[Exclusive] Interview With Justin Evans, Jason Moore and Mike Peebler, Filmmakers On "A Lonely Place For Dying"
This past week, I had the pleasure to chat with some of the filmmakers from "A Lonely Place For Dying", which is gearing up for its VOD/iTunes release on February 12th. I also had a chance to take an early look at the home version of the film, which, while still very much independent in nature, was a refreshing and well-crafted entry for the medium. While the film didn't have fancy equipment or a grandiose budget, it at times managed to provide a good sense of atmosphere and tension, and displayed a variety of solid performances. First time director Justin Evans showcased a clear vision, and the bones of the film should translate well to his future productions.
The critically acclaimed film, a spy/thriller set during the Cold War, has been touring the awards circuit since 2009, and in that time has racked up more than 50 award nomination, winning more than half of them. The latest buzz surrounding the film, however, is that it's been banned in Russia. No official word has been released as to exactly why, but it seems clear that the film's controversial KGB storyline didn't set well with the Russian government.
"A Lonely Place For Dying" is directed by Justin Evans, and stars Academy Award nominated actor James Cromwell ("The Artist", "L.A. Confidential"), Michael Wincott ("Hitchcock"), Ross Marquand ("Broken Roads"), Mike Peebler ("Valkyrie"), Jason Moore ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice"), Brad Culver ("Breathing Room"), and Luis Robledo ("The X-Files").
Much to my delight, I was able to talk with three of the members of the film's production, director Justin Evans, and actors Jason Moore and Mike Peebler. Each had plenty of great stories to tell, intriguing to any movie fan - I even managed to wrangle up a few Top 5 lists on their favorite Spy/CIA movies!
After the jump, check out a transcript detailing a few snippets from our discussions, as well as a full plot synopsis for the film and its official trailer. As previously stated, the film will be available on iTunes February 12, 2013. You can pre-order it here.
First, some of the details from our various Q&A sessions. Each of these guys was great and gave me so much wonderful material to work with. It was nearly impossible to filter everything down to a manageable amount, but I think I at least hit all of the biggest points. I do want to thank each of them again for their time with this, as it really was fascinating to hear all of the stories they had to tell. Here are some highlights:
How long have you known you wanted to be in the movie industry? Any inspirations growing up that got you interested in work behind the camera?
"I saw the original Star Wars as a kid. I turned to my dad and said 'I want to make these when I grow up'. I was four. This is all I've ever wanted to do. I had the lead role in nearly every school play from elementary school through my senior year. However, acting never interested me as much as writing & directing. My parents owned a video store which gave me the ability to watch movies ad nauseum...a rare opportunity for a kid in the 1980's. I would re-storyboard scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark or use a tape recorder to capture the audio track and then study the construction of dialogue. I don't think there is a movie made between 1976 and 1995 that I haven't seen at least five times. When you grow up in a video store you mainline movies into your veins."
You wrote, directed and produced "A Lonely Place For Dying". Was it difficult to find the balance or was there as much freedom as you needed to have your vision come to life the way you saw it?
"I began making movies when I was 15 at Multnomah Community Television, a Cable Access station in the Portland area. And to get those movies made I did everything: I picked up all the gear, I wrote the script, I cast other high schoolers in the roles, I rehearsed them, I operated the camera and I'd even have a boom pole tucked under my spare arm. So, to only have to write, direct & produce is actually less work than I'm used to."
What do you feel was the biggest success of this project? Any aspects you wish you could have spent more time on or that didn't turn out quite how you hoped?
"On a professional level I'm mostly pleased with how it did on the festival circuit. It was an uphill battle at first; most festivals struggled with how mainstream the movie was. The moment they heard "spy thriller" many would say "I don't even want to watch it. It sounds like a Hollywood film." Somehow we pushed through and eventually were in 46 film festivals and were nominated for 53 awards and won 29 including 18 as Best Picture.
I'm also pleased that we avoided distribution with most of the low life distributors in Los Angeles. These guys are ruining independent film. We managed to get our movie into 19 movie theaters in five states and distribute our movie to iTunes, Amazon & Hulu...all on our own!
Artistically, I have so much more to say. So much more I want to do. Hopefully I'll get to make another movie and show you what I can do when I'm let loose with a bigger budget."
What other films, if any, inspired not only the direction of "A Lonely Place For Dying", but also the premise itself? Anything out there that made you really want to tell this particular story?
"There wasn't a specific film that influenced A Lonely Place For Dying. In fact, it was the location that inspired the film. Robert Rodriguez says if you have a small budget you should create a list of everything you can get for free and write those elements into your film. We took that to its extreme and scoured New Mexico for free locations. The one that blew us away was a massive abandoned prison ten minutes outside of Santa Fe. We locked the location first and then wrote the script.
I knew I wanted to tell a Cold War story and I had the title. And that was it. The rest was born while I would scurry through the hidden passageways of that prison with my Macbook Pro and write the script on site.
As far as style or tone, I was inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Die Hard, Glengarry Glen Ross, A Few Good Men, Lawrence of Arabia and Unforgiven. I've been told by a few trusted friends that I accidentally made a Western...that wasn't my conscious intention but I can see that now in the film."
What are your inspirations? What made you realize that a career in film was something that you really wanted to explore?
"When my friends who are actors, director, producers, achieve their goals in this very tough business, it makes my goals really tangible and reachable. There was no deep connection to acting growing up for me. I just chose to do it one day in college and I wanted to know all bout it...so I dedicated four solid years to learning as much as possible in a conservator in NY."
What do you enjoy most about being an actor? Least?
"I get to play and get paid for it! What's beating that? The least enjoyable thing for me is the nature of the beast (the business). That’s a real ambiguous answer, but I will be here all day telling you what’s not enjoyable."
What types of characters do you most enjoy playing?
"Well I like playing any role I can get. But the "Hero character" I really enjoy playing and we need more of it."
Which project(s) that you've worked on in the past, good or bad, stand(s) out to you the most? Any really memorable experiences?
"Working on big budgets like NBC's Kings and Disney’s The Sorcerer's Apprentice were some of the biggest learning experiences for me. These productions had so many moving parts, but it all worked seamlessly."
How did you get your role in this film?
"Well I saw the breakdown for the film on Actor Access. They were only casting in LA and New Mexico and I was living in New York City at the time. So I put myself on tape. I set designed my shot, got into wardrobe and gathered all my props and shot my audition tape. I thought what the hell, why not. About a couple of weeks later I got a call from Justin and the rest is history."
What made you realize that a career in film was something that you really wanted to explore?
"In my work I am inspired by complexity, messiness, and flawed characters. I don't like it when someone is portrayed as an obvious hero or villain. I get inspired when I see someone or something that surprises me and gives me conflicted feelings within myself. That's exciting to me.
I have wanted to act since I was a small child, and the film world has always been thrilling to me from a storytelling perspective."
As a follow-up, how were you able to finally achieve your goals?
"I am still very much working on it. It's a process. It's about learning your craft -- I got a BA in Acting at Northwestern University and then an MFA from UCLA. After training it's about diligence; always doing your best work at every opportunity and believing that, regardless of the outcome of any particular audition, over time good committed work will rise to the top."
What's been your toughest role thus far in your career?
"I am a theater actor as well, and two years ago I played Hamlet. That was the most rewarding and at the same time most challenging thing I have ever undertaken in my professional life."
Any particularly memorable experiences for you to this point? Good or bad, what stands out the most?
"Again, Hamlet. As a classical actor its kind of the top of the mountain, and I will never forget the feeling I had just before taking the curtain call on opening night. The feeling of accomplishment, like I had climbed a very high mountain and was enjoying the view. The curtain call itself was forgettable, but the moment before I will always remember."
If you weren't able to be an actor anymore, what would you opt to do instead?
"I would teach. I do quite a bit of educational outreach around LA and across the country, and I find that working with young people is a great way to counter the vacuousness in the entertainment industry."
That's the best I could narrow down the information I amassed. I tried to pick out some of the best questions and answers, so hopefully you found all of the information entertaining. It was really great to hear some of the various backgrounds and histories of these three filmmakers; to see all these different paths that led to the same place.
Before we wrap this up, I do want to note a couple of upcoming projects on the horizon for both Moore and Peebler. Moore discussed his next project, "A Loss of Shadows", which he's putting together with a few of his acting buddies. The film will star Jay O. Sanders ("The Day After Tomorrow", "Angels in the Outfield"), and should be releasing its first trailer in the near future. Peebler was forced to be a little more discrete with his response, but he will next be seen in the upcoming season of "Mad Men" (unfortunately his official role could not yet be discussed, but as this is one of my favorite television shows, I'll definitely be looking for him in April!).
As for those Top 5 lists, Moore was able to provide a much more clean-cut listing of his choices, while Peebler was a little less definitive. Regardless, here is what they provided as some of their favorite War/Spy Movies:
1. The Bourne Identity
2. The Bourne Supremacy
3. Saving Private Ryan
5. Casino Royale
Does "War Games" count? I loved that movie as a kid. After that maybe "The Bourne Identity", "Spies Like Us" (I'm a sucker for the old Chevy Chase), "The Good Shepard", and of course, "A Lonely Place For Dying"!
Finally, here is the full plot synopsis for the film, followed by the official trailer:
An abandoned Mexican prison sits alone in the dusty Chihuahua desert. KGB mole Nikolai Dzerzhinsky waits for his contact from the Washington Post. Dzerzhinsky holds explosive evidence against the CIA; information he will trade for asylum in the United States. Special Agent Robert Harper must obtain this evidence and kill Dzerzhinsky or risk the end of his CIA career. As the two men hunt each other they discover that the sins from their past destined them for this deadly confrontation.
What do you guys think? Will you be giving "A Lonely Place For Dying" a chance? Anything from the Q&A session stand out to you?