Return of Project Horror, Day 16: Deadland


One of my favorite parts of having this blog is getting feedback from folks.  Comments are always great, but I actually end up getting far more messages through email.  I received one this weekend from France!  It was actually very friendly, written in excellent English, and said in part:
Say what you will about Trouble Every Day, but you can not hold Vincent Gallo against France.  He (and his penis that he thinks must be shown in every one of his movies) is 100% American.
That is fair.  I hate to admit it, but it's true.  My fellow Americans, next time you're feeling like you need to be taken down a peg, remember that Vincent Gallo is your countryman.

Well, I'm done with France for the time being, and moving into five days of Cult & Indies.  I'm especially excited about this, because the first feature is directed by Damon O'Steen, an old friend of mine!

Two things I will tell you up front about Deadland:
  1. I enjoyed it very much.
  2. To be honest, it was not really a horror movie, although now that I go back and look at the categories on Netflix, it actually doesn't claim that it is.  Doesn't matter - I still wanted to watch it.
Deadland opens with a scene of Sean trying to reach his wife on the phone, from across the country.  The news is relaying information of increasing tensions, and then bombs start falling and mushroom clouds start blooming.  Cut to five years later...  Sean is a survivor in a much different world.  Armed militia gangs cruelly rule the remaining inhabitable areas.  A plague ravages those who survived.  Sean has still not found his wife, but is determined to reconnect with her.  To do this, he must confront the militias and be willing to face up to his own demons.  (SPOILER: Happy ending!  He finds her!)

Like I said above, I liked this movie.  Let me couch this fairly: you must remember that this is an indie film with a limited budget, so don't expect an effects extravaganza.  But if you're willing to stick with it and try something new, I think you'll enjoy it, too.

Now, here's the part I'm really excited for.  Damon and I used to be in Boy Scouts together (Troop 157, REPRESENT!).  In fact, when I was Patrol Leader of my first patrol, Damon was a member of it.  Today, he was cool enough to spend some time on the phone with me, letting me interview him about Deadland.  I didn't ask him how it felt to be doing a press event for a movie that's two years old, but only because we had a really great conversation.  Here's some of the highlights.  I'm in black, Damon's in blue.
Well, first, thank you so much for talking with me today.
Yeah!  No problem!  I'm glad we're getting to talk more than once every 10 years now. 

I enjoyed the movie!
Awesome, good to hear!
I think, though, that I was wrong to include it in a month of horror movies.
Yeah, the marketing on the package is different from what you get, which was out of our hands.
It's got action, but it's not an action film.  It's kind of a creature to itself, which I enjoyed.
Oh, cool, thanks!  It's an apocalyptic love story, is what we said on the festival circuit.

What do you think keeps us coming back to post-apocalyptic stories?
That's interesting.  No one knows what the future holds, and it's like a heightened reality of what we assume is the future.  Why are zombie films so popular?  Because it's a look at people run amok.  We wanted to do something different with it, put our own spin on it.
Every culture has both a creation myth and an end times myth, and I think that's part of what gives these things archetypal appeal.  And you tap into some of those same post-apocalyptic elements that we see, with the strong taking over, and prophecies gaining a significant role.
And the bad thing about some of those similarities is that as we were in the middle of shooting, our costumer started reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which none of us had read yet, and made us aware of some of the similarities.  Which, then, we were all thinking that everybody would think we were just making a rip-off.
Well, I had a note to ask you about what it was like coming out in the shadow of The Road, being that you released your movie within months of that one.
It was kind of like, they've got Viggo Mortenson and we've got, well, not that.  We can't compete!  There were elements of The Road, which I watched after we were done with post on Deadland, that I thought, "That's cool, I wish we'd done something like that."  The Road is really a very simple story when you strip it down.  It's about a father and son trying to survive.  Our story adds some to that, with the prophecy, and Sean has to save everyone.  Theirs is like a slice of life that just happens to take place in this post-apocalyptic world.
If you don't mind me saying so, though, yours is not so different from The Road.  At its core, that movie is about the great lengths he will go to because he loves his son so much.  And that's Deadland, too.  The lengths that a man will go to because he loves his wife so much.
See, there again, is the universal theme of love.  Everybody can relate to having that one person who you'll do anything for.  It's a very deep-seated emotion for us all.

The only magazine I subscribe to anymore is Wired, which gave Deadland a brief write-up, and I can't tell you how thrilling it was to see this thing that a friend of mine had made, right there on the pages of a Conde Nast magazine.
And we still don't know how that happened!  Somehow, someone had leaked our trailer to a movie website, and we think Wired saw it and decided to run with it.  Which we could then use to our advantage - "as seen in Wired magazine!"
You hear singers say sometimes that they remember the first time they heard one of their songs on the radio.  This must have been a similar moment.
Right!  And I hope that when I'm 75 years old, I'm still telling stories, but that I still have that same excitement that no matter how many times I screen a film, it will always be as memorable as that first time I did it.

This is a much different movie from your first feature, 29 Reasons to Run.  What drew you to Deadland?
What draws me to a film, and to any storytelling, is a journey.  29 Reasons was a road trip comedy, and Deadland is a different kind of journey, but it's still about that trip from A to B.  I think that stems from seeing Lonesome Dove as a kid, that trail they were on, and obstacles they faced.  It's still really powerful to me.

What's it like directing, when the star of your movie is also the writer?  Does that leave much room for your input?
It really does!  I feel blessed that I have this collaboration with Gary.  I met him when he acted in my thesis project in film school, and we worked well together, and collaborate together really well.  He's really receptive to input from the whole crew if it benefits the film.  For instance, in making Deadland, there's a whole scene where the militia is separating the people and sorting them.  It took us a whole day to shoot it, it was a really brutal scene, and was high quality production value, but it really slowed down the film.  I told him that I thought we should cut the whole thing.  We'll just take snippets from it to use in other parts.  But he felt like I was right, and that the story would move forward better without it.  He's very gracious and receptive, and wants the movie to work.

How did you find your locations?
Again, that was Gary.  We shot almost everything in south Georgia, around where he grew up.  It's a really small town, of like fifty people, but his dad showed us around, and gave us some great location ideas.  What's great, too, is that it's not LA, so you don't have to have permits to shoot there, and we were finding some places that worked so well that we were doing rewrites just to incorporate some of this scenery.
The first part of the movie, after the opening gas station scene, where he's walking through all of that desolation, was really stark!  It worked well.
Well, that actually was not shot in Georgia, that was at the Salton Sea, which is about 90 minutes outside of LA.  It used to be a luxury resort back in the '50s.  The lake became very sulfurous, and it's a dead lake now.  There's tons of dead fish around, abandoned houses that have become meth dens... It's really a great backdrop, but we couldn't film everything there.  For cost reasons, it was more affordable to work in Georgia.

The actress, I can't think of her name, but she played the prostitute.  What was her name?
Her name is Davis Neves.
Um...This isn't a question, but she's really cute.
(Both of us laughed.)
The whole time we were shooting in Georgia, we were living in this small house, and it was just a bunch of guys.  And then Davis would come to town for her scenes, and suddenly everyone was on their best behavior.  "Let me get that door for you!  Here's a fan!  Can I get you a drink of water?"  Everybody would clean up as best they could.

You know, Stephen Spielberg has been very outspoken about the role Scouts has played in his life.  And you were in my first patrol!
You were my first patrol leader!
(talk about guys who we've kept up with)
See?  It was your leadership on impressionable youth.
Would you say that your experiences in Scouts have stayed with you?
Absolutely, and it actually is an impressive thing to say out here.  When I was interning, somebody mentioned something about Spielberg being an Eagle, and I mentioned that I was, too, and they were really impressed.  "There's not many of those out here!"  The way they looked at me just changed.

So you would credit being in my patrol with your continued success?
Good, because I have an idea I want to put in front of you.  You remember a couple of years ago, that movie Julie & Julia?  You know that was adapted from a blog.  So I'm willing to talk about the movie rights for Look What Danny Made! if you're interested in being the director if we can get this greenlit.
I've already told you, I want to do a sitcom, based on Danny stories as a family man with the kids.  Your updates about being a dad are some of the funniest things I read.  And I have lots of friends who tell me about being a dad, but for some reason, yours really are heartfelt and comical to me.  One of these days if I have the power, I will definitely do that.
Excellent, that's just what I wanted to hear.  I think this counts as a verbal contract.

UPDATE:  It was so late when I finished typing this up, that I completely forgot to rate Deadland and to tell you what I'm watching next.  I give this movie four mushroom clouds out of five.

TOMORROW: Pontypool


McCallBLaw said...

Better yet, here's the whole sketch, and Kyle (my amazingly handsome, talented and funny hubby) with his arm around Davis Neves... In our living room (Kyle appears at the very, very end):

Kyle Lawrence said...

So get this, I just opened up your blog to read the latest entry when McCall calls me and asks, "What was the name of that girl that was in the sketch show you did at the IO?" And I said, "Davis Neves." And she said, "You have to check out Danny's blog right now." And I said, "I'm looking at it right now." And then we talked about how beautiful McCall is and what a great husband I am, etc.

But seriously, I co-wrote and co-directed a sketch comedy show in 2006 called "100% Chance of Apocalypse" which featured Davis. I'll send her a message on FB and see if I can get her to come round and say something.

If you check out her short reel on YouTube there are a couple of scenes from stuff we filmed for the sketch show. The scene with the doll and the last shot of her with the gun were both filmed in our apartment.

Small world.

davisneves said...

Hello Friends! Thanks for the great review & cuteness comments. I love doing both comedy & drama, and have been immensely grateful to have worked with so many stand-up gentlemen I can really trust to have my back no matter the material. I know McCall & Kyle are Christians, so I'll share this with you... when discussing Zoona's motivations with Damon during the shooting of Deadland he helped me give the character a lot more depth by equating her to Jesus in the story (what an honor!) sacrificing herself so others may have love. It's not easy to wrap your head around what might lead a person to let others use her in that way, but throughout history women have endured so much so that life & love go on. I was so thrilled to have played this role & I can't wait for the sequel... Zoona's Revenge! ; )

Danny Holwerda said...

Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh... Hi, Davis! Welcome to Look What Danny Made! That is an excellent story, and a cool perspective on the character. Sounds like Damon may have been thinking of John 15:13 - "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

I'm really pleased to know you read this, and thanks for leaving a comment!

Danny Holwerda said...

I have had my arms around a handsome, talented, and funny person who has also had his arms around Davis Neves? And also he is now married to a raven-haired beauty and is an excellent husband? It's like I transitively hugged two beautiful women today!

Stupid internet filter at work won't let me visit Youtube, so I'll have to wait until I'm home to watch these clips, but I can't wait. It seems like being my friend also makes a person uniquely qualified to direct the very cute, very talented Davis Neves.

Oh man, I've got to think of something really cool to put on the blog before you talk her into coming here, so that she'll think I'm cool...

McCall Bennett-Lawrence said...

Danny, you fool! SHE is the one to ask about your Birthday Wish!!!
Seriously though, how flipping’ cool is it that she was in 100% Chance of Apocalypse with ONE of your friends, and then, a few years later… she was also in ANOTHER of your friend’s Post-Apocolyptic film?!?
Faste. For Rizzles!
(You should check out her work with the Improv Dancer Co. - very cool stuff.)

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