I first became aware of Andrew when Will insisted that I watch a film called Dead Noon
knows I'm a fan of westerns, but only good ones; authentic, with real gun play, real characters, and themes relevant to that genre. Therefore, I'm easily disappointed and tend to balk at the "oh you like westerns, then you have to watch..." endorsement.
But hey, Will's usually right. And he was again. To quote the director, this was "a pretty good time for those of you looking for an over the top, cheesy horror flick with a very high skeleton death toll." But upon closer inspection, the film was more than that.
I came away from that film with a lot of respect for the man behind its creation, Andrew Wiest. After having the pleasure of interviewing him, and reading his responses, I think that respect is well founded. He makes movies because he LOVES to make movies, and that love comes out in every aspect of his productions. His camera angles are interesting, his story well structured, his images beautiful, his action real.
If you're an aspiring director or independent film maker, it would do you good to listen to what Andrew has to say. You'll learn a lot and should come away inspired to take on that project you've been kicking around.
So, I shall leave the stage and open it to Mr. Andrew Wiest:
- We at KillingBoxx are about as blue-collar as you can get, so your production company Blue Collar Flicks caught our eye. Tell us about your company, what you do, and the movies you've produced.
When I was a kid making my little goof off movies, I called my company Super-Cool Pictures. When it came time to make my first big goof off movie, Pistoleros
(which was made for $1500), I realized that my movies were way more of a "get your hands dirty", blue collar sort of endeavor as opposed to "super-cool". Hence the company name. Our only real goal is to make the movies we want to make with whatever amount of money we have to make it.
Generally speaking, we don't say "Oh we need this much to make the movie." It's more like "How much do we have? $4000? Okay, we'll make it for that." I don't believe that if you don't have a certain amount of money then you can only shoot a movie consisting of two people in a room talking. No way!
I want to make action movies and if I have to do it on the cheap, so be it. I guess it's this same attitude that has some critics accusing me of being overly ambitious, which I find to be an odd criticism. You guys said that about me as well but in a complimentary way. Others have said it and definitely meant it as an insult, like come on man know your place...you can't make an action movie for less than 100 million dollars! I'd rather push it right to the limits of what's possible and fail than follow the rules and make just another boring, low budget movie.
That's the beauty of a low budget, you can go crazy, try all kinds of things. I love movies like The Evil Dead, Bad Taste, Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, El Mariachi. All great movies that really pushed the boundaries of what can be done on a budget. I feel like we're living in a time now when the tools are available to make some really brilliant stuff for no money but there isn't much of an audience out there anymore that appreciates the art of an ambitious, no budget flick.
If it ain't Michael Bay, they don't like it. Luckily, there's people such as yourself (and I assume, the people reading this) who still enjoy these kinds of movies and seek them out. When I was a video clerk/movie junkie back in the 90's that's all my friends and I did... seek out whatever wild indie flicks we could get our hands on. Anyway... Sorry about that, I got off on a bit of a tangent. (Boxx note: no harm, no foul, we agree with you!)
- You cite Sam Raimi, Robert Rodriguez, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah among others as your influences (a pretty outstanding line up as far as the Boxx is concerned), how has each influenced your work?
Sam Raimi is definitely my personal favorite. I remember seeing Darkman
when I was around 12 or so and was completely blown away. It was like no movie I'd ever seen before. I'm sitting here watching this over the top, violent, tragic, genre blending love story and thought to myself "I want to do this."
I mean, I'd never seen a movie that was that in your face with its visuals before I saw Darkman
. Where else are you gonna see a bolt pov as it shoots out of a bolt thrower? My love of Darkman
led to watching Army of Darkness
, which to this day is still my all time favorite movie. Interestingly enough I think you probably see the most Raimi influence in my family flick, The Wylds
. I'm not sure how it worked out that way but there are definitely a lot of touches of Raimi in The Wylds
Robert Rodriguez was the inspiration to just go out and do it. Like many other directors my age, I read his book "Rebel Without a Crew" like it was the Bible. I've since returned to actually reading the Bible like it's the Bible but I still pick up Rodriguez's book on a pretty regular basis. He was the ultimate success story. The guy who made a movie out of sheer determination, found himself wined and dined by Hollywood, yet is still able to make movies out of his home town. Because of Rodriguez, I vowed that I would make movies on my own terms and stay as far away from Hollywood as possible, which I've managed to do so far.
Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah are the masters as far as I'm concerned. I aspire to one day be making the caliber of movie that these guys were making in their day. If I can even get in the vicinity, I'll consider myself a success.
- Your film Pizza, Pesos, and Pistoleros is a modern day Western, while Dead Noon is a Western Horror. Do you think your future films will stay with the Western theme, Horror theme, both or neither, and why?
Yeah, I love westerns and that love does seem to crop up in most of my movies. Growing up in Wyoming probably has something to do with that as well. My newest movie is not a western, although it does feature a sword-wielding cowboy for a couple of scenes. It's actually a family action flick based on the classic Christian allegory "The Pilgrim's Progress
" by John Bunyan. I've had an absolute blast making this movie and can see myself making a few more movies for kids down the road.
I have one script written that is sort of a western. It's a family film about a young, time traveling Buffalo Bill Cody. I also have another really gritty, violent western I'd like to do based on the vigilantes of Montana. I'm sure I'll one day get around to making those.
As for horror... I love the genre and would like to return to it someday, I just don't know when. I just feel that the brand of horror I have an affinity for, the real campy, fun stuff, i.e. Army of Darkness is not really in style right now. I have talked to Kane about playing a part in a ridiculously over the top comedy/sci-fi/horror flick I wrote, along with my friend Keith (one of the writers on Dead Noon), featuring an Elvis like character called Apache Suede, and he was down with that. So, you never know, I might be delving back into the horror genre sooner than I think. We've also been kicking around some ideas for a possible Dead Noon sequel that would be completely outrageous, but that's probably a long shot.
- The skeletons in your movie Dead Noon are pretty well done for an independent film; tell us how you got those special effects created?
That was all the handiwork of my good friend James Teague. As soon as we thought up Dead Noon
and I knew that we were going to have to pull off some pretty crazy effects for a $4,000 movie, Jim was the first person who came to my mind. I knew if anyone could do it, he could. He's a very talented artist and was just about to head off to art school but I luckily was able to talk him out of it and talk him into dedicating a year and a half of his life to doing effects for my movie for no pay.
But, to answer your question, the skeletons were done using a real skeleton we borrowed from my former science teacher. Jim essentially made a puppet out of it and we operated it in front of a greenscreen, you know, running, jumping, etc. We then added the footage into the action we shot on location. We also had a stunt skeleton made out of cardboard that we tossed around and a miniature that we used for some shots.
Will mentioned the Harryhausen connection in his review and that was very intentional. We actually animated the puppet skeletons slightly in post to give them more of a stop motion feel. We also gave them the famous "Harryhausen brow." Some of the shots were framed up exactly like shots in Jason and the Argonauts
, which is one of my all time favorite movies.
- There were many aspects of your film Dead Noon that are of a much higher caliber than one would expect from a film with your budget restraints: many of the side characters were very "convincing" in their roll, Grace fits the bill perfectly, she moves like someone who handles guns and rough terrain, I could go on. Where did you find your actors and how did you go about matching them to their characters?
came about in a very haphazard sort of fashion, which definitely shows at times on screen I know.
Basically we decided we wanted to make a bizarre sequel to High Noon with zombies. Before we had a script, or even any semblance of an outline, I called up my friend Rob Bear, who plays Frank in the movie and has acted in the majority of my stuff, and told him about the project and a bit about each character. Since I really trust Rob's opinion when it comes to actors I put him in charge of finding me people who would fit each character and were willing to shoot in Wyoming, in January, when it's 20 below outside... oh and who could start shooting in less than a month.
So he went about finding actors while I worked on the script with Matt Taggart and Keith Suta. He managed to round up some hardy, talented people who were willing to come work for me based on a 36 page script we'd written in less than a week. I had to convince a couple of them that it really would be a feature despite the very short script. Some of the actors I had worked with before on my first feature - like Lil, who plays Grace, so I wrote some of the parts with those actors in mind.
The part of Logan was actually written for Rob but as usual he refused to play the part and instead wanted to be the bad guy who, in the original script, only showed up in the last five pages. So, we did some last minute shuffling, beefed up the part of Frank, and somehow pulled it off.
I wouldn't recommend making a movie in this fashion to anyone. We made it work, but it took four different phases of shooting (not counting the Kane Hodder phase) to pull it all together. We actually shot the flashbacks a year after we started the flick. I'm really happy with the acting in the movie and am glad people are taking notice. Nearly all of the actors in Dead Noon make an appearance in The Wylds as well.
- Along the same lines as question 5, your fight choreography was impressive and the gun fights felt much more realistic than most. How did you accomplish this?
Basically I wanted to have the action in the flashbacks be pretty brutal and realistic as opposed to the stylized action in the rest of the movie. I've always been fascinated with the fact that most gunfights in the old west took place with the shooters standing just a few feet apart and they would still miss each other half the time.
I'd never really seen that in a movie before and so I decided I'd like to try to capture that in the gunfight between Frank and the Marshall. The snow really lent itself well to that scene. It's hard to be smooth in three feet of snow, no matter how hard you try. The same goes for the fist fight. I thought it would be a lot cooler to just see these guys tumbling around in the snow trying their best to land a punch. Any fight I've ever seen or been a part of is usually total chaos. It's messy and bloody and you're not thinking clearly. It's not like the movies where they take turns exchanging blows and barely break a sweat.
In contrast to that, the rest of the action in the movie is completely over the top and that's always a lot of fun to do. In order to accomplish that, I just stole from everyone that's come before me who's ever done a gunfight...Peckinpah, Woo, Rodriguez, and countless others.
- The editing on Dead Noon was extremely professional. Can you give editors or anyone interested in producing their own independent film some tips on how to make such seamless transitions, keep the action moving and hide the limitations of a small budget?
Thanks. I always edit my own stuff, partly for budget reasons but mostly because I just plain love it. I think being your own editor can come in very handy when it comes to shooting. I know exactly what I have to shoot to make it work in the editing because I know my strengths and limitations as an editor.
The editing is where I really figure the movie out. Up to that point, I usually have only a vague idea of what the movie is going to be. You have to be willing to completely think outside the box and make drastic changes to your movie if need be. I think a lot of people get really hung up on trying to edit the flick to look exactly like what they pictured when they were writing it and that a lot of times you can actually come up with something better if you let go of all that and completely rethink it.
There's no one right way to do something no matter what they tell you in film school or Hollywood. I like to use graphics, freeze frames, drawings, narration, flashbacks, ridiculous transitions, color effects, anything I feel is necessary to keep the movie clipping along and making sense. Anything goes as long as it fits the style of the movie. If your movie is about a cancer patient or something then you probably don't want to be using too many snazzy wipes. Also, shoot as much material as you possibly can. The more angles and options you have, the bigger and better it'll look.
- We've seen your director's cut of Dead Noon and assume that the Kane Hodder character was added by the studio. As always, Mr. Hodder did a fine job, but honestly the director's cut was a much better film. Can you tell us a bit about how this transpired and how you felt about the changes made to your film, prior to release?
Yeah, Kane was great and we really hit it off. That was the one good thing that came out of having my movie tampered with. The guy's a horror legend and it was really cool to get to meet and work with him. Other than that, I was not at all happy with the changes that were made.
It was a really long, painful process that I've had to put behind me, so I probably won't get into it that much. I was locked out of the editing process from the get go and that was really frustrating. It seems ridiculous to me to cut the director out in the final stage but for some reason it happens all the time.
My main problem with this cut of the movie is the pacing. The version they bought off of me was 85 minutes. The version out on shelves is like 81 minutes and that's with the new Kane Hodder material. So what that means is that about 15 minutes of my version hit the cutting room floor and what was cut out was character development and plot.
On top of that, they restructured the whole movie, especially Frank's entrance and the flashbacks leading up to his entrance. The final result really plays, as Dread Central put it, like one big demo reel. All action, no plot. And I think that actually bogs the movie down and makes it feel a lot longer and kind of dull in places.
The most frustrating thing for me is that I really think that this version with Kane could've actually been better than my version but they blew it. I'm also not a huge fan of the new score but some people apparently really love it so...what do I know? All that being said though, I really am happy to have my movie out on store shelves and to have been able to direct Kane Hodder. I also think this version is still a pretty good time for those of you looking for an over the top, cheesy horror flick with a very high skeleton death toll.
- It's quite obvious that you have an extensive knowledge of film history as well as technique. Where'd you gain this knowledge?
My mom is responsible for really sparking my interest in movies. She showed me A Fistful of Dollars
when I was a kid and it blew my mind, got me completely obsessed with westerns and Leone in particular. She also introduced me to Night of the Living Dead
which led to watching as much Hitchcock and Romero as I could get my hands on. I think she later regretted showing those to me at such a young age since I went on to become a horror director. I'm just kidding, she loves my movies. She has to, she's my mom. She also brought home a video camera from her job as a school librarian every weekend so I could make movies when I was in junior high. [Boxx note: sounds like you were one lucky kid to have a Mom like that!]
My grandpa and my uncle also owned a drive-in theater so I spent a ton of time there as a kid watching anything and everything. When I got into high school I worked at a video store, a profession I would continue to work in over the next 8 years at various stores. But that first store I worked in was old school. It was called Action Video, it's not there anymore unfortunately. All of us clerks mostly just sat there watching and discussing movies and would occasionally help customers. We were just a bunch of movie junkies watching as many movies as possible. I would average 3 a shift. Pretty much all of my knowledge of film history comes from my years of video store clerking. Any technique I learned came from watching movies and making movies, I never went to film school or anything.
- As mentioned, Robert Rodriguez is one of your influences. Do you agree with his assertion that if you want to make films, you make films and that a 4-year degree in film is not necessary?
Absolutely. Just going to film school doesn't make you a director, you have to get off your butt and make a movie if you want that title. I'm sure you can learn some valuable things at school, I don't know, but I can tell you that I've never had anyone ask me if I went to film school, they just ask to see my work. In the end, it's all about just going out there and doing it whether you went to film school or not.
- While in the process of shooting Dead Noon, did you ever reach a point when you sat down and said to yourself "What the hell am I doing?" and/or "perhaps I've gone too far" undertaking such an ambitious project? And if so, how'd you shake yourself out of it?
With Dead Noon
I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. If I had, I definitely would've stopped and asked myself that very question and probably would have never even started the thing. It wasn't really until we got a ways into the effects work that I started feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all.
I initially planned on there being somewhere between 50 to 100 effects shots. In the end, we wound up with around 800 or so. Luckily my wife and Jim stuck it out with me and we ended up with a pretty ambitious $4,000 movie. Yeah, it doesn't all work but I think for the most part we succeeded and that Jim did an incredible job with limited resources and money.
I truly believe that there is no one else out there who could've single handedly pulled off what he did. What kept me going through it all was the fact that I owed it to everyone who helped me out to at least deliver a finished product. So many indie flicks never get finished and I didn't want to be one of those guys and disappoint everyone. Not only were we able to finish it but to then have Lionsgate put it out...that's pretty cool.
- What un-filmable project would you love to tackle despite the fact that you'd know ahead of time that it was probably impossible?
Oh man, that's a good question. I don't know if I can narrow it down to just one. I would really like to bring John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost" to the big screen but that seems like a nearly impossible feat. I would also love to do a film about Tom Horn but the Steve McQueen movie is so amazing that I'm afraid I would fall miserably short. I'd also like to do a remake of Valley of Gwangi. I just think the concept of cowboys and dinosaurs has not been explored to the fullest yet and I would like to continue the journey that Ray Harryhausen started. Trying to top Harryhausen is a frightening concept though.
- And our Lucky 13 Wild Card question: Are any of the characters in Pizza, Pesos, and Pistoleros or Dead Noon based on your Grandfather, a gentleman that's listed as one of your influences? If not in these films, are there any other characters in film that would represent this man, and why?
No, I've never really written my grandpa into a movie yet. I have a few ideas kicking around where the main character is based on him though.
I do think the way I make movies, staying outside of the mainstream, is a direct result of his influence on my life. I remember him once describing a guy in this way: "He's an outlaw...but he's a good outlaw." He liked bucking the system and people who bucked the system as long as it was for the greater good. I really took that to heart, especially when it comes to making movies. I'm trying my best to buck the Hollywood system, to show people that there's another way. That if you want to make movies and you're from Wyoming, or Montana, or Nebraska that you can do it and that you can tell the kind of stories you want to tell; that not every story takes place in Los Angeles or New York. So, ultimately I hope to honor his memory by bein' a good outlaw.
KillingBoxx Note: Once again, I have to reiterate that Andrew Wiest is an artist who loves his medium. His adoration for the craft is evident in every frame and it is our hope that this imaginative and talented gentleman finds himself with a budget worthy of his talents.
Andrew's list of favorite directors and the films he references are enough to make him a friend of The Boxx. But it goes beyond that. I get the feeling that he may one day stand among those directors and his films stand among those films. And that one day his film Dead Noon will be sited as one of the first indications of his talent.
It's interesting that he sites Peckinpah as a favored director as after reading Andrew's words and watching his film again (you need to see it twice, especially the director's cut as you'll miss subtleties that enrich the film if you don't!) I can see much of Sam, in Andrew and his work.
Peckinpah lamented the loss of past era; an era when the individual lived his life by his own standards of morality and depended on himself for his salvation or often enough, his own destruction; no excuses, no rationalizations, no whining. A time of danger but of freedoms not understood in today's world of safety, regulation, mass production and fear. His characters were often defeated by their own stubborn strength of character. I get the feeling Andrew Wiest is just such a man, but one who will succeed because of his independence, not be crushed for it.
Andrew speaks humbly, yet with the convictions of a person who knows what he wants and who he is. That conviction comes forth in his films, his characters reminiscent of a different time and place. Somehow I think Andrew is smart enough and talented enough not to fall prey to today's sensibilities and that this will serve him well. In the future I have no doubt that he will continue to "buck the system, for the greater good". I look forward to seeing more of his work.
And I for one think he is a "Good Outlaw".