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Available on Dan Wool - Soundtrack for Searchers 2.0  


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JACLYN JONET in the role of Delilah


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ED PANSULLO plays Fred;
DEL ZAMORA plays Mel






It would be nice to say that it's an affectionate parody, or else a science fiction remake set on the moons of Jupiter. But neither would be true.


I had been trying to get a project going in Liverpool, in England: exec-producing a slate of eight micro-budget features, in time for "Capital of Culture" year, 2008. Involving almost the whole audio-visual community (directors, actors, writers, producers, composers, special effects, camera and crew) it would have given the drifting Culture Capital project some badly-needed local participation, and the local industry some support.

That project was not to be. Yet the idea of a microfeature - costing a hundred thousand pounds or less - stuck with me. This was the low road, the way we'd originally wanted to make REPO MAN before a studio became involved.

Now, if I was going to make a feature film for such a low budget, it had to be something interesting and amusing - working with actors I liked, who were my friends, rather than skittish weirdos with "star" status or "bankability." I'd been out to Monument Valley in 2005 to watch ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST on a big inflatable screen. I knew the inflatable screen guys were coming back in 2006 to show THE SEARCHERS on its 50th anniversary. So I thought, what about a film involving a road trip out to Monument Valley, to catch the screening of THE SEARCHERS? Who (apart from me) would make such a trip? No one drives 2,000 miles just to watch a movie. There had to be a reason for it. A real reason.

SEARCHERS 2.0, the script, was the result.


Every screenplay I've written (how many is that? 40? 50?) has had the same initial response: "the characters are unsympathetic." Perhaps this is why so few of them were made. Financiers are simple, twisted souls who like a simple story with false breasts, perfect white teeth, and a muscular, anti-intellectual action hero. Fred lifts weights while watching TV but he is otherwise unheroic: bogarting the joints and the beer, telling ridiculous and untrue stories, bitching about Al Gore and Michael Moore. Mel is, if anything, worse: a penniless deadbeat dad who gets itinerant workers fired and lies to his daughter. And Fritz Frobisher, beater of little children, is the worst of all.

But, perhaps because the story was about actors, and the politics were in the sub-plot (we follow a trail of sad memorials to those killed in WWII, Afghanistan and Iraq), there was actual interest in this one. A few kind people offered to buy shares via the internet. A reclusive millionaire wanted to shoot it in five minute segments, to be downloaded to cell phones. A couple of "real" LA producers proposed they take the project on. The catch was casting. Their visions didn't involve the actors I'd had in mind: Del Zamora and Ed Pansullo. For your standard Hollywood producer, the writer's or the director's intentions are irrelevant. Who would bother to make a picture for only $200K when - with Cheech and Bill Murray on board - you could raise 3.5 million, maybe 4?

At one point in SEARCHERS 2.0, Mel and Fred are mistaken for homeless people by a Mexican guy who gives them a dollar. This follows the revelation that neither of them has health insurance. Not a big deal - 40% of the people living in the US don't have any, either. But imagine Bill Murray or Cheech Marin, or any other pair of upper-middle-class, Hollywood actors, trying to say those lines. It would be impossible. Worse, it would be despicable - like Jack Nicholson and Madonna playing homeless people, in a film for Universal.

Then someone showed up who understood this: Jon Davison, legendary producer of WHITE DOG, AIRPLANE, ROBOCOP, and STARSHIP TROOPERS. JD had retired from the business to go prospecting in Telluride. But the script - or the prospect of working with Ed Pansullo, an actor he had long admired - lured him back to the City of the Angels. JD took the script to Roger Corman, who (considering his long, illustrious career as an independent director and producer) we might call the inventor of the microfeature.


Mel and Fred were written for Zamora and Pansullo. And there was an obvious part for that great actor Sy Richardson. For the other principal cast members we went the old-fashioned way and held auditions! The casting directors were Jan Glaser and Christine Joyce: they introduced us to Jaclyn Jonet and Zahn McClarnon.


SEARCHERS 2.0 was filmed in 15 days, on the road from Venice, CA, to Monument Valley, AZ. We were working our way towards the shortest day of the year; we'd start at 0700 and wrap around 1600, or 1700. Travel made some days longer. On our penultimate day, it snowed. The cinematographer was Steve Fierberg, with whom I'd worked on SID & NANCY, and WALKER. The designer, of course, was Cecilia Montiel; Diego Sandoval was her art director.

Shooting so rapidly changes the way you make a film: we shot almost in sequence; the actors had to be exceptionally well prepared, since the daily page counts were so high; they also drove the production vehicles.

On a regular feature the cars are usually towed or put on a low-loader. It's probably safer if the actors don't drive: they have a lot of words to say and if the car is towed they can concentrate on acting, not driving. But towing cars or carrying them on trucks slows things down enormously: in addition to the tow truck there's usually a camera car, a couple of follow vehicles and the inevitable pair of highway patrol cruisers or phalanx of motorcycle cops. This is why even an "independent" Hollywood road movie resembles a minor procession involving the Roman emperor.

Luckily, our cast were all good drivers. And despite the SUV-gas-revenge theme, the production had a relatively modest footprint. Half a dozen actors and twelve crew people fit into five vehicles: two Suburbans, a Jeep, an art department van, and a mobile home avec generator. Del came to the auditions (he read opposite all the Delilahs and Rustys) by bicycle, and only two one-way airplane trips (ferrying actors from LA to Prescott, AZ) were made.

We used a Canon HDV camera on the recce (shooting by mistake in a fake "24p" format which was really NTSC 29.97), and three Sony Z1s in production, at 50i PAL. (One of the cameras died; all three had different quirks, but Steve came to like them by the end.) Most of the stills were shot on a Lumix DMC-LX2: a little Panasonic camera with a 16X9 aspect ratio and a Leica lens. At the end of the shoot, our sound recordist, Alexandra Gallo, told JD that - if she'd understood what we had planned - she'd have turned the job down, since it was impossible. (Alexandra is very modest. Her sound is excellent.)

Digital shooting brought an additonal benefit for the actors: the absence of tape measures and slates being pushed in their faces just before they gave a performance. It hadn't occurred to me how annoying and off-putting these last-minute camera department checks are for the cast: shooting on video liberates you in unanticipated ways...

For our last shooting week we were based at Gouldings Trading Post and Lodge, overlooking Monument Valley. This is a great place, very film-friendly (they've been putting up movie crews since Harry Goulding persuaded John Ford to shoot STAGECOACH there). Gouldings screen DVDs of old Ford pictures every night (usually STAGECOACH, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, and THE SEARCHERS): I only hope they're not too horrified by SEARCHERS 2.0 when they see it.

I cut the film in a log cabin, two days' drive from Monument Valley, using Avid Xpress Pro on a Mac laptop. No technical problems were encountered. The picture files were kept on several different media: one drive, a Seagate, died, but drives by OWC and G-Tech proved reliable. Special effects were created by Eric Leven at Tippet Studios in Berkley, and by Peter Kuran, at VCE Films in LA. Score and sound design - by Dan Wool and Richard Beggs - were done in San Francisco. The online was at Kappa Studios (a former Scientology headquarters!) in LA, on an Avid Nitris... a machine which our colourist told us is "96%" compatible with Avid Xpress Pro.

Outputting from the Nitris proved quite difficult, even provoking Avid support people to show up (!) and recommend a software re-install. For an online system to be "more or less" compatible with an offline system from the same company is not acceptable. Who do Avid think they are, turning out incompatible, funky software - Microsoft?

Maybe next time I'll learn to use FCP. Or Cinelerra, the open-source non-linear editing tool. (Maybe I'll learn Quechua, too, while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)

But I'd be happy to shoot another picture with the Z1, a tough and versatile camera - really a big VX-1000, much improved, with native 16X9. Not an ideal camera for the DP: no calibrations on the endlessly-rotating focus ring, and you must choose a special setting - "allscan mode" just to find out where the edges of the frame are. But the Z1 easy to use, ideal for the director! And it records on tape - easily cloned, reliable and durable - rather than 8GB flash cards, or Blu-Ray discs, or old tin boxes.


The BBC have bought UK broadcast rights and will - after its TV premiere - make the film available as a download. SEARCHERS 2.0 been invited to participate in the Venice Film Festival in September: most likely in the second week, at the same time as the thrilling Spaghetti Western homage, which includes many fascinating pictures including uncut versions of Corbucci's DJANGO, and Questi's DJANGO KILL!

SEARCHERS 2.0 isn't a Spaghetti Western, but it remembers them. Roger Corman's company is selling international rights, so don't be shy, Foreign Distributors - give Frank Mereno a call on 001 310 820 6733!


SEARCHERS 2.0 soundtrack available on Dan Wool - Soundtrack for Searchers 2.0