Monday, June 4, 2012


HANNAH’S LAW – Film Review

HANNAH’S LAW, the Western that premieres on the Hallmark Movie Channel next Saturday, June 9th, is the story of a young woman’s efforts to establish a life on the frontier, and a personal campaign for justice.  It is also so beautifully photographed by Ken Krawczyk that it could be enjoyed with the sound off as a series of stunning visual compositions.  It’s the best-shot Western that HALLMARK has ever produced – and considering that they make at least two westerns a year, that is no minor compliment.

Hannah Beaumont is a small child, hiding from her parents to get out of her chores, when she witnesses a crime that will scar her for life: a wolf-pack of bandits ride onto her ranch and murder her father, mother and kid brother for their horses.

Sara Canning

The story jumps forward a dozen years and Hannah (Sarah Canning of VAMPIRE DIARIES), a girl of twenty or so is now, remarkably, a successful bounty-hunter working out of Dodge City, well-respected for her preference to bring her quarry back alive, though the bounty is the same, upright or horizontal.  She chose Dodge as a base of operations reasoning that sooner or later, every bad man in the West will pass through town.  While taking other bounties, she’s systematically been tracking down and turning in the men who slaughtered her family.  

Of course it’s only a matter of time before the remaining members of that old gang realize what’s going on, and determine to track her down and do to her what they’ve already done to her kin.  Hannah has some friends in her corner, but circumstances conspire to make them unavailable when they are most needed (can you hear Tex Ritter singing, “Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’”?).  Although Hannah is a fictional character, most of her friends are real, and many were actual denizens of Dodge City.  She’s in a romantic triangle with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and her gal-pal is none other than Stagecoach Mary, the first woman to drive a stagecoach for the U.S. Postal Service, and the first black woman ever to drive a stage. 

Her closest relationship, with her surrogate-father, provides the most satisfying and touching moments in the film.  Isom Dart is played with simple sincerity by Danny Glover.  Dart was also a real man, known as The Black Fox, who played on both sides of the law.  He worked as a bounty hunter, and in HANNAH’S LAW he raised the orphaned girl and taught her his trade.  When the bad men can’t get to Hannah, they smoke her out by going after Dart.

Danny Glover as Isom Dart

With a female character playing a traditionally male Western role, this sort of story all too often becomes either stridently political (“We gals can do anything those stinky old men can!  Cowgirl power!”) or exploitative (“I’ve got a pair of 38s, and I’m not talking about my guns!”).  But HANNAH’S LAW plays her as a believable woman who is haunted by her childhood, who succeeds, sometimes in spite of herself, with a little help from her friends. Sara Canning is convincing as the insecure but determined tracker.  She fits well into the period, and is attractive without seeming to be made up.
Kimberly Elise, as Stagecoach Mary, though padded, may seem a little physically slight to handle the reins of a stagecoach, but her performance triumphs.  She’s also been un-prettified: in reality she’s quite a stunner.

Kimberly Elise as Stagecoach Mary

As to her beaus, Ryan Kennedy’s Doc Holliday is clearly influenced by Val Kilmer’s, but he plays the dentist with a greater sadness and much-hidden kindness that makes the role his own.  He has a knack for delivering a brief line with the understated strength of a soliloquy.  Conversely, Greyston Holt’s Wyatt Earp is not reminiscent of any previous portrayal.   

Of course, a good heroine must have strong villains to play off of, and Hannah has a few.  As the head of the gang, John Pyper-Fergusen, whose Western credits go back to UNFORGIVEN and BRISCO COUNTY JR., plays McMurphy with a smiling  heartlessness.  Brendan Fletcher, as competing bounty hunter and McMurphy’s point-man Zechariah Stitch, is more direct, but not more pleasant.  A pleasant surprise is Billy Zane as charming Mr. Lockwood, the cattle-king of Dodge, who wants nothing to interrupt the ‘serenity’ of the town, as it might scare money away.

Greyston Holt, Sara Canning, Ryan Kennedy

John Fasano’s script draws characters that are completely identifiable to current viewers without sacrificing their historical context.  He has taken a premise that in most hands would lead to a very traditional revenge melodrama, and turned it into something just as logical, but much more unexpected.  His dialog plays naturally, whether it’s a father talking to his daughter, an awkward couple on their first date, or a bandit trying to coax details from a simple-minded informant.  (You can read an interview with Mr. Fasano elsewhere in today’s Round-up).

Director Rachel Talalay, who made her bones with horror films like FREDDY’S NIGHTMARE and quirky comedies like TANK GIRL, handles the drama, bits of humor, romance with skill, and handles the action well, especially the extended block-by-block shootout at the end. 

While HANNAH’S LAW comes to a satisfying conclusion, the next step in Hannah’s life is unmistakable.  I’d be very surprised if we didn’t hear HANNAH’S LAW 2 announced in the near future.


“Television mostly sucks, because we’ve lost our moral compass.  And the thing which you get in Westerns, unless it’s something like ONE-EYED JACKS, is a strong moral compass.  When I wake up on Saturday mornings, they show ten RIFLEMANS in a row, starting at five o’clock in the morning.  And I watch them all, even though I have them all on DVD.  Because I marvel at the fact that, in half an hour, they can have a story with a beginning, middle and end, and have a moral to it.” 

John Fasano as Marshal Deger

HANNAH’S LAW writer and executive producer John Fasano has been a busy man ever since the mid 1980s, with a half-dozen directing credits, twenty for producing, and eighteen for writing.  Never pigeonholed as to genre, he’s worked in horror, mystery, action of all kinds, and westerns. He wrote THE HUNLEY, about the famous Confederate submarine, and the LEGEND OF BUTCH AND SUNDANCE.  HANNAH’S LAW is in fact his fourth Western.  I started out asking him about his first Western. 

H: An on-line list of your credits included a passing reference that you’d done script doctoring on TOMBSTONE.  Which in my circle is like casually mentioning that you did a draft of the New Testament. 

JOHN: (laughs) Thank you.  That’s the script that, when I get to Heaven, Saint Peter says, “He wrote JUDGE DREDD?”  And I say, “No, no – look just before that.”  And he says, “He wrote TOMBSTONE?  Come on in.”  That’s the film that’ll get me into heaven, because everyone I’ve ever met not only saw it; they bought it. 

H: Yes, and we keep buying new editions as the formats change.       

JOHN:  And you know, Disney totally did not believe in that movie.  When people say, what was the best experience you had on a movie, there are two.  There’s THE HUNCHBACK (1997), because they shot my script, and didn’t even let me rewrite it, which will never happen.  And TOMBSTONE, because I was there every day, and it was like a war.  Every night, Kurt (Russell) and Val (Kilmer) would come to my room, and we’d talk about what was to be shot the next day.  They’d pace back and forth, and chain smoke, and talk about all the stuff, and while we were all talking, it would always hit me, what should be in that scene.  Kevin (Jarre’s) script was really long, and so a lot of what I would do is I would take bits, take character moments from other scenes, and try to figure out how to make a new scene out of it.  Then I’d read it to them, and they’d say, ‘That’s it!’ and that’s what we’d shoot the next day.  Every day I was on the set, and every night I had two hotel rooms, one to sleep in, and one to write in.  And those guys shot all day, had dinner, then came to my room, and were there for hours and hours.  It was like the most fun on a set.  Ever.

H: How did you end up being the guy who took over when writer-director Kevin Jarre was fired?

JOHN: I was writing DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE for Cinergi, and I was in the hallway, and George Cosmatos was developing something called THE SHADOW CONSPIRACY, which they shot after TOMBSTONE, with Charlie Sheen.  We were standing in the hallway – we had never met before.  He’s like, ‘I’m a big fan of yours,’ and I said, ‘I’m a big fan of yours.’    And I’m not kidding, literally we’re saying, ‘We should work together sometime,’ and the door of (Cinergi President) Andy Vanja’s office opens.  He says, “You, you: come here.  You’re directing TOMBSTONE; you’re writing it.”  So we left his office in Santa Monica, went to the airport, where he had his own G5, and we flew right to Arizona.  And as everyone knew, Kevin Jarre had just been fired that morning.  We walked in and they said, ‘This one’s going to write the script, and this one’s going to direct it.’  And everybody just wanted to kill us.  The A.D. (assistant director) said, ‘I can cut this script down myself.’  But it’s such a great story; if you just cut chunks out of it, whole characters are going to disappear.  What I did was, with every character in the piece – like with Bill Paxton -- I go to him, I said, ‘You’re in six scenes.  But you can only be in three scenes.  So tell me what’s in these three scenes, that I’m going to cut, that made you want to do the movie.’  And I put that moment into one of the other scenes.  I did that for everybody.  Except for Sam Elliot, who would not, who insisted that his part be verbatim exactly as originally written.  And if I tried to change it he said that he would f*ck&n’ kill me.  So he’s the only one whose scenes are exactly as Kevin wrote.  And of course, he’s the only one that went and did an interview and said, “They ruined my part!”  Another classy moment from TOMBSTONE. 

H: Shortly after George Cosmatos died, Kurt Russell said that he actually directed TOMBSTONE.

JOHN FASANO: What’s hilarious about that is George was my friend.  He died, horribly, because of bad Canadian medical treatment.  He was one of the most well-read people in the business; he had a huge collection of first editions of Poe and Dickens manuscripts.  He had a tumor in his head, and we, his friends, were like, ‘Listen, come to the Jules Stein Eye Center at UCLA and have it done.’  And he said, ‘No, it’s free up here in Canada.’  He went in; they cut his optic nerve and made him blind.  And he couldn’t see any of the things he’d collected his whole life; movie posters and prints.  He went into assisted living and wasted away and died.  And then Kurt does this interview where he says, ‘Well, I made a deal with George that I wouldn’t reveal until he was dead that I really directed the movie.’  And all I could think was, when did you make that deal with him?  Because he didn’t know that he was going to die young. 

When Peter Sherayko did the second edition of his book, TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND GEAR, (Sherayko, in addition to playing Texas Jack Vermillion, supplied the guns, saddles and Buckaroos) which was after Kurt had said this, I wrote an introduction for the book, where I talked about how the shoot really went.  Because I was there the whole time, from the time they fired Kevin to the time that it was done.  The thing that annoyed me, aside from taking credit from George, is that Kurt really did keep that movie together.  Because it could have fallen apart, when they fired the director.  The crew wanted to walk; the actors wanted to walk.  And Kurt was supportive of George being the director.  I was there every day, and George was directing the movie.    And whenever I had to rewrite a scene, Kurt would ask me to take line away from (his character) Wyatt Earp, and give it to other characters.  Kurt didn’t want it to be ‘The Wyatt Earp Show,’ he really wanted it to be an ensemble piece.  I had so much respect for him, up to the second that he said he really directed the movie.  Because now I have to deal with people coming up to me and saying, ‘Have you ever seen the Kurt Russell Director’s Cut of the movie?’  It just sets me off my nut. 

H: How did WYATT EARP and TOMBSTONE end up being made at the same time?

JOHN: When we were doing TOMBSTONE, we were so aware of WYATT EARP, because everyone thought WYATT EARP was going to kick our ass.  (John) Milius would call me up and say, “WYATT EARP is gonna kick your ass!” because of having Costner in it.  But they didn’t have as good a script as we had.  Kevin Jarre went to Kevin Costner first, when TOMBSTONE was at Universal, and said, ‘Do you want to play Wyatt Earp?’  And Costner said, ‘Yes,’ and told Kevin Reynolds, ‘I’ve just read a great script; I’m going to play Wyatt Earp.’  And Reynolds said, ‘Don’t do that one.  I’m developing Wyatt Earp as a mini-series.  Let’s make that into a movie.’  So that’s when Universal put TOMBSTONE into turnaround (dropped their option) and said, ‘Well, they’ve already got the star and the script.  They’re going to beat us.’  And Kevin Jarre had been screwed on DRACULA.  He had been working on a very accurate (to the book) script, and somebody mentioned it to Coppola, and they got theirs out first.  He wrote TOMBSTONE completely in secret, because it’s in public domain, and he doesn’t want anybody to steal it.  And what the Hell – the first actor he talks to steals it.  So then he went to Cinergi, and everyone thinks they said, ‘Go get Kurt Russell.’  Because Kurt Russell’s son is named Wyatt.  But actually Andy Vanja said, “Can you get Val Kilmer to be in it?”  Val Kilmer was cast first as Doc Holliday.  And that’s how it went to Cinergi.  And I’ve got to say, Powers Boothe is still my friend.  Jason Priestly, Michael Rooker, Billy Zane.  Peter Sherayko was my friend before that.  A lot of people who worked on TOMBSTONE – because it almost fell apart -- everybody felt like we were a family.  Michael Biehn’s done three movies with me; Billy Zane’s done three movies with me; Michael Rooker’s done another movie with me.  I spoke to Powers Boothe, just before he went off to do HATFIELDS & MCCOYS, because I wanted him to be in HANNAH’S LAW.  And he said, “I’ll do what ever you want.  I’ll always come to do a movie for you.”  That made me feel good; that’s because of TOMBSTONE, and all of us surviving that. 


Butch and Sundance

JOHN:  That was done as a two-hour pilot for NBC, and then they said no one likes Westerns, and sold it to CBS, who then put it on SHOWTIME.  And it’s a great little picture.  We shot half in Canada and half at Veluzat Ranch.  Because there’s no Mexico in Canada.  And while we were up there we had nice weather, and snow, and it looks like an epic.  You shoot for three weeks; you make a picture that looks like it was made in two different countries, over a year.  That’s what excites me; to be able to do that.  And we had a wonderful time on this one. 

H: On IMDB there are a lot of nice comments BUTCH AND SUNDANCE, and there’s also a lot of nice comments about THE HUNLEY; what a fascinating story that is.  How did that one come about?

Fasano on the BUTCH set

JOHN: I had just done THE HUNCHBACK, and they loved it.  And that was back before anyone had TNT, so not everyone saw it.  And Ted Turner went to the head of TNT and said, ‘Look, the story of the Hunley is my favorite story of the Civil War.  Because it’s not about racism and slavery.  It’s one of the few heroic stories of the South where it doesn’t have any bad connotation connected with it.  I want to do the Hunley.  And I want these guys who just did THE HUNCHBACK for us to do it.’  That’s how I got the job.  I’d heard about the first submersible used in war, but I hadn’t really studied it.  And I realized this is why it’s such a great story: because everyone who gets on this boat realizes they’re going to die.  And they still get on it.  And that’s heroism.  They don’t get on it because they’re going to get a pardon from prison – all that stuff was bandied about.  And when we showed that movie, I brought my father-in-law, who had been in the Navy, and my step-father-in-law had been on a submarine, and they both wept at the end of that movie.  The original script, which they didn’t shoot – the director re-wrote it a little bit – but my original script, people who’ve read it consider it one of the best things I ever wrote.  Every time we went to a commercial, I gave it a new heading, as if it was a chapter of a book.  You have to write TV movies in acts, because of commercial breaks.  I was very pleased with what I did for the Hunley.

H: HANNAH’S LAW is the most beautifully shot Hallmark picture I’ve ever seen.

JOHN: Thank you.  I think it’s the best Western they’ve ever done.  Just my opinion.  Here’s the thing.  Producer Mike Ogiens and I, we wanted to shoot it in L.A.  We wanted to shoot it at Big Sky Ranch, shoot it at Melody Ranch.  But you just can’t shoot in L.A. because of the union costs.  And it’s so frustrating, because you know there are so many great actors who would roll out of bed and go over to Melody Ranch, just to do a day for you.  You can’t fly them to Canada.  And the first thing the budget wants to do is to push you into a corner where you have one person from America and everybody else is local, from Alberta (Canada), where we shot it.  And Mike Ogiens, who was the producer on THE LAZARUS MAN TV show, and the YOUNG RIDERS TV show, loved this project.  And someone would say, ‘In the budget we have money for four bad guys,’ and he’d say, ‘But there are twelve bad guys!’  And he would fight them every day on the budget, in preparation for the movie.  And instead of getting a guy for one day who lived in town, I asked Billy Zane to do it, and he did it.  We wanted it to better than you would normally get at our budget and our schedule.  And one of the things that helped was getting Danny Glover, getting Kimberly Elise.  Everyone that we wanted, someone told us they’d never do it, and I said, well let them read the script.  Because when is Kimberly Elise getting offered to play Stagecoach Mary?  Which is a historical character; one of the few black women that did anything cool in the old west.  And she did a great job – she actually drives the stagecoach in the show. 

Earp and Hannah

H: Which is very impressive, because you can tell it’s her, and she’s not big.

JOHN: No, but she’s got some arms on her.  Danny Glover, they thought he would never do it, but I said, please let him read it.  And he loved it, because it’s a very thoughtful role. 

H: My favorite scenes of the film are between Sara Canning as Hannah, and Danny Glover.  It’s charming stuff, really heart-felt.

JOHN: It’s not about going to Canada.  John-Pyper Ferguson is in everything; he’s in huge shows down here.  Cameron Bancroft – when they remade LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, he has the Michael Landon role; he came down for one scene, to play her father.  Ryan Kennedy, who played Doc Holliday, he did a screen test on his own, where he got himself made-up like Doc Holliday.  He’s wanted to play Doc Holliday since he saw TOMBSTONE as a kid.  He was offered something on THE BORGIAS, but he said, ‘I want to play Doc Holliday.’  And he fought for it.  People wanted to be in this movie, and it’s a testament to my script, and a testament to Mike Ogiens.  And on top of that, instead of just being handed a local TV director, I wanted to use Rachel Talalay, because I grew up with her, when she started doing pictures like FREDDY’S DEAD and GHOST IN THE MACHINE and TANK GIRL at New Line.  Then she moved to England with her husband and did WIND IN THE WILLOWS and all of these great TV series over there.  And she would not ever get offered a western.  You know if you’re a guy director, and you live in Alberta, you’ll always get offered a Western.  So she gave 110%, she really did.  And that shows up on the screen.  I’ve been involved with a lot of films.  I don’t like to make them unless we do it like this.  I don’t like to make the ones that just get cranked out.  Because what’s the point of that? 


H: Hannah Beaumont is a girl who sees her parents murdered, and when she grows up she tracks down the killers.  This sounds like a standard revenge plot, but you didn’t go that way.  Why did you write Hannah as a bounty hunter who hates to kill?

JOHN:  There were a lot more scenes of her and Danny Glover, of him raising her, that we didn’t have time to shoot.  But one of the reasons I did that was all of the other revenge TV Westerns; they go out and kill them.  And she will kill, but what she’s there for is justice, and the reason she picked Dodge City is she knows that eventually every bad man in the West will come through there.  And the reason for that list she’s keeping, of the guys that were there, is because she really wants to get to the main guy, the guy who actually shot her parents.  The others guys were just part of the gang.  They clearly deserve to die, but she believes in justice.  That’s why Wyatt Earp likes her.  Because she’s not just a cold-blooded killer.  And once you meet Sara, she couldn’t play that anyway.  She’s too sweet. 

H:  She comes off tough.  She is convincing.

JOHN:  She’s an excellent actress.  A lot of women wanted to play that role, American and Canadian.  We lucked out that she was Canadian, because there are all these rules about how much you pay the Canadians, and how much you pay the Americans.  She really pulled it off.  One of my favorite movies is HANG ‘EM HIGH.  He wants justice for these guys (who lynched him).  He wants to see them tried and hung.  And he only kills them if they resist.  Because he’d prefer to see them get justice, because that’s what they tried to deny him.  I always liked that movie.  So this story has a little bit of HANG ‘EM HIGH thrown in there as well.  I was going to movies in the ‘70s.  So I didn’t see MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and RED RIVER and THE SEARCHERS until I was older and they were re-shown.  What I was seeing was what was currently on television – BONANZA and GUNSMOKE, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL repeats.  And in the movie theatre I was seeing SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, and the later John Wayne movies; BIG JAKE is one of my favorite movies, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER.  Those are not considered the classics.  But those are the movies that I saw first in the theatre, and I think the movies you saw first in the theatre have the most effect on your taste in movies. 

H:  We grew up on all the same Westerns; all those great Burt Kennedy pictures.

JOHN:  And Billy Fraker, who shot TOMBSTONE, had worked with Burt Kennedy, and Billy had directed THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, and MONTE WALSH.  He shot PAINT YOUR WAGON.  And it was an incredible thrill to be on the set with him, as you can imagine.  So we had a lot of fun talking about the stuff that he had done.  One of the tragedies of Kevin Jarre, who passed away, God bless him.  He had this incredible cast.  And with Billy Fraker there he had this connection to a director who understood Westerns, and he fought them.  And ended up being fired.  Kevin was friends with Sherayko, and I knew him, through Milius.  And I was sad because I considered that I was keeping his movie from being ruined, by rewriting it instead of just letting them do it.  But he never talked to me again. 

H: A lot of your characters are real – Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday.  But Hannah is not.

JOHN: II wanted to combine history, because she’s a created character.  I wanted to do a woman protagonist, but not one where she was going to wear an outfit with her boobs out, trashy.  Not the BAD GIRLS version. 

H: Why did you choose to particularly focus on Isom Dart and Stagecoach Mary, who most people have never heard of? 

JOHN: One of the things I’ve tried to do in my career is hire black actors.  Because usually when you do a movie like this, the second you go to Canada, the talent pool is mostly white, and the movies end up being mostly white.  Even characters that would have been black people in that situation.  And I wanted to do, individually over the years, movies about Stagecoach Mary and movies about Isom Dart.  And my friend Rick Hacker, who’s one of the writers for AMERICAN RIFLEMAN about old guns, he’s got a brother-in-law who’s written The Ballad of Isom Dart.  I heard that years ago, and I thought that was a great character who had never been in a movie before, and honestly, I thought I could get Danny Glover to play it.  Because who should raise Hannah?  She’s a girl in the old west.  When you think about it, when she gets to town, why don’t they kill her?  Why don’t they rape her?  Because her friend is the shotgun-toting woman.  In other words, the women who would be victimized in real-life old west towns have become friends.  And have each other.  And the two actresses, they loved that.  They loved that their characters were historical, but that also they cared about each other.  That they knew that they were out of place there, and they only had each other to protect themselves.  It was a ball.  I loved the way it came out.  We didn’t have any reshoots.  We didn’t have any stock footage, and I say that because on a lot of these, they’re like, ‘We’ll get shots of the flames.’  We shot all of that when we made the movie, and I think that makes a big difference.  Because I’ve been on movies where we got stock footage from Africa, and it cuts pretty well.  But it’s shot with a different camera, a different kind of film stock, and I just look at it, and ugh, it’s not perfect. 

H:  In THE LEGEND OF BUTCH AND SUNDANCE you played the blacksmith.  In HANNAH’S LAW you play Marshal Deger; the most despicable of real characters in the story, and you saved it for yourself.

JOHN:  I didn’t expect to play that at all.  The director just said to the producer, ‘John could play this part.’  And I actually gained weight, and grew a terrible mustache for it.  So hopefully people won’t recognize me.  I though Marshal Deger would be (played by) an actor, but there were actually two more scenes in the script, with Deger; one we shot and one we didn’t, that were cut out of the movie.  One was after the Sara Canning scene with Billy Zane, when they were on the roof.  Deger came out and said, “Don’t let anybody help her.”  And Billy Zane said, “That’s what I said to her,” which kind of undercuts it, so I said, let’s cut it out.  And they’re like, ‘You’re cutting your own scene!’  The scene after that, where there all in the bar talking about it.  And I come in and I tell her, ‘Lockwood wants to see you.’  That’s the scene where then everyone knows I work for Lockwood.   And we were just a couple of minutes too long, and that was one of the things that got cut out.  But I was in there plenty.  The first scene I was really sick, and have a stuffy nose.  And I had to do that stuffy-nose voice the whole time. 

The editor, Bridget Durnford, did a great job cutting it; Charles Sydnor who did the music – you know the guy who plays the harmonica in there is Tommy Morgan, who played the harmonica in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, HIGH NOON, HANG ‘EM HIGH!  Every American-Made Clint Eastwood Western, he’s the harmonica player.  The point is, all Charles Sydnor’s music in HANNAH is live; it’s not digital.  They went into a recording studio with a piano and drums, and Tommy Morgan and his harmonica, and I watched them record the music, and it was amazing.  To have Danny Glover from SILVERADO, to have Billy Zane from TOMBSTONE, and to have me from my whatever.  To have all these people together, it just was amazing.  I hate to say it was a labor of love, but it was a labor of love, because everyone involved, all the Canadian producers, all the American producers, SONY, Hallmark, wanted it to be good.

H: I really think there is so much resistance to doing westerns that any one that gets made is by definition a labor of love. 

JOHN:  Every movie is a miracle.  When I sold my first script, my business manager said, ‘Save your money, because you’ll never sell another one.’  And you’ve looked me up on IMDB.  One or two movies are made every year, since I started doing this.  Some are big movies; some are TV movies, whatever.  It’s not numbers like Fred Olen Ray, who does sixteen movies a year, but they’re all studio and network pictures, and I’m very proud of that.  And the fact that I’ve gotten to do four Westerns, when every time people have said they don’t want to do Westerns.  I’ve been talking about doing some of those Tom Selleck Westerns.  Maybe I will. I’m a young lad; I’ve got another twenty years before I’m forced to retire.  And you should go write something, and we’ll go shoot it at Peter’s house.  One of the things my friends have done is, go up to Peter’s house.  Go up to the land he owns.  Go up to Melody Ranch, go to Veluzat Ranch; figure out what we have, and write it to shoot there.  Go out to Simi Valley and see what they’ve got there at Big Sky Ranch.  That’s where they shot LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, and it’s like 20,000 acres.  There’s very few buildings out there.  Just a couple from the show, but it’s mostly rolling acres, and it’s just the other side of the mountains from the 118 and civilization, but you’d never know it.  When you’re there you can look 360 degrees and see what Simi Valley must have looked like in 1865. 

H: Like the Paramount Ranch in Agoura.  You can’t believe it took you only fifteen minutes to get there. 

JOHN:  We actually scouted to shoot HANNAH there.  They told us they wanted to shoot in Alberta, and that’s where we shot BUTCH AND SUNDANCE, in their big, more modern Western town.  They sent us pictures, and the pictures were dreadful.  They always shoot them from too far away, and the buildings look tiny.  We shot there, and it looked like a real city.  But if we had to make our decision from the pictures they emailed us, we’d never have gone there.  But when we went up there we saw how physically beautiful it was.  This is where they built the town for UNFORGIVEN, but they took it down.  They shot the LONESOME DOVE TV series there.  That city was built by our production designer, Doug Blackie. 

H: The resolution of HANNAH’S LAW is kind of open-ended.  Are you working on HANNAH’S LAW 2?

JOHN: I’ve almost completely written HANNAH’S LAW 2.  And HANNAH’S LAW 3 I’ve got the outline written.  Because my intention was to do three of these movies. 

H: What’s next for you?

JOHN:  I’ve got THE 11TH VICTIM, which is the murder mystery written by Nancy Grace, which I wrote the television script for.  We start shooting in two weeks in Vancouver.  And I’m doing SNIPER 5, because I did SNIPER 4 – I’m writing that now.  And I’m doing a movie of the video game of SAINTS’ ROW.  It’s one of those video-games where you drive around killing people in your neighborhood.  And I’m finally getting a miniseries off the ground, of a movie I started writing twenty years ago, called SHATTERHAND AND WINNETOU.  Originally I was writing it for Paramount, when Rick Schroder was going to be Shatterhand, and I have gone through ten or twenty people over the years, who told me they have the rights to it.  I had just finished, on my own, a spec script of it, and sent it off to the Cannes Film Festival with some producers I know, and just heard that while they were there, Louis Constantine announced that they’ve hired the guy who wrote DANCES WITH WOLVES to write a big movie of WINNETOU.  But that actually excited some of the investors, because mine would be done first, because it’s already done, already written.  I just hope we make it, because then that would be what, five Westerns?  And I’ve got to do at least five more before I pass away. 

If people want to see westerns on television, they have to watch them.  Because all these guys care about is what the numbers are.  And every year I come in with Western scripts.  I have two or three more that I want to do.  Peter wants to do different ones, wants to do some of yours.  We always have these ideas for Westerns, and the first thing we hear is, ‘No one is interested in Westerns,’ and it becomes that fight of finding someone who is. 

Well pardners, I hope that'll do for now.  It's almost 3 a.m., and I have to be up at six!

Happy Trails,


All original contents copyright June 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


  1. Henry, this is ridiculous. This television show has no basis in reality, no basis in history. I'm a woman, but don't want to see such a fantasy. It completely ignores the truth about events and about the relationship, for better or worse, between men and women. Julia

  2. WoW! Very interesting interview. Good stuff. Thanks, Henry (and John!)

  3. Very in-depth! That was a whole chapter of a book. Love those down and dirty details on everything. I've seen like 20 Fasano movies.

  4. Wonderful blog and interview. Definitely makes me want to see the Hallmark Channel movie. Glad it isn't a Bad Girls ripoff.

  5. Sorry Henry, I watched Hannah's Law on Saturday evening and just as I thought it was just another Hallmark western. All talk, little action and kids playing grownup. The actor playing Holliday was actually spouting dialogue from Tombstone. Canning and Elise were the least convincing. Elise was decked out for a revolution and she was just the stagecoach driver not the shotgun guard. Canning did not come across convincing at all that she could ever be a tough bounty hunter. on a scale of 1-10 I'd give it a 2.

  6. I loved this movie and think it would be a fabulous tv series. We could follow Hannah on her many adventures each week...hunting down the bad guys while she searches for her brother. That would be great! It would certainly be a show I'd be watching! Loved Sarah Canning in this role. Loved her in Vampire Diaries too & miss her!