America on Wheels: The Model T
Dan T. Hall, director
By Madelyn Ritrosky
Photo left: Dan T. Hall poses on location for his upcoming film Ghost Stories 3.
“You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Henry Ford’s famous words referred to his revolutionary automobile, the Model T. In Dan T. Hall’s new documentary, America on Wheels: The Model T, one enthusiast tells us “this car single-handedly took the United States from horse power to machine power.”
The Model T was produced from 1908 to 1927, accounting for half of the cars in the U.S. by 1918. More than 15 million rolled off the assembly line though the assembly line wasn’t perfected until 1913. All Model Ts were built with the same basic design. It was a car that most anybody could afford, ranging from $360 to $950 at different times for different variations.
Today there are plenty of Model Ts still around, still running, and still enjoyed by their 21st century owners. Last year, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this pioneer, the largest gathering of Model Ts in decades took place in Hagerstown and Richmond, Indiana.
And Indianapolis filmmaker Dan T. Hall was there to record this historic event. As the film’s narrator declares, this horseless carriage is now “the epitome of American nostalgia.” It’s also something else that it never could really be in its heyday “a symbol of individuality.”
Hall, who was the director/producer/editor, mixes vintage footage with coverage of the anniversary gathering and parade. We see lots of Models Ts in different colors some of which were rebuilt in the 1920s for racing. These speedsters or dirt cars are proudly displayed alongside various touring cars, including a U.S. mail conversion and other enclosed “truck” models.
I always enjoy vintage footage of bygone eras and it’s no different here. The newsreel announcer’s voice-over commentary was, of course, created by the filmmaker. In the silent era of the motion picture industry more or less coinciding with the Model T’s reign newsreel announcers did not yet exist. But it’s an effective documentary technique, providing an early 20th century feel.
Model T owners drove great distances in their open autos to attend the 2008 event. One man described his experience driving 2500 miles from California to Indiana. That was smooth, paved, open highway. These cars’ original owners had no such thing. Roads in the 1910s were barely passable, but the Model T was designed for those conditions. As the narrator proclaims, this car is all about “capturing the spirit of the open road.”
Dan Hall has been making feature films for about nine years. His first was the family adventure Old No. 587: The Great Train Robbery (2000). Other family adventures include The Lil’ River Rats and the Adventure of the Lost Treasure (2003) and EZ Money (2005). He has two feature documentaries in his credits as well both of which are ‘ghost stories’ that explore the supernatural. They are Ghost Stories: Walking with the Dead (2007) and Ghost Stories 2: Unmasking the Dead (2008).
How did he come to make a half-hour documentary on Model Ts? Hall explained, “I was filming the second Ghost Stories at the Wayne County History Museum, and Jim Harlan, the curator, mentioned that the Model T anniversary party was coming to Richmond.”
But in addition, the subject matter the Model Ts interested Hall: “I have an interest in vintage cars and good stories. I thought this event would be a good place to find both.”
As a filmmaker, he contributes to the social and cultural environment in which we make sense of ourselves and our world. “My goal in this life is to make a positive difference wherever I can. I hope that in some small way my work reflects that.”
As for Hall’s current projects, he said, “I just finished a music video featuring Jon McLaughlin that was shot live at the Indiana State Fair. Currently I am promoting a PBS special, Ghost Stories: Faces of Darkness, to air at the end of October. I am also premiering the next episode of Ghost Stories at the Indianapolis IMAX on October 23, 2009, with limited theatrical release to follow.
If that’s not busy enough, he said he will also be producing a local telethon in December. As for just down the road, he recently returned from Los Angeles, where he pitched three feature film scripts. He hopes to be in preproduction on one of them this next year.