|SXSW '06 Interview: 'The Last Western' Director Chris Deaux
|by Scott Weinberg
The 'Last Western' Pitch: A documentary on the bygone era of the B-western and the colorful citizens of Pioneertown, a dusty outpost on the edge of the Mojave Desert in the shadow of Los Angeles.
Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
The Last Western is the story of the old west town Hollywood built and then forgot.
Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
This will be our first time attending SXSW and we think it's an ideal spot for our world premiere given the "wild west" subject matter of our documentary. The Last Western screened earlier in the year as part of the industry only-IFP Market in New York. We're optimistic that SXSW will be the start of an exciting tour of film festivals and hopefully lead to a distribution deal. Our previous documentary feature, Talk Fast screened at numerous festivals including Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and many others. The Last Western has been a multi-year labor of love and we are very excited to screen it at SXSW.
Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
I used to tell my parents I wanted to be the check out guy at the supermarket because in my 8-year old logic I figured everyone needs food, therefore the checkout guy at the supermarket must make a ton of dough. Later, when I discovered my deductive reasoning needed some fine tuning - I came to the conclusion that all I really wanted to do was find ways to tell interesting, compelling and humorous stories.
Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
When I was 21 I dropped out of college and moved to Bar Harbor, Maine to work waiting tables for the summer. I had been, to that point, an English major. I was pretty lost because as much as I enjoyed literature and writing, I really had no interest in becoming a teacher and my career options seemed very limited. One night, after work and having consumed too many Coronas, I bumped into a guy I had waited on earlier in the day. Turns out he was the A.D. on Stephen King's Pet Sematary. We spent the rest of the night drinking - and he regaled me with all these great, exciting stories about productions he'd been involved in. It really inspired me and when I returned to school I got involved with radio productions, telling stories for NPR. Later, that led to an internship in television which later evolved into a passion for documentary filmmaking. I still work in television, but my true love will always be making documentaries.
Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
Mainly, I'm just tired. That's not to say we're not excited - elated even - at the prospect of unveiling our film - but, it's been a really, really long road. We were in production for almost two years and then spent another entire year laying the ground work to get to this point. We've all seen the movie 100 times. I've purposely forced myself NOT to watch the film over the past few months so I can hopefully come to it with a fresh mind and enjoy it again like a first time audience member.
Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
The two old cranky guys that always sat up in the balcony cracking wise on everyone.
During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
No. I think the reason I love independent filmmaking is that it gives you a chance to put the creative first - beyond all else. I tend to be drawn to characters and situations that are intriguing, but also maybe somewhat niche. I think a lot of filmmakers work in reverse, figuring out a viable commercial model and then backing into the creative. I don't think either model makes much sense - someday, I hope to be smart enough to figure out a way to work from both places from the outset.
How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I saw this tiny article in the newspaper about a town out in the Mojave Desert that was built in the 1940's by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. They built it as a living movie set to make b-westerns; All of the buildings had western facades, but they were functional. Thus, the saloon doubled as a filling station and so on. By the 1950's the town was abandoned. As time went on people started moving in - desert drifters, motorcycle gangs, fugitives, dope dealers - and the town was re-born, so to speak. As soon as I read that, I immediately romanticized it in my mind - here was a town born to create stories about the wild west and now in some surreal twist of fate, like an episode of The Twilight Zone, it had actually become what it set out to fictionalize. Two weeks later I drove out to the desert - not knowing if I'd be murdered (killed in some high noon shoot out!) or something equally bizarre. What I found was a group of true pioneers - a town of citizens with a profound sense of freedom and an absolute disregard for any kind of conformity.
If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Make sure you take the camera off of "stand by."
What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Too many too note - but one of my favorites that has stayed with me and really impacted my sense of composition and character is a documentary called Wonderland by John O'Hagan. He has this wonderful way of marrying classic still camera portrait photography with motion - and he had a great sense of juxtaposition in all his interviews, making subtle commentaries about his characters based on their very personal surroundings.
What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Um, I'm trying to imagine what I'd do with a small grant much less a big studio contract. I guess the first thing I'd do would be to make plans to edit the film on something other than my home computer.
Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
He's not an actor, as this is a documentary, but - Buzz Gamble (that's his real name!) He's the true The Last Cowboy - he's lived his whole life like most of us fantasize we would like to - if only we were younger, or richer, or had fewer responsibilities or any number of other lame ass excuses. Buzz is the absolute embodiment of the wild west spirit - chain smoking, heavy drinking, hard living, playing music by day to earn enough money for booze and smokes and sleeping in his car by night. It's a life you know you could never live and, as you watch it unfold, you know it can't end well. That said, he's a rock star - a guy filled with more talent than most people will ever know - who makes no apologies for the poor choices he's made - even when it's clear his world has to crash down around him sooner rather than later.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
A supermarket clerk.
Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
I believe you should rephrase this question to: "What actor would you kill to work with a small dog?"
Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
It's like that famous Holly Hunter line from Broadcast News: "The problem with the line is it keeps moving." It's kind of like that with success and it's something I've thought a lot about. How do you define success? You make a movie and it only gets into b-level festivals and you say to yourself "if I could just make a movie that gets into Sundance...." and then you make a movie and it gets into Sundance, but doesn't get distribution and you say: "if I could just make a movie that gets distribution..." and so you make a movie and it gets distribution, but doesn't make any money ... you get the idea. For me, at this stage, my goals as a documentary filmmaking are laughably modest. I want to make films that a) get some kind of public exhibition (television, whatever) and connect with audiences and b) make enough money to cover their expenses and provide at least some of the money to make the next film. Of course, once that happens I will deny ever having said that and have an entirely new set of expectations.
Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
I have no idea.
You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
THE LAST WESTERN -- Visit the website at www.thelastwestern.com!
You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Immediately enter a re-edit, add in the most hard core outtakes and re-issue the film with an x-rating.
What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
I took "a film by" credit on my current documentary because that's actually accurate - I served as producer, director, cameraman, editor, publicist, music coordinator, clearance producer and audio tech. I think if I were working on a big budget film with lots of other people I would show the requisite amount of respect for those folks and simply list myself as "director."
In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
If I knew that, I probably wouldn't have spent the last hour filling out this survey. No, seriously, I don't know that my film speaks to "the average movie watcher" - do I want to speak to the average movie watcher? Do I want to convince a guy who went to go see "Dick and Jane" - and then raved about it to come see my movie? No. But, to those people out there who are truly moved by small stories that make a big impact, movies that are equally invested in cinematic images as it is in subtle, compelling, real characters, then I say The Last Western is a movie you should not miss.
The Last Western, directed by Chris Deaux, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official The Last Western website.
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originally posted: 02/14/06 10:06:31
last updated: 02/14/06 19:55:12