Saturday, September 4, 2010
'YELLOW ROCK' CAST MINING FOR GOLD
YELLOW ROCK – PART ONE -- THE CAST
A week ago Friday I headed out, late morning, for the Veluzat Ranch in Saugus, location for YELLOW ROCK, a new Western film directed by Nick Vallelonga from a screenplay by Lenore Andriel and Steve Doucette. I was driving first on freeways, then on busy streets, until my directions told me to take a left onto a dirt road, and to follow whichever dirt paths – and there were many – paralleled the high tension wires overhead. Within two minutes the city dropped from sight, and those high tension towers were the ONLY sign of civilization.
Just as the wires were branching off I pulled through the gates of Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch, parked, was picked up in a truck by production manager T.A. Williams, and ferried away. We passed several interesting locations on the way to the set – a western street, an old Mexican village, a rural road and gas station that could be any period from the 1940s to the 1960s, before arriving at a log cabin that was the center for the day’s filming. Movies are usually shot out of sequence, so that all the scenes throughout the film that take place at a given location are all done together, before moving onto the next. Today, all of the cabin exteriors would be shot.
The log cabin is the home of Dr. Sara Taylor, the female lead of the story, and portrayed by producer and co-author Lenore Andriel, a beautiful woman with waist-length flaming red hair. Dr. Sara ministers to Indians, a decision that has led to her being ostracized by the whites, and driven her closer to the Blackpaw tribe. As the day progressed, we would see Dr. Sara sneak around one side of the cabin with a rifle, Broken Wing (Michael Spears), sneak around the other side with a knife, see a cowboy ride up and get shot at before he’s recognized as a friend, and various groups of cowboys and Indians ride up, ride off, rest on the porch, and give advice or orders to people coming into and out of the cabin.
The themes of YELLOW ROCK are trust and betrayal, and what you have to do to make things right. And at the core of the story is a missing man, the nephew of Max Detreich (James Russo) and the search that takes him and his outfit onto Indian land, with the help of Dr. Sara, and the story’s hero, played by Michael Biehn. And as you might guess from the title, YELLOW ROCK is also about gold.
(Photos, top to bottom: James Russo, Michael Biehn, Clay Wilcox, Brian Gleason, Peter Sherayko, Lenore Andriel, Michael Spears, Zahn McClarnon)
Audiences first started noticing James Russo when he played the manic hold-up man in 1982’s FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, and everyone became aware of his unique brand of villainy after he took Farrah Fawcett and her friends hostage in EXTREMITIES (’86). But I’ve been watching him a lot longer than that. We first met in a film workshop at the Metropolitan Museum in New York when we were sixteen, then went to NYU together. But I hadn’t seen James in person since he was doing EXTREMITIES off-Broadway, prior to doing the movie.
After some personal catching up, James laughed in wonder. “Can you believe this – a kid from Queens in Westerns? Well, I’m a big fan of Westerns. And they’re not making as many as they should, so when one comes up I usually jump at the chance.” Right at the start of his career, James worked for one of the greatest of western directors, Sergio Leone, not in a western, but in the gangster saga, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. “That was fantastic! That’s one of the high points, there. He was a remarkable guy.” Much more recently he was in a Western for Walter Hill, with Robert Duvall. “BROKEN TRAIL – another great director. And a really nice man. And Bob’s a great guy, no bullshit – what you see is what you get with Bob.” He’s been directed by Kevin Costner twice, in THE POSTMAN and OPEN RANGE. “Another – all these people you’ve mentioned have been really great – you haven’t asked me about anyone yet where I could say anything negative! Kevin’s great, and easy to work with. Again, someone who’s very talented, and a nice guy.”
When I asked him what he looks for in a script, he laughed. “How much they’re paying me. How many days I have off. Where they’re shooting it. All those things add up to whether I want to shoot it or not.”
“You just did a film noir called ONE IN THE GUN.”
“Yeah, I just did a day on that. That’s a case in point, with little cameos like that, I don’t even read the script. If I like the character, you know, I just do it.”
I asked him what he liked about his current character, Max Detreich. “I’d rather not give it away, but there’s a lot of surprises with Max, let’s put it that way. And I love just doing this genre. Unless the script is really horrible, I’m gonna try and see if it can work out.”
YELLOW ROCK star Michael Biehn first made a splash in SciFi films like THE TERMINATOR series, ALIENS and THE ABYSS, but sagebrush fans will always remember him as Johnny Ringo in TOMBSTONE. When it comes to Westerns, Michael Biehn can’t say ‘no’. “I didn’t know when I was gonna get a chance to do another Western. And Nick Vallelonga, the director, is a good friend of mine, he suggested it, so I signed on. I like doing Westerns, but they don’t do very many of them any more. We did MAGNIFICENT SEVEN -- we couldn’t keep that on the air. But I like doing ‘em. They’re fun – shooting and riding is always fun. I guess they’re starting to do them big-budget again, because they’re doing TRUE GRIT, BIG VALLEY and COWBOYS AND ALIENS. But for a long time I’d heard that nobody really wanted to see them. Because the kids weren’t interested, and nobody overseas was interested. But they’re making something of a comeback now.”
I asked him what his favorite westerns were. “UNFORGIVEN, flat out. UNFORGIVEN is a great Western. I like Clint Eastwood’s stuff. I liked JOSIE WALES --.” Just then they were calling for him on the set (one of the reasons I didn’t get a better picture of him). “Now I’ve got to go.” As he hurried off, he turned and called over his shoulder, “And I like SHANE!”
Clay Wilcox, who plays a member of Max Detreich’s outfit, is a young man with a long list of feature and television guest credits. He can currently be seen as one of the leads in the popular crime web-series “CENTRAL DIVISION” (CLICK HERE to see the first episode). DEADWOOD fans will recall him as the frequently seen and heard-from character known as ‘Loudmouth Drunk in the Gem Saloon.’ I asked him how many Westerns he’s done. “This is my third. I worked with James (Russo) before in a movie called SHOOT FIRST AND PRAY YOU LIVE (BECAUSE LUCK HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT)(2008), and then I worked in DEADWOOD, so this is the third, and they’re a lot of fun.” But his description of his role doesn’t sound like a million laughs. “I’m playing Roscoe Parsley. He’s a survivor. He gets kind of beat up in this film, along the way. A gradual decline into misery.” I asked him if Westerns were his favorite genre. “Well, you get to play cowboy, you get to play with guns and hop on horses, and I like the outdoors, so yes, I would say, yes it is -- not as a film watcher but as an actor. I sure do have fun with it.”
Another member of the Detreich outfit is Billy-Boy, played by Brian Gleason, most recently seen in the multi-Oscar-winning CRAZY HEART (2009). What kind of a guy is Billy-Boy? “Kind of like me. A cowboy. I’m not trying to create anything more than trying to be myself. A younger guy, not too complicated.” I asked if it’s his first Western. “Yes it is – and it’s a lot of fun. I grew up around horses in Ocala, Florida. It’s a lot of fun. I love Westerns.” Which Westerns in particular? “Well, DANCES WITH WOLVES is one of my favorites. LONESOME DOVE, that mini-series is really beautiful. UNFORGIVEN, OPEN RANGE – wonderful. Some of the older ones as well -- I’ve been watching quite a few recently. Walter Hill’s LONG RIDERS, that’s quite an interesting film.”
Peter Sherayko has two important roles in YELLOW ROCK, one in front of the camera, and one behind it. Behind the scenes he runs Caravan West, the company whose vast collection of historical weapons, props and costumes, and whose core of wranglers, riders, property men, make-up artists and costumers have lent authenticity to dozens of movies and TV shows, ever since he organized them to make TOMBSTONE (1993). (To read my in-depth interview with Peter, CLICK HERE.) In TOMBSTONE he played Texas Jack Vermilion. In YELLOW ROCK he’s Farley, another member of Detreich’s outfit.
And what kind of a character is Farley? “Farley is the comic relief. I’m the wise old guy. We have a young stud-puppy who is always on the make (Christopher Backus), we have two other young guys, and we have James Russo as Max, leader of the gang. And I’m a guy who can ride, handle guns and handle horses, so I have a lot of fun with that. And of course we’re doing all the guns and all the horses and the props and the costumes, all with Caravan West.” And what sort of guns are characters sporting? “Dr. Sara is carrying a ’66 Winchester that’s been engraved with Indian tack, because it’s supposed to be a gift from the Indians. For Broken Wing I have a knife, and I had a rubber knife made exactly like that, in case he has to slit anyone’s throat. For Michael Biehn, playing Tom, the hero, I gave him a Remington Rolling Block, designed in 1867. You see very few Remington Rolling Blocks in the movies, but there’s a very famous picture of Buffalo Bill holding one.”
Just then Michael Biehn and Christopher Backus rode by. Peter pointed after them. “Michael Biehn’s got an 1860-style Texas Hope saddle, with fur saddle-bags, and for the lady’s man, we have the Santa Fe-style silver saddle, which has 480 pieces of tooled silver on it. That’s what we try to do: select every little item to reflect the character.”
Ever since Sylvester Stallone wrote ROCKY, but wouldn’t sell it until someone wanted to make it with him in the title role, we’ve heard about actors who’ve achieved stardom by writing themselves a great part. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck did it with GOOD WILL HUNTING, Billy Bob Thornton did it with SLING-BLADE. Lenore Andriel, who stars in YELLOW ROCK, co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Doucette, who is also her producing partner. Initially, it wasn’t going to be a western. “Originally Steve and I were talking about doing something that would be outdoors, in the mountains. Steve wanted something where we could use what I knew as an actor, some of the abilities that I had. We had the nucleus of a story, a modern-day story. And we did have an Indian in it, a deputy that was an Indian.
“And Steve came up with the idea of doing this as a period piece, and we took that nucleus, put it back in the 1880s, then it became all about gold, and – my goodness – it spun the whole thing into a whole other level. The Indian story started to develop, and now it had a deeper, more intense meaning. Ironically, when we started researching the Native American story, we realized, even though we were making up this story, how many times this had actually, really happened. And we decided that maybe we could make a message movie, besides just a fun, entertaining movie, within a traditional cowboys and Indians kind of story.
“I love westerns – I love strong women characters in this kind of a story -- who can be a sort of a centerpiece, on an emotional and natural one-with-nature level, who can help ground all the men in it. It’s still very much the men’s story, and the Indian tribal story, and I think having the feminine voice in it, while still being strong, is important. I’m a doctor, and because the Indians would come to her, now she has come to live in their territory. So the conflict for her is what happens after she decides to take the white cowboys to the tribe, and vouches for them. We had a hard time finding the right location, and then we came to Valuzet Ranch, and said, oh my God, this is exactly it. It had absolutely everything we needed. You felt like you were really back in 1880, being here.”
Michael Spears is one of the most in-demand, and most recognizable, Native American actors working today – ever since his screen debut in DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990). “Played Otter. And I’ve been doing it (acting) ever since.” In YELLOW ROCK, he plays Broken Wing. “Broken Wing is a man between the worlds. He’s still connected to his people, his tribe. But he befriended Dr. Sara, acts as something of a translator between her and the tribe. She speaks the language a little bit, and she’s teaching him English. He’s basically the guide up the mountain.” I asked him what were his favorites among his own Westerns. “DANCES WITH WOLVES would have to be at the top. INTO THE WEST. And I just recently completed a film called SHADOWHEART.” Other people’s Westerns? “I love TOMBSTONE. I love YOUNG GUNS, a lot of the older westerns. Some of the new ones – OPEN RANGE. You know, a Western comes out, I’m going to watch it. Because I probably know someone in it, and I can relate.”
Zahn McClarnon, an actor of both Lakota and Irish descent, looks unquestionably Native American, especially in costume, but greets me with, “Top o’ the mornin’ to you, lad! I am Zahn Tokiya-ku McClarnon. I play Looks First, the right hand man of Angry Wolf.” What’s his best-known work? “The biggest one I’ve done is probably INTO THE WEST. Michael (Spear) and I were the leads in that, we play brothers. I did a pilot called LAKOTA MOON – a lot of television. Majority of work I do is Native American, but I do Latino as well. A lot of guest star TV work. BAYWATCH, LAPD BLUE, IN LIVING COLOR, CHICAGO HOPE.”
What’s his favorite role? “Favorite ever role? I played a gay hairdresser in an Alex Cox film, the director of SID AND NANCY and REPO MAN. It’s called REPO CHICK, a sequel to REPO MAN.”
“I didn’t know there was a sequel.”
“Nobody does – he hasn’t got distribution yet. He’s a very interesting guy, what a character. I had a lot of fun doing it. Honestly, Alex turned me onto a lot of the John Ford films – he loves John Ford.” Alex Cox also directed Zahn in SEARCHERS 2.0.
What Westerns are his favorites? “DANCES WITH WOLVES, JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) is one of my all-time favorites. There’s a movie called WINTERHAWK (1975). When I was a baby, I grew up in Montana. And I went onto the set. They were looking for extra women, my mom is this gorgeous Lakota woman, Sioux woman, and she went onto the set to be an extra. And I met Woody Strode. I was like six or seven, I wouldn’t go ask for his autograph. But I finally got the nerve to. He was sitting in one of these (director’s) chairs, and I met Woody Strode – I’ll never forget that. I actually met him again, like thirty years later, in Hollywood, when I first moved out to Los Angeles in ’93. I met him at some kind of a function, and he remembered me, he remembered meeting me. I liked the old spaghetti westerns. There was a rock and roll western called ZACHARIAH, back in the ‘70s. I’ll never forget that movie – it was a big inspiration for me. I saw that at a drive-in in Montana – my dad used to take me to the drive-ins. Saw ZACHARIAH and NEVER GIVE AN INCH (1970), which was a Ken Kesey novel. WHITE LINE FEVER (1975). Not a western, obviously – kind of a western with cars. TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971).
“I’m doing a play, starting next month, in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s called SO FAR FROM SCIOTO. It’s the first time they’ve ever brought natives into Williamsburg to do one of their plays. The Scioto River, in southern Ohio, is where the Shawnee came from. It’s about when Shawnee Indians came to negotiate with Lord Dunsmore in 1774, then the Revolution started. It’s a piece about what these three guys end up doing.”
Coming in two weeks: YELLOW ROCK – THE CREW
CINECON 46 – CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL SEPT. 2ND-6TH
This 46th annual presentation of hard-to-nearly-impossible-to-see movies will be held Thursday through Monday, with screenings in Grauman’s Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard. The dealer room for memorabilia collectors will be on the 3rd floor of the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, adjacent to the Hollywood-Highland Entertainment complex. There will be lots of screenings, celebrity events, a banquet, and of particular interest are a number of Western screenings. Tennessee's Pardner (1916), a rare 50 minute feature from the Bret Harte story [Friday Sept 3 at 10:55 AM], The Thrill Hunter (1932) starring Buck Jones [Saturday September 4, 10:20 AM], The Testing Block (1920) starring William S. Hart [Saturday evening at 9:45 PM], and From Hell to Texas (1958) starring Don Murray--who will be in attendance [Sunday September 5, 1:55 PM]. Also on Saturday they’ll be showing THE THIEF CATCHER, a recently rediscovered Keystone Charlie Chaplin comedy from 1914! There are nearly forty films screenings and all different packages available. For more information, CLICK HERE.
3D FESTIVAL AT FILM FORUM, NEW YORK CITY
During the Film Forum William Castle retrospective, a 3D Western and a 3D Eastern: Friday & Saturday, 9/3 and 9/4 JESSE JAMES VS. THE DALTONS
(1954) Brett King believes he’s the son of the notorious bandit, and hooks up with the Daltons to try and learn the truth. But 3-D’d sexpot Barbara Lawrence is raison d’être enough for this Castle oater. Color; Approx. 65 minutes. 6:30 ONLY
Sunday & Monday 9/5 and 9/6 FORT TI (1953) Rare French and Indian War Eastern, with colonial George Montgomery teaming up with the Redcoats as they go toe-to-toe against those Frenchies at Fort Ticonderoga. Color; Approx. 75 minutes. 6:30 ONLY
WESTERN DOUBLE BILL AT THE NEW BEVERLY CINEMA
Sunday and Monday, September 5th and 6th, The New Beverly will present ULZANA’S RAID (1972) directed by ROBERT ADRICH from ALAN SHARP’S script, and starring BURT LANCASTER, and TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE (1969), directed and scripted by ABRAHAM POLONSKY from HARRY LAWTON’S book, and starring ROBERT BLAKE as Willie Boy and ROBERT REDFORD as the lawman trying to track him down – and KATHERINE ROSS as Lola. For more info, CLICK HERE.
GENE AND ROY AT THE EGYPTIAN SEPT 15TH
On Wednesday, September 15th, at 7:30 p.m., The Egyptian Theatre will mark the 75th Anniversary of Republic Studios with a special program: "Meet the Stars #7: Meet Roy Rogers," 1941, Republic Pictures, 10 min. Dir. Harriet Parsons. "It’s a Grand Old Nag," 1947, Republic Pictures, 8 min. Dir. Robert Clampett, probably the only cartoon Republic ever made, UNDER WESTERN STARS, 1938, Republic Pictures, 54 min. Dir. Joseph Kane. This is the one that started it all for Roy Rogers – Gene Autry was on strike, and Republic re-tailored the script, about a cowboy elected to Congress, fighting for his constituents’ water rights, to fit Roy. There are tons of parallels with MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, which came out a year later! The listing says 54 minutes, but I’m betting they’ll show the version shown recently at the Autry, with the missing scenes back in place. SOUTH OF THE BORDER, 1939, Republic Pictures, 70 min. Dir. George Sherman. It is the eve of World War II, and Federal agents Gene Autry and Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnett) head to Mexico to foil the schemes of a fleet of foreign spies at a submarine base.
STAGECOACH DAYS – BANNING Sept. 9-12
Parade, carnival, ranch rodeo, historical encampments, Wild West gunfighter competition, blacksmithing contest, food, entertainment, carnival, kids’ zone. A.C. Dysart Park (951)922-3241, banningstagecoachdays.com
OLD WEST DAYS – RANDSBURG Sept. 18
Western and bluegrass music, pancake breakfast, antiques and collectibles, food vendors and reenactments in this “Living Ghost Town” of the high desert. Downtown (760)371-0965, randdesertmueum.com
CIVIL WAR REENACTMENTS – LEBEC Sept. 19
Union and Confederate Army encampments, battle demonstrations and living history presentations. Fort Tejon State Historic Park (661) 248-6692 forttejon.org
GRAND WESTERN GRUB FEST – SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO Sept. 26
Chili cook-off, vendors, country music, Old West shootout, food, beer and wine, carnival booths, dunk tank, pie-eating contest, kids’ activities. Proceeds benefit U.S. military troops and their families. St. Margaret’s Episcopal School at Gateway Field. 949) 248-9468 gwgf.org
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.
AROUND LOS ANGELES
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. Currently they have THE ART OF NATIVE AMERICAN BASKETRY: A LIVING TRADITION, through November 7th. I've seen the show three times, and am continually astonished at the beauty and variety of the work of the various tribes. 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.
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 THE LONE RANGER at 1:30 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 about it for now! Next week I'll have details on the 75th Anniversary Celebration for Republic Pictures, and in two weeks I'll have part two of my visit to the set of YELLOW ROCK.
All Contents Copyright September 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved