ON THE SET OF ‘THE MAN FROM DEATH’
In the second week of the New Year I got a call from Peter Sherayko, the man who, in addition to acting – he was Texas Jack Vermillion in TOMBSTONE – runs Caravan West, his outfit that provides historically authentic weapons, props, saddles, the horses to wear them, and the men to ride them, for Western movies and TV. He was working on a new film, THE MAN FROM DEATH, which was shooting at Veluzat Movie Ranch in Saugus, and he invited me to the set on Saturday, the 12th. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
They were shooting in the Mexican Village set, which you’ve seen many times. The last time I was there, two or three years ago, they were shooting the award-winning Western YELLOW ROCK. It was kind of like old home week, not only being back on that set, but with YELLOW ROCK crew-members like Peter, who was doing props and guns, saddles and horses; Ardeshir Radpour, a talented actor and magnificent horseman was wrangling; and Christian Ramirez, who was armorer.
Also on-set was gunslinger Joey ‘Rocketshoes’ Dillon. A multi-award winner for his six-gun acrobatics, he trained Josh Brolin to handle guns for JONAH HEX, Joseph Gordon Levitt for LOOPER, the cast of GANGSTER SQUAD, and many more. For MAN FROM DEATH he was working with leading man Eric Lim on his fast-draw.
Eric Lim spins guns for teacher Joey Dillon
The composition of the crew was a bit unusual for a Western movie, for any movie really, and it’s encouraging to see how opportunity has opened up. The writer-director and actor-producer are both Asian-American, and the boom, first assistant director and Steadicam operators were all women.
Peter introduced me to art director Lawrence Kim, who gave me the low-down on the story and the production.
Art Director Lawrence Kim gets out of range
before the shooting starts
LAWRENCE KIM: The film is called THE MAN FROM DEATH. It was written, and is now being directed by Steven Reedy. It’s being produced by Eric Lim, who plays Strider, who’s known as ‘Death’. It’s kind of a mystical, supernatural tongue-in-cheek spaghetti western. It’s a proof-of-concept for a feature, we hope, and it’s going to be about fifteen to twenty minutes. I shot a recent feature here, on the Veluzat Ranch, the Mexico town, and coincidentally, my friends here, all the core group, had done a very successful short film before. Eric wanted to get everyone together to do this western. The design is kind of post-Civil War, around 1875. But it’s tongue-in-cheek, because cactus doesn’t really grow out of wells. Within our limited budget I’m trying to give the sense of a town; a general store, a cantina, a coffin-maker. Things like that. I’m an architect and a production designer.
Lawrence got called away to the set at that point. I haven’t seen the script, but the scene they were about to film looked pretty climactic. Eric Lim as Strider, and his friend, played by Dennis Ruel, are sitting in the middle of the street, tied side-by-side to a cactus. As Dennis explained it to me, “Strider has a list that the bad guys want to get ahold of, and it’s a very important, kind of magical list. And I’m the bait, so to speak.” And he’s also got a vest full of dynamite strapped to his chest. And quite a crew of bad guys surround them: black outlaws, white outlaws, lady outlaws, Confederate soldiers, Union soldiers, and a Samurai! After several takes, they took a break, and I was able to talk to star and producer Eric Lim about how the project came about.
Dennis Ruel models explosive fashions
ERIC LIM: I worked with Steve Reedy, the director, about two years ago. We did principal photography for a project called THE PORCH, which was more of social cause; it was a suicide prevention video. It was very personal. And now we wanted to get into a more narrative film. So we put together a western, a genre we both love, and now we’re working on THE MAN FROM DEATH.
HENRY: And this is something you’re hoping will expand to a feature?
ERIC LIM: Hopefully, yuh. I think there’s a lot of opportunities these days, with the market kind of changing, shifting towards video-on-demand. We’re developing the feature script concurrently with this. We’re hopeful that the idea, the style, the story will resonate into something that can work in a little bit more of a long-form.
Ticklish Indian gets a make-up touch-up
HENRY: How would you describe the tone of the movie?
ERIC LIM: I would say the tone is very edgy in the way, it’s very modern. It’s taking a lot of the tropes that I think people really love of westerns, of spaghetti westerns, the iconography, the aesthetics, trying to set it in a more modern style of editing, pacing, music, and trying to bring that into a new audience, the kind of people who are reared on new media, or watch some of the big tent-pole action movies. Our aim of the game is to capture some of that audience, while bringing some of the tropes and the style and the coolness of the spaghetti westerns that we love.
Transplanting a cactus
HENRY: What’s your favorite western?
ERIC LIM: You know, I just watched HIGH NOON; I really really liked that. I think it was a really strong story. You know, you have a lot of that spill-over, this parallel between samurai movies and western movies –
HENRY: Right, because the spaghetti western came out of the samurai in a sense.
ERIC LIM: They’re very synonymous with one another, kind of styled with those archetype characters. They’re so many. They’re some really cool modern ones like the remake of 3:10 TO YUMA, with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. There’s a great samurai movie called 13 ASSASSINS; they’re really great, you know? I hope there’s a re-birth to those genres, this time and setting, where it was a little more lawless, with traveling warriors. I think there’s something really cool about that. Because everyone has to be armed, and everyone has to kind of adapt to fighting, be self-reliant.
Mike Gaglio, Joey Dillon, Ric Maddox
HENRY: How do you like filming at Veluzat Ranch?
ERIC LIM: This is amazing! Because you just get in here, the way it’s set up, and it’s so immersive. Especially being in front of the camera, there’s so little work to do to get yourself immersed in the setting. You look straight down the main road; you see the border town church. You look anywhere, you see the stucco, the southwestern look. There’re no seams. Pretty crazy that it’s just 30 minutes outside of L.A. All the crew can drive home and sleep in their own beds at night; that in itself is really amazing.
HENRY: You’re packing a couple of guns; what are you wearing?
ERIC LIM: Right now I’m wearing the Schofield Wells Fargo; I think it’s a five and a half barrel; a little bit easier for me to spin. I’ve been working with Joey Dillon, a great, great gun-spinner. He’s really filled me in, and we developed the character, the logistics of me drawing out the weapons, and so forth. We went for the Schofields because they have the top-loading aspect, as opposed to the Colt .45s, where you had to load one-by-one. Since we have a fighting scene, we wanted it to just pop open and be able to cram the bullets in.
John Wyatt Davis
HENRY: Tell me, if it really was the old west, would you be more comfortable drawing from the hip, or under the arm?
ERIC LIM: You know, I like drawing from the hip. For the shoulder rig, I see a very pragmatic value of being able to stand sideways, to minimize my surface area. So I do understand that; I like that a lot. But there’s something really cool about drawing from the hip.
I next talked to Eric Ruel about doing his first Western.
DENNIS RUEL: I’ve been wanting to do a western for a long time. I’m a martial artist, with a bunch of these guys here, and I always wanted to do a martial arts western, and this is exactly what it’s gonna be.
HENRY: What are your favorite westerns?
DENNIS RUEL: Tough call. I always liked UNFORGIVEN. I recently watched the original DJANGO, the Franco Nero. In Italian – I didn’t want to watch it dubbed. That was cool to watch. Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH -- that’s the one I remember watching first, when I was younger, and that was kind of my idea of what a western should be.
HENRY: It’s a mind-blowing introduction to westerns.
DENNIS RUEL: The reason I saw it was I was getting into Hong Kong action. And John Woo was becoming a big name. And I was reading articles about where he got his influences from. And Sam Peckinpah was a big influence to him.
As usual, the director is the most in-demand person on a set, so I just had a chance to ask Steven Reedy what his Western influences are.
Director Steven Reedy
STEVE REEDY: Oh man. 3:10 TO YUMA, which is kind of recent. But it’s an incredible movie. Because Christian Bale’s character is fighting just to be appreciated by his kids – which is so badass. And then of course you have Russell Crowe being such a badass on every actual physical level; and what a way to juxtapose it. And Sergio Leone is incredible because he’s such a creative genius. I think those are good ones that come to mind.
There were a number of familiar faces among the cowboys on the set. Actor and musician Mike Gaglio, from AMERICAN BANDITS – FRANK AND JESSE JAMES was there. He had a role in the first season of HULU’s web western comedy series QUICK DRAW, and they like him so much they asked him back for season two – a nice surprise, considering they killed him off in season one. I’d first met Byron Herrington, author of the non-fiction Western CAMPO – THE FORGOTTEN GUNFIGHT, on the set of THE LAST DUANE, and he tells me he, too may have a continuing role on QUICK DRAW.
Ardeshir Radpour and Willy Clark
I’d last run into Willy Clark a couple of months ago, when he was armorer on the set of WESTERN RELIGION. Since then, he and Peter Sherayko had been off to Old Tucson, Arizona, to work on HOT BATH AN’ A STIFF DRINK 2. They’re already talking about making HOT BATH 3, and they haven’t even released HOT BATH 1 yet (I saw a rough cut, and it’s a lot of fun). “Matthew Gratzner, the director, said this second one would definitely be a movie to go to a theatre to see. Between the stagecoach, the whiskey warehouse shootout, the explosions, there were about two-thousand blanks. We were going through 250, 300 blanks (a day); the Gatling-gun scene, and stuff like that. All in all, everything worked out well, no incidents, except we did have one horse run over a sound guy, knock him down. He went to the hospital; took twelve stitches in his chin, but he was back on the job the next day. The weather’s what beat us up. We were working some 6:30s to 6:30s, and we were down to the teens some nights.” I told him when my wife and I were in Old Tucson a couple of years ago, it was 104 degrees. “The time we were there, we were lucky to make the 60s. Mostly it was the 50s during the day, and went down at night. Down to the 30s, down to the teens a lot. We’re hoping the third one comes around. They might be coming to California in March.”
Me with Rick Groat
The fact is, most of the folks making Westerns know each other, most are friends, and they’re quick to help each other when a few more buckskinned bodies are needed. Ric Maddox, star and a producer on the DEAD MEN Western web series was there to shoot and ride. Likewise, Rick Groat was there, taking a break from his own film, currently in pre-production. “I’ve been working on this one for a year and a half. RIDE THE WANTED TRAIL. I’m the writer-producer-director on it. Right now we’re all set with it. We’ve got Wolf Brothers Entertainment co-producing. We’ll go into production on it mid to late summer. It’s looking pretty good. And most of these guys you’re looking at, you’re going to see in it.”
At 'Action!' all the cowboys run like Hell!
WIN TICKETS TO SEE ‘NEW WEST’ FEB 20th AT REPERTORY EAST PLAYHOUSE!
Hopefully you’ve noticed that we have a new sponsor here at the Round-up, the OutWest Western Boutique and Cultural Center in Newhall – just go to the top left corner of the Round-up, click their logo, and you’ll be magically transported to their wonderful store.
They also sponsor the OutWest Concert Series at the Repertory East Playhouse , at 24266 Main Street, Newhall, CA 91321. Coming up on Thursday, February 20th, SCTV Presents The OutWest Concert Series: An Evening with NEW WEST! Award-winning NEW WEST brings their own brand of Western ballads, story songs and cowboy swing to entertain you. Raul Reynoso, Michael Fleming and David Jackson return to the Western stage with their engaging performance style! Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy Michael Fleming’s memorable original songs, the trio’s sweet harmony, Raul Reynoso’s world class guitar work and David Jackson’s show-stopping numbers. Dress up! SCTV will film, and you just may be on TV! Tickets $20. RSVP and Purchase tickets at OutWest 661-255-7087.
And one lucky Round-up reader will win a free pair of tickets to the concert. To enter, first make sure you live someplace where you can actually get to the concert from (we have lots of readers in Russia, but I doubt they can make here). Then send an email to email@example.com, with ‘New West ticket giveaway’ in the subject line. Make sure to include your name, snail-mail address, and phone number. And here’s the challenging part: Michael Fleming is Festival Director for a Santa Clarita event that will celebrate its 21st anniversary April 24-27. Make sure to name that event in your email! Please be sure to send your entry by 11 pm Saturday, February 8th. The winner will be selected randomly from all correct entries. And below is a sneak preview of NEW WEST.
DIRECTV DROPS INSP! NO MORE ‘VIRGINIAN’ OR ‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’!
(AND MAYBE WE CAN GET IT BACK!)
We DirecTV viewers who look forward to Saddle-Up Saturday had a rude surprise this Saturday morning: no Westerns – in fact, no INSP at all! The satellite company which recently made headlines when they jettisoned THE WEATHER CHANNEL has now dropped the station with the exclusive rights to a pair of the finest western series ever made, THE VIRGINIAN and THE HIGH CHAPARRAL, in addition to airing BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, and western-ish family shows like DR. QUINN and LITTLE HOUSE.
To be fair, DirecTV says they didn’t ‘drop’ INSP. A statement at their website says, “DIRECTV offers smaller programmers an opportunity to buy airtime on our programming lineup. Inspiration, channel 364, is one of the networks that paid DIRECTV to air its channel. Unfortunately, Inspiration decided to no longer purchase that airtime as of 1/31/14. DIRECTV did not drop the network, Inspiration simply decided they no longer wanted to purchase airtime. If you like classic TV shows like Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, or Matlock, we suggest Hallmark Channel (Ch 312) or Hallmark Movie Channel (Ch 565). If you like religious programming like Billy Graham, Campmeeting, and other inspirational shows, we suggest GEB America (Ch 363) or God TV (Ch 365).”
And if you like Westerns like HIGH CHAPARRAL and THE VIRGINIAN, I guess you can drop dead. Does DirecTV have a point in claiming they didn’t ‘drop’ INSP? Sure, but it’s a distinction without a difference: either way, we’re not getting the series we want, from a network that has proved its value, and has steadily growing popularity. And while INSP apparently no longer wants to pay to have their network aired, they’re offering it for free to DirecTV. At the same time, DirecTV is paying licensing fees to air the many unpopular ‘junk’ networks we all zap past on our way to the good stuff.
I’m not saying the folks at DirecTV are bad guys – in fact, they’re one of the first TV services to add the new and very entertaining PIVOT network to their line-up. But the only chance we have of getting INSP back on is by letting them know that we value the quality Western programming that is synonymous with INSP, and we’re willing to go somewhere else if we can’t get what we want. Frankly, the way my DirecTV bill has been going up of late, we’d already been talking at my house about checking out DISH and the various cable companies.
I was a school-kid when these shows were originally aired, which was also when STAR TREK began, and we had to picket and write angry letters and generally raise Hell when, year after year, NBC cancelled that classic show. And we won for three years, not because we were pests, not because the network saw the error of their ways, but because NBC became convinced that there was money to be made off of us. Today there is money to be made off of INSP fans, and money to be lost if DirecTV doesn’t bring the network back. Please go to the following site -- http://www.iwantmyinsp.com/ -- and sign the on-line petition. And call and register your disappointment at DirecTV’s actions, and encourage them to pick up INSP, by calling 1-844-GET-INSP.
‘LEGEND OF JESSE JAMES’ STAR CHRISTOPHER JONES DIES AT 72
A handsome, charismatic and talented actor whose star burned briefly but brightly in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Christopher Jones has died in Los Alamitos, California, from complications related to cancer. The son of a grocery clerk and a mother who would die in 1960 in a mental institution, Jones had a tough childhood, and lived for some time in Boys Town. His first big break in acting came in 1965, when he was cast as the title character in the Western TV series, THE LEGEND OF JESSE JAMES, opposite Allen Case as brother Frank.
Though the series lasted only one season, it was peopled with strong casts and directors, and put Jones on the map. This led to his starring in the feature CHUBASCO, where he met and married co-star Susan Strasberg. In 1968, Jones starred in the greatest of all scare-your-parents-out-of-their-wits movies, WILD IN THE STREETS, where he plays a pop-star who campaigns to lower the voting age to 14, is elected president, and sends everyone over 30 to concentration camps with an LSD-laced water supply. He went on to star in THREE IN THE ATTIC, THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, A BRIEF SEASON, and in David Lean’s second-to-last film, RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970). The latter was his biggest film, but a disappointment for Jones – reportedly Lean had another actor dub his lines – and during the filming in Europe, his friend Sharon Tate was murdered. Jones said he had a nervous breakdown as a result. He lost interest in acting, and refusing Quentin Tarentino’s entreaties, came out of retirement for only one film, MAD DOG TIME (1996), for director Larry Bishop, who had acted with Jones in WILD IN THE STREETS.
Fortunately, Jones had saved his money, and was a talented painter, which is how he spent much of his time. His three-year marriage to Susan Strasberg produced one child. He also had a son by Cathy Abernathy, and four children by Paula McKenna.
‘MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST’ RED-BAND TRAILER!
Quick warning – this trailer is a HARD-R FOR LANGUAGE! Don’t share it with your kids unless you’d share the most coarse parts of DEADWOOD with them: it’s that rough. But it looks very funny, and beautifully shot. Let me know what you think!
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Have a great week, folks! And if you’re a DirecTV subscriber, please take the time to complain about the loss of INSP.
All Original Contents Copyright February 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved