BARABOO — The phone rings.
A man on the other end says in a low voice: "We have to move it."
The intense moments that follow drive the thriller "Into the Wake," revealing a deep-rooted and violent feud between two families.
And a secret buried long ago comes to the surface.
The green, wooded bluffs of Sauk County are where director John Mossman found an integral character for his first feature film, which won a Golden Badger Award for Wisconsin Filmmaking at the Wisconsin Film Festival last weekend.
Mossman will bring "Into the Wake" to Baraboo June 29 through July 1, showing his work in the Al. Ringling Theater, where he appeared as a young actor in the 1970s.
The experience, Mossman said, will be a bucket-list moment.
"This is going to be a big deal for me, personally," he said. "Being able to step into (the theater) with some of my own work is hard to describe."
From high upon Ferry Bluff to the rapid waters of the Wisconsin River, the showdown between the feuding families plays out. To create a realistic sense for "Into the Wake," Mossman headed back to the place he grew up to capture a landscape that plays a big role in the film.
"I really kind of got my filmmaking start as a kid up in the bluffs," he said in a phone interview from Chicago, where he teaches at Columbia College and is appearing in a play at Steppenwolf Theatre.
During his time in Los Angeles pursuing an acting career, Mossman found himself intrigued by the desert landscape he was catching on film. When he returned to his hometown of Baraboo, he had a different perspective on where he had lived.
"Suddenly, I looked at the films that could be made here," he said. "And the most startling thing about the landscape in Baraboo is how green everything is."
Unlike the desert, the lush Wisconsin landscape reclaims what has been left there over time, he said. And in the film, the landscape pulls one man back to where things went wrong in his life.
Outdoor scenes difficult
Each morning when Tim Miller awoke, he put on the same soggy shoes to start filming for the day. Playing the lead character, Kyle, Miller bolted into the river, running for his life, as boats circled. Then he did the scene again and again.
Miller knew that filming outdoor scenes for the movie he helped write with Mossman would be challenging.
"I started training, not in the sense like some action hero, but I was trying not to get killed," he said.
In the film, Kyle gets a phone call and is suddenly pulled from his life in Chicago back into a murder he witnessed as a child. He leaves behind his girlfriend (played by Kristin Anderson) to meet up with Angus (played by John Gray), who called for help moving the body.
Kyle heads to the hills surrounding the Wisconsin River to resolve an old blood feud and to atone for the sins of his family. Once he returns to the area where he grew up, Kyle is captured and placed in a barn by the rival family.
He’s asked for the location of the body so an aging grandpa can be at peace. But the rest of the family is more interested in revenge.
While Kyle and Angus are not directly responsible for the murder, they carry the guilt.
Along the Wisconsin River where the final scene would be shot, John and his brother Mike Mossman, who works for the Department of Natural Resources, scouted all of the locations for the project, which was filmed near the end of summer in 2010. The film uses local actors, including students from UW-Baraboo/Sauk County.
When he’s not hanging over a cliff to get a shot, Mossman teaches directing to young filmmakers at Columbia College in Chicago. He also finds time to continue acting in at least one play a year and directing one for his own theater company.
There are a few new projects Mossman and Miller are working on. But they are leaving the dark action thriller genre behind for now. They are focusing on a Coen brothers-type comedy.
"Just the right amount of stupid. It’s a fishing revenge movie," Mossman said with a laugh. "Two losers try to work their way up the northern Wisconsin food chain with a stolen fish."