|Photo Courtesy Nashville Film Festival|
BY KAKIE URCH
Meet Kentucky natives Shane Dax Taylor and W. Earl Brown in these Behind the Scenes, production-oriented outtakes from their interviews for the current Ace Weekly coverstory.
W. Earl Brown’s midair moment – an in-flight epiphany about wanting to make Tennessean William Gay’s novel, Provinces of Night, into a movie –took place before the release of the gadget known as the iPhone. His chosen director, Shane Dax Taylor, was flying to work the 2002 MLB All-Star Game for ESPN when he read the script.
The final film, eight years in the making premiered at the Nashville Film Festival in spring of 2011. It will make its Kentucky debut Friday (May 20) at the Kentucky Theatre, complete with a visit from the Director.
“We were a couple weeks away from shooting the film in 2006 ….we had spent close to $700,000 before it fell apart,” Taylor said.
Once the bid was resurrected, Taylor said, “I wore two hats as a producer trying to make sure we had all the financing. I was pulling my hair out literally until the first time I said ‘Action!’
“I was very fortunate to have such great actors. I had enough time to work with my Director of Photography Tim Orr. We had four to five weeks of prep, which made my work so much easier. We went to every location and laid out each shot.
Cinematography, Production Designs
The early effort, early hires and the early care to attach some of the best working in Hollywood on production elements paid off. The team took notes from the first go-round and made those into a set, a location and a shooting plan. The result was an early cut of the film then named Provinces of Night.
The director of photography, or DP, has credits including everything from Pineapple Express to The Rough South of Larry Brown.
His work in Bloodworth confirms what we already know: that William Faulkner wasn’t just foolin’ naming that one book Light in August. There is that special light that is the very verisimilitude of the South, the sweet stultification of home with the chipped white enamel bowl for shucking green beans on your thigh, and North Carolinian Orr and Production Designer Brian Stultz have captured it in Bloodworth.
The production design of this movie is tone-perfect. And it is difficult to get a South right, especially a timeless South, without overkill.
Stultz’s work (Remember The Titans, Sweet Home Alabama, Wonder Boys, A River Runs Through It) is a character in itself. He was the first person Taylor hired, in those days before the iPhone. “Brian and I worked so closely…” on the early parts of the film, that when the financing came together again, they were able to pull the same designs out, Taylor said.
“Brian has a way of going into a place, for example (the character) Brady’s workshop….and without saying anything, the snake skins on the wall, the jars of who-knows-what, we know that this guy (the spell casting preacher played by W. Earl Brown) is off a bit. Then you go into Dwight Yoakam’s house and his wife has left him and on the walls, you see where pictures were hung…this is where the family portrait was, this is where the photo of her was.”
“It’s small things that really make a difference and really set up who these characters are. It’s the same with the wardrobes. I really wanted Kristofferson in a suit as opposed to the cliché cowboy hat and boots,” Taylor said. (Inwardly, every Kentuckian who knows that no one wears that hat Raylan Givens wears in Justified smiles here.)
“No matter what I do, he’ll be right by my side. Design plays such an important part of so many things. He’s able to set up this world and not be cliché.” Taylor said, of the world of the physically true Stultz sets up with details and well-placed dust.
Location, deals and tax credits
Shot at the Screen Gems campus in Wilmington, N.C. , their grounds served as the production office as the cast and crew went afield into rural North Carolina to recreate Tennessee. “I looked everywhere in Kentucky and Tennessee and then our financing came out of North Carolina with the tax incentives. Our (initial) investors were living in the Wilmington area and they wanted us to be there.
“I definitely looked everywhere in Kentucky. I shot my first film The Grey in Murray, Kentucky. Hopefully, someday we can get the incentive back that can make it possible to work in Kentucky. But when you’ve got Louisiana, Vancouver, and now Alaska, with 40 percent tax incentives, you just can’t compete with that, when you look at these other states,” Taylor said.
EDITING , REEDITS, PACKAGING, REPACKAGING
The duo of Shane Dax Taylor (producer, director) and W. Earl Brown (producer, screenplay writer, actor) finally had a print.
It was long and independent and they took it to the prestigious Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film, then called Provinces of Night was so popular that the festival scheduled four additional showings, something usually reserved for a print of say, Crash.
Brown said the experience “was kind of two-fold. We’d never played the film for people outside of our friends. We couldn’t afford test screenings. You don’t know how anything’s going to play with people. Santa Barbara was the first experience that we really showed it to people,” he said.
“It’s hard to separate your prior knowledge from what’s on screen….” Brown noted about a script that he wrote, revised, blocked, shot, acted in and cut. There’s no distance from the project, no objectivity, he said. That’s why, he in fact does believe in test screenings — to see audience reaction.
“We were a big hit at the festival. We had success but we also knew we could tinker with this a little more.”
Taylor said that a strict adherence to the Gay book, which is more a wide-angle character study, made the film a little too long. “The original cut last year, we stuck so closely to the book that once we premièred it (in Santa Barbara), Earl and I decided to go back in and recut it and just see…” It was after that — a 45-minute cut — that Sam Goldwyn and Sony became interested.
In the editing, “We lost some scenes with Val Kilmer’s character, lost some scenes with Dwight’s character,” he said. And that was too bad, but really sharpened the focus on the story of the young Fleming Bloodworth and the returning grandfather.
Taylor turned to film editor Jeffrey Ford. “He cut Public Enemies and recut Crazy Heart and he had time in his schedule to cut our little film. He and I worked together and then Earl came in from time to time to give us notes.”
The print was renamed Bloodworth and the Friday showing at The Kentucky Theatre, which Taylor plans to attend, will be the first limited release of the film after the Nashville Film Festival premiere of the final cut.
Taylor said that the difference between The Grey, his first film, for which he won Best Director at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and Bloodworth, really lies in the craft and professionalism of the actors and crew.
“For my first film, I only had a couple of professional actors, to this one where just from top to bottom everyone was professional,” Taylor said.
Both Taylor and Brown cite their respect for Kris Kristofferson and say their biggest achievement is working with him on set and his reaction to the final version.
“Working with him was a dream. It was the perfect part. It was an alternate version of his own life. The creative experience of working with all of those folks,” Brown said, was the best part of making the movie. “The first time he’d seen it was in Nashville,” Taylor said. “The final film is something I couldn’t be any more proud of.”
Brown and Taylor are currently casting for a “whitewater rafting thriller” (cue banjos) that will be shot in July and are working with the family of baseball great Mickey Mantle on a project that the family has approved.
Will W. Earl Brown this great character actor who has the stuff to be in the trailer with David Milch on Deadwood make a full transition to producer and screenwriter?
“Those are the two that are on the active front burner. So, yes and no. I’m never going to stop acting. Even now, it is still how I pay my bills. The creative process is still kind of the same for me. It’s trying to find the things that I lay awake at night or I dream about….whether that’s a story or a song or whatever,” Brown said.
Kakie Urch is an Assistant Professor of Multimedia in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky.
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