Alton Walpole on filmmaking
The Pinto movie theater in the small New Mexican town of Mountainair was Alton Walpole’s second home in the 1950s. There, he would sit in the projection booth with projectionist Larry Lopez and peer through the small window to watch the movies on the screen. He still recalls the terror of watching the 1958 cult horror film The Blob, which includes a sequence in which the creature seeps into a cinema, sending the teens inside running and screaming for their lives. “That scared me to death,” Walpole said. Those good old days at the local movie house came to an end one day in the early 1960s when a snowstorm hit the town hard, demolishing the Pinto. “The roof caved in from the rain and snow and turned the theater into a drive-in,” Walpole said with a laugh. “And that was the end of my days hanging out at the Pinto.” But Walpole’s love affair with movies didn’t end there. A decade or so later, he found himself working as part of a construction crew on the spaghetti Western My Name Is Nobody. That job, in the spring of 1973, kicked off a 35-year-plus career for Walpole in films working as a grip, prop man, set carpenter, editor, camera assistant, line producer, and unit production manager. Not surprisingly, he named his own production company Mountainair Films. Since then, his credits — in different roles — include Godfrey Reggio’s avant-garde Koyaanisqatsi (1982), the cult comedy The Tao of Steve (2000), Crazy Heart (2009) — which won star Jeff Bridges an Oscar for his portrayal of an aging, alcoholic country-western singer — and last year’s acclaimed Netflix miniseries Godless. Pasatiempo: What was the film business in New Mexico like in the early 1970s when you started out?
Alton Walpole: A film would come in, and there would be two of us who would come in for work. I was a grip then. The other guy was an electrician — he’d go in and interview and I’d go in and interview. There was no labor [union] in New Mexico then. You could go in and say, “I can do this,” and get a job as a grip. A grip is a physical job where you just have to think on your feet and learn terminology. Then I did some editorial work ... and it just happened from there. Pasa: Your first movie job was on My Name Is Nobody.
Walpole: That’s when it really started. I moved to Santa Fe, and the first job I had here was refinishing all the table and chairs at the Inn of the Governors. I met a construction guy, Claude White, who gave me a job building sets for My Name Is Nobody in the
The Pinto theater in Walpole’s hometown of Mountainair, courtesy Walpole