Monday, March 21, 2011
ON-SET WITH WYATT EARP -- PART 1
PLEASE EXCUSE THE DELAY in this week's Round-up, but some personal business, of a very positive nature, has come up. If anything pans out, I'll let you know, and I'll have this week's Round-up up Monday night or Tuesday.
I think Henry’s Western Round-up has earned bragging rights for scooping all other media with the story of THE FIRST RIDE OF WYATT EARP. The Daily Variety, the first in mainstream media to announce the production, did so this past Thursday, March 17th. We announced it on February 27th – eighteen days earlier! There’s a lot of buzz over the casting of Val Kilmer as the fabled lawman. Kilmer has played real Wild West figures to great effect – his performance as the title character in BILLY THE KID (1989) established him as a leading man, and his portrayal of Doc Holliday in TOMBSTONE (1993) is the stuff of legend.
EARP is such a new production that tonight, Sunday, March 20th, is the last scheduled day of shooting. The screenplay by Darren Benjamin Shepherd is based on a true crime that Earp faced early in his career as Dodge City Marshall, the murder of actress Dora Hand. When Earp took off after suspected killer Spike Kenedy, he had a posse of young men that is incredible to contemplate: Bat Masterson, Charlie Bassett, Bill Tilghman and Doc Holliday. The film opens in San Francisco, 1907, where a 60ish Earp, played by Val Kilmer tells the story to a reporter.
(Photos: three lawmen confer, director Feiferabout to call 'Action', all action is covered by two cameras, make-up artist Katerina Ramirez, art director Christiam Ramirez, Peter Sherayko confers with exec. prods. Jeff Schenck and Barry Barnholtz, villain Daniel Booko gets the drop on me, wrangler Adeshir Radpour and a wooly horse brought from Nevada, Zack Smith attaches a camera to Kevin McNiven's stirrup, insert car tracks back on riders, insert car again - note boom camera and steadi-cam, Happy Trails)
Earp’s story takes us back to Dodge, 1878, and a younger Earp, portrayed by Shawn Roberts, recently seen in comedies like I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER (2009), and dark thrillers like EDGE OF DARKNESS (2010) with Mel Gibson. Levi Fiehler, recently starring in WOLF TOWN (2010) and PUPPETMASTER: AXIS OF EVIL (2010), plays lawman Bill Tilghman. Bat Masterson is Matt Dallas, who starred as the title character in the sci-fi series KYLE XY. Charlie Bassett is played by Scott Whyte of MIGHTY DUCKS #2&3. Wilson Bethel of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and GENERATION KILL is Doc Holliday. Daniel Booko, recently seen on MEDIUM and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, is the villain of the piece, Spike Kenedy. They’re a young and handsome bunch, and the filmmakers are no doubt hoping for the kind of lightning that struck with the casting of YOUNG GUNS (1988), which featured Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Lou Diamond Phillips and Dermot Melroney.
Also featured in the cast are country music star Trace Atkins, currently seen in THE LINCOLN LAWYER, who plays Spike’s cattle-baron father Miflin Kenedy, and AMERICAN IDOL finalist Diana DeGarmo in her first film role as Dora Hand.
On Wednesday, March 9th, I found my way on mountain dirt roads to Caravan West Ranch in Agua Dulce. The production assistant who picked me up steered around steers on the way to base camp. Peter Shereyko, whose Caravan West is supplying guns, saddles, horses, costumes and set dressing, did the same job on YELLOW ROCK(http://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2010/09/yellow-rock-part-2-on-monday.html) (CLICK HERE to read about it), so I was pleased but not surprised to see some familiar faces: art director Christian Ramirez, set dresser and propmaster Zack Smith, and wranglers Kevin McNiven and Ardeshir Radpour. Base camp was on the bottom of a canyon, and halfway up the sagebrush-covered hills that ringed it, I saw the crew working with four men on horseback. The crew was tiny – two cameramen, soundman, the woman with the slate, and director Michael Feifer, a tall man with a bullhorn, parka and backwards baseball cap. In rapid succession he directed several scenes of lawmen riding by in various directions and groupings, with and without dialogue. The action was always covered by two cameras, one shooting the master, the other picking up close-ups and two-shots, the actions repeated often without stopping the camera. Feifer directs with an efficient but unhurried decisiveness. He knows what we wants, gets it, moves on, cheerfully joking with cast and crew. He rarely has to check his notes to see what’s needed. Never standing on ceremony, he grabs the script and an apple-box and is on his way to the next setup. I assume he owns a director’s chair, but on two days in two locations, I never saw him use one, or even sit down, except when they called lunch. It was during lunch that I got to talk to him.
Henry: I understand you’ve directed 21 films now?
Michael Feifer: This is the twenty-third.
H: You’ve done a lot of stuff with animals and serial killers. Is this your first Western?
M: Yes, my first Western. Well, I’ve done two contemporary Westerns. I did SODA SPRINGS (2011), in Idaho, that’s a contemporary Western. And a Hallmark-type Western called VALENTINE’S DAY. I don’t know if they call it a Western, but a girl goes to New York, then goes back to Texas, and they’re riding horses.
H: Is a Western something you’ve wanted to do for a long time?
M: I just like to make all sorts of movies, all sorts of genres, and I’m a big fan of any genre, whether it be Western or whatever -- (laughs), but I’m not like Peter Sherayko! But I like a lot of Westerns.
H: What are your favorite Westerns?
M: HIGH NOON (1952) – probably HIGH NOON and MAGNIFICENT 7 (1960) are my favorites. I never liked STAGECOACH, never understood the fascination with it. Because STAGECOACH was made in 1939, the same year that GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ were made, and I don’t think you can put STAGECOACH up against those movies.
H: Where did this particular project come from?
M: Well, my executive producers names are Jeff Schenck and Barry Barnholtzs, and the writer is Darren Shephard. Barry had sold some Westerns that did okay. Westerns are a tough sell, but if you do them correctly, they can do well). The thing about Westerns is they’re an evergreen type of product. You make a good, watchable one, it’ll play for years. They’re not trendy, like serial killer or horror movies. A Western has a life to it.
H: Why are Westerns a tough sell?
M: Because they don’t sell in foreign markets. Westerns are such an American phenomenon that foreign territories aren’t interested. So nobody wants to put the money up to make them. If people bought them, they’d be made.
H: How did you go about casting?
M: One of the first thoughts was to get Val Kilmer to star in it, and that worked out -- we shot Val Kilmer in San Francisco, at the Fairmount Hotel, set in 1907. And then, casting (the rest) was a matter of auditioning. And we have a great group of actors – I’m very excited. These guys are very experienced actors. There’s a misnomer about how movies are made, mostly lower budget movies. When you direct a film, they like to blame you for the edit, the final product. I’m not always in control of the final product, because it’s a producer’s medium. An executive producer chooses an actor, and I haven’t seen some of the actors in the movie. It’s their money, it’s their product. So sometimes that happens.
H: How did you like working with Val Kilmer?
M: Amazing, a great guy – very nice. Actually, it was funny; I talked to him on the phone briefly. I didn’t meet him in person until he was on-set, dressed as Wyatt Earp. He had the mustache on, and you really can’t recognize him as Val Kilmer with the mustache. And he didn’t take it off until we wrapped him. And the moment he takes the mustache off, okay, it’s Val Kilmer. It’s almost like he’s an impostor all the way through, until he takes that mustache off. He was kind, compassionate, helpful. He was very into it, very excited by it. I’ve even heard from him since then, saying how much he enjoyed doing it.
H: What should I have asked you that I haven’t asked yet?
M: How much I love my wife.
H: How much do you love your wife?
M: I love her more than anything.
H: What else should I know?
M: I have a degree in architecture. University of Colorado, Boulder. I was a graphic designer. I started producing movies after I graduated from architecture school, with my father, who was also a film producer. I consider him a film producer – not a film-maker. He made WITCHCRAFT, parts one through thirteen. I produced WITCHCRAFT parts 5,6,7,8 and 9. I ran his video label. Went all over the world -- Cannes, Mifed. I didn’t want to start directing films until I had a full grasp of everything to do with production. My relationship with Barry Barnholtz started when I used to see Barry around Mifed and AFM (American Film Market). There was an opportunity to make some movies for him, I started making these movies about serial killers, true crime movies. Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, BTK -- movies like that. And the relationship’s just grown. Jeff Schenck, my other executive producer, came in with him, and the first movie we did was called THE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL, with Tom Arnold, Nicole Eggert.
H: How many set-ups do you usually do in a day?
M: I try to do fifty to a hundred in a day. But you can’t really count set-ups any more, with digital cameras. When you were there just now, we shot a shot, I had the camera rolling, and I moved the camera while the camera was rolling, and did another setup. So how do you count setups? I had three guys go through, one goes through, another goes through – is that three setups or one setup?
H: What kind of video system are you using?
M: We’re shooting on the brand new Panasonic 8GAF 100 cameras. The big thing now with video is DSLR cameras; they’re basically single-lens reflex cameras that shoot hi-def, so your old Nikon camera can suddenly shoot hi-def. We have a PL mount, which allows Panavision lenses, Zeiss lenses to go on it, so it’s a better setup for shooting movies. These cameras – the SLRs, the AF 100s – the reason why people love ‘em, is they’ve got one single big chip, and that one big chip allows for a shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field is shallow focus, and that’s more cinematic.
The end of lunch was called, and as Michael went back to work, I met a small blond woman with bit of a German accent, whose name is Katerina Ramirez. “I am key hair and make-up artist. I have not done a Western before – this is my first. We’re trying to recreate the period look of the late Victorian era, so we’re trying to do the mustaches and the period hair – especially for the women.” The day wasn’t cold, but the wind was strong. I asked her if it was a problem. “It’s kind of tough, but you get used to it. As long as you keep yourself warm, and keep your sunscreen on, Chapstick and everything.”
Katerina’s husband, Christian Ramirez, is the art director, which he also was on YELLOW ROCK. “This one involves a lot more travelling. There’s a lot more chase type stuff, chasing after a wanted man. Not a whole lot of really big sets. We’re going to be shooting at Paramount Ranch. We’re going to be dressing the saloon, a sheriff’s office, we’re going to be doing a dance-hall where the actresses perform. We’re going to be doing an Indian burial ground, and an Indian reservation, only we’re only doing one teepee, and it’s going to be a brief scene. It always feels good to do another Western – I’m a big fan of Westerns, I know a lot of people are, and there’s not enough being made these days. Did you see the new TRUE GRIT?
H: I loved it. I loved the original, too.
C: What I really liked, which surprised me, was most (period) movies today, they speak in modern language. And in TRUE GRIT they used more of the Victorian tongue, which I thought was really neat. And also it was kind of dirty and gruff – he takes the dead body, and, “I just want the teeth – you can have the rest!” They found value in everything, you know? Nothing was wasted. With the WYATT EARP script, I love the fact that they actually deal with time, with the traveling aspect of the west -- that horses overheat, you’ve got to feed them, that you can only travel so far in a day. With a lot of Westerns, they’re in a town, and a cut later they’re in another town, and a cut later they’re at the campfire. Like they’re taking helicopters. And this movie deals with the travel-times, which I thought was an interesting twist. It’s a super-tight schedule. Ten days total of shooting. We’re doing ten to twelve pages of script per day. Normally you do three, four, maybe five. We’re doubling it, so it’s gonna be tough.
When I sat down with Western consultant and stunt coordinator Peter Sherayko, I complimented him on the look of the production in general, and the pretty, shaggy horses.
PETER: Well, it’s wintertime, and they have their winter coats on. Probably another month, when I start brushing down the horses, I’ll have enough hair to fill a mattress. Which is what they used to do. I purposely brought the same horses we used on YELLOW ROCK. It’s still being edited – and they have to do a couple of pick-up shots, so I can do a little pick-up shot while we’re all here.
H: Any different challenges on this project?
P: We’re doing the same thing – costumes, props, set dressing, horses, guns, getting everything together.
H: In addition to wrangling, Kevin McNiven seems to have a substantial role in the picture.
P: No one can outride Kevin – Kevin’s poetry on horseback. I believe he’s going to be a deputy who gets killed this week, but he’s going to be doing a lot of riding. Kevin and Adeshir, who’s my other wrangler -- Adeshir’s a professional polo player – they will be doubling the actors. So in the long shots, when you see these guys really riding, it’ll be Kevin and Adeshir. I get killed in this one too, unlike TOMBSTONE.
H: This story is based on historical fact. Are there major challenges doing that versus a fictional story.
P: It doesn’t matter– I like seeing it correct. So I did have a lot of notes for the director because of little (bits of ) misinformation in the script. That’s why I’m doing my new book, to help writers out, to help directors, actors, so that they get it right. THE FRINGE OF HOLLYWOOD – THE ART OF MAKING A WESTERN. That’s my new book, which will be out this summer. There was one line in the script, when Dora Hand is killed, and they’re investigating the next day, and find 30-30 shells outside the window. Well, 30-30 shells weren’t invented in 1878 – they weren’t invented until 1894. The other one that stands out, Wyatt Earp is looking at the hoof marks on the ground, and says, “Looks like a heavy horse – probably a Palomino.” And I had to bring up that ‘palomino’ is the color of a horse, not a kind of a horse. All these little things that I love to go through in a script and correct. Fictional or real – this of course is the killing of Dora Hand, which in Hollywood the phrase is ‘based on a true story,’ which means that they’ve got somebody’s real name in there. There’s a girl named Chris Esenss who’s written a lot of good historical books on the west. Her most recent one was THE MANY LOVES OF BUFFALO BILL, where I wrote the forward, and she has another book coming out this year, called THUNDER OVER THE PLAINS, which is exactly this story, but not the same treatment. This script has all the facts in there, but it takes a little poetic license, which is fine with me. What I try to do is put the right guns in it, the right saddles and good horses, the right costumes as much as we can. On March 24th I’m going to the Palm Springs WestFest, signing books, but I’ll also be talking at two seminars about western movies and the real west. And after that I go to Old Tucson for their Western Festival, April 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I’m bringing a display down with guns, saddles, and sunbelts that we used in TOMBSTONE.
H: Are they ever going to rebuild their soundstage? (It was destroyed in an arson fire years ago. For details, read OLD TUCSON GAINS MUCH-NEEDED STARDUST HERE
P: That’s one of the things that a friend of mine has been trying to do, to make it a real movie studio like it used to be. He wants me to come in and design everything, so it’s movie-friendly.
I spoke for a few minutes to executive producer Jeff Schenck, whose previous films include AMERICAN BANDITS: FRANK AND JESSE JAMES. He thinks THE FIRST RIDE is a particularly good project for Val Kilmer. “I think audiences remember him from TOMBSTONE, he gave such a brilliant performance, really an iconic performance, and I think they’re going to be excited to see Val Kilmer playing another iconic character again, like Wyatt Earp.” He also believes the film will have particular appeal to a younger audience. “Unlike some other Westerns that are somewhat unrelatable, with Wyatt Earp, you’ve got this character that everyone knows, yet we’re going back to a time when no one really knew of him, where you’ve got Wyatt, Charlie, Bill and Bat in a young, hip way – and I think it makes the genre relatable to a new generation. As opposed to an older Western, where it’s the audience that you expect to have, we hope to bring in that CW audience, and graduate them into a fun Western genre.”
In two weeks I’ll have part two of my on-set report on THE FIRST RIDE OF WYATT EARP, about my visit to the Paramount Ranch location.
FIRST ANNUAL LOS ANGELES SPAGHETTI WESTERN FESTIVAL
Next week I’ll have a report on the event, where I happened to learn that the week before WYATT EARP arrived at Paramount Ranch, a western pilot was shot there, starring Bruce Boxleitner and Robert Davi.
PALM SPRINGS ‘WESTFEST’ MARCH 24TH-27TH
There’s going to be so much going on at the Palm Springs Convention Center from Thursday through Sunday that I hardly know where to begin. There will be a PRCA Rodeo every day – including bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding; the Twangfest musical festival; Western Design Expo; a rodeo parade; barbecue; chili cook-off; a carnival; a Gene Autry Film Fest; talks by Bob Boze Bell of True West Magazine, Golden Boot Award creator Rob Word, Western movie consultant Peter Sherayko, author Julie Ream and John Wayne co-star Eddie Faulkner remembering the Duke…. So much more than I can’t begin to fit it all in here – and aside from the rodeo, admission to everything is just five bucks a day! Also, although they officially say Westfest starts on March 24th, their event schedule starts on March 20th. CLICK HERE to go to the official site and learn more!
PAPERBACK COLLECTOR SHOW AND SALE SUNDAY, MARCH 27th
If you’re a reader of Westerns as well as a watcher, here is an event you should not miss! From 9:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. you can search the wares of dozens of book dealers from around the country. They run from the very rare and pricey to the battered and cheap. Serious paperback collectors go for unopened books in perfect condition, but I go for what are disparagingly called ‘reader copies,’ and have found dozens of obscure Luke Shorts and Zane Greys for a dollar or two each. Also, more than 45 authors will be signing their books, and unlike other autograph shows, THERE IS NO CHARGE! Most of the authors are sci-fi and mystery types – for a complete list and schedule, click HERE. The event is at the Valley Inn and Conference Center, 10621 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, CA 91345. For more information, call Tom Lesser at 818-349-3844 or Black Ace Books at 232-661-5052.
BREAKING INTO WESTERN PRINT (BOTH ‘E’ AND PAPER) MARCH 27TH
If you’ve ever wanted to write a western novel or story – of if you’ve written it, but don’t know how to get it published (my hand is raised), make plans to go to Out West, at 24265 Main Street in Newhall on Sunday, March 27th at 2:00 p.m. Author C. Courtney Joyner, the very talented and prolific screenwriter and western film historian, will discuss breaking into the western print market, agents, editors, networking, the changes at Leisure Books, ‘E’ publishing, university presses, contests, and publishers across the pond. Mr. Joyner knows whereof he speaks: in addition to a long string of screen credits, both as writer and director, he wrote the fascinating interview-book THE WESTERNERS (see my review HERE), and his excellent tale, The Two-bit Kill, is featured in the new western story collection, LAW OF THE GUN. The event is free. For reservations call 661-255-7087.
THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.
WELLS FARGO HISTORY MUSEUM
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.
FREE WESTERNS ON YOUR COMPUTER AT HULU
A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.
The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.
TV LAND - BONANZA and GUNSMOKE
Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.
NEED YOUR BLACK & WHITE TV FIX?
Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.
That’s all for now!
All contents copyright March 2011 by Parke – All Rights Reserved