The Earp sisters and Doc Holliday resolve to eliminate the Clanton Gang problem in the only way they know how, at the end of a gun barrel, in this all-female re-imagining of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Hi Michelle thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
It’s been challenging at times but staying Zoom meetings and working on the distribution for Last Stand to Nowhere has kept me so busy these last few weeks that I think it’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be..
Is this time offering you with new creative inspiration?
I haven’t felt new inspiration, but I have used a lot of time for assessing where I’m at, what I want to accomplish and how that can happen in this brave new world. I’ve also been revisiting older material with fresh eyes. Writing reflects your self at a certain point in time especially when it comes to mind-set. New perspectives can add a lot to a dormant screenplay. It’s a great opportunity to make something old new again and to bring it to another level and hopefully closer to production.
Are there any nerves ahead of going live on Vimeo on Demand?
A little but we had such a strong year on the festival circuit last year and our online communities have been such a source of strength for us, and the project, that it gives me faith in the steps we’ve taken with the film. Vimeo on Demand is a part of an online distribution strategy that has come together very quickly. We expected to continue with the festival run to October 2020 but who knows what will happen in these times. The producers are all unanimous that this is the right way to go.
What does it mean for you as a filmmaker to be able to share your incredible award-winning short film on such a unique platform?
Vimeo has been invaluable to the journey of our film. Our trailer and some of our promotion material are on Vimeo. I love how easy it is to use the platform. What’s great about Vimeo on Demand is that you get out of it what you put into it, and it gives you a lot of tools to make your landing page for your film a positive experience.
We’ve had such an exceptional response to the film and I’m excited to see how it plays out on the Vimeo VOD platform.
The poster for Last Stand to Nowhere was designed by the renowned artist Felice House which beautifully captures the feel and vibe of a classic Hollywood Western, what was the experience for you working with Felice on this project?
Working with Felice was a dream come true. While working on the pre-production of the film, from crowdfunding to sourcing a location and then on to finalizing details, I kept receiving direct messages from friends asking me if I had seen the articles on Felice. Of course, I had seen them, but I love how so many people were seeing the connection as well. Her exhibit Re-Western sang to me. It was everything I wanted in Western art and it re-imagined iconic film imagery in the same way I was hoping to with Last Stand to Nowhere. I reached out to Felice on Twitter about doing the poster and she told me if I made the film, she would do it.
Felice was so easy to work with. The philosophy behind her art, and what we were trying to do with this film, aligned perfectly. When she suggested basing the poster on the one used for the 1957 Gunfight at the OK Corral with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, there was only one answer and that was, absolutely, yes!
It was the easiest of collaborations and I feel so lucky not only to have her work be the face of our film but also to have had the opportunity to work with someone so thoughtful about what she, and we, were doing.
"I spent my Friday afternoon digging and building a cemetery on one of the Western film sets outside Vancouver."
Did you have much interest in Westerns before you started making Last Stand To Nowhere?
I grew up watching Westerns with my father and love the genre. But as I grew older, I knew something was missing and that something was women as agents of their own destiny. The Western is the worst of the film genres for the Madonna/Whore trope, women as either angelic long-suffering support or the worst of carnal sin. It’s as old as Westerns and as old as film. Westerns are modern mythology. They teach about the downfall that hubris and ego brings and to exclude women from much of the mythology made it a perfect genre to re-image and bring forward into the twenty-first century.
What made you want to reimagine the Gunfight at the OK Corral with an all female cast?
This particular story is the most re-told in Hollywood. The first reference to it occurred in My Darling Clementine in 1946. What makes this story so powerful is that it’s based on a historical event. Wyatt Earp told the story to Stuart Lake who published his book in 1931. For years it’s been Wyatt’s interpretation of the facts that has carried this story, so while it has been projected as factual, it’s far from it. Because the story has been told so often and for so long, it’s one of the best-known Western tales.
If you want to push people to question cultural norms, then you need to present images that redefine that norm. With Westerns, this tale is one of those cultural norms. Approximately five years ago I was helping on someone else’s short film. I spent my Friday afternoon digging and building a cemetery on one of the Western film sets outside Vancouver. Three of us, all women, took a break and went for a walk down the town’s Main Street. All those Westerns came back to me; the heroic protagonist walked down the street to bring certainty and order to a lawless town. The power in that walk is unmistakable. That was the point where I knew I wanted women to feel that power as well.
Can you tell me how Last Stand to Nowhere came about?
Canadians aren’t generally known for Westerns, so it was a tough sell in the beginning. The funding bodies weren’t interested in this particular genre, so we knew we had to go the route of crowdfunding. I knew several of the top female actors in town from attending the same events and parties. I started reaching out and when I pitched the idea of doing a Western without a single corset in sight the answer was always an emphatic, yes.
Once we were partially casted, fans started finding us, and members of the Vancouver film community stepped to the plate to support us. As it looked more and more like we were going to be able to make this the sponsors started coming aboard. We could not have made this film without everyone, from cast and crew to crowd funders and sponsors.
I learned quickly that there was an appetite for this film and not just an appetite, but also a hunger for something so different.
You have an amazing cast, can you tell me a little bit about how you went about casting Last Stand To Nowhere?
The cast is exceptional. I’ve had people in town tell me I couldn’t cast better in Vancouver and I think that shows on screen. I reached out to people and agents that I knew. The other producers also brought their contacts and names to the table. We knew that the time had come for this film, but we also knew that it would need a special cast for people to stop and take notice. I’m grateful for all the women that came together because their performances make people sit up and take notice. People knew we were serious about making a female fronted Western when they saw the casting unfold. When you have actors the quality of Chelah Horsdal of Man in the High Castle, Johannah Newmarch of When Calls the Heart and Luvia Petersen of Riverdale say yes to your film, you know you’re on to something.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
I don’t think there was one scene that was challenging as much as a whole sequence. Half the short is the gunfight. And we filmed a gunfight with 8 people in a day and a half as the entire shoot was only scheduled at three days. That is unheard of. It should have taken double that amount of time but our cast came prepared for minimal takes and we shot in 8K so we had a couple of shots we cheated off the raw footage. We had raised enough money to shoot for three days, with one move in day, so it had to happen and there was no other alternative.
We were losing light on the last day and our agreement had us moving out by a certain time, so I have literally one take of the closing shot. One. That’s how much we chased light and time to get the film made in only three days.
In re-imagining Gunfight at the OK Corral from the female point of view what do you think you as a filmmaker have gained from telling this story from a female perspective?
I think this film has shown me who I am as a filmmaker and what stories I want to tell. Even if we could afford more time, we couldn’t get it because the set was booked by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina right after us. I now know I can handle a fifty-five-person cast and crew in a difficult environment where we had to bring everything with us and film on a very tight time frame. We didn’t just bring in camera gear and lights, we also brought in food, ice, water, power, washrooms, everything.
I know that I want to continue to tell stories that twist what we comfortably know and force us into a discussion about perspective. And I know I want to continue to explore female characters that are complex women with flaws, dreams, damages, and strength.
A film shouldn’t give you the answers, it should push you to ask the questions and give you the space to safely discuss what those difficult answers might be.
Are there any other stories/films that you may consider re-imagining with an all female cast?
I have a confession to make. I used to be against female re-imaginings. I know, hard to believe. I thought like a lot of people, make unique stories instead but the problem is that unique stories are easy to relegate to the most condescending of categories, the chick flick. If we re-introduce the stories we’ve grown up with as one from a female perspective instead then it’s harder to dismiss the film or the conversation that comes from it.
I want to be make a true female version inspired by Bond. I have the script and it’s always been a dream for me. I want to do a female version of the Three Musketeers. I want to do any story I can where women can finally see themselves within the story instead of through the story. Re-imaginings reconnect women to the stories of their youth in ways that new stories can’t.
I’m starting to see action and adventure films where the female character is more than arm candy and I would love to make film like that as well. Actionable, engaged, and self-determined complex characters should never be defined by gender.
"Awards are proof that we made something that resonated with our audience. It doesn’t add pressure, it adds impetus for more."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I have always loved film, but I did not always see myself making it. I was a University athlete who went on to coach club and high school volleyball. It was my focus for a long time, but I needed to find something that allowed me a more private expression of who I was, and so I began writing short fiction. A friend of mine took one look at what I was writing, and she suggested I wrote more like a screenwriter than a fiction writer. I tend to be too economical for fiction but that is a valued trait for screenwriting.
I started making film to learn more about film. It was my practical film school, but I discovered quickly that I love the translation of team involvement in film and the non-competitive nature of film collaboration.
As an award-winning filmmaker does the attention awards offer a filmmaker add any additional pressure on you or are you able to just take it all in your stride?
If you make film for the awards, then you make film for the wrong reason. I think any attention a film receives is a testament to the team that came together. I personally don’t like all the attention that writer/directors receive. We’re only as good as the team that comes around us and as good as our ability to communicate vision.
The benefit of awards is the vote of confidence it gives me. I think of them as someone saying, “hey, you’re on the right track” and that is invaluable on those days when things don’t move as smoothly as you hoped.
I always joke that recognition for the film makes a filmmaker the flavour of the month for a certain period of time but then reality is always there right after; developing story, finding money to make film, gathering like minded souls, marketing, filming, finishing and repeating the cycle.
Awards are proof that we made something that resonated with our audience. It doesn’t add pressure, it adds impetus for more.
What is the best advice you would offer an emerging writer/director?
It’s not easy and it isn’t meant to be. You’re going to have to wear many hats as an independent filmmaker and there’s no avoiding that. Know your story, have a point of view, and don’t listen to the noise around you, good or bad.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing the pilot script for Last Stand to Nowhere. I’m pitching the short as a proof of concept for something bigger. I’ve heard repeatedly that people want more of the Last Stand universe and I hope to find a way to make that happen. I’m also working on a polish of a feature script I can make on a limited budget. It’s part murder mystery, part family drama and part revenge film. It’s set at a house party where the guest of honour is found dead in the pool and the lives, and lies, of those he leaves behind begin to unravel.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Last Stand to Nowhere?
I hope people will have a conversation about why we don’t tell stories, in any medium, like this. History has been written predominantly by men. We know that a great deal of female stories haven’t been told. For instance, it’s only now we’re hearing about Viking shield maidens and Scythian warrior women. Women as dynamic as our Earps and Clantons could have existed, but their stories may be waiting for us to find them. Story, myths, and legends should represent us all. Let’s talk about why they don’t and how we can find a way to make all forms of story resonate for us all.