Beau and Stefanie Leland made a connection before they ever met. Stefanie was an extra in a feature-length film Beau co-directed and edited: Rainbow Around the Sun, a rock opera set to the music of Oklahoma City artist Matthew Alden Brown.
Beau was in line for concessions at OKC’s annual deadCENTER Film Festival in 2007 when Stefanie marched over and introduced herself, then chatted him up about film school.
They exchanged a few Myspace messages and then, a few months later, Stefanie called and asked him to go camping in Red Rock Canyon with her.
“I don’t know why I asked him,” she said.
Beau answered for her: “It may have been a drunk dial.”
Still, he “went out on a limb” and agreed to go camping with an “almost stranger.”
“It was horrifying,” Beau said.
It was November, and it was freezing. “We were in the tent for 13 hours, trying to stay warm,” Stefanie said. “I think we were terrified of being in that close of quarters for so long.”
Two years later, though, they were married—in the same spot where they spent 13 uncomfortable hours together. They married on April 25, 2009, with Oklahoma almanacs promising rain—it had rained on that date every year for the past several. But a friend told them if they stabbed the ground with a knife, the clouds would part, and they wouldn’t get wet.
So they plunged a kitchen knife into the dirt behind the cabin where they were sleeping, and the clouds circled their campsite like a halo.
“Everywhere around us, it was thundering and lightning and raining, but it didn’t rain on us,” Beau said. “The next day, before we left, I pulled the knife out of the ground and put it back in the kitchen, and it started to rain on us as we pulled away.”
The couple still camps at Red Rock Canyon every fall, and they still pierce the ground before they go to sleep. And they’ve never been rained on.
Stefanie earned her film degree—at Oklahoma City Community College, where Beau attended and where he recommended she go—and has worked in the industry ever since, often with her husband. Together, they own a production company, Jar of Grasshoppers Productions, which produces mostly documentaries.
“Stefanie is always the helmer. She kind of takes charge,” Beau said. She produces, directs, and conducts most of the interviews. Beau runs camera and edits.
“We work really well together,” he said. “We bring different things to the table.”
“We’re good at listening to each other’s ideas and collaborating,” Stefanie said.
So far, they’ve made four films together—Food for Thought, a short documentary about people trying to avoid the global food system; Ferrell, a spin-off documentary about one man’s attempt at sustainable living; Bokoshe: In the Air We Breathe, a Sierra Club-commissioned project about a small town in Oklahoma affected by toxic fly ash; and Where Did the Horny Toad Go?, the pair’s latest project.
Where Did the Horny Toad Go? is a feature-length doc about the history, biology, and seeming disappearance of the horned lizard, or horny toad. Inspired by Stefanie’s rural, western Oklahoma upbringing, it uses animation, original music, and quirky stories, as well as interviews with scientists and experts, to tell the horny toad’s story.
It’s showing at the deadCENTER film festival this year, bringing the couple back, once again, to where it all started.