As I approach my 1000th interview for FRED Film Radio, I have decided to begin transcribing a series of noteworthy interviews that I have conducted throughout my years of activity as a film reporter at various international film events.
The second of the series is the second interview I did for FRED Film Radio. It was with Logan and Noah Miller, directors of Sweetwater, which they presented at the 2013 Torino Film Festival, a modern and idiosyncratic take on the Western revenge genre with a first-rate cast, including Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs and January Jones, among others.
MATT MICUCCI: Can you tell us a bit about the story of your film?
LOGAN MILLER: I can give a brief sort of description…
It’s a blood triangle, right? A revenge film.
NOAH MILLER: Yeah, and we had a lot of fun making it out in New Mexico. Just North and South of Santa Fe, two different ranches.
LM: We were actually brought on initially to rewrite the script and then it turned into a much larger sort of rewrite. And we had worked on our first movie with Ed Harris and wanted to work with him again. So, we sent him the script and he said that he wanted to do it. And then, we met with the producers and Ed said, “I really like what the brothers have done with the script but if they’re not directing it, I’m not interested.” So, Ed helped us get the directing job.
So, that’s where it all started off for you. The story was brought to you and you worked with it. And that kind of shows in the film, I would argue, because, as you said in the press conference, you don’t see Sweetwater as a Western. You see it as a film set in that period but not a Western.
LM: No, we never imagined it that way. You know, we probably write 40, 50 drafts. But we never looked at it like we were making a Western. Obviously, it’s going to be considered a Western. It has horses and guns.
NM: There are so many genre expectations. But if you try to do what everyone else has done, then it’s just going to lead to this steady slope of decline in the art form. If we can call it art. Hopefully, what we’ve accomplished is something that people will enjoy watching. But we can only shoot the movie how we see it. Not how someone else sees it. In writing, that would be called plagiarism. Really, if you think about it!
Even Spaghetti Westerns weren’t really Westerns. They eventually were categorized as such but it was a postmodernist genre.
NM: If you look at what [Sergio] Leone was doing,. Leone Westerns are kind of… You could say there were Westerns before him and then there’s everything after him.
LM: Kind of like in music, rock and roll before Bob Dylan and rock and roll after.,
NM: Or Jimi Hendrix.
Or the Rolling Stones.
LM: Right. Everyone has their own reference point.
NM: Yeah. What [Leone] was doing certainly seemed radical at the time. And now, it’s been done so many time and they use the style in Taco Bell commercials. In fact, you can make commercials to appeal to 300 million Americans to buy something fast food and people identify that-
LM: In the Leone style.
NM: -in the Leone style. But for us it was just…
LM: We’re going on a tangent.
NM: Yeah, I’m totally rambling. We’ve digressed horribly.
LM: But yeah, we can only shoot it as we see it.
NM: And from the perspective of our crew. You want your crew or your key departments to come into it thinking that there are no stupid ideas. They can bring something, they can bring in an idea from Moulin Rouge. I don’t know where that came from but whatever… No idea was a bad idea and don’t just think of what you’ve seen in Westerns.
LM: In fact, don’t think of a Western. That way would free everybody up.
NM: And everyone really enjoyed that freedom because they could say, “I always had this idea to do this. I don’t know if it would be right for this.”
LM: Even if you think about The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Those choral pieces. I don’t know if that had been done before in a Western. So, certainly, Leone, whatever he was thinking, he wasn’t worried about what John Ford had been doing.
NM: I’m sure there’s going to be some hate letters, emails coming in. As far as the accuracy of the choral pieces but…
LM: But you get what I’m saying.
Sure. You have to translate the story into your style
The characters are quite colorful. So, what did the cast bring to the table? How was it working with them?
NM: Really, just an extreme pleasure. We’ve really been fortunate to work with Ed on the first movie. And then Jason Isaacs and January Jones. And all the other actors, Stephen Root and Eduardo Noriega, Luce Rains. Everybody, they bring their own art form and their own craft and all their experience. And for us, it’s just really about creating a comfortable environment for them to perform.
LM: Because if they’re relaxed, then you tend to get the best out of people as opposed to if everyone is tight and nervous.
So, it was about trying to get the right environment on the set.
LM: Oh, yeah. We work extremely hard and are very well prepared but we try to have as much fun as we can.
NM: We’re big huggers and when people do a great job, we like to let everyone know. We know everyone’s name on the set and everyone gets treated the same. So, we had a terrific time. We had only 23 days to shoot it, so that was very difficult but once you’ve discussed the roles with the actors, then it’s just about giving them the environment and letting them do their thing. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of the director getting out of the way.
LM: We came from a team sports background.
LM: Yeah, baseball. So to us, we’re just the coach. We’re the manager of the team, that’s all we are. We’re not the players. The actors and everyone else involved. The grips, the electricians, they are all the players. And it’s up to us to create the best working environment. Relaxed, enthusiastic. And when people are excited to come to the set every day, everyone can feel that energy. And who wants to be in a bad work environment? Right? Think about it! We’ve played for coaches that were yellers and you hated doing what you loved. And the teams never seemed to perform as well as they should have.
Final question. You talked about the set but what’s it liked collaborating while writing the script?
LM: It’s just these long spells of nothingness punctuated by infantile arguments. Yeah. Would you summarize it like that, bro?
NM: Yeah, that’s perfect.
LM: We argue quite a bit and that’s probably the majority of what we do.
NM: We try to get our battles and we try to destroy ourselves and each others’ armies before we come on the set, so that we don’t argue on set. But that happens in the script stage. Wouldn’t you say?
LM: [Jokingly] No, it doesn’t!