With the Oakland, California, landscape setting the backdrop, film director Yoram Savion brought a modern Pony Express to life in “Ride Out to Vote,” an equestrian video that aims to encourage voter turnout for today’s presidential election.
“This year has been such a challenge for everybody being quarantined with the shelter-in-place orders,” said Savion, 35, an Oakland native. “I wanted the video to make people feel nostalgic for the great outdoors and really feel comfortable going outside and voting because the point of the video is to get people to go vote.
“This is probably the most important election of my lifetime,” Savion added, “and I wanted to inspire the new generations that are just starting to vote or maybe older apathetic voters that have stopped believing that voting makes a difference.”
Over four days in early October, Savion collaborated with producer Kyla Searle, assistant director Anna-Sharé Blake, cinematographer Ben Tarquin, and equestrian Brianna Noble, who protested police brutality on horseback in May, to bring the film to life.
“I’ve been fascinated by Westerns growing up, and I really wanted to give it this old school vibe when you start the film of being out on a ranch and the horse,” said Savion, owner of production company YAK Films. “I wanted it to have this feel of something very familiar—like a movie language people are used to watching out here—but also bringing it to the now with the culture in Oakland and just showing this awesome landscape.”
Brainstorming for the project began with Elizabeth Rice and Nia Tahani, volunteers at Noble’s Mulatto Meadows business in Martinez, California. When Savion and Searle reached out to Noble to collaborate on a different project, the three began conceptualizing Ride Out to Vote.
“It’s an epic story, and we are interested in stories that really get at the epic contributions of people and the town where we live,” said Searle, 33. “I think this turns voting into an epic act, which it is. We have these ideas of these kind of singular heroes or singular leaders, and I think one of the things that was really appealing for me about this project is the relay element of the Pony Express. It really gives it a visual metaphor that suggests democracy and justice are something we’re building together. Narratively that really fit for me. So, there was the element of creative collaboration, the element of it’s a good story, the element of being interested in the epic narrative, and turning it on its head in terms of leadership and collective activism.”
As Searle pieced together the film’s narrative strategy and horse-friendly logistics, Noble provided ideas for locations, from Fort Funston Beach and De Fremery Park to the rural areas of Wildcat Canyon and San Francisco’s iconic homefronts.
“I definitely did a lot of sleeping on those sorts of locations that we chose to make it something that hits hard for us people that are from the Bay,” said Noble, 25.
“I want people to vote. That’s what this was all about,” she added. “Hopefully, we can inspire some people who maybe weren’t going to vote before to just think about getting out and vote. What a better way to catch people’s attention because all of us are honestly sick about hearing of this election. As much as it’s flooding our news feed, flooding the news and everything, it’s so easy to scroll. But I wanted to make a video that people didn’t want to scroll past even if they’re not interested in the election. So, we’re really hoping that because of that, it can make an impact.”
Featured in the film were Noble’s equestrian connections, including polo rider Dale Johnson, roper Brandyn Hartfield and para-equestrian Andie Sue Roth.
“It’s interesting because I learned a lot about different horse personalities,” Searle said of working with horses on set for the first time. “I learned that horses get tired really quickly. You could almost assume that horses traveled the entire United States in one go from the Western narrative. These horses got tired. We had a couple of tries to get these shots. They would gallop, and then they’d be exhausted, and they had to trade out some horses.
“I also learned that horses get scared, and they get nervous and need to be introduced to new things,” Searle added. “That was really sweet to see the riders working with their horses to make sure they were comfortable around water or sand and things like that.”
In the final leg of the film, Noble takes the ballot to the Alameda County Courthouse, the site of an actual ballot box. For Searle and Savion, it was important for the film to pay tribute to Noble’s contributions in activism.
“We wanted a place that evoked the memory of Brianna at the BLM protest, which we were all at too this summer, so it was the site where we were first connected,” said Searle. “We also wanted to be somewhere that was like, ‘OK, the ballots are being taken into the city.’ The riders are all over the Bay Area, but then we wanted the ballots to arrive at a place where the votes would be counted, and the message of the piece is, ‘Every vote counts.’ ”