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Annette K Talks Westerns With THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN's Jared Moshe and Bill Pullman


Last month during the annual whirlwind that is South By Southwest, I was very fortunate to get to talk about THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN with director Jared Moshe as well as the film's prolific star Bill Pullman. The film is a simple, dyed-in-the-wool western complete with murder, vigilante justice, a grizzled curmudgeon, and even an orphaned scamp all against the backdrop of the late 1800's American frontier. I totally dug the immersive vibe of the story, and naturally Pullman begrudgingly endears as the loyal sidekick destined to avenge the murder of his beloved boss and friend. So, I hope you enjoy our conversation about the film and working within the inherent elements of the western genre.

Annette Kellerman: Hello! Thanks so much for meeting with me today. Are you having a good festival?

Jared Moshe: It's been pretty good.

Kellerman: Except that it got really cold today!

Moshe: I know!

Kellerman: But I guess that's pretty standard for SXSW- there's always one or two freezing cold, wet days, and then by the end of the fest you're getting sunburned listening to bands. Well, I want to congratulate you on a great movie guys. This is your second western?

Moshe: Second western, yes.

Kellerman: So, tell me about your love for this genre and what draws you to westerns.

Moshe: I love westerns because I'm a huge fan of American mythology, and I think it's a great genre for exploring the myths we tell ourselves. My first western was really about a brother and sister reunited on the frontier five years after the end of the Civil War, and they each have some unforgivable secrets they have to overcome. It was a small family piece that was very dark, and I was trying to explore the myth of the west after the Civil War. With this it's much later. It's 1889 now, and it's really rooted in the yarns of the western genre and trying to find the characters. The real humans that aren't typical characters.

Kellerman: So the genre gives you a great context to explore all of these incredible characters. Bill, did you draw from any particular inspiration for your role as Lefty? I definitely picked up on some Walter Brennan/Stumpy vibes...

Bill Pullman: Well, because I grew up in a rural part of western New York- Appalachia almost- that idea of what country people were, and are, in those days growing up...they hadn't been influenced by media. There wasn't a lot of things that were predicting what their natures were. I feel like, as much as anything, I connect to a lot of characters that I grew up around that were farmers and things like that in western New York state.

Kellerman: A good portion of the movie takes place outdoors. Can you talk about the challenges in the elements. I mean, aside from the rugged terrain you have animals and even a child to contend with! What was that like?

Moshe: Oh my god, making a western is living a western. We had rainstorms, lightning storms, ice storms, snow storms, wind storms. There were snakes on set. You have to go with the flow, and the beauty of that is as long as you don't get too caught up in the fact that- yeah, some days are going be rainy and some days are gonna be sunny- it allows you this great variety of looks to help capture this world because that's what it is! It forces me to live on my toes a little bit. Instead of having safety scenes, like, it's raining so we're gonna go, there's safety scenes that take place in the rain. The only time the weather scared me was at the big shoot out at the gold mill. Mostly because we were shooting the front of [the building] where Tommy [Flanagan] is one day, and the back of it where Bill is another day. The one thing that's not gonna work is if it's raining in front and dry in the back! So, that was the only time that I thought weather was gonna kill us. Everything else was just, "Oh it's raining! Great- the ambush is in the rain. Great! this scene is taking place in the rain!"

Kellerman: Let's just do it! I guess you have to have that attitude. I'm sure as an actor too, you just have to be able to roll with it whenever you're working with weather, or a child, or an animal.

Pullman: For some reason when I watched the movie last night, I had some visceral, physical memories of things. It's always the irony that some of the most grueling physical things don't make it to the screen. One of the most intense times was jumping out of the window of that barn and sneaking around that straw thing and then running off.

Moshe: Yeah.

Pullman: I had to climb into this window frame, jump down about 5, 6 feet, and land and go up against this...I guess I could've just done one of those things where I went, "Oof!" [mimics a hard landing- we all laugh]

Kellerman: Just cheated it!

Moshe: Poor Bill, there was one day where we did two scenes where he basically gets beaten up- one that isn't in the movie. He escapes from a barn and is chased through the Juniper Hills trees, and we basically shot it docu-style. It was Bill, me, my DP, the AC, first/second AC, and sound. We would call and have everyone else at the bottom of the hill. We would be like, "We need [characters] Billy Kitchen, Irish William up here, Oak is on deck...and we'd just bring people up and we'd run and it was amazing.

Kellerman: That sounds pretty intense.

Pullman: Yeah.

Moshe: He basically ran multiple times up this incredibly steep hill.

Pullman: With very, very flat soled shoes.

Kellerman: Oh boy! That sounds pretty crazy. Speaking of crazy, you did the Roger Corman documentary as well.

Pullman: What's that? A Corman documentary?

Moshe: I produced a documentary about Roger Corman called CORMAN'S WORLD, and it was at Sundance in 2010. No, it was at Sundance in 2011.

Kellerman: Didn't it play SXSW?

Moshe: I don't think so because we went directly from Sundance to Cannes.

Kellerman: Ok, I must be thinking of something else...are you inspired by his brand of filmmaking?

Moshe: I was at Sundance, and I was still a producer at that point and I was thinking about making the jump. I remember watching it after working on it and seeing him and listening to everyone talk about how he just went out and just did it. I came back from Sundance that year, and was just like... I'd always wanted to make a western, so I wrote DEAD MAN'S BURDEN, literally as soon as I got back from the festival. My girlfriend at the time, my wife, was sitting at the dining room table on Valentine's Day while I was writing the script. So we wrote it that February/March, and we were shooting that October. So, that documentary was very inspirational.

Kellerman: As far as just getting out there and doing it.

Moshe: It definitely gave me the kick to just get out there and do it and not be scared.

Kellerman: And Roger Corman is so amazing.

Moshe: It's Roger Corman! Roger is so fantastic. He is so much fun to hang out with. His wife Julie is just amazing. They were great, and that film was crazy to work on. Because you're doing a documentary, and it's gotta be within 2 hours.

Kellerman: I don't know, there's a five hour Grateful Dead documentary playing SXSW this year!

Moshe: That's true, but you're sitting there and you gotta be like- we've got a DeNiro interview and a Scorsese interview- do we cut DeNiro for Scorsese? The choices you make for a doc!

Kellerman: Bill, what was it like working with this cast, particularly the kid. Did you show him the ropes...or did he show you the ropes?

Pullman: With Diego, yeah. Really great, open spirit Diego. He was really prepared. He worked very hard. His father works with him and helps him to set up these experiences before he come to the set. He did things with his acting teacher where the acting teacher blindfolded him and took him up the mountain, and took off his blindfold and said, "I'm not going to be here. You make your way down this mountain alone knowing that I'll be here and I'm going to jump on you at some point." So, that's the kind of preparation he went through to get ready for this thing. At the same time, he's immersive and he wants to be in the moment. Sometimes you have to push him around. [we all laugh]

Moshe: Yeah, Diego is so good because he is a young actor, and as a character actor, he just inhabited that character. It's very different when your doing the training and practicing from the experience of doing it in front of the camera. Bill's character is very much a father figure to him in the movie, but it's also...Bill would always sort of- alright, the camera is going to be here- and give Diego a little tug so he knew where to stand in relationship to the camera. It was everyone. Our entire crew... our DP David McFarland would be explaining to Diego what lens he was using before so he would know. This is gonna be a close up, etc. What world we're in. Because that's such an important thing to learn, and honestly the only way you're going to learn that is by going through the process. He had a great teacher.

Pullman: Well, the thing is that Lefty isn't the most appropriate father figure. He's the least experienced father figure. Diego is kind of not experienced at taking a lot of suggestions from people. He's kind of bull headed, so it was good to have that relationship be kind of meta.

Kellerman: It was a cool odd-coupling that I think worked really well. What's the word on distribution?

Moshe: We are working on it. We literally shot the film in September. Finished it a week ago.

Kellerman: Wow.

Moshe: It was terrifying. I don't think that anyone knew how utterly terrified I was that we...I was stressing. But we got it done, and now we've unveiled it to the world. So fingers crossed for some distribution.

Kellerman: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about? The big takeaway?

Moshe: I'm not a huge fan of the big takeaway. I feel like what people take away from movies, is like a work of art. A work of art is supposed to tell people something specifically, as a work of art. It was such a fantastic group of people and team to work with. I mean, Bill is a joy to be working with. The camaraderie between him and Tommy Flanagan and Jim Caviezal and Kathy Baker, and Peter Fonda and Diego. And both Joe Andersons- there were two Joe Andersons. One plays Frank, one plays Oak.

Pullman: That's a good takeaway.

Moshe: It's not a typo in the credits!

Kellerman: Not a typo! Not the same actor playing dual roles.

Moshe: Ya know, just the ability of those guys to inhabit these characters and bring a sense of history to the story is so important. I felt so lucky going to set everyday- that these are the guys I get to work with.

Kellerman: So what genre is next for you? Another western? A trilogy?

Moshe: I do have another western in my head, but I'm actually right now developing a female-driven scifi movie.

Kellerman: Very cool. Stepping in scifi.

Moshe: Hopefully. We'll see where it goes.

Kellerman: Bill, I think you've worked in virtually every genre of film. Is there anything that you'd like to do that you haven't?

Pullman: It's always good to have contrast with everything, so I'm shooting this TV series that's called THE SINNER. It's very noir, so it's very different. That's all about watchfulness, and holding your cards close to your chest. Which is great to have that kind of thing to go to after Lefty Brown.

Moshe: Noir is fun.

Pullman: Yeah, yeah. It's the other genre that I seem to always...I still think that HELL OR HIGH WATER is noir and not a western. It's a crime story...

Kellerman: Yeah, but it's a family crime story. I wouldn't call it a western either.

Moshe: It's western in a sense that it is about people fighting to protect their land. It has that western...

Kellerman: Outlaw sensibility.

Moshe: Yeah, but it is more of like a crime noir.

Pullman: They have codes that they are operating by, so that's kind of like a western.

Moshe: But I feel like a western at some point is...the fundamental conflict in every western at some level is the civilization. The wilderness inside of everyone. And that didn't particularly have that. It was more the noir code. Whereas I had mentioned earlier, that LOGAN is much more of a western because it's really about a guy who is struggling with- is he a part of society?

Kellerman: And he's protecting his clan.

Moshe: Yeah. And it literally has SHANE in it. [Pullman looks surprised]

Kellerman: Yeah, it literally has SHANE in it!

Moshe: [to Pullman] They are watching SHANE in the middle of the movie. But you know what? If everyone thinks that HELL OR HIGH WATER is a western and it helps bring back the genre, I am all about it!

Kellerman: Absolutely! I'm all for it as well. And I guess that pretty much covers it. Thank you so much for talking with me about your movie today. I really appreciate your time.

Moshe: Thank you!

Pullman: Thank you. Nice to meet you.

As with so many interviews, I thought of a million more questions I wish I'd asked them, but 15 minutes flies by at these things! I hope you enjoyed our talk about THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN and the western genre in general. It's always interesting contrasting the perspectives of a relative newcomer film maker with a seasoned movie veteran like Pullman, and I hope you were just as intrigued by our conversation as I was. Thanks for reading!

Rebecca Elliott
aka Annette Kellerman

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