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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug talks Westerns, music, and gross-out comedy with DUST UP director Ward Roberts! Plus a review of the film!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. The film DUST UP has all the makings of a cult classic. It’s got Grindhouse concepts, wacky heroes, over the top villains, an awesome soundtrack and a bold mentality that isn’t afraid to giggle at the most wrong situations. The film is out now on DVD and Video On Demand and I had a chance to talk with the director, Ward Roberts, about DUST UP. Here’s what occurred…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I am here with Ward Roberts, the director and writer of DUST UP.

WARD ROBERTS (WR): It’s a pleasure to be here.

BUG: So for folks who know nothing about DUST UP, can you give me the elevator pitch for the film and what’s it all about?

WR: For the elevator pitch for the film, I decided to scrap the plot and just go with what director Joe Lynch said about the movie. He said, “Dude, it’s like RAISING ARIZONA meets BEYOND THUNDERDOME.” And I was like, “Yes, that is exactly what I need to say in order for people to want to watch it!” (laughs)

If you want to get into what my impetus was to create the film, then it was what we called an action comedy/Grindhouse neo-Western, to make it real simple. We were out in Joshua Tree in the desert and being obsessed with Westerns and wondering how we can take that environment and create a neo-Western that was almost a Western in disguise. Because at this point, TRUE GRIT hadn’t come out, DJANGO wasn’t out yet, LONE RANGER wasn’t being made. So we asked “how could we make a Western that could really appeal to today’s audience?” And I think we answered that by coming up with a way that the audience didn’t even recognize it as a Western. It just had a lot of the archetypical characters and settings and situations like a modern Western.

BUG: That’s interesting. Do you think it’s hard to sell a Western to today’s audience who sort of relate Westerns to dusty, old timey movies their Dad or Grandpa watches on Turner Classic Movies? Do you think that’s a stigma that goes along with the Westerns these days?

WR: Absolutely. I think we turned a corner with TRUE GRIT where Hollywood is ok with sending out a couple of big ones. We’ll see with THE LONE RANGER. That could make or break the Western for the next couple of years. I think really you have to go back to the 3:10 TO YUMA remake for the studios to get to the point where they had enough courage to put some money into Westerns again. I think the Western did essentially die with John Wayne. Clint Eastwood popped up with UNFORGIVEN, and we thought that was cool, but it certainly didn’t reinvigorate the genre for us. We’re hopefully getting to a place where Westerns can make a comeback. I know Adam Sandler is making THE RIDICULOUS SIX, a Western comedy. I’m just hoping it comes back and stays so that we get new Western movies on a regular basis.

BUG: It’s funny you mention the Lone Ranger because Jack, the hero of DUST UP who wears an eye patch which is sort of a mask, and Moe, his Native American sidekick, are sort of similar to the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Was that intentional?

WR: You know, I don’t know at what point in the process that someone came to me and said, “Oh, these guys are sort of a hipster generation version of the Lone Ranger and Tonto”, but I’m looking right now on my shelf at my old Lone Ranger action figure sitting on my Silver action figure. So there’s may be something to that on a subconscious level. I think it was when we got to the set and we started seeing everyone in costume that we made the connection. Sort of a 21st Century take on that historic duo.

BUG: The character of Moe stands out to me. I think he’s such a cool character the way he kind of saunters around and takes things with a grain of salt in such a laid back manner in contrast to all of the pretty serious stuff going on around him. There’s meth dealing, there’s all kinds of drug use, there’s killing, there’s cannibalism, there’s an orgy, all of this kind of crazy stuff. And Moe’s just kind of walking around all mellow and Zen during all of this. Was that the actor’s addition to the character or was he initially written that way?

WR: Devin [Devin Barry] who plays Moe and I started out doing improv in college together. So as I’m writing that character, I’m writing it with Devin in mind. And Devin could walk through a 30-car pile-up and not even bat an eye. He’s not one who is going to show any level of excitement at any point ever. So putting him in such a hair raising situation and having him go through it so nonchalantly was definitely written in because I was thinking of him as the character.

BUG: How did Amber Benson get involved in all of this?

WR: Amber came in and auditioned for us. We had one day of auditions for the part of Ella. And she was amazing. She killed it. Particularly the scene where she wakes up and realizes that the baby has been left behind. It just broke my heart. So we went and got coffee and…the rest of us have worked together for the most part, and had been in the trenches, and we knew that this was a down and dirty shoot in the middle of the desert and I needed to make sure Amber was cool with that and wasn’t going to need a lot of pampering because it just wasn’t going to be available, and she couldn’t have been more wonderful and more gung ho. Her indie film spirit was bursting out of her ears. She just made her own great indie film, DRONES. Not only was she fantastic in the film and on the set, but she’s now one of our very dear friends.

BUG: Nice. Well, this film really does walk the line between horror, comedy, Grindhouse, and action; how did you balance all of that so as not to go too far into one genre? The horror and the comedy interest me the most because there’s a fine line there of what you can laugh at and what you run the risk of losing the audience’s trust and favor on. What are your thoughts on all of that?

WR: I think that was the biggest challenge for all of us making this film. We take these different tones; whereas most films would commit to just one of these ideas, we decided to take something so funny and put it right next to something that is horrifying and sickening. And the way we did it was by having complete sincerity. By having especially the actors so fully commit to the situation and the character in the situation that I think it creates reality throughout the course of the whole film that you are willing to go to these funny and dark places because they believe it and thus you believe it. Like life, which can be hilarious and horrific, sometimes right next to each other, that it created a cohesive reality.

BUG: With all of the funny stuff going on, were you ever worried that viewers wouldn’t take the story seriously or trust you as a storyteller?

WR: I’m still delighted when I find out how nervous people are for some of the characters towards the end of this film. I think some of the actions that the villain does throughout this film, it sets up a situation where in the worst case, they don’t trust the film. So they don’t know, in those final moments of the film, who’s going to live or die. I was concerned about that but those concerns were alleviated through the course of seeing the film with an audience and getting enough reaction to this film.

BUG: I did want to talk about the villain, Buzz (Jeremiah W. Birkett). He is so awesome as the villain. Some films have villains who don’t know they are bad guys, and then there’s Buzz who knows he’s bad and revels in the fact that he’s a moustache-twirling bad guy to his core. Again, is that the actor or the character written in the script here this time?

WR: From the get go, Buzz was a character who just loved the hedonistic lifestyle. And ultimately, this was something that existed in him for his whole life, I would guess. And then what happened to him in the military and in the war allows him to justify to unleashing his Mr. Hyde that he has permanently embodied. His world view is going into a dark, dark direction--that he must be the biggest dog with the most puppies behind him. Ultimately, indulging in these perverse and violent and drug-addled activities is the only way to get through life.

BUG: It seems that once his bar is destroyed towards the middle of the movie, that’s the last straw and that’s the point where it’s no holds barred. It’s Thunderdome, as Joe Lynch was saying.

WR: Yeah, he’s been able to walk this line since he’s been out of the military and set up this cult of followers at his bar and this story is the 24 hours or so where these people enter his life and destroy his world. It causes him to cross that line where he is not able to uncross.

BUG: I really love the scene where they’ve been out in the desert for a few days now and Buzz still wants folks to party, but everyone is exhausted. So he tosses them drugs and makes them have the most unenthusiastic orgy ever put to film.

WR: If you don’t mind, I am going to be borrowing that quote for the video I’m putting together for the film.

[Both laugh]

BUG: Just that whole time in the desert, the whole latter half of the movie was classic. Take me through the days filming those sequences.

WR: We had some hard core actors and crew come out from Los Angeles. Most of them drove themselves out there and we put themselves up in hotels and really committed to these three brutal nights and mornings of filming. We knew that there would be people would start to lose enthusiasm and start to not show up as the days went on because it was such a difficult environment to inhabit. So we got the big shots, the crowd shots the first night. But by the third night, we had about half of the extras we started out with. But we anticipated that so we shot the wide crowd shots the first night and as the nights passed we shot the mediums, and then the close ups. So we didn’t need that sea of humanity for the close up shots. What was fun was that the first night, we shot the party scenes and everyone’s energy is high. And they just got there and it was a fun bunch of people. Then we shoot the morning scenes which is after a twelve hour shoot where everyone is pushing themselves for the nighttime rowdy shots, then we get to the morning stuff, everyone is genuinely exhausted, over it, and ready to go home. So you can use that because the energy in real life is suited for the performances needed for the scene. That worked out in our favor.

BUG: I also wanted to talk a bit about the soundtrack. For a smaller budget film, you do have a fantastic soundtrack set to it. How did that all come about and who arranged it all?

WR: Without Spindrift and Gram Rabbit there is no DUST UP. I was out in Joshua Tree visiting my mother and discovered Spindrift one night at the premiere of their first film THE LEGEND OF GOD’S GUN, which was actually a soundtrack first, and then they collaborated with filmmaker Mike Bruce to make the movie around that soundtrack and I was just blown away by them. I bought all of their albums. Then my mom introduced me to Gram Rabbit, a Joshua Tree local band. I listened to those bands obsessively almost exclusively while I was writing the film. So I was going out scouting locations with Shannon, our cinematographer, who had introduced me to this great musician Sasha Vallely, who is a member of Spindrift and I was like “Whaaaaaaat?!?!” And thus began a real relationship with Spindrift and Kirpatrick Thomas who is Spindrift. Then my mom got to be friends with Gram Rabbit, as there’s a small music community out there in Joshua Tree. So I talked to them and said I loved their music and I really wanted to use it in this film. And I knew that the only way I could convinced them is if they saw the film edited with the music, so with great anxiety, I played it for both bands cut with their music and fortunately they both loved the film and were happy to let us use the music. If they were not into it, at that point, I don’t know what I would have done. I would have been in real trouble.

BUG: Cool. I actually downloaded a lot of the songs as I was watching the film from iTunes. The music was a great addition to the film. How have audiences responded to the film?

WR: With pretty wild enthusiasm. You know, there are two reactions. There’s one where people come up with that look in their eye. And you can tell, you just delighted them for ninety minutes. And we’ve worked for about three years to give folks about ninety minutes of a good time, and to see people beaming afterwards and wanting to talk about it and getting all of the scenes that I’d hoped they would get from it, and they do. And people come up saying they want to watch it again or seeing someone watch the film and then bring back their friends to watch it again a second time. That’s the ultimate compliment. When someone says, “I want to take another ninety minutes out of my life to enjoy your movie again.” That’s when you know it’s definitely working for the audience we intended the film for.

And then there’s the other reaction of people who were maybe brought there by a friend and maybe they weren’t really sure what they were coming into and they come out perplexed--a little stunned. And I think that’s because of the grotesque nature of certain parts of the film. They weren’t prepared for it. They just don’t know what to think of the film because they just have never seen anything like it before. They’re not sure whether to be mad at you or scared by you or what. No one dismisses it. But people are just asking, “What did you just do to me?”

BUG: Do you feel good when they come up to you with that reaction?

WR: The thing is, those aren’t the people who come up to talk to you. If they say anything, it is very little and then they just kind of run to their car and just try to get out of there. It seems like they have to process it for a while and I do like that. I saw a friend who saw the film a week after the screening at a party and she comes up to me and says, “It’s really well done, but it was just so gross.” I grew up with this zombie generation where I am surprised at how people become really upset about the gore and I’m so used to it, but it seems to definitely disturb people.

BUG: Is there room for a DUST UP 2? This seems like the makings of a cult classic or a midnight movie sort of film now that it’s going to be available for download and on DVD.

WR: I never really entertained that idea. There was a time when I was entertaining a notion to do a prequel, maybe as a graphic novel sort of to promote the film. But boy, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about that. My gut really says “No, don’t do it.” There seems to be a lot of people who love the movie and these characters so much that I don’t want to mess it up. If I try to recapture that magic, I’ll mess it up. Leave it be. Let that final freeze frame be what everyone remembers about these characters and this adventure. Also after three straight years of eating, breathing, sleeping, bleeding, crying for this film, I’m so ready for new characters and a new world, that’s what’s got to happen now. I’ll never say never about revisiting this world. A few days ago, I did have an idea of what a road trip with these characters would be like. And that might be fun. But most likely, no, we’ve seen the last of our DUST UP heroes.

BUG: OK, so what it up next for you now?

WR: That’s a very good question. There’s probably a pretty crucial phone call I am taking in a few hours to determine a direction. I’m finding that there are a lot of directions to choose from moving forward. And I want the next one to be something to be better as far as financing and pre-production and all of that going into it even before I put too much into writing because I’ve written so many scripts where everyone says it’s great, but then it takes forever and it ends up not happening. So I want to have these conversations with producers first before I spend months working up that script. I want someone to be there to grab it and run with it once I’m done.

BUG: Well, I’m eager to see what you have next. Congratulations on a fantastic film, and best of luck to you, sir. Was this your first film?

WR: No, my first film was called LITTLE BIG TOP and it starred Sid Haig of Captain Spaulding fame from DEVIL’S REJECTS and THE HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. And it is the story of an alcoholic clown who goes to a small town to basically drink himself to death but he ends getting roped into working at the local circus. He’s doing it for booze money, but he ends up being this dark comedy story of redemption.

BUG: That sounds awesome! Where can people check that film out?

WR: That is a very good question. I’m working on getting the rights to it at the moment. I believe it can be found on Netflix to rent on DVD and sometimes it can be found on Amazon, but I’d love to work something out to get it re-released or digitally available. With the success of DUST UP, folks are curious about that again, so hopefully, I can work something out so it can come out in 2013 sometime.

BUG: Cool. Thanks for talking with me today!

WR: Thanks so much. I felt, going into this film, the readers of Ain’t It Cool News were our audience. There is no website more directly aimed squarely at the people who might be into DUST UP than Ain’t It Cool News, so for you to watch it and write us up and do this interview is huge for me and everyone involved in the film. Thank you.

BUG: DUST UP is available now for Video On Demand and the DVD was just released last week. Below is my review of the film.

Available now Video On Demand and on DVD!

DUST UP (2012)

Directed by Ward Roberts
Written by Ward Roberts
Starring Aaron Gaffey, Devin Barry, Amber Benson, Travis Betz, Jeremiah W. Birkett
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though it might be a bit out of place reviewed here on AICN HORROR, there is definitely horrific and pitch black humor throughout the insane dosey-do that is DUST UP. Following basically the same narrative as DRIVE, but seen through a completely cracked lens depicting an upside down world of hilariously unique characters, DUST UP is both derivative and one of a kind all at once.

Jack (Aaron Gaffey), a one eyed man, lives a life of solitude in the desert, only interacting with a fast talking Native American named Moe (Devin Barry) and trying to forget about his troubled past until Ella, a woman in need (BUFFY’s Amber Benson), seeks him out as a handyman. With her deadbeat husband (Travis Betz) off to parts unknown and high on meth and her baby hungry and crying, the one-eyed man feels obligated to help. A switch of scenes finds a dive bar run by the devilishly hilarious Buzz (Jeremiah W. Birkett), your typical belly-laughing, moustache-twirling bad guy equipped with a bunch of drugs, a load of guns, and a cadre of colorful goons such as the tattooed Mr. Lizard. Turns out Ella’s deadbeat husband gets his drugs from Buzz and owes him quite a bit of money, so he goes on the run, hiding out at Ella’s home, only to have the thugs follow. A standoff occurs as Jack and Moe are forced to become involved in a battle against Buzz and his goons. Sounds like your typical action romp, and it is…and it isn’t.

DUST UP is definitely one of those throwback films trying to act as if it were unearthed during a simpler time. Though the soundtrack is very much in the here and now, DUST UP is relatively timeless in that its characters are simply fun to watch despite any era. The tendency to go the ultra-violent and gory route is plentiful and the result is often both stomach churning and laugh out loud funny. For example, Buzz forces his goons to continue to do drugs and party nonstop in the desert. After failing to liven the party up with drugs, Buzz suggests an orgy. Though they comply, it is by far the most unenthusiastic orgy ever put to film.

Filled with over the top performances, especially by the villain Buzz (Birkett), who seems to love every moment he gets to be a bad guy from holding a gun to a baby’s head to forcing his henchman to have sex with his girl when he has to leave and take care of business, DUST UP had me rolling from beginning to end. Gaffey plays the hero straight and somber and Barry’s Moe has an unflinching laidback coolness not seen since Pedro’s performance in NAPOLEON DYNMITE.

Reminiscent of everything from BILLY JACK to BLAZING SADDLES to PULP FICTION, there are all kinds of gloriously ghoulish and greatly gross turns that happen in the film from meth withdrawal to cannibalism to sodomy; no line is too brash to cross. So if you’re easily offended (first off, what the hellballs are you doin’ here?) you might want to go elsewhere, but if you’re looking for gross-out humor, some greatly perverse comedic performances, and all forms of laugh of the “that’s just wrong” kind, DUST UP has all that and more!

See ya Friday for our regular AICN HORROR column, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.

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