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'Really special': After short film success, group fundraises to shoot feature film in Magic City

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Posted at 6:18 PM, Feb 10, 2024

BILLINGS — Billings isn't known for being a film destination but one group is trying to change that. Several Magic City residents had a hand in the making of 'Wild Animal', a short film shot entirely in Billings in 2020.

It's a taste of the feature film they're currently fundraising for, one with with an important message regarding mental health. It's something that the star of the film, Billings native Ireland Moran, holds dear to her heart.

Moran may not be a trained actress, but she's trained in another art. She started MMA fighting when she was just 13.

“I had my first fight just two months into training, so I just hopped right into it. I had a huge love for the sport,” Moran said on Wednesday.

It's this passion that opened the door for her to be chosen as the lead actress in 'Wild Animal'. Moran plays a reckless MMA fighter who uses equine therapy to get back into the ring.

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Ireland Moran, Dr. Bob Bakko, and Rochelle Smith

"It was really special. Not a lot of people know about equine therapy and not a lot of people can related to MMA,” said Moran.

Los Angeles resident, Joe Marconi, used his own experiences to write and direct the story.

“The hope is that when we see that the two can coincide, the two realities can be true at the same time, then more people will feel empowered, enable, and willing to say maybe I do need a little help and it’s not the end of the world,” said Marconi over Zoom.

There's a reason why he chose Billings of all places in Montana.

“It was a little bit grittier and more industrial. That kind of attracted me to it and also gave, it lended itself to the character of the story," Marconi said.

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Joe Marconi

There are also other Montana connections. Rochelle Smith and Dr. Bob Bakko are with Ebenezer Equine in Billings and helped consult on the short film. They're hoping the feature film will educate others on the modality of equine therapy and its benefits.

“The evidence shows that it’s client centered so the outcome is much sooner generally speaking than catch therapy,” said Bakko.

“I love that, hey, there’s something else you can do. There’s something else you can try. You don’t have to talk to somebody, you get to be with them instead,” Smith added.

Marconi and his crew received $45,000 from the Montana Film Commission through their Big Sky Film Grant but they need your help. They're fundraising through Indiegogo, hoping to raise an additional $75,000.

"Everybody who has been a part of this project has been working on it for years, for free, because they love it," Marconi said.

One way or another, they're going to make it happen.

“If we have to film it on an iPhone, we’ll do that too ‘cuz we’re pretty much committed to the process, and what it’s going to bring to people,” said Moran.