Monday, November 2, 2015



Two Wednesdays ago I drove to Simi Valley and for the first time visited the glorious Big Sky Movie Ranch.   Originally 12,500 acres of land that were purchased in 1903 to be the Patterson Ranch Company, they raised livestock and grew grain.  Some critters still roam there today, each waiting for their close-up.  Its verdant flat valleys and strikingly barren hills have been seen on big screen and small for many years.  Much of the RAWHIDE cattle-drive footage was shot here.  It stood in as large parts of The Ponderosa on BONANZA, and turned up in GUNSMOKE episodes as well.  Michael ‘Little Joe’ Landon returned and built his little town for LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, and blew it up in the final episode.  WILD BILL (1995) and THE GAMBLER TV-movies were shot there.   More recently it was seen in the Walt Disney/Mary Poppins story SAVING MR. BANKS (2013) and DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012).

Currently it’s the location for several key sequences in TRADED, a new Western from Status Media, the third film in their current five-picture pact with distributor Cinedigm.  I knew nothing about the plot, and Producer Michael Long tantalized me, telling me one of the great strengths of the project is the screenplay by Mark Esslinger.  “It’s a great script.  We’ve had a lot of people interested in it. Agents have come and made offers to us based on the script.”  We both agreed that it’s prime time for sagebrush sagas.  “Everyone gets excited about Westerns.  There are like twelve Westerns being made over the next year.” 

Costumer Nikki Pelley was taking the leading lady away for a wardrobe change when I arrived.  I poked my head in the barn, saw a wooden coffin sitting on a pair of saw-horses.  It was too small for an adult.  Producer, prop-man, period advisor and actor Peter Sherayko caught up with me.  “Want to talk to Michael Pare’?”  I surely did.  The star of the film, Pare’ first made a splash in the title role of EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (1983), and soon followed with STREETS OF FIRE (1984) for Walter Hill.  Among the other top directorial talent he’s worked with is John Carpenter, in the remake of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995), along with many crime and action films that make use of Pare’s strong presence and powerful physique.  His face was battered and bloody (stage-bloody), as he sat on a rocking chair, on the porch of a stagecoach stop you’ve seen a hundred times, and talked about TRADED.

Michael Pare and Dir. Timothy Woodward (n shades)

HENRY:  I just saw you on the big screen about a week ago in BONE TOMAHAWK.

MICHAEL:  That’s great!  You know, Kurt (Russell) and I met back in 1979;  we had the same manager.  He was one of the first Hollywood people I met.  A fine actor and a great guy.

HENRY:  I’ve been following your career for years, but I never thought of you as a Western guy until recently. But in two years isn’t this your third western?

MICHAEL:  Well, they say that STREETS OF FIRE (1984) was a Western.  Walter Hill is famous for his western – he has trains in every one of his movies.  We had the Iron Horse motorcycle.  But three other times I’ve ridden horses in movies.   I was in a vampire movie (BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE - 2007). I play Pat Garrett; I kill Billy the Kid, who was a vampire in the story.  I did another one called TRIPPLECROSS (1995) with Billy Dee Williams and Patrick Bergin.  Three times I’ve ridden horses, but this is the first real Western I’ve done.  (Note: in BONE TOMAHAWK Michael doesn’t ride a horse). 

HENRY:  And how are you enjoying it?

MICHAEL:  It’s great.  You know, everyone who comes to Hollywood wants to make a western, a gangster movie, a sports story – these are the classic Hollywood genres.  And love stories.

HENRY:  Did you grow up with Westerns?

MICHAEL:  Yeah, you know, I’m a baby-boomer, so we spent a lot of time in front of the television watching all those great westerns – TRUE GRIT with John Wayne, STAGECOACH, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY – all the great Clint Eastwoods.  UNFORGIVEN is one of my favorites.   

HENRY:  What attracted you to this role?

MICHAEL:  Well, I’ve worked with Tim Woodward; he’s directed me in a few movies now (4GOT10, CHECKMATE, SWAT: UNIT 877 – all 2015).  He kept talking about a western, and I was just hoping to be in his western.  When he handed me this script, and he said, “This is my next movie,” it’s just a flawless script.  There are just no mistakes, no moments where you say, “Why would they do that?”  Or “How did this happen?”  Just a flawless, classic Western.  Then about a week ago he told me, “Mike, I want you for the lead.”  I almost dropped the phone.  It was like a dream come true.  I like working with Tim a lot.  I have complete trust and faith and confidence.  It just seems to go well  

HENRY:  What is TRADED about?

MICHAEL:  I don’t want to give away the whole story.  My wife, my daughter, my son and I are all living this peaceful existence.  Then things start to go wrong, and all Hell breaks loose.  The old demons rise up, and you know, you can use them to your purpose, if you have a strong enough will.  And we have a happy ending.

HENRY:  Tell me more about your character.  What does he do for a living?

MICHAEL:  I’m a dirt-farmer.  I plant, we have a subsistence farm.  Maybe we get lucky, and we can sell something that’s left over, or a sheep or something, but we’re just subsistence farmer’s living in God’s country.  

HENRY:  When you look at Westerns, are there any actor’s roles you look at and say, I wish I had his part?

MICHAEL:  Most of the hit movies, there’s a part in there for me.  (laughs)

HENRY:  Would you like to do another Western?

MICHAEL:  Absolutely.  I’d like to go away for a few months and shoot a movie.  Take three or four months, and just live on the ranch, in the bunkhouse, with the director, the d.p., all of the principal cast and crew, and really do something special.

HENRY:  We talked about Western movies.  Were there any Western TV shows you watched?

MICHAEL:  Like I said, I was a baby-boomer, so BONANZA, RAWHIDE, Marshal Dillon on GUNSMOKE.  These were all classics.  BONANZA was every Sunday night up until like 7th grade. 

HENRY:  Which son did you identify with?

MICHAEL:  I guess Adam, because Hoss was kinda dopey, Little Joe was cute, and I wanted to be the one who won all the fights.  The smart one. 

Michael Long, Ardeshir Radpour

Michael Pare & Timothy Woodward

I was lucky to finish with Michael, because he was needed on set.  A climactic scene was being shot, with Michael riding up, against the sun sinking behind the hills, and a setting sun doesn’t permit too many retakes.  I watched director Timothy Woodward Jr., get his scene, and then we went back to that porch, and he gave me a run-down of the story.

TIMOTHY:  TRADED is a period-piece western, takes place in the 1800s.  Our lead character and his family start off very peaceful, a very happy family.  They lose a child, and then their daughter leaves to become a Harvey Girl.  The father goes out looking for her.  We find out that the father was an outlaw; he’s retired from it.  Now he’s on this mission to save her from a prostitution ring she’s been taken into.  He comes in to save the day, and has to battle some of his own demons.  I like to say it’s like TAKEN in the Wild West.  I did a movie before, my last one , 4GOT10, starring Dolph Lundgren and Danny Trejo, and it was shot a lot like a modern western – spaghetti style.  While we were doing it I really started falling in love with doing a Western.  I always loved Westerns growing up as a kid.  I started doing a lot of research to see if we can pull off doing a Western.  What will it take?  We were finding locations, and a script came in that was just written very, very well.  Our (studio) readers loved it, I loved it, And it fit.  It took a lot of convincing of a lot of people, a lot of begging, but there’s a lot of people in this town who are very supportive of doing a western, very excited about it, so we’ve got a good team.

HENRY:  There does seem to be a resurgence of interest in Westerns.

TIMOTHY:  You know, when you’re making a movie, you’re trying to tell a story, you’re trying to create a world that’s real.  A world where people can believe what they see is actually happening.  When you do a Western, you take away the technology, you bring people back to the simple life, you kind of transport them into this world. And it’s a lot easier to get their attention,  because it’s not something they’re seeing every day, like in modern films.  It’s almost like putting someone on another planet.  Because it is something that no one living has ever experienced, other than reading about it, or seeing great movies.    

HENRY: Why do you think there is such a resurgence of interest on Westerns at this time? 

TIMOTHY:  Again, people are looking for an escape.  And there’s always this fascination about gunslingers, outlaws, the country when it wasn’t yet developed, and the Wild West.   There came a time period when (film) was about CGI and things like that, and I think now we’re getting back to a place where it’s about story-telling and connecting with characters.  And in a world where everybody sends a text-message or an email, let’s get introduced to some simple people who believed in love and compassion and communication.

HENRY:  Is this your first period picture?

TIMOTHY:  This is my first true period picture.  I did a futuristic movie last, but as far as one that takes place in the past, this is my first. 

HENRY:  What are the biggest challenges going from doing a present day story to a period picture?

TIMOTHY: Everything has to be created from the ground up.  Anywhere you look now, there’s going to be high-rise buildings.  Every single thing about the characters and what they do has to be period.  Clothing.  Horses.  There’s no cars, no cell phones.  There’s no outlets in the walls.  When you’re location scouting, you’re trying to find a house where there’s nothing in the walls.  Where can I find furniture that’s hand-crafted?  Everything to keep it authentic.  Lucky for us, we were able to connect with Pete (Peter Sherayko), who had a large supply of things.  And we were able to land really good locations like BIG SKY, PARAMOUNT RANCH and WHITE HORSE MOVIE RANCH, and we’re huge about shooting in Southern California.  We’re excited, being a smaller movie, to be shooting here.  We’ve got a big train sequence – one of our guys is going to jump from a horse to a train, they’re going to fight on top of a train.  We’re pushing the boundaries, and having a good time doing it.

HENRY:  You said you were a fan of westerns.  Did you grow up with them?

TIMOTHY:  Of course.  TOMBSTONE is one of my favorite movies of all time, hands down.  I like WYATT EARP a lot, too.  3:10 TO YUMA is one of my recent favorites.  I like TRUE GRIT, the remake.  I have seen the John Wayne classic, and I like it, but I do like the remake a bit better.  I love all of Clint Eastwood’s movies.  THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; great film.  I used to watch THE LONE RANGER as a kid, from five to ten, every Saturday morning.  What kid doesn’t grow up playing cowboys and Indians? 

HENRY:  How many pictures have you directed before this?

TIMOTHY:  Seven before this, so this is number eight for me.  Things have been moving very fast for me.  But we use a lot of the same actors; we use a lot of the same crew.  We’ve got a unit, we’ve got a team, and it works.  So we keep creating.  I love being on-set.  I love being able to create, to make things happen.  I love seeing the crew and everybody — it’s like a big family, and I love doing this.

HENRY:  How long a shooting schedule do you have?

TIMOTHY:  Eighteen regular days, plus five second-unit days, for horse-riding stuff, so twenty-three total.

HENRY:  Who else is in your cast?

TIMOTHY:  Trace Adkins and Kris Kristofferson are signed on, and we may have someone else, but I can’t say right now for sure.

HENRY:  Do you know what your next project is?

TIMOTHY:  I’ve got one scheduled that’s a modern movie, about a death row inmate, and the last interview he’s going to give.  But I would love to do another Western. Aand I’m even looking at the possibility of doing a TV series. 

HENRY:  I’m not going to ask how this one ends, but is there the possibility of doing a sequel? 

TIMOTHY:  There’s always a possibility.  We have a distributor that stands behind us, and they do a really good job of marketing our product and getting it out.  So if TRADED does really well, and people want it, it could happen. 

HENRY: Speaking internationally, where is the audience for Westerns?

TIMOTHY:  I honestly think  everywhere.  I think everybody is fascinated by it.  It’s funny, because a lot of the international sales guys go, “Oh, Westerns are a tough sell sometimes.”  But our guys are really excited about the project and excited about the prospects.  I think any time you can transport someone’s mind and make them believe in this other world, it’s interesting.  This story has love, it has drama, it has action, it has suspense, so there’s a lot of stuff going on.  Michael Pare is the man – he’s an all-star.  Peter Sherayko helped make this all possible, we wouldn’t even have attempted to do all this if we didn’t have one guy able to really to show us the way.  If I say, “Hey, would this happen?” he’s right there to tell me. In addition to just supplying the stuff, his knowledge is huge.  And having his team is huge.  And we have a young crew of good guys.  Don’t ever say you can’t: you can.

Peter Sherayko, Producer Michael Long, propman Christian Ramirez,
Wrangler Adeshir Radpour, Cheryl Rusa - wardrobe, photog David Coardoza

There were a lot of familiar faces on the crew, members of Peter Sherayko’s Caravan West outfit who’ve worked together on dozens of films, TV shows, commercials and documentaries.  In addition to Nikki Pelley, Christian Ramirez was working props, horseman and cowboy poet Troy Andrew Smith was wrangling, as was Ardeshir Radpour, sporting a scruffy beard for his on-camera role in the upcoming WESTWORLD.  I asked Peter how he got involved with TRADED.

Peter Sherayko

PETER:  (Producer) Mike Long called me about a month ago, and said we have a western to do, and he’d gotten a recommendation on me.  They came out to the ranch, they looked at the location, the costumes, the props, the guns, the horses.  We started talking, and Timothy, the director said, “And you were Texas Jack in TOMBSTONE!  We’ve got to have you!”  So I’m going to be acting in the movie as well.  And because of the amount of stuff I’m bringing in, they made me the consulting producer on the movie.  So I get another producer credit, which I’m very proud of.  It’s something that has happened over the last two years that has really surprised me.

HENRY:  Who do you play?

PETER:  Almost Texas Jack.  They want me to dress the same way, and Timothy’s writing the part in as we speak.  It’s not until the last week of shooting, because next week I’m in Louisiana doing ROOTS.  I’m a Confederate officer, leading a charge against Fort Pillow. 

HENRY:  Weren’t you just on the other side, playing General Grant?

PETER:  I was so thrilled with that.  I took the director and writer and producer on a tour of the Caravan West Ranch.  They were just doing a promo shoot to see if they could raise the money to shoot a movie called ELLEN BOND, who General Grant hired to be a spy in the Confederate White House.  As I’m giving them a tour, and naturally I have a cigar, the director kept looking at me, and finally he says, “Would you like to be General Grant?”  I said, “Well yeah, I’d love to.”  Then they put me through make-up – which I never do – and when they were finished, I did look like General Grant.  And I have scenes with the slave, the slave owner Grant is trying to make a deal with, and with President Lincoln. 

Peter, Nikki Pelley

HENRY: You never stop working.

PETER:  Yup.  I’m gone for the week while TRADED is at Paramount Ranch.  I’ll be finishing up in Louisiana, and driving straight to the set at White Horse Ranch in Yucca Valley. 

HENRY:   I haven’t been to White Horse Ranch.  Isn’t that near Pioneertown? 

PETER:  Yes.  White Horse Ranch only has a saloon, a jail, and maybe one other building, but a lot of false fronts and small buildings.  But this movie takes place in several towns, and they couldn’t shoot in Melody Ranch because of WESTWORLD.  So we’re doing White Horse as Wichita, whereas Paramount is going to be Dodge City. 

One great thing about visiting the sets of small movies is important stuff is shot every day – there’s no dead time.  The first thing I’d seen shot was the very end of the picture.  I’d missed the kid brother’s death earlier in the day – I hear it was heartbreaking – but I watched the scene of the boy’s body being laid out.  By then the sun was gone, and I had to be on my way.  I still have a tape-player in my car.  I pushed in a cassette of THE LONE RANGER radio show, and listened to The William Tell Overture as I passed hills and trees, cattle and sheep, but not a power-line or car headlight until I was almost out of the Big Sky property.  It was perfect.

A Book Review

The knowledgeable, entertaining and prolific Mr. Herzberg (REVOLUTIONARY MEXICO ON FILM, THE F.B.I. AND THE MOVIES, THE LEFT SIDE OF THE SCREEN – COMMUNIST AND LEFT-WING IDEOLOGY IN HOLLYWOOD, etc.) takes Western writing seriously.  He treats it not as an escapist trifle, but as literature of real merit, and SHOOTING SCRIPTS is an often amusing and always enlightening study of seven writers whose novels, and sometimes screenplays helped define how we look at the West.

Starting with the basic premise that God created Owen Wister (THE VIRGINIAN), and Wister begat Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Hopalong Cassidy-creator Clarence Mulford, Herzberg examines the highly productive seven – not all of them magnificent – whose work so frequently graced the screen from the Great Depression through the 1970s: Ernest Haycox, Luke Short, Frank Gruber, Norman A. Fox, Louis L’Amour, Marvin H. Albert, and Clair Huffaker. 

His analysis is in-depth.  Each author receives a detailed biography, and each of his filmed novels receives a step-by-step comparison of where plots were followed, and where they strayed, where it helped and where it hurt.  Mr. Herzberg is not shy in offering his often withering criticisms of much-loved writers.  He considers Frank Gruber a talentless hack, and Louis L’Amour endlessly repetitive, and with something of a master-race obsession.  He has laudable respect for the Ernest ‘STAGECOACH’ Haycox, and Luke ‘Everything with Randolph Scott’ Short.  He also gives Huffaker, the screenwriter of many of the best big and small-screen Westerns of the 1960s, attention that is long overdue.

Every period film, consciously or not reflects two periods: when the story is set, and when the film is made.  An unexpected element of the book is Herzberg’s political analysis of the films, often revealing an undercurrent of McCarthyism or Communism that went over the audience’s heads.  His discussion of L’Amour’s SHALAKO alone is worth the price of admission. 

The one thing this volume lacks is a simple list of credits for each author.  It’s all there, but you have to search through the text to find it.  Published by McFarland, SHOOTING SCRIPTS is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers for $35. 


Rancho Camulos, the ranch home a mile from Piru that inspired Helen Hunt Jackson to write the international best-seller RAMONA, will celebrate its history this weekend with a pair of Ramona-centric events!  On Saturday night, November 7th, you can have an elegant candlelight dinner at the 1852 adobe, and then watch two – count ‘em two – silent film versions of RAMONA, both filmed at the Rancho.  The 1910 version, directed by D. W. Griffith, and starring Mary Pickford, will be followed by clips from the recently discovered, long ‘lost’ 1916 version, starring Ada Gleason, which in its original full version was said to run over three hours!  The price per ticket is $50.  On Sunday, Rancho Camulos Day, from noon ‘til 4, enjoy a variety of historical entertainments, reenactments, food and fun, and a 3:30 pm screening of the 1928 Dolores Del Rio version of RAMONA.  Tickets are $5.  For more information, and to buy tickets, visit their official site HERE.  


I’m tremendously flattered that I’ve been asked to introduce THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) at the Autry, as a part of their long-running ‘What is a Western?’ film series.  This emotional and highly personal post-Civil War drama, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, is as good as anything else he’s directed before or since.  It features a powerful cast, including Oscar nominees Sondra Locke (for THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER) and Chief Dan George (for LITTLE BIG MAN), John Vernon, Sam Bottoms, and many others.  I can’t wait to share some of the remarkable behind-the-scenes stories about Clint, screenwriter Philip Kaufman, and novelist Forrest Carter.  The program takes place at 1:30 pm, at the Wells Fargo Theatre, and is free with your paid museum admission.  I hope to see you there!


Me, Bobbi Jean Bell & Jim Christina

Something new has been added!  Jim Christina and Bobbi Jean Bell, the good folks who do the Writer’s Block Show on radio every Thursday night at eight, have made me a regular part of their program.  Every other show, I’ll drop by to give a sneak preview of the next Round-up!

And coming soon to the Round-up will be my interview with Western actor Bruce Boxleitner; director Steve Carver, who has been working for years on a stunning Western photography project; and David Gregory, who has created a new Western radio drama.

Happy Trails,


All Original Material Copyright November 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Great interviews! It's fun to hear the insiders' views on Westerns.