Sunday, October 18, 2015


BONE TOMAHAWK – A Movie Review

When a pair of literal cut-throats, played by David Arquette and Sid Haig, have to scramble up a mountainside to escape pursuers, they stumble into the hidden aerie of a lost, savage, cannibal  tribe.   One of the two escapes, and days later wanders into the quiet town of Bright Hope, population 268.  Unfortunately, he’s been followed, and he and the people with him -- a deputy and a woman nursing the wounded cutthroat -- are spirited away to the aerie.  A small group of men quickly assemble to attempt a rescue.  They are the Sheriff (Kurt Russell), his back-up deputy (Richard Jenkins), the kidnapped woman’s husband (Patrick Wilson), and the woman’s wealthy former suitor (Matthew Fox). 

This is the start of a sharply written, elegantly played western adventure.  While the most exciting parts of the adventure commence when they reach the aerie, there is great fun, and character development, during the cross-desert trek.  Much of the pleasure is getting to know the men, none of whom seem entirely up to the undertaking.  The Sheriff is a capable law man, but his predilection for shooting people in the leg makes one doubt his judgment.  The back-up deputy is too old for the job, and seems somewhere between eccentric and simple.  The husband is the sort of sexist that has a hard time admitting the value of his fine wife until she’s gone – and he is traveling with one leg in a splint!  The former suitor is such a pompous prig that you can’t wait for him to be deflated. 

And yet, impressively, all these fallible men rise to the occasion.  They live by a code of honor and duty, and their imperfections make their dedication all the more admirable.  When Sheriff Hunt, preparing to leave, addresses some townspeople, telling them to stay vigilant, he indicates the missing woman’s husband.  “I’m riding out with Mr. O’Dwyer because there isn’t a choice for either of us.”  He doesn’t ask the crippled man ahead of time because there is no need: of course he is going.

There’s plenty of action, beautiful landscapes, and fine performances.  Kurt Russell is an older and more cautious lawman than his Wyatt Earp, but he is just as solid.  Richard Jenkins’ sidekick combines all the strengths of Chester and Festus and Gabby Hayes without imitating any of them.  Though the role was brief, I particularly liked Sid Haig, who seemed to be channeling Slim Pickens. 

While all of the film is entertaining, and much of it amusing, it gets increasing grim, and there are cringe-worthy moments of savage brutality.  I saw the film at its Hollywood Egyptian premiere, and at a particularly ugly moment, the man next to me muttered to himself, “Wait: it gets worse.”  And indeed it did.  It’s a very enjoyable film, but not recommended for the sensitive, and very definitely not for kids.   BONE TOMAHAWK opens this Friday, October 23rd.


Writer/director Craig Zahler, in the soon-to-be bloody 
barn, in his Once Upon A Time In The West shirt

BONE TOMAHAWK’s writer/director S. Craig Zahler is a first-time director, and only one of his 
many optioned screenplays, ASYLUM BLACKOUT (2011), has been filmed.  So it’s kind of remarkable that he gathered such an impressive cast – Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, David Arquette, et al.  Producer Dallas Sonnier says, “It all comes down to the script.  It’s just so good that is what has attracted everybody; so it’s a leap of faith on the part of these actors.” 

Both a crime and a western author, A CONGREGATION OF JACKALS, his first western novel, was nominated for a WWA Spur Award and a Peacekeeper by the Western Fictioneers.  But what really established him in Hollywood was the still-unfilmed western screenplay THE BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE, which made the 2004 Black List.  (In typically obtuse Hollywood fashion, ‘Black List’ no longer refers to writers who are unemployable because of their politics.  It now refers to the best unsold screenplays of the year.)

One night almost exactly a year ago I was visiting a century-old farm just outside of L.A., watching Craig direct Kurt Russell and others in and around a stable.  Between set-ups, we talked.   

HENRY:  You’re a novelist, a screenwriter; a director; I know you’re not shooting this one, but you’re a cinematographer.

CRAIG:  The way it worked for me was I went to NYU film school and I studied cinematography, animation, and directing, and took the acting courses.  I got out of school, and I had a bunch of day jobs, working as a catering chef, and I worked as a cinematographer, pushing heavy metal bands, and writing and directing these weird little one-act theatre pieces.  There was a point when I was working as a cinematographer where I realized that I could make somebody’s forty-thousand dollar indie feature look like a two or three million dollar piece.  But if the writing wasn’t there, and the performances weren’t there, it was worthless.  Good cinematography in a movie that didn’t have content, performance, wasn’t even the frosting on the cake; it was the color of the frosting on the cake.  And that was how I got out of shooting.  I think that was when BREAKING THE WAVES (1996), the Lars Von Trier, came out.  I saw that, and I thought it looked terrible.  But it was such an excellent movie, and the content was there, the performances and the writing.  And that was when I started focusing more and more on writing.  It was also a weird transitional period.  Because I was shooting film exclusively, and the digital thing was starting to happen.  But at the time the digital stuff didn’t look great, and I didn’t want to shoot that stuff. 

HENRY:  At that point, were you focusing on screenplays or novels?

CRAIG:  It’s interesting.  The thing with a movie is, you need a lot of people to believe of you in terms of the financial aspect.  You need to convince a lot of people.  I think one of the reasons I focused on the (novel) writing is because by nature I’m not especially collaborative, and that was something where I could just control every word.  At this point I’m fortunate that my fourth book just came out couple weeks ago, and these are pretty much exactly as I wrote it down.  A couple of words were changed, once I removed a chapter just to bring the word-count down, but the control there is great, and you don’t need to compromise because you’re losing daylight or your running out of money or your horse has flatulence.  It’s great in that there’s no limit when I’m writing fiction, other than how much time I want to put into it.  How much I want to refine the prose.  If directing movies wasn’t expensive I probably would have directed ten by now. Books are just time: my last book is just fifteen hundred hours of my time, and I completed it and it was published.  And the one before it was just twelve-hundred hours, so I just know what it is.

HENRY:  I’ve never heard a writer talk about how long he takes to write a book.  What is the new one?

CRAIG:  It’s called MEAN BUSINESS ON NORTH GANSON STREET, and it’s a crime piece.  There are a few genres I really enjoy writing and reading and watching more than others: westerns clearly, crime, science fiction.  They’re all very different for me, satisfy different things.  At this point Leo DeCaprio is attached to it, and I’ve got a really nice deal, and maybe it will get made and maybe it won’t.  I’ve sold twenty-two different pieces of fiction in Hollywood, and seen one made.  So the odds aren’t great.  But that’s a crime piece, and that’s something where I get to enjoy more intricate plotting than in the westerns, and really focus a lot on the dialogue.  It’s St Martin’s Press

HENRY:  That’s a terrific publisher.

CRAIG:  They’re pushing it big, and it’s my first time on a larger publisher, so we’ll see how it does. 

HENRY:  BONE TOMAHAWK – was this ever going to be a novel, or was it always a movie?

CRAIG:  The genesis of this is, one of the producers of this movie is Dallas Sonnier, and he’s my manager and really good friend.  He read a book that I wrote called WRAITHS OF THE BROKEN LAND, which is a western with a very strong horror component.  It’s a particularly savage western.  I certainly had some people read the first paragraph and put it down and say, ‘This is not a Western,’ or ‘I don’t want to read it.’  I’m not trying to shock people with the violence, but I’m trying to come up with something that’s interesting and memorable, and in so doing, I shock a lot of people, but that’s not really the goal.  I just want to come up with violent scenes that you haven’t seen.  It’s not just people being shot in the head and falling over.  Dallas read it and said, “This would be amazing to do as a movie.”  The scale of it is really huge, and could not be done with a small budget.  There are massive battle sequences, gigantic horse-slaughtering sequences.  It’s pretty ugly.  It’s character driven, as all of my stuff is.  (I told Dallas) there was no way I can write a low-budget version of it, because I would just be cutting out way, way, way too much.  But I said I could do another western that has a strong horror component, that is focused around an ensemble, that’s dealing with a rescue.  So that’s how BONE TOMAHAWK came to be. 

HENRY:  The genre of horror-western lately – I’m thinking of things like JONAH HEX (2010) and COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) – they weren’t that good, and they didn’t do that well.

CRAIG:  I think you’re probably correct.  I didn’t see either of those.  The bottom line is people will classify this, and WRAITHS OF THE BROKEN LAND, as horror westerns.  For me they’re both westerns.  But the darkness and the violence gets darker, and the violence gets more intense than you’re expecting it to, so that’s what pushes it into the horror component.  So for me, because the first western I wrote, which set up my career as a screenwriter, was a piece called THE BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE, that was the same thing, some people read and said, ‘this is a horror western.’  To me it was a western that just got nastier.  But it has that vibe, and the crime stuff I write has the same thing.  People find it scary, and I’m trying to make it intense, I’m trying to make it atmospheric, and I’m putting in all the details, if it’s working for you as the reader, it’s a vivid kind of reading experience, where you are uncomfortable; where the violence does go farther than you’re expecting, where every character is imperiled, and anyone might die, and a lot of them do. 

HENRY:  What western filmmakers influenced you?  What western movies do you like particularly? 

CRAIG:  For me, the real life-changing moment in terms of me knowing this was something I wanted to do, that I wanted to write, was when I was thirteen, and I saw THE WILD BUNCH for the first time.  And that was it – that was a movie I probably saw fifteen times as a kid, and I’ve seen on the big screen after moving to New York in revival houses multiple times.  I knew about the Leone stuff prior to THE WILD BUNCH, and I adore the Leone stuff.  So that’s what really made me a fan, and informed some of the western aesthetic that I like.  A lot of people think it’s just a crime piece with cowboy hats.  But to me it’s a distinctly different thing that I want to see in a western.  My favorite western filmmakers are Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone and Anthony Mann.  I like John Ford, although I don’t think the comedy in John Ford works especially well.   I adore John Wayne.  Actually my favorite John Wayne movie isn’t a John Ford, but RED RIVER (1948) .  And I’m a huge fan of THE SHOOTIST (1976).   Anthony Mann, like MAN OF THE WEST (1958), MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), and all of his pictures working with Jimmy Stewart are terrific.  Budd Boetticher – THE TALL T (1957).  Randolph Scott’s probably my favorite western actor.  I just adore that guy in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962).  Anthony Mann, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah would be the top three, and then a bunch of other guys.

HENRY: How about people who have done westerns in the last few years.  Anyone impress you?

CRAIG:  THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007).  That’s the one; the mood there is terrific.  I’m going to sort of ruin the ending – so if you haven’t seen it, don’t read this part of the interview.  I think it’s fantastic how they kill off the protagonist, and then there’s thirty more minutes of movie, where you’re following another guy who becomes the de facto protagonist.  That’s a really ballsy move, and the movie gets even more interesting there.  It’s a gorgeous-looking movie – (cinematographer Roger) Deakins is as good as it gets.  And Andrew Dominick is one of the few best directors working now.  THE JACK BULL (1999) isn’t as recent, the John Cusak, L.Q. Jones western that was made for HBO.  It was extremely emotional: the whole ending section of that piece is really hard to watch, and fully realized. One other one I liked was BROKEN TRAIL (2006) – Robert Duvall is the platinum standard of acting, the finest actor ever to exist.There haven’t been a ton; not a lot to choose from. I didn’t enjoy THE PROPOSITION.  I just felt it was kind of heartless, and it was violent, and the textures were excellent, but I think you need more than that.  The movie I’m working on definitely has its scenes of violence; we’re about to shoot one of them, but proportionally, this is probably going to be well over two hours, and the violence is quick and sharp, and fast.  But it’s not what the movie is about, and the major part of the running time, you’re not dealing with violence.  I think that’s what the modern western should be.  What people want to see is basically an action movie, and that’s not what I think a western should be.  You can have those moments, but none of my favorite westerns are action movies.   

HENRY:  As a first-timer, did you have to fight to be the director on this?  Did people say, ‘we’ll do this, but with a more experienced director?’

CRAIG:  No.  I’ve had westerns floating around Hollywood, including the one that set up my career, for a while.  They haven’t been made, but with BONE TOMAHAWK, I wrote it to be small, and I wrote it to direct.  It’s the fifth western I’ve written.  I have a couple of westerns novels, three scripts, a television pilot that almost got made.  This one I wrote, contained, and I was really fortunate with the cast that it attracted.

HENRY:  How did you get Kurt Russell?

CRAIG:  I had a handful of actors we were going to for different parts.  And Kurt was a great choice for Sheriff Hunt.  What had happened was the character of Arthur O’Dwyer went to Peter Sarsgaard.  When he read it and enjoyed it, and signed on, his agent, who also represents Kurt Russell, was then comfortable showing it to Kurt.  Kurt read it.  He wanted to know about my background in terms of filmmaking, because if I’m a just novelist going on-set, I might not know my stuff, but this is actually my background.  And he came on board and has been unwavering in his support.  Alongside Dallas, he’s one of the reasons that we’re all here – he’s been terrific.  His enthusiasm is incredible. No one’s getting paid well on this movie; we’ve got a lot of people getting the worst paychecks they’ve ever gotten.  It really didn’t seem to matter with him or the rest of the cast.  They just wanted to be involved, and I feel very fortunate.  (Note: the role of O’Dwyer was eventually played by Patrick Wilson, not Peter Sarsgaard)

HENRY:  You have Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins in your cast.

CRAIG:  There’s no better actor working than that guy – period.  He’s phenomenal.  I was really happy that we had time to do rehearsal prior to shooting, which obviously saves you time, and you’re not figuring out things for the first time on the day.   The amount of embellishments that he came up with, the little moments – he’s just an unbelievable talent.

HENRY:  You’re about two weeks into the shoot?

CRAIG:  Two weeks; today is the middle week.  Because the second half of the shoot is a little heavier with effects and stunts, the first half of the shoot we will have shot well over half of the movie.  We’re moving at a different clip than most movies.  We had a Friday where we (shot) ten and a half pages, which is a ton.  And the only way you’re getting that is having  a fast, hard-working crew, and incredible actors who can come in, run it through a few times, really chisel everything in, hit their spots and get to their moments.  And they’ve been doing it again and again.  It’s difficult for everybody.  This is what we have.  I would love to have twice as much time.  I would love to have even three extra days.  But it took us this long to get to this spot, and it was time to make it. 

HENRY:  How long did it take to get to this spot?

CRAIG:  I wrote it at the end of 2011, and there were a ton of different versions of this movie that almost happened.  I wrote this movie to be made really really cheaply with unknown people for maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars, a total guerrilla filmmaker thing, which is really my background.  Then when bigger names came onboard, and it became something else, there was a period we had it scouted, we were looking at New Mexico.  Then I went out to Utah and found a bunch of locations.  That version fell through.  There was a brief period when we were looking at Romania, which is where I believe they shot HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (2012).

HENRY:  And COLD MOUNTAIN (2003) and DEAD IN TOMBSTONE (2013).  They shoot a lot of westerns there, oddly enough.

CRAIG:  They have a western town there that’s ready-to-go, but it seems really absurd.  We’d planned to do it in Los Angeles, in outlying areas, and we found what we needed.  I had pretty specific things in mind.  Putting in the time has really paid off.  Freddy Waff, who is the production designer, has been killing it, and killing himself to make this look great.  Our editor is Fred Raskin, who cut DJANGO UNCHAINED.  He’s one of my closest friends, a college roommate of mine.  (note: in the finished film, Raskin shares credit with Greg D’Auria) He’s saying our footage, the cinematography by Benji Bakshi, looks incredible.

HENRY:  What equipment are you shooting on?

CRAIG:   It’s Red digital; we’re shooting widescreen.  The speed that we need to move at, it needs to be digital.  I like film, and when I was a d.p. that was all I did.  But the kind of coverage we need to run necessitated digital, but I’m hoping in the end it won’t look that way.

HENRY:  Who are your favorite westerns books?

CRAIG:  I’m a big Max Brand fan.  Sometimes his plotting is clunky, but his prose can be terrific, and especially BEYOND THE OUTPOST, that is just a terrific novel and really really thoughtful and interesting, what it says about the human psyche.

HENRY:  Is he the one who also created Dr. Kildare?

CRAIG:  He is.  His real name is Frederick Faust, which is a pretty badass name.  I think he wrote something like three hundred western novels when he was writing for the pulps.  I read a lot of pulps.  Walt Coburn is another; he was an actual cowboy writer.  The verisimilitude of his work is great.  THE OX-BOX INCIDENT is great.

HENRY:  Anything else I should know, but didn’t ask?

CRAIG:  I wasn’t really a fan of DEADWOOD.  I know everyone adores it as the great western of recent years.  To me the thing that it lacked, one of the most important things about a western is a sense of adventure.  The idea of a man going out into the wilds, and bringing whatever morals and civility he has in him into the wild, and imposing it on his group, or who he encounters.  DEADWOOD could just as easily been England and Dickens; (there was) nothing to do with that sort of experience.  There are good moments, but it missed what I most wanted in a western.  The first four episodes, when Wild Bill was alive, that there was a heart to the show, and then that heart went away, and it became ‘let’s see how grimy and filthy we can be.’  They’re stuck in that town, and there’s no adventure.  I think THE TALL T is a great western, and it’s kind of a chamber piece, but you still get that these guys are going out in the open terrain and imposing their morals upon each other.  The only city that’s there is the one inside of them, and that’s something I look for in every western.  That, to me, is what westerns are, like THE WILD BUNCH: are you going to let Angel get killed?  RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY – are they going to take a stand here?


Producers Dallas Sonnier & Jack Heller

That same night I had a chance to speak with three of the producers on BONE TOMAHAWK, Dallas Sonnier, Jack Heller and Peter Sherayko

HENRY: I’m speaking to Dallas Sonnier, Jack Heller –

JACK: And Peter ‘Wild West’ Sherayko.

PETER:  Did they say anything good about me?

HENRY:  Not yet, but we just started.

DALLAS:  Let’s start with Pete, because it’s impossible to make this movie without him.  Because he knows everything about the westerns.  He’s got the horses, the props, all the guns, the contacts.  I met him as a coincidence.  I was scouting Paramount Ranch, where we shot the town sequences, and he was shooting a movie there.  I introduced myself to one of his wranglers, and he said, “You’ve got to meet Peter.”  So he brings me over to set.  Peter’s sitting there with a cigar in his mouth, of course.   He’s like, “Oh, you’re making a western?  Oh, you’ve got Kurt Russell?  Okay, I’m in!” 

HENRY:  Well, you two did work together before, I recall.

PETER:  Yes, Kurt and I worked on TOMBSTONE together; had a lot of fun there.  And we’re having a lot of fun now.  And as a matter of fact, when I wanted to shoot on our big ranch, where you’ve been to, and I asked Dallas to come on out there, Kurt said, “If Peter’s in, we’re happy.” 

DALLAS:  That’s right.

PETER:  I was thrilled with that.  It’s a great script.  It’s a lot of substance.  And when you don’t have a hundred-million dollars to do it, and you have a small cast, and Craig really cast some really good group of people in it.  Such a tight, tight group of people.  When I first read it, I thought, oh my, it’s like THE PROFESSIONALS (1966), which is a wonderful movie.  And this is going to be a wonderful movie, too, and I was able to add my little magic to it, and Dallas made me a producer. 

l to r, Peter Sherayko, Kurt Russell, Craig Zahler,
wrangler Kevin McNiven on horse

HENRY:  How did you gentlemen get involved with this project?  What was its genesis?

DALLAS:  Jack and I run a company called Caliber Media, and we’re Craig’s managers.  He’s written all these screenplays, and sold them to the big studios, and it was time for him to direct.  We had him conceive this script on a budget we thought we could achieve.  So for two years we humped it around town, and found a bunch of investors – some came and some went – and we made it this way, and that’s the story.

HENRY:  What changed in the two years of putting it together?

DALLAS:  Here’s the good news: we haven’t sacrificed.  That’s been a big commitment to Craig, to the movie, not to sacrifice.  The script we are shooting is the first draft of the script, with every single page, every single word in the movie.  We’re pretty proud of that.  The sacrifices have just been the creature comforts.

JACK:  There’s no producers’ trailer, and no big parties and limousines.  We’re all in it together, which I think it the best way to make a movie, and how Dallas and I usually do make movies.  We’re in the west together.

HENRY:  Is this your first western?

JACK:  It is.  Not our last.  Dallas is from Texas, and I think he was born with cowboy boots on.  I was lucky enough to grow up in New York City where, all the cable channels, every western you could possibly imagine was on.  We always had an eye to make a western, we both went to USC, where we took the same classes.  Every time we come on the set every morning, I’m pretty freakin’ giddy that we’re here. 

HENRY:  It’s interesting, talking to a director and two producers in a row who have all been to film 

JACK:  I hate to say it, but I haven’t seen many westerns in the theatre that were contemporary westerns.  I was too young to see UNFORGIVEN (1992) and TOMBSTONE in the theatre. 

HENRY: It stuns me to think that was twenty years ago.

DALLAS: I think I was thirteen when TOMBSTONE came out. 

JACK:  TOMBSTONE was the first DVD I ever bought.  My whole film love – and Dallas and I have talked about this a hundred times – when we were growing up, and  DVDs became huge, you would get director commentaries.  As they would reissue the older pictures, they would always get film historians, so even before I got to film school, I could quote commentaries on the DVDs, and Dallas was the same way.  Actually Patrick Wilson was telling us over dinner that he was the same way too.  He got into the behind-the-scenes stuff, too.  That was a great thing for our generation.  Having that really gave us a love for the classic westerns, and a lot of other movies.

HENRY:  Now BONE TOMAHAWK has been referred to as a horror western, which to me suggests supernatural or sci-fi elements, like JONAH HEX or COWBOYS & ALIENS.

JACK:  No, this is not supernatural. 

DALLAS:  No.  Yes, there are horror elements to the film, it’s very scary, but it’s a western.

JACK:  This is a western.  If you think THE SEARCHERS (1956) is a horror movie because they do 
horrible things, then that’s a horror movie.  This is a movie that pushes the limits for character stakes.

DALLAS:  It’s a genre-bending film.  I think it will satisfy the western fans and the horror fans.


"Write well, my friend!"

I’ve been writing for a few years now about Franco Nero returning to his most famous role in DJANGO LIVES!  More than a year ago Nero had signed on to for the third time play Django, this time as an older man, living in Hollywood, working as a technical advisor on silent westerns.  But various co-stars, writers, directors, and production companies were announced, then disappeared.  Now comes word from The Hollywood Reporter that John Sayles, twice Oscar-nominated for his scripts for LONE STAR (1996) and PASSION FISH (1992), will be scripting.  Franco told the Hollywood Reporter, “John Sayles is a master of literature.  His LONE STAR is one of the greatest modern Westerns ever shot. He knows how to be exquisitely cultivated and people-oriented at the same time, exactly like another master I’ve worked with, Mr. Orson Welles. And that says a lot.”  The film is to being produced by Fast Draw Films


Want to own Sam Elliot’s (Avery Markham’s) blood-soaked dinner jacket?  How about Boyd’s or Ava’s or Dickey’s prison jumpsuits?  Dozens of costume items, props from the U. S. Marshal’s office, signed scripts and more are going on the auction block!  Items signed by Timothy Olyphant will benefit his charity, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.  Bidding opened today, and will end on Thursday, October 22nd . You can see everything that’s up for bids, and register to bid HERE


Hope to see you this weekend at this event, Friday, October 23rd through Sunday, October 25th, celebrating the TV series.  For details and tickets, visit the official site HERE.


If you decide to wait until after the Christmas  70mm Super Panavision limited engagement, to see HATEFUL 8 at your local multiplex, you’ll see substantially the same movie, but not exactly.  What you won’t get it the overture, the intermission, and six minutes of footage.  Tarantino told The Variety, “The 70 is the 70. You’ve paid the money. You’ve bought your ticket. So you’re there. I’ve got you. But I actually changed the cutting slightly for a couple of the multiplex scenes because it’s not that.”


DeCaprio westerns budget swells from $95 million to $135 million or $165 million!  Read about why HERE


To get you in a Halloween frame of mind, The Autry will be screening a pair of Gene’s 1949 Columbia films with spooky overtones, RIM OF THE CANYON and RIDERS IN THE SKY.  His performance of GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY, from the latter film, is one of my all-time favorites of Gene’s musical numbers.


Have a great couple of weeks – the next Round-up will be Sunday, November 1st, all things bein’ equal!  Have a happy Halloween!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright October 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 4, 2015





Get-TV, a SONY antenna movie network, or digi-net, has doubled-down on their Saturday Western series offerings.  In September they premiered NICHOLS, HONDO, and A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH (you can read my coverage HERE.)

On Saturday, October 3rd, they added three more Western series to their schedule: THE TALL MAN (1960-1962), WHISPERING SMITH (1961) and LAREDO (1965-1967).  While LAREDO played on Encore Westerns a few years ago, the other two have rarely been seen since their brief initial runs.  All are from Universal Studios

THE TALL MAN tells stories about Billy the Kid (Clu Gulager) and Pat Garrett (Barry Sullivan) when they were still friends (you can read some of Clu’s memories of the series – and a lot of other memories – HERE .) .   In WHISPERING SMITH, Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated soldier of the Second World War, takes on the role of the railroad detective popularized by Alan Ladd in the 1948 Paramount feature of the same title.  Based on the Frank Spearman novel, four earlier WHISPERING SMITH films was made starting in 1916, with the character variously portrayed by H.B. Warner, J. P. McGowan and George O’Brien.  In the series, Guy Mitchell plays Smith’s right hand, George Romack.  LAREDO, sort of a GUNGA DIN out west, is the story of three Texas Rangers, played by Peter Brown, William Smith, and Neville Brand (also one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War II), plus Robert Wolders in season two (read my interview with star Robert Wolders HERE ), and their long-suffering captain, played by Philip Carey.  

Earlier this week I had the chance to talk with Jeff Meier, get-TV’s Senior Vice President of Programming, about all of the exciting recent additions to the get-TV line-up. 

Audie Murphy and Guy Mitchell in

Q: Most of the talk about ‘cord-cutters’, dropping satellite or cable service, is about people who decide to get all of their TV from the internet.  But there’s a whole other kind of cord-cutter, folks who are switching from cable back to antenna TV, and Sony’s Get-TV is a big part of that.  Why do you think it’s happening?

A: Well, the technology in the last few years has enabled the birth of a whole new group of channels, and that technology allows all the local (channels) to have the capacity to air three or four digital channels in addition to their regular feed.  Because there were already many millions of people who were just getting their television through the antenna, it created a market for these channels to develop, and it feeds upon itself.  Once you have another dozen channels available over the air, it makes people feel comfortable about using that as their main way to get entertainment.   

Q: How long have you been on the air?

A: get-TV’s been on the air since February of 2014.  So it’s been a little over a year and a half. 

Q:  I would classify you as a classic movie channel.  Initially, what audience were you aiming for? 

A:  We were looking for a classic movie audience.  We had looked at the landscape of digi-channels that had already launched, and it felt like there was a hole in the market for a classic movie channel.  And we were working at the Sony lot, and it’s something that I felt we could do really well.  We had always thought of the possibility of adding series to the channel, being generally classic across both TV and movies.  Now we’re at the beginning stages of adding some series to the mix.

Q:  Who watches – is it a rural or city audience, older or younger?

A:  Interestingly enough, our demographic information is not too extensive.  We gather a lot of our understanding of our audience by both social media, and by who writes to us.  I would imagine that our demographic is on the older side of the TV demographic.  It’s no surprise that when you’re airing classic TV and movies, the people who are most interested in that are people who experienced some of that content when they were growing up.  I wouldn’t make a guess as to whether we’re more rural or urban.  We’re carried in all of the top twenty-five markets, so we’ve got a lot of coverage in major cities.  By default, the most rural of places don’t get these stations because there’s not a local channel to carry our feed.

Q: Thus far you’ve drawn your content primarily – maybe exclusively – from the Columbia Pictures library, owned by SONY.  And you’ve had a particular focus on Westerns, both As and Bs.  Why?

A:  There’s such a passionate audience for Westerns.  When you look around the dial, whatever channels air westerns, they always get a tremendous audience.  So I knew there was a hunger there.  And I knew we had the potential to explore some Westerns that don’t get seen as often.  Since the very beginning of the channel we’ve been airing the Durango Kid movies, the Tim McCoys.  And those movies are a little bit on the older side, so they’re not the every-day fare of most of the channels that are airing Western content.  It felt like we could offer something new to an audience that was really hungry.  And that’s proven to be the case; we get a lot of great response about all of the Westerns that we air.

Q: How should viewers communicate with you, if they want to get in touch to say they’re enjoying something?

A: If you go to the get-TV website, on the bottom of the home page, there’s a section called ‘contact us.’  You can get in touch that way, if you want to reach us directly.  And on Facebook you can go to the get-TV page, like us there, and join that community – we have a very strong social media community, and we’re always looking to see what people say there.  And you can also engage with other viewers about the channel, and share your opinion.

Q: You’ve introduced an exciting new Saturday Line-up, Saturday Showdown, featuring NICHOLS, HONDO and A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH.  And now you’re adding three more: LAREDO, THE TALL MAN, and WHISPERING SMITH.  Why did you choose these particular shows?

A:  I had both an overall goal and some specific goals.  I’m really interested in the whole area of how popular culture gets passed down from generation to generation.  It often seems like only a few big hits ever make it through the clutter.  Whether that’s a few big Beatles songs that make it through the clutter of music, or whether it’s things like BONANAZA and GUNSMOKE – they’ve made it through the clutter of Westerns, and they’ll be here forever; and those are great.  But there’s a lot of other really good stuff out there, and nobody’s let it see the light of day.  And I really think that there’s a lot of rabid interest, particularly in the Western content arena, and I thought that (viewers) deserved to have a few more options.

Then with each of the specific shows, there were different things that sold me on them.  In some cases it was star power: you can’t go wrong with James Garner in almost anything he does – he’s just wonderful.  So NICHOLS was important to me for that reason.  Others of the shows, because these are the first series we’re putting on the air after being primarily a movie channel, I wanted to have connection to movies.  HONDO is based off a movie; WHISPERING SMITH is based off a movie.  And WHISPERING SMITH stars Audie Murphy, who has been in a ton of movies, so I liked that connection.

Q: I suspect you’re going to be introducing Audie Murphy to a lot of people, because although he was a very big star in his day, his movies are very rarely shown.

A:  We’ve actually had some experience with Audie Murphy, because at one of the other channels we work on here at Sony, The Sony Movie Channel, we’ve aired a bunch of Audie Murphy movies, and they do really, really well for us, so I already knew he had that potential.  Frankly I hadn’t known he’d done a series, and when I discovered that he had, I crossed my fingers that it would look good, that we could get the materials, that we thought it would be a good hit for the channel.  And we were really happy that we could get it.  I was really interested in LAREDO because there are not that many Westerns series in color from those later years of the Western.  It’s important to me to have a mix of black and white and color on the channel, and this series has a sense of humor, and was well-regarded.  For all of the series we looked through information on-line that fans had written.  And we watched them and we tried to figure out which held up over time, and these all made the cut.  It’s an interesting mix, and it’s one that we expect in the future to be folding new series in on.  Viewers, if they have some particular favorites, they can use that contact information.  We’d love to hear their ideas of what they’d like to see, that they haven’t seen in a long time.

Clu Gulager, center, Barry Sullivan, right,

Q: What in particular attracted you to THE TALL MAN?

A: What I liked about TALL MAN was it’s Billy the Kid and sheriff Pat Garrett.  And even though it’s a series people have forgotten about, they’re iconic Western characters that people can still tap into now.  It provides an entry point that isn’t obscure, and allows Western fans of today to have a context with which to watch the show.   It’s a different take on that relationship.  And on A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH, Robert Horton is from WAGON TRAIN, so he’s an established Western star.  This show didn’t fit a lot of my other parameters: it wasn’t based on a movie, it wasn’t in color, it wasn’t with a movie star.  But we watched it, and we just thought it felt like such a quintessential Western story that we couldn’t not try it out.  It also has a lot of great guest stars, and a great creative pedigree, and felt like it would be a fun show to watch.

Q: Does the smaller number of episodes in these series concern you?

LAREDO stars William Smith, Peter Brown,
and Neville Brand

A: No actually.  Because we’re airing our Saturday Showdown once a week, having a smaller number of episodes is fine.  If we were trying to air these episodes Monday through Friday for two years running, then I think they’d burn out pretty quickly.  But in the context of how we’re using them, I think they’ll be just fine.  And we hope to refresh the line-up and mix it up from time to time, too, so I think it’s just the right number of episodes.

Q: With adding these series, with adding THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW and THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, are you redefining get-TV away from being a ‘movie channel’?

A: I think we are trying to redefine it a little, to be a channel that runs classics, and the classics can be classic movies or TV, but in no way are we going away from the core of being a classic movie channel.  Later this month we’re working with the Bogart Film Festival in Florida.  We’re always trying to figure out some classic movies we could help preserve, or premiere again.  And that remains very important to us.  We just wanted to add the extra elements and see how it goes.

Q: Did you grow up watching westerns?  Did you have favorites as a kid?

A: I’m probably too young for the core era of the Western.  I very specifically remember watching BRET MAVERICK, which was a sequel to MAVERICK, probably in the early ‘80s, with my father, who was always a James Garner fan – I remember that very vividly.  And we also watched a year-long mini-series called CENTENNIAL (1978-79), based off of the James Michener book.  I would say that was my first really big experience with an epic Western, and I thought that was a phenomenal show.  But like I was telling somebody yesterday, I’m from the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE era of Michael Landon, not the BONANZA era of Michael Landon.

Q:  The kinder, gentler Landon.  What are your favorite western features?

A:  Oh gosh, it’s too hard for me to pick.  The most famous, classic ones, I fall in line with those:  HIGH NOON, SHANE, some of the big John Wayne ones.  Not an atypical general fan kind of point of view.   I have people here on my team who help us program all this, who are more specialists in Westerns than I am.

Q: What was your first job in television?

A:  I was an assistant in the scheduling department at Comedy Central before it was Comedy Central, when it was Comedy Channel in New York. 

Q: Are you a New Yorker?  I’m a Brooklyn boy myself.

A: I actually grew up in southern New Jersey, near Philadelphia.

Q: Anything else I should know?

A:  We’ll have more shows on the way, and more movies on the way.  And I hope people keep on watching, and let us know what they like.

Here’s the Saturday Showdown line-up:

2 & 3:15 p.m. – LAREDO
4:30 p.m. – HONDO
5:45 p.m. – NICHOLS

You’ll notice that the half-hour shows are in 40-minute slots, and the hour shows are in 75 minute slots.  That’s because the episodes are being show with commercials, but uncut.


As part of the Beyond Fest the much-anticipated new Western with horror overtones (if you consider cannibalism horrible), BONE TOMAHAWK, written and directed by Craig Zahler, and starring Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Sean Young, Matthew Fox and many other notables, will play at 7:30 pm at Hollywood’s famed Egyptian Theatre.  Director Zahler and star Matthew Fox will attend.  For more information, go HERE.  

On October 23rd, the limited national release will begin. 


WESTERN RELIGION, James O’Briens’s exuberant Western fable about a gathering of high-rollers for a legendary poker tournament, kicks off its national release with a private red-carpet opening on Friday, Oct. 9th, followed by six days of screenings at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood, at 1625 North Las Palmas Ave., 90028.  It will also play dates in Austin, Iowa City and New York City.  Go HERE to buy tickets.   .  Go HERE  to read my review, and interview with James O’Brien.  Go HERE here to read about my on-set adventures: 


Thanks to author and ‘Dances With Wolves’ soldier Bill Markley for passing this on to me!  Recently I wrote that the historic TRIPLE U RANCH, location for much of ‘Wolves’ was up for sale.  Good news: it has been bought by the man who created Turner Classic Movies, Ted Turner.  Details HERE.  


Angie Dickinson & John Wayne in RIO BRAVO

I’ll be at the openings for BONE TOMAHAWK and WESTERN RELIGION this week, and report back.  And hopefully I’ll have part two of my SILVER SPURS coverage in the next Round-up.  And speaking of the Spurs, Wednesday was the 84th birthday of Angie Dickinson.  At the Spurs I had the chance to interview the talented and beautiful actress about her work on GUNSMOKE, RIO BRAVO and her other Westerns, and she could not have been more charming and funny.

And Monday was the 81st birthday of Brigitte Bardot, a fine actress and eye-popping delight in VIVA MARIA, SHALAKO and FRENCHIE KING, and a lifelong advocate for the protection of animals!

And Friday would have been the birthday of the great singing cowboy, actor, filmmaker, sports lover, visionary Gene Autry!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright October 2015 by Parke – All Rights Reserved