Survivalist Helps ‘Captain Fantastic’ Cast Learn to Live Off the Grid

Much of “Captain Fantastic” takes place in the woods, with characters who live sustainably without running water or electricity. Authenticity was key, so director Matt Ross put in a call to survival instructor Jason Knight.

The setup: Ben (Viggo Mortensen) lives in the forest in the Pacific Northwest with his six children. But his way of life is tested after a family tragedy.

Practice what you preach: Knight, co-founder of Alderleaf Wilderness College in Monroe, Wash., worked with Ross during pre-production of the film (which bows July 8) to flesh out a curriculum for training the cast, then flew them out to participate in a densely packed tutorial. “We had to make sure all the needed survival skills were covered,” says Knight, who lives a mostly self-sufficient, wilderness-based life with his family on the Alderleaf campus.

Survival syllabus: Included in the two-day crash course were lessons on building a natural shelter, primitive water-purification methods, wildlife tracking, and making and using stone tools.

Best in class: Actors George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell took the entire course. Mortensen made it for an evening. “George did great with the fire-making section,” Knight says. “Charlie surprised us with the amount of notes he took during the wild edible and medicinal plants section.” Adds Ross: “Both Annalise and Samantha particularly excelled at their butchering class.”

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