. I fished here and there. Spin fishing and deep-sea fishing and went up to Alaska for salmon but I never fly fished. I was a suburban kid through and through. It wasn’t until I moved to New York about five years ago that I started fly fishing. My parents gifted me a two-day Orvis fly fishing class at Sandanona and that was that. I got a rod outfit, waders, boots and started attempting to catch fish and had no idea what I was doing. But I started following people on Instagram and ended up befriending Landon Brasseur. He introduced me to euro nymphing and that changed everything for me. I started actually catching fish, and my interest and passion just grew from there.
Flylords: How did this project come to be?
Joshua: The origin of this film was all Stephen Camelio, our screenwriter and producer, so I thought it best to let him share.
Stephen: My father was in the Army and fought in Vietnam. And though he survived the war, in 2004 he was diagnosed with cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure during his time in the war. Around that time, my wife and I had moved from New York City to Montana and we were living and working in Yellowstone National Park I was writing about fly fishing for various publications. When he passed in 2013, the meditative nature of fly fishing really helped me deal with my grief and I had the idea to write a story that combined the destructive elements of war with the healing aspects of nature. It wasn’t until later that I found out about organizations like Warriors & Quiet Waters and others that were actually doing this in real life – using fly fishing to heal.
After working on the script for several years, on and off, I sent it to producer Kelly McKendry who I knew from Villanova. Being an Army brat, she immediately connected with the story, and, with a grant for the Montana Film Office, it just snowballed. We brought on other producers, brought on Joshua to direct and it took off. The next thing I knew, I was on set watching Brian Cox say the words that I wrote.
Flylords: Joshua, how did you find this script/story? What drew you to it?
Joshua: It was totally random. Kelly was reaching out to people who had produced films shot in Montana – seeking advice and information on the process. She connected with my manager who had produced a film set in Montana but as he informed her, wasn’t actually shot in Montana. But like any good manager, he asked what the film was about. She told him the story, and he asked if they already had a director. They didn’t, so he sent me the script. I pitched Kelly, Stephen, and Scott MacLeod (another producer), and I guess they liked what I had to say. Stephen was dubious when he was told that I fly fished but one look at my Instagram (@joshuacaldwelldirector) changed his mind. The only pictures I have on there are of fish!
Obviously, as someone who fly fishes, I was drawn to that aspect of the film. In addition to that, I had been researching PTSD and the military for years for various projects, but none of that research had yet found a home until this project came along. The marriage of those two subject matters was really compelling. But at the end of the day, it comes down to the script. Stephen wrote a beautiful story and I really, really wanted to direct it. It’s an incredible story of resilience and overcoming trauma and finding something to live for, woven together through complex characters and relationships.
Flylords: It goes without saying that trauma and healing are the main themes of this film. Is this a personal story of healing you were communicating?
Stephen: Yes, this is a very personal story for everyone involved. The sheer act of writing was an exercise in healing as it helped me process my father’s death and understand my mother’s pain as well as the courage she has shown to carry on since his passing. Almost everyone associated with this film had a similar story. Some served in the military themselves or know someone dealing with the effects of going to war. Others lost loved ones and are still dealing with the trauma. Then there were those who, like the main characters of the story, dealt with their trauma through fly fishing, which started the healing process and allowed them to find peace. We hope by telling this story it will also be an inspiration for those still dealing with PTS or any type of trauma to start their healing journey. Whether they do it with a fly rod in their hand or not, that’s up to them.
Joshua: I haven’t experienced trauma, but as Stephen mentioned, the film is still very personal to me. When I started working on it, my real connection was to fly fishing. As someone who spends his days “living in his head” fly fishing is an incredible exercise and allows me a rest from the act of creating. Fly fishing requires that you focus on the present moment. The act of wading and having water pushing against your stance, the cast, the drift, the take, playing the fish, it’s all really hard to do if you’re not existing in the present moment. All that I understood and was excited to bring to the screen. But what really made this personal for me was the veterans and active-duty military I met along the way. Stephen and I were fortunate to spend a day fishing with veterans as part of a Warriors & Quiet Waters fishing experience and we met some really great people who sat with us and told us their stories: stories of resilience, of overcoming trauma, of finding something to live for. So for me, it was about making sure we told their stories with respect – that this movie was for them. And I really felt like it was my job as a director to make a film that lived up to their experience and did it in an accurate and authentic way.
Flylords: Now onto the fun fishing questions. Clearly, a fly angler has had a heavy hand in the writing, how did you all maintain authenticity throughout the script and filming?
Joshua: Well, it certainly starts at the top. Stephen and I are both fly fishermen and it was incredibly important to both of us that we get that aspect of the story correct. It was always a question of how much is too much, you know? How specific do we want to get with the fly tying, with the casting instruction? You want to make sure you accurately convey the information necessary to understand what’s going on or why what you’re watching is important or has meaning, but at the same time, this isn’t an instructional video. You have to entertain the audience and keep them engaged. Stephen and I did a lot of work on the script after I came on board to make sure everything in there was correct and had the right balance. But it all started with Stephen and he did a great job weaving it into the story but ultimately you can only cover so much via the written word. Then we had to bring it to life.
Fortunately, we had some incredible partners on the film. Far Bank (Sage, Rio) gave us Sage X 5wts, Spectrum reels, and Rio fly lines; Simms provided waders, boots, packs, and clothing; Tom Morgan Rodsmiths built us two bamboo 5wt hero rods for Ike; Ro lent us drift boat. It goes on and on and the support we received from the fly-fishing community was so important.
Flylords: Did any of the cast have prior experience fly fishing?
Joshua: The only cast member who had ever held a fly rod was Perry Mattfeld who played Lucy in the film. A year prior to us casting her in the film she had spent time at a lodge in Montana used for veterans and she spent a day or two fly fishing. But other than that, we had to start from scratch.
Flylords: What was it like working with the cast on the water? How much prep work and practice did it take for them to get their fishing skills camera ready?
Joshua: I wasn’t worried about the quality of the performances from the actors. When you hire people like Brian, Sinqua, Perry, Patricia, and Wes, you know they’re going to bring it performance-wise, and they did. But I also knew we were not going to be able to use casting doubles nor did we want to deal with the hassle of a CGI fly line – they were going to need to learn to cast. As a fly fisherman, I knew that was going to be a challenge. A movie like this doesn’t allow for six months of casting prep with these actors – we were going to only have a few days. Fortunately, they all recognized the importance of getting the casting right and were really excited about the lessons.
And none of that would have been possible without the help of Simon Gawesworth from Far Bank. For those who don’t know, Simon is the Far Bank Education & Engagement Manager but that title doesn’t do justice to his contribution to the sport. Simon has both cast and fished for England in British, European, and World Championships and was elected Captain of the England team for the 2003 World Fly Fishing Championship. He is A.P.G.A.I. and S.T.A.N.I.C. certified in the U.K. and C.I., Master and T.H.C.I. certified in the U.S. through Fly Fishers International. In 2019 Simon was the recipient of the Lifetime Teaching Award by Fly Fishers International. And he is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on spey casting and has taught and demonstrated it around the world. Thanks to our partnership with Far Bank, Simon was able to serve as our Fly Fishing Technical Advisor on the film, and he was responsible for giving our talent casting lessons.
In pre-production, Simon worked directly with Brian on casting the Tom Morgan bamboo rod, which as you can imagine, is very different than casting graphite. And then once we started up in Montana, he worked with Sinqua, Perry, and Wes on their casting as well. Up until we shot the fishing scenes, you could find any of the cast members by their trailers working on their cast in between set ups. Brian really took to casting. I’m not sure how he felt about fishing, but he loved the rhythm of casting a fly rod and really seemed to enjoy it. And Perry ended up falling in love with the sport and often went fishing on her own on her days off. One of my favorite memories from my time in Montana was the day Simon, Perry, and I went and fished up in Yellowstone Park for the day and were treated to some of Simon’s famous streamside gin & tonics.
Flylords: For the fly shop scenes, what fly shop did you shoot in? Or, did you have to mock one up in a studio?
Joshua: Finding the fly shop was one of the more challenging locations because you’re basically asking a business to close down for a couple of days right in the middle of fishing season in Montana. Through our partnership with Sage, we were connected to Matson Rogers at Angler’s West Fly Shop in Paradise Valley who very kindly allowed us to impact his business for a couple of days while we shot the film.
That said, we ended up running out of time at the fly shop location before we could finish filming all of the stock room scenes. As a result, our Production Designer Freddy Waff built the stock room in space at our hospital location and did a wonderful job creating a seamless match.
Flylords: We noticed two familiar names in the credits around the fly fishing piece of the film. What was it like working with Simon Gawesworth and Gilbert Rowley on the project?
Joshua: I’ve acknowledged the contribution Simon made above but there were so many different ways people helped bring this film to life and I definitely have to acknowledge both Gilbert Rowley (@gilbertrowley) and Ryan Kelly (@greenriverflyfisher). The truth is, fishing is hard enough without being under the stress of a movie production schedule. Capturing fish rising and trout sipping flies takes a lot of time, waiting for the right moment, and we didn’t have that. So we had to turn elsewhere for the nature footage of the trout in the water. I had seen a number of videos on Ryan’s Instagram feed and I thought some of them would easily cut into the film, so I reached out to him cold and asked if he’d be interested in licensing some of the clips for us to use in the film. He’s a really nice guy and agreed to help us out. He also reached out to Gilbert at Capture Adventure Media because I knew of him from the Modern Nymphing series he did with Devin Olsen and Lance Egan and I figured he might have some footage of trout as well. Well, turns out Ryan and Gilbert both know each other and both agreed to help and were really generous considering our very small budget. But when I watched a cut without the fish footage and then saw it with those clips cut in there was just no comparison, we needed it. And both those guys came through for us in a big way.