Last Monday, Facebook fans of the film Buhl, Idaho were pinged with the news that director Jaffe Zinn's first feature film was being retitled as the innocuous-sounding Magic Valley. A negligible renaming, perhaps, but the story behind the switch is surprising. Although principal photography wrapped only two months ago, and post-production is set to continue for the next few, a rough cut of the film was shown to French distribution company Rezo Films, who made the unfinished feature their only purchase at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
"We were at Sundance with a different film and Heather [Rae, producer] showed Buhl to them and they loved it and bought it," says co-producer Laura Mehlhaff. "Which is crazy awesome because it’s not even done being edited yet."
But Rezo's representative feared the bulbous pronunciation of the original title would become a marketing burden.
"Part of the problem was that “Buhl, Idaho” meant nothing to him and he didn’t know how to say it," says Mehlhaff. "It came down to them saying 'Oh, we love the movie but we definitely want a different title.'"
"No one knows how to pronounce Buhl," says Zinn, who grew up in the titular town. "[Rezo] sells to Japan, Germany, France, everyone. So that's kind of what they were going off of."
Although the accessibility of the Magic Valley moniker makes marketing sense, Zinn feels that the title might mislead some viewers, something he's not entirely opposed to.
"What I liked about the title Buhl, Idaho is exactly what the distribution company didn’t like about it, which is that you have no idea what it’s going to be about," he said. "At the same time, my hope for a name like Magic Valley is that when people see the movie, when they hear the name it takes on its own mood. To a large degree what’s going to make the title work is the images that accompany it, the movie poster. With a title like Magic Valley and a picture of Kyle Gallner and maybe a girl on the cover makes you feel like it’s going to be a romantic comedy. If on the poster you have a pond full of dead fish, the name Magic Valley takes on a whole different feeling. That sort of juxtaposition is what we’re going to have to give it."
After Boise Weekly pointed out the supernatural similarity in titles between Magic Valley and Unicorns, an upcoming Rae-produced film again starring Gallner, Zinn took it as a challenge.
"I or someone else should write a third film to complete the Kyle Gallner mythical trilogy," he said. "I never really thought of that."
Despite the Facebook announcement and an updated IMDB page, Mehlhaff was wary of calling the change final.
"Titles change all the time," she said. "To be honest, there’s a chance that this title could change again... It’s as official as it can be, but we’re not making posters yet."
Apparently Rezo, who also distributed Rae's film Frozen River, didn't get that memo.