Monday, September 5, 2011
GANG OF ROSES RETURNS!
Many of us watch TMZ (even if we don’t admit it) but few know what the letters stand for, and even fewer know what they actually mean. TMZ is an acronym for Thirty Mile Zone, as measured from the intersection of West Beverly Boulevard and North La Cienga Boulevard – right where the immense Beverly Center shopping mall now sits. It was chosen as dead center of the film industry, because it was once the location of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (now they’re in Beverly Hills), and the movie production unions base their daily rates on whether a filming location is within or beyond those thirty miles.
This mostly affects movies and TV shows shot at movie ranches, which is why, no matter how rural they seem, they are nearly all located within thirty miles of the center of L.A. This includes the Paramount Ranch in Agoura (to read about the history of the Paramount Ranch go HERE ), and close as it is to the city, you know you are in the country as soon as you step out of you car. In the dirt of the parking area I spotted not only the tracks of shorn horses’ hooves, but the split hooves of deer, and the tiny human-like handprints of raccoons.
It was Wednesday, August 24th, and I was there to watch the filming of GANG OF ROSES: THE NEXT GENERATION, the sequel to the very popular GANG OF ROSES (2003), a western which featured a cast of female hip-hop stars in the leads, including Li’l Kim, Macy Gray, and Bobby Brown on the male side (see the trailer HERE).
(L to R, Teyana Taylor, Claudia Jordan, Rocsi Diaz)
When I arrived onset, they were shooting an interior/exterior -- a scene shot in a set, but with the windows and doors wide open, to let in the light and atmosphere of the western street just outside. With the temperature at over 100 degrees, and electric fans forbidden because of the noise they make, any possible air circulation was desirable – and so were the women in the scene: Claudia Jordan (model on THE PRICE IS RIGHT and DEAL OR NO DEAL), Teyana Taylor (rapper and actress) and Rocsi Diaz (host of BET’s 106 & Park). They were filming a scene crucial to virtually all westerns, war, crime or caper movies, the ‘set-up’, where one character lays out for the others the heist or military operation at the core of the story.
Writer/Director Jean-Claude La Marre had the actresses try different readings of their lines while cinematographer Morgan Schmidt coordinated the two Red cameras that were recording the scene, one stationary, one on dolly-tracks moving across the cramped room, picking out close-ups.
(Director Jean-Claude La Marre watches dailies between scenes)
When the crew needed a few minutes to relight, Jean-Claude strolled over to the saloon set to chat. The saloon would be their next interior, and the set was ‘dressed’ to look busy. We sat at a poker table set up with liquor, glasses and hands of poker all dealt out. I don’t know if Jean-Claude is a magician or a gambler – in this business it helps to be both – but he has their mannerisms. As we spoke, he lifted a stack of chips, split them in half, and repeatedly shuffled them the way you shuffle cards, as we spoke. A very busy guy, Jean-Claude has forty acting credits, sixteen writing credits and eighteen directing credits, several of them for the PASTOR JONES films, a series of faith-based romantic comedies.
HENRY: I understand this is your third western, following GANG OF ROSES and BROTHERS IN ARMS. Why are westerns a specialty? What keeps bringing you back to the genre?
JEAN-CLAUDE: (chuckles) I seem to write them pretty fast. It’ll take me several months to write a romantic comedy, and it probably takes me a week and a half to write the westerns. I started them, thinking BAD GIRLS, with Drew Barrymore, was kind of a cool movie, and we could do sort of an urban version of it, as a revisionist approach to the old genre. I decided to approach the studios and see what they said, and they were interested in doing it, so we made it, and it became a huge, huge urban classic. The first GANG OF ROSES has an immense African-American and Latino following. So we thought that it was appropriate to do a follow-up, a sequel.
H: Speaking of sequels, I know BROTHERS IN ARMS was released in Germany as GANG OF ROSES II. Is that, really, or is this GANG OF ROSES II?
JEAN-CLAUDE: No, this is GANG OF ROSES II, it’s an all-female western, as the title implies. H: I saw the first one; it was a fun picture. JEAN-CLAUDE: It’s fun – it was my first western ever, so I wasn’t thinking as much about story as much as, hey, it’s a fun piece. It was very experimental on my part. This one is a little more true to the Western genre, in terms of the way we pace it, the way we develop the characters. The classic pitting of villain against hero is better played out in this one than in its predecessor.
(Candise plays a saloon girl)
H: Have your characters from the original GANG OF ROSES come back?
JEAN-CLAUDE: No, this is the next generation of girls, although the first film’s characters are referenced.
H: In BROTHERS IN ARMS you directed David Carradine. What was he like to work with?
JEAN-CLAUDE: David was amazing. It was his last American movie before he died, before he went to the Far East to do a picture, but he was an amazing talent, a legend: if you’ve worked with David Carradine, you’ve worked with one of the greats. He was so full of life at his age, and very very funny as I remember.
H: What other favorite actors have you worked with?
JEAN-CLAUDE: Obviously Denzel Washington is one of my favorites, I costarred with him in a picture (MALCOLM X). And Laurence Fishburne, I costarred with him in a picture. As far as directing, Whitney Houston was a great person to direct -- she did a picture with me called NORA’S HAIR SALON II, she was great in that, and a good person. Kellita Smith is a really good person to work with on this picture, she’s immense.
H: You’re a young guy, so I wonder, did you grow up watching Westerns?
JEAN-CLAUDE: Well sure, the classic Sergio Leones, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; Clint Eastwood was a favorite. But I went even further back. The Gary Cooper films like HIGH NOON. And the more trendy stuff like DESPERADO, and as I told you, even BAD GIRLS was an interesting picture. Jim Jarmusch had a great picture with Johnny Depp (DEAD MAN). Obviously the classics are what come to mind. I’ve always loved the genre, and you’re not going to establish yourself as a filmmaker unless you’ve tackled the genre. It’s really, really hard to get, and I’m still trying to get it exactly, the right recipe.
H: With the ‘disappointing’ box office of COWBOYS & ALIENS, and the cancellation of THE LONE RANGER there’s been a lot of talk that Westerns are in trouble. Do you think they are?
JEAN-CLAUDE: Westerns will never be in trouble, because the themes are classic. And they’re simple. It’s the good guy, the bad guy, and the good guy prevails. That’s a classic story, and the western tells it in a very simplistic form. 3:10 TO YUMA, that was a hit, and that was a couple of years ago. The Western isn’t in trouble, it’s when you look at a movie like COWBOYS & ALIENS, and your only selling point is Daniel Craig with some laser thing on his arm, who are you selling that to? Techies? You’re not selling it to western fans just because he has a cowboy hat on. I think it was just marketed wrong. And as far as Johnny Depp and THE LONE RANGER, the reason they canned the picture was because Disney asked them not to go over $200 million. He felt like he needed to make the LONE RANGER for $250 million. I don’t know what he was looking to do: buy mountains? It seems like you could make a western for $200 million. I always make these movies with very very small budgets, and I’m really looking forward to making them with…
H: $200 million?
JEAN-CLAUDE: No... Give me fifty grand, I’ll make it. (laughs) It’ll be a dramatic improvement over where I am now!
(Peter Sherayko and his omnipresent cigar)
Just then a production assistant came over to tell Jean Claude they were ready for him. Peter Sherayko, who supplies the art direction, props, costumes, saddles and guns, in addition to playing the bartender, commented, “I can tell you why COWBOYS & ALIENS failed, in my humble opinion. Look at the suppliers of the westerns, look at the way it looked. You had Daniel Craig, and you had Harrison Ford. They looked the same, they dressed the same: they had their collars open three or four buttons, they had their sleeves rolled up. Harrison Ford is a great actor and a wonderful Indiana Jones. And if you look at him in the Indiana Jones films, everything fits (with the period). You look at him in this western – he had a brand new cowboy hat on. Everything was brand new – these guys weren’t dirty, no sweat at all. You look at the saddles – they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on that movie, and yet they still had modern saddles on it. It’s the suppliers. They don’t pay attention to the artwork. One of my friends told me, ‘We’re in the business of art, but 90% of the people working in it are blue-collar workers, and they do the same job no matter what kind of film they’re doing. Your lighting guy, your gaffer, pulling cable – he can do a porno movie, a western or a World War II movie, he’s still going to pull the cable the same way. You have to separate it from the art -- the 10% of the people who are working on the art have got to do it right. The director is the artist, and everybody else is the paint-brush and the paint and the pallet. If you’re supplying him with cheap paint, it’s not going to come out right, it’s going to chip and fall apart. They hire a lot of people who know nothing about the west, and they don’t care. A producer said to me, ‘Who knows the difference? Maybe one percent of the people?’ Yes, 1% of the people know: we have 300 million people in this country, and 1% is three million people. It costs $12 now to go to the movies, times three million people is $36 million. And COWBOYS & ALIENS made $36 million in the first week. And those people said, ‘You know what? This is not what it’s supposed to be: a western.’ And they did not go back, and they did not spread the word-of-mouth to make it a hit. We have an obligation to the audience, if we’re doing a historical piece, to do it historically correct. If they’re going to do a Roman movie, they’re going to try and do that. If in England they’re doing a movie on knights, that armor will be correct, the horses will be correct, the saddlery will be correct. But when it comes to a western they say, ‘who cares?’” Peter’s new book, THE FRINGE OF HOLLYWOOD, will be available by the end of September.
When I stepped out of the saloon, I was surprised to run into Lamont Clayton, writer/director/star of SHADOW HILLS, the pilot that had been shooting at Melody Ranch a few weeks ago (see my coverage HERE) In the dialog I’d heard a reference to the town of Shadow Hills. I thought it was a coincidence, but Lamont told me it wasn’t, and that he’s playing the same character, Hessie Tatum, in GANG OF ROSES. “We’re doing a collaboration of GANG OF ROSES, which leads you into SHADOW HILLS.” I asked him how that would work, but he smiled cagily. “We’re not going to talk about that just yet.”
(Nikki Pelley creating buckskin fringe)
One of the busiest people on the set that day was wardrobe woman Nikki Pelley, whose Collie was the set mascot. She was constantly running for shirts and hats for the various characters. She was gone for a little while during lunch, and came back with a yard of fawn-colored fabric. When she wasn’t fetching various wardrobe items, I watched her cutting and shaping the cloth, occasionally holding against herself to measure. When I asked her what she was making, she told me that one of the girls would be dancing in the saloon in a later scene. When she found out they wanted her to wear little more than a g-string, the girl had not been happy. So in her spare time, of which there was very little, Nikki was fashioning a buckskin-looking outfit that would be more period and less immodest.
(Cowboys Ardashir, Kyle, Brian, Logan, Peter and Steve)
The cowboys hadn’t had much to do that morning, because all the action had taken place inside the girls’ room. Head wrangler Ardashir Radpour, 2nd wrangler Ariel Fisher, and other cowpoke/actors Kyle Kalama, Logan Joseph, Brian Fertal, Steve Savage and Chris Shumway were very happy when, right after lunch, a street scene was set up, and they all had something to do, whether riding or just filling in background. The scene involves Claudia Jordan and Teyana Taylor on opposite ends of the street, Claudia with an arrow pulled back in her bow, Teyana with her gun drawn, both about to fire, when an off-screen gunshot startles them both. Clearly Steve Savage had the best job, coaching lovely Claudia Jordan on her archery.
(Steve Savage instructs Claudia Jordan)
After the scene was completed, I asked Claudia about her character in the film. “I’m half black and half Comanche Indian. My husband died, and I’m forced to work in the saloons, which I don’t like doing. And I’m caught up in a bank robbery. It’s very exciting! It’s my first movie – first role with more than a couple of lines. I’ve done a lot of hosting and modeling – I was a model on THE PRICE IS RIGHT, DEAL OR NO DEAL. I was on CELEBRITY APPRENTICE, and then I hosted the MISS UNIVERSE pageant. Now I’m fighting my New England accent. I’m from Rhode Island, and we are all known for leaving off our ‘R’s, like ‘pak the ca’.”
(Teyana Taylor is ready to draw)
The next set-up was in the saloon, and as the lights were getting set, Jean-Claude put a lap-top in front of me and said, “Take a look.” He played a scene of a woman on horseback riding up a hill to a house, having a conversation with the woman who opens the door, and riding away. It looked very good. I asked if it was from the first movie. “No,” he said. “It’s the first two and a half minutes from this one.” My jaw dropped – I knew they’d just started filming.
“When did you shoot this?” I asked.
Keep your eyes open for GANG OF ROSES – THE NEXT GENERATION. I don’t know exactly when it’ll be at a theatre near you, but it’ll be soon!
THREE NEW WESTERN PROJECTS AT THE NETWORKS
ABC has hired BATTLESTAR GALACTICA producer Ronald D. Moore and CAPRICA writer Matt Roberts to develop HANGTOWN, a Western procedural set at the turn of the century. Three central characters – a traditional lawman, a young doctor pioneering forensics, and a female dime novelist – will work together to solve crimes.
ABC has also ordered a pilot for GUNSLINGER from ER Producer David Zabel.
NBC has ordered a thus-far untitled western script from Pete Berg and Liz Heldens, of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS fame.
TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!
And speaking of TCM, have I mentioned that the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here?
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.
RFD-TV has begun airing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW on Sundays at 9:00 a.m., with repeats the following Thursday and Saturday.
Also, AMC has started showing two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN on Saturday mornings.
That's it for this week, pardners! I've just come back from visits to Old Tucson and Tombstone, and I'll tell you of my adventures in the near future.
All Contents Copyright September 2011 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved