I recently had the chance to interview the writer-director of the film, Brett A. Hart (not to be confused with the wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart).
Bone Dry has been compared to Duel (a film that was directed by another first-timer, what was his name… Steven… something? I think that he’s directing some B-movie sequel at the minute).
Brett is a really cool guy and he has a true love of films. He’s the kind of guy that you have to admire, he’s doing what all movie fans want to do- he’s making movies (and for that I’m jealous, I’m stuck writing about them- tinkering on half completed screenplays of my own).
Sarcasm aside however, he’s a great bloke, and he dedicated a huge amount of time giving me an interview. In the interview he discusses his inspirations, what it’s like putting a low budget feature together and his plans for the future.
I feel that Brett has his best work in front of him and I really do hope that he is given the chance to go from strength to strength.
Brett’s a young, up and coming filmmaker, and I really do wish him great success. Anyway, enough of my crazy ramblings- read and enjoy the interview.
How did you first come up with the concept for Bone Dry?
Jeff O’Brien had sent me an incomplete 20 page script entitled “Mojave”. It sat on my computer for months while I was developing several other scripts. I had just lost my job at an agency that went out of business and realized at that time in my life that I had to find “my debut” film. While flying down to Houston to visit my good friend Richard Saied (Exec. Producer) I finally read “Mojave”. Before the plane landed … I knew that I had finally found “my movie”. I immediately emailed Jeff and made an inquiry into how he envisioned the end of the film. Made three suggestions first book ending the film with our “waitress in the diner” picking up with “the Cactus scene” and changing the name to “Bone Dry”.
The story had everything that I love in films… in particular ones on a tight budget. A minimal cast set against breathtaking locations. It was a perfect creative alliance. Jeff and I began working on the rest of the script and finished in less than 2 months.
Looking back I consider that one of the most exciting creative times in my life. Writing at night during snow storms… envisioning set pieces in the blistering heat of the desert. The really wild thing is that this entire project was initiated in a virtual world. Jeff lives in Canada. Myself in the Midwest of the States. We collaborated on the script and even finished it before I ever spoke to him on the phone!
How much did the shadow of films like Duel and The Hitcher loom over the production?
The Hitcher really didn’t influence it to much. I can see how people would see similarities… especially since both primarily have only two characters. But they did include a love interest. Something a producer, we passed on, actually suggested. I mentioned the film they were wanting to make was “The Hitcher” and I saw no reason to throw an arbitrary love interest into the picture. Because in a really weird way this is a love story. Tragically revealed in the final moments.
The films that influenced this the most were “Sorcerer”, “The Most Dangerous Game” “Deliverance”, several of Sergio Leone’s westerns, “Quest For Fire”, “Dust Devil”, “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” and most of all “Duel”.
Duel had a tremendous influence on Bone Dry. I grew up admiring Spielberg and that picture. I’m still in awe at the fact that he shot it in 2 weeks. Big difference between what he did and ourselves… is that he had a road picture with 16 cameras on one stretch of highway. We had a road picture w/o a road and only enough money for one camera. So it took us 4 ½ weeks. Not bad considering we were shooting in 140 degrees at times.
How did you get the cast together?
Since our film was written with cost in mind and so much was riding on both our cast and locations… we spent roughly a year and a half scouting and choosing our cast.
The script was written during a time where my only escape from unemployment was watching the series “Millennium” with my newly wed wife. Lance was both Jeff’s and my dream cast. We had no idea at the time how much we could raise for the budget and Lance was who we both would say… “wouldn’t it be cool if?” Then came time to pitch actor’s names to the investors. They weren’t originally as sold on Lance as I. So we set out to cast “Eddie” first.
This was a very time consuming process. Indie casting is all about reading, meeting, greeting, and finally finances. Several big name actors were interested in the project. Stephen Dorff, Billy Bob Thornton (rumoured), Billy Zane, Matthew Modine, Dwight Yokem and Leland Orser currently from E.R. All interesting… but I always wanted to find an up and comer. I wanted a relationship like Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese… and I ended up getting that with Luke.
Our casting director had a very long list of actors in mind. On that list was Luke. He was unknown to us… so I did my research. Realized he was in Blade II. That caught my interest. But it was Hallmark’s Frankenstein that floored me. I realized half way through that film, under all that make up, I had found my “Eddie”. Here was a great looking guy with intelligence… and heart. Here was a thinking man’s actor. Not just another pretty face. You can see so much emotion in his eyes. Luke is an amazing method actor. He lives the characters. And I’m so very proud of his work in our film. I consider it his best to date. He’s a star on the rise… and I’m glad he’s my friend.
Lance Henriksen seems like a very intense man, yet in the commentary he comes across as very laid back, were you nervous when first meeting him?
You are correct Lance can be intense. That’s exactly why I wanted him. He too has heart. Both my leads have a strong presence yet are not afraid to share their vulnerability with an audience. I wanted Lance from the beginning. And ultimately our plan of casting Eddie first did not happen. We were up against a deadline and had to pull the trigger on Jimmy. I went to my first choice and was actually very excited to meet him. Greg Hughes (producer) and I met up with Lance at a very cool bar on the beach just hours before we had to fly out of L.A. Lance was very down to earth. What I liked about him from the beginning was how human he really is. Everyone in the business has high praise for him. He’s a consummate professional that brings elements from his real life to every role. In this case, weapons and the fact that he patterned “Jimmy” after his own father. That truly touched me when I discovered afterwards while doing the commentary. He couldn’t have given more to my film. And for that I’m indebted to him for life.
Both he and Luke really breathed life into our characters. We spent days together reading through the script and tweaking the dialogue to fit their personalities. I loved seeing the pages transformed into living breathing characters. The three of us bonded very closely. I consider them family now.
What were the main challenges in the production?
Where do I begin? Like “Quest For Fire’ we had a road picture without roads. Red tape made going ‘off road” very difficult. Endangered flowers, rocks you name it. Scouting took a year due to finding topography where we actually could do off roading. Have stunning visuals. Just as soon as we’d find it… we run into more red tape. “Well you can’t walk 500 feet off the road. You’re in a national park and can’t have simulated weapons of any kind in it.” Things that were not an issue when Hollywood was initially formed from fleeing filmmakers on the east cost. Now it’s all about the dollar and how much you can pay for a stretch of land that nobody has stepped on for years. Just insane. We wanted to initially shoot in Big Bend national park in Texas, but the terrain was just too harsh to do off roading… and there wasn’t enough variety. New Mexico didn’t work for us. Considered South America, South Africa, In the end we settled on California, Utah and Arizona. Quite an ambitious effort for an indie on a limited budget. At one point in the film Lance told me that we were shooting a film that was 5 times our budget. I don’t think many of the filmmakers who live in L.A. would have attempted what we were doing. And to top if off we did this in the height of summer. Temperatures reaching 140 degrees. We had no choice. We were working around schedules and July was our start date. It was common to lose crew members every week. Guys that were in boot camp told us our shoot was more grueling… and it was. I know. I helped dig those trenches. But we had a vision… and most of us stuck together, became family, grew tougher and stayed focused. Never wavering.
I shot Lance out in the first 2 ½ weeks… but Flash floods temporarily shut us down. I took that time to cut the film and see what I had… then we went back in November when it was only 100 degrees and picked up. I wanted 2 weeks. We got a little over a week to complete. This forced me to run on empty. I was getting around 4 hours of sleep a night. Eventually the break neck pace caught up and I totalled my Tahoe in a 4 car/ semi truck collision. This happened the very same day the “Cactus” scene was to be shot. Still we kept on moving. Thankfully John Nolan (producer) came and picked me up. We dealt with the police then went to set and started shooting perhaps the most “intense” scene of the movie. I had a different take on life after that wreck and wasn’t going to let anything stop me from shooting the “hallmark” scene I had envisioned for 5 years.
The film looks fantastic; do you think that you could have made this film without the current digital technology?
We did a lot of preliminary experimentation with digital technology before committing to it. Both “Star Wars” and “28 Days” later convinced me this was a viable technology. But the true test came when we did a regional commercial conceived by my wife Gloria, shot in the desert that won Addies. At that point Chad Stalcup (Exec. Producer) Greg Hughs (Producer) and myself were 100% convinced it was the ONLY way to go. I hate to think what would have happened had we actually shot film. There was one scene that I had written as a Sandstorm. The day we were scheduled to do that shoot… mother nature provided one in addition to our practical effects. Nobody wanted to go out in it. But you just had to. It was an epic happening in front of our very eyes. So we went out in mass pandemonium and I got these incredible wide shots with Luke and Lance in a full on sandstorm. It was very painful… and we felt like pumice rocks were scraping against our skin. After we wrapped… we were hit with a $10,000 damage bill. Had we shot on film, that emulsion would have been shredded.
Digital technology has completely reshaped the face of cinema. This is why I called “Bone Dry” a Brett A. Hart vision. It’s not a true film. It’s not a picture. Calling it an HD lacked “flair”. But like all stories it’s all based on “vision”. With the advances in technology we were able to make a movie through a virtual office. Initially I wrote a script with Jeff O’Brien a writer in Canada that I never met or spoke to. After shooting the films we used the internet to upload files between L.A., the U.K and The Midwest. Rather than paying for a bunch of overnight shipments we were uploading files to each other nightly. While I was working as creative director of Skyline Media during the day, I had two editing assistants working on converting files from Final cut to Avid. When I’d get home, I’d work all night continuing editing. Even the score and symphony were handled through our virtual office. We never missed a beat.
There’s no question to it. Technology made it where we weren’t slaves to geography… we didn’t all have to live in L.A. to make our film. And I’m willing to bet we shot this picture for 1/5 of what it would have cost had we not embraced technological advances.
What are you most proud of in the film?
Honestly there are so many things about the film that I love. Most of all… I really love the performances of both Luke and Lance and the climax of our story. They turned our black and white words on paper into emotions and it all comes together beautifully at the end.
I’m also very proud of our composer Scott Glasgow. This was an indie and I was fortunate to find other artists that would bleed their souls into the project. Glasgow was up against multi million dollar temp tracks from composers like Goldsmith, Shore, Barry, Williams and Corigliano. And he did a damned good job of holding his own. I think our score sounds as good if not better than many of the much bigger budgeted films. This is in part due to my good friends Louis Wilson (associate producer) and Richard Saied (Exec. Producer) When the time came for more money to get a 50 piece orchestra out of Prague… they had my back. I think it truly elevated our film. For that I’m indebted to them. In fact… I’m proud that Intrada records is releasing our soundtrack. The same label that has put out scores like “Alien”. This is a huge honor.
The scene with Luke Goss tied to the cactus is a standout in tension, how did you conceive the scene?
I came up with the idea for the cactus 3 years before I read “Mojave”. I wanted to do a western thriller called “Bone Dry” and this was one of the first ideas I had. In highschool I scraped my hand across a very small cactus on a teacher’s desk. Not only was it immediately painful my hand quickly started swelling. I remembered thinking if I really wanted to torture someone… I couldn’t even fathom how much more painful it would be to be forced to climb a full grown cactus. Then my mind started thinking what would be worse… to be forced to climb a cactus Naked. In many ways this is my homage to Psycho’s shower scene. But rather than a female lead being subjected to terrible violence, ours is male, and rather than claustrophobia and black-and-white film, ours is shot in a blistering, expansive desert with sumptuous color and frenetic camerawork.
You’ve directed James Garner, he’s a hero of mine, what is he like in person?
James is a dear soul. A complete gentleman and a hero to so many. I remember watching him in “The Rockford Files” on a black and white TV. sitting on a yellow bean bag when my family lived in St. Louis during the 70’s. I would have never imagined myself working with him as a child. But I did know at that very young age I would direct a film one day.
I was very honored when the opportunity arose to direct him. Our film made it possible to convince our clients to have him as their spokesmen. I spent time with James at his home on a couple of occasions… and we shot for one day on a stage in L.A. We ended up using that footage all year long. That will be an experience that will never be forgotten.
What’s next for you film wise?
That’s a great question. In life I can be impulsive. But when it comes to something like a “movie” you have to make sure you pick something you’ll love as much today as you will years down the line. “Bone Dry” took 5 years to get made. This is in part due to the fact that it was my first film. Even though I had won tons of awards with short films and commercials I still had to prove myself. I don’t anticipate the next picture being as much of a struggle… but I do want it to be my mistress. I want to fall in love with it and give it all of my attention. I’m currently developing several projects. I’m polishing a script I finished before Bone Dry called “Race”. An urban fantasy. Similar to “Boys in the hood” and “Run Lola Run.” Very “Rod Serling” inspired with a message about “Racism”.
Jeff O’Brien and I are developing a “Filipino Ghost Story” that I’m very excited about. I have been visiting the classics for inspiration. Kubrick’s “The Shining” Medak’s “The Changeling”. Old school horror with some very disturbing imagery that is partially on set… and a little CGI that will go a long way.
Then there’s a contemporary reworking of “Orpheus” Inspired by Jean Cocteau’s Orphee. A tragic love story where we travel to Hell with a man attempting to save his love. Greg Hughs and I are discussing a very exciting dramatic thriller that I can’t say too much about.
And when I find the right co writing partner… “Soul Search”. A modern Beauty & The Beast. My most unique story to date that can only be described as a modern day horrific Cronenberg like vision of “Trainspotting”.
What gives you inspiration for a film?
Music is my first Muse. I couldn’t imagine life without music. It’s not only my Muse..it’s my mistress. I can see and feel so many visions and emotions while listening to soundtracks, classical, rock etc.
Other inspirations are exploring, hiking helps me focus. I love getting away to the desert. Sometimes it’s a rare idea that comes along that nobody has done… and you hold onto it until you have the right elements together to include in the right script. Like the cactus scene. Soul Search has some amazing imagery with hypodermic needles and gothic locations.
The pitch trailer for Bone Dry is really close to the completed product, how were you able to achieve such closeness?
My strength is probably on the visual side. I can usually tell a story w/o words. My short film “Dead End” did this and was kind of a preface to “Bone Dry”. Since the first day I started collaborating with Jeff O’Brien on the script I knew exactly what I wanted to see and capture for the audience. The basic elements you saw in the pitch trailer were always in my head. I’ve held onto those visuals for 5 years. Which really wasn’t too hard to do. I can generally see what I want to capture before scouting locations. What WAS difficult was catching all the elements that weren’t in that pitch trailer. All the topography. We scouted thousands of miles. I had to maintain all those locations and images in my head. At a certain point it does turn into a blur. But there were many times where I fought to find the right topography for our picture car “Duke”. Moments where I wanted it high on the horizon to feel ominous. Moments where I wanted it lower to be driving towards us with dust roaring in the background all shot with a long lens through heat waves. But Generally to give the viewer what I imagined… a typical scene would actually cut between 3-4 locations that were all shot thousands of miles apart… and at times as much as a year had passed. That was the true challenge.
Is that you in the trailer?
Yes that was me in the trailer. As well as Carl Buffington who played Marty our “Hippie” in Bone Dry. My buddies and I went out to West Texas to my second favourite camping site, The Guadalupe Mts. A place we were considering shooting. That was the most cost effective and time efficient way I could think to raise money for a film. I had no desire to storyboard all those images. Nor did I actually want to shoot a trailer. Had already done that when I was 27 landing me an option with Amblin Entertainment. But no film. So digital stills arose.
I remember that being one of the only fights I ever had with my wife about money. I dropped $800 on the camera the same day we left for the desert. An interesting note: The drug dealer with the machete in his hands. I think may have been a homeless man in the desert. A very kind gentleman… I got him to be in our photo session by paying for some Chinese food for him. I remember lying on the ground with this total stranger pointing a machete at me thinking… “Am I insane?” The things we’ll do to get a film made!
Did you spend much time in pre-production?
We wrote the script in 2001. Moved to L.A. Starved. Was asked to move to the Midwest and help build an agency. Focused on advertising for two years. Chad Stalcup,The exec. Producer and I raised financing over two years with Greg, and Richard. Another year and a half scouting and casting while juggling my day job. 4 ½ weeks shooting. 6 months of post. This could have all been much quicker had I not had to pay the bills. But it was a wonderful creative challenge. Not only did I complete my debut film, but our agency started getting national exposure due to our commercials. A very fertile and exciting time. Not sure too many agencies would have the courage to attempt everything we have over the last 5 years.
What was the most difficult aspect of shooting in the desert?
For some it was the company moves. But that was in our ambitious young filmmaking minds a necessity. Our third character in the film WAS the desert. And the only way to continue showing a progressive change in Eddie’s journey was to have the topography change. This caused a lot of travel, sleepless nights, blow outs, stuck vehicles… you name it. It happened on our film. Honestly I think it’s similar to what Spielberg went through with Jaws. If he were asked to make that film now he would have the wisdom to know what was feasible. Problem was… we never accepted no. No matter how hot it got… how miserable it was… we kept on shooting. Perseverance was our only answer to a film that I think many of us never knew if we’d complete. Honestly it was so difficult that I often wondered how many scenes I could cut out of the script and still finish the film. It was just an amazing geographical, physical and emotional challenge. Most of us had families left behind… pregnant wives etc. But we just kept moving forward day by day. Then one day… it was over… and we all wanted to cry. A very emotional and wonderful time for us all.
Who are your film heroes?
Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Luc Besson, Jean Jacques Annaud, David Fincher, David Cronenberg, William Friedkin, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Richard Franklin, John Guillerman Tom Tykwer and most of all Rod Serling- I wish we still had him hear to share stories. What a gentle soul he must have been. The Twilight Zone inspired so much about this film. Less with more. And… some O’Henries.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
For ”Race” I’d like to work with James Earl Jones, or Danny Glover. For the Filipino Ghost Story Grace Park. For another project “Medea” Bjork.
Then random dream cast, Johnny Depp, Kevin Kline, Jason Patrick, Matt Damon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Bacon, Kurt Russell, Jeremy Irons, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken, , Jude Law, Charlize Theron, Barry Pepper, Andre Braugher, Meryl Streep, Mandy Patinkin, Jeff Goldblum. I want to work with actors that have a vulnerable yet honourable quality. I like actors that to quote Lance “ you never see acting”. I want to feel with them. I love working with actors. I love gaining their respect and collectively pushing each other to not be cliché… and recreating the wheel together.
And finally Luke Goss and Lance Henriksen. We’ve been talking about Bone Dry being similar to the Sergio Leone trilogy. This was Chapter one. We’re all looking forward to Chapter’s two and three.
This interview with Brett Hart first appeared on Collider in 2008.