Well look-e here my creeps; none other than KILL OR BE KILLED‘s Die-rector slash writers Justin Meeks and Duane Graves have just rolled into the Crypt o’ XIII like a couple o’ tumblin’ tumbleweeds!
Famous Monsters. Welcome to the Crypt! Let’s just jump right in; what inspired ya to create KILL OR BE KILLED?
Justin Meeks. I have always had a special place in my heart for westerns, and a burning desire to make one. Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Peckinpah, and others have brought their visions into my living room many times. So, after our film WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD was sold at Tribeca, we had a meeting with the Weinstein Co. They were interested in what was on the back burner, and we pitched them a rough idea for KILL OR BE KILLED, untitled at the time. They seem to love it, and that inspired Duane and myself to write the screenplay in full. We wanted to write a script that was based on Texas history, but at the same time exposed our audience to the dark sides of the West. We wanted to create our own language and world, but stay true to our signature as filmmakers. We wanted to bring the old back to the new, but add a dark edge that exposes the audience to the hard realities of the time. That’s when RED ON YELLA KILL A FELLA, was born — now KILL OR BE KILLED. I mention the original title because our story was written for the original title, in ways of symbolism and metaphoric language. The short of it is, that we financed it and shot it ourselves, and it was a project of love, no doubt.
Duane Graves. The characters are loosely based on a real life Texas outlaw named Sam Bass who, with his gang, robbed a train of one million dollars in the 1870s. He was eventually hunted down and killed in Round Rock, Texas, but became a bit of a Robin Hood figure in the backwood areas of the state, and even had many people hiding him out in their own homes as he ran from the law. The ballads of Bass and his gang definitely inspired a lot of this story, but the rest was born from the classic Italian Westerns of the 60s and 70s like THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. We love the quirky characters and fun vibes displayed in a lot of those films. Also the indie Westerns of 70s drive-in horror auteur Charles B. Pierce, which are less known but equally as impressive (and inspirational): THE WINDS OF AUTUMN, GRAYEAGLE, WINTERHAWK — all stellar, bravely independent films worth digging up and revisiting.
FM. What challenges did you face during the shoot?
JM. Everything under the sun plus some! [laughs] KILL OR BE KILLED is a sprawling, traveling story, so our crew had to follow the same path as our outlaws, from the unforgiving rocky landscape of West Texas to the sandy beaches of Corpus Christi and every old ranch and town in between. Vehicles broke down, horses bucked off actors, and long hours and travel brought serious fatigue. When it was decided to take on this project ourselves, from executive producers to acting, we knew we were biting off more than we could chew, but that just energized us more, and it was infectious on the crew and actors. We were hell bent on completing this journey, and our crew and actors were on the same train. Nothing worth its salt is easy, and even the hard times and challenges were accepted with open arms.
DG. Just about everything. The biggest challenge was working with horses. They run the show in a lot of ways. You can ask them nicely two or three times, but if they don’t feel up to it, then you wait. It can hold up the production, but luckily we had a great wrangler named Brennan Wells, who owned all the animals and had relationships with each and every one of them. He kept them happy and our actors really bonded with them by the end of the production. Also sound was an issue, because anywhere you go — even the most remote of areas — you’ll likely hear something that did not exist in 1900. Airplanes, traffic, lawn mowers — you name it. We had to work around a lot of locations that were polluted with these sounds. Luckily our sound guy, Sean McCormick, was very experienced and able to find quick solutions on set. Then, in post, our sound designer Eric Friend smoothed it all out. We were very fortunate to have all these talented people touch the film.
FM. How did you come to work with the legendary Michael Berryman?
JM. We had circulated our script to many different outlets, and Michael Berryman took a special liking to ours. Our producers set everything up with him, and he decided to take the role! It was an absolute honor to direct and act with Michael Berryman. He is a professional through and through and had many stories from his illustrious career. He was very serious about safety and so were we. He had explained that he had been on set of THE CROW when Brandon Lee was shot by a bullet. We gained his trust very quickly, as he saw safety was of utmost importance to us as well. I look forward to working with him again.
DG. Michael came on board pretty early in the casting process. Our producers Karrie and Marcus Cox got the script to his agent, and he agreed to playing the role of Dr. Pepperdine. It was a pleasure working with him. We really wished we could have expanded his role. Working with veteran actors like that make your job as a director very, very easy. They have finely tuned instincts and need the slightest of direction — if any at all. They know exactly where to go, and how far. There is a great deleted scene with Michael Berryman on the DVD that everyone should check out!
FM. Are you fan of the slasher genre or the horror biz in general?
JM. I am a fan of horror in general, but always swayed toward suspense and psychological thrillers, such as THE SHINING. Although, I am a big fan of the absurd and over the top flicks as well.
DG. Absolutely! We’ve made a couple horror films before this one, and almost all movies I watch could be considered horror films or at least “dark” in some way or another. I’m not picky. I go after the ones that everyone says not to waste time watching. I think every film has a redeeming quality.
FM. Where can my Coffin Club keep up with you online?
FM. Thanks a heap fellers! And to find out what I thought about KILL OR BE KILLED, click here!