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Director Lance Doty

by on July 14, 2009
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Shoot 1The Yap:  I wanted to say that I really enjoyed the movie.

LD: Thanks. I appreciate that. You know, it all started from my love of westerns, and Italian westerns especially.

The Yap: Well, that’s what I was going to ask first, is why choose a western as your first directing gig?

LD: It’s so hard to do anything different and unique, and I have a real love for the Italian westerns, but this was very low-budget, but talking to people, my wife for instance asked me if I was out of my mind for doing a period piece so low budget.

But we just started exploring the idea. There were so many of these old western movie towns just sitting there, basically empty. They’re all old movie sets, made for the American westerns of the ’50s and ’60s, and we happened to come across Bonanza Creek in Santa Fe, NM. And we had it for a couple of weeks for a small amount of money. Panavision hooked us up with some cameras, Super Y format like they used to shoot. Basically (those cameras) cut your film budget in half, because it uses half as much film.

The Yap: Yeah. With lower-budget movies, a lot of times they’re filming in a garage dressed up somewhere, but you had a lot of larger shots where it was clear that wasn’t the case. You could see the town.

LD:  Exactly.  I don’t know how many thousands of acres she had, but the potential was endless in terms of what you could do.  The other thing, we shot in New Mexico, they  have this 25% tax credit for filmmaking. Now a lot of states have adopted it, and that helped a lot.

And the thing with New Mexico, they have this whole prison full of wardrobe that you can use for free, which a lot of people don’t know. So we were able to use authentic wardrobes for our film for nothing as well. You talk about a series of lucky accidents, that’s what happened.

The Yap: Indiana has a 15% tax credit. It was a big thing here. There was all this push, and it got passed, and as soon as it did they said “that’s not enough.” Michigan has a bigger one…I think 40% or something…

Shoot 3LD: Yes, I think it’s 40 or 45%. The more any specific state has going on, the better. And New Mexico should be a model for other states. They have these great training programs, and great in-state incentives. They could have 8 or 9 shows going on at once.

The Yap: The one bit of casting I’m interested in is James Russo. I’m assuming you saw him in “Open Range.”

LD: Oh, yes.

The Yap: I’m not particularly a huge fan of westerns, but he was so great in that as this cowardly, villainous sheriff, and it’s a nice contrast, because he’s much more of a bad dude here.

LD: Russo is amazing. He’s one of those guys who you can talk to 25 different people and they’ll know him from 25 different movies. He’s really a chameleon, and we were lucky to have him. And he’s worked with everybody. Believe it or not he worked with Sergio Leone in “Once Upon a Time in America.” He was in that film. He’s got so much experience, and he really loves Italian westerns as well, and we had some great conversations.

It was one of these things too, where you have certain people who say “let’s go for the name, go for the name, go for the name.” But I feel like when you shoot low budget, if you get one “name” in there, it hurts the film overall, because there’s a lot of baggage or expectations with certain actors.  So we really went for great acting. And a lot of the actors were local actors. We got lucky again, though, and got good character actors.

Shoot 2The Yap: The other name, of course, is Jim Gaffigan, and in the stuff I see online everyone’s wondering why he’s in a “serious role,” wondering if he can do it.

LD: Jim and I have known each other for I guess 15 years or so. We worked in advertising together, and again that was my wife’s idea. I was typecasting Jim as well. But she was saying “he’d be great,” and I had a conversation with him. He was on tour at the time, but we were able to work it in.

The Yap: The film really is a combination of homage and spoof. Not parody necessarily, but there’s respect for the genre, but a wink and a nudge at the same time.

LD: Obviously with the western, there are a lot of preconceived notions about the movie. I don’t remember how many times I heard “Well, John Wayne would never draw his gun like that,” or “Clint Eastwood would be a little quieter,” but it was like “get that out of your mind right now. With Jeff (Hephner), who plays Red Pierre is a little more gentle.

The Yap: Well, he’s kind of fresh faced.

LD: Exactly. Thanks for articulating that.

The Yap: How about the animated sequence in the film?

LD: Yeah, we basically didn’t have the budget to shoot a child actor, so I contacted George Plimpton, who was nominated for an Academy Award, and he put it together for him. We didn’t know about it at the time, but that Tarantino, unfortunately had his animated sequence in “Kill Bill.” But we needed that and couldn’t shoot it under our budget. But a western has to grow that myth, and that old story, and that’s what the movie is about too, that the story gets told at a saloon, and it keeps growing and getting bigger and bigger.

The Yap: On a side note, I was really pleasantly surprised when I opened the screener box and those Topps trading cards fell out.

LD: (laughs) Yeah. That was something that my 6-year-old son came up with. He was playing with Pokemon cards and he said “Dad, you should do these for your movie.” And it goes back to those old “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back” cards.

The Yap: I had those! And your cards even look like those.

LD: Yeah, and it was something that a producer at another festival was all over me about, asking how much it cost and how I got them done. I know it’s going to be copied soon, which, you know, is fine.

Shoot First And Pray You Live Trailer from Lance Doty on Vimeo.