VANCOUVER – How often have you watched an old western and longed to saddle up, eye down your shootout opponent, burst through a set of saloon doors, and ride off into the sunset? Michelle Muldoon took control of the reigns to create her own western universe right here in BC. Speaking with her about her new film, “Last Stand to Nowhere”, I was ready to don the ol’ black hat and find myself a pair of boots.
Last Stand to Nowhere is barely into post-production and is already generating a lot of buzz! Can you give us a quick overview of it?
Last Stand to Nowhere is an all-female re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The goal of the film was to force people to question how they view traditional roles in western films and western mythology. I should mention, I consider the stories we know of the west to be purely mythological in a modern sense. And the fact is, mythology is a male domain. If you look at Greek Mythology, for example, female characters may appear (often coming in as the downfall to their male counterparts), but the stories are rarely about women. And western stories are rarely about women. So, with this film, I wanted to posit the question, “how does it look when mythology is wrapped around a female motif?”.
How did you tackle writing female characters in this setting?
A friend of mine described my voice as a jaded, damaged, sarcastic, unapologetic woman. So, I think timing has finally caught up to where my voice now has a space. When writing these characters, I approached it the way I tend to approach most of my scripts, writing what I like to call, “actionable characters”. I write characters with real needs and resulting actions. I’ve always posited that if needs are universal, then gender is irrelevant, and what makes the character female is the woman embodying the character. So that is exactly what we did. We created characters that are embodied by female actors who have universal needs, ambitions, and aggressiveness.
Can you tell us about the long process to get to camera?
We are such an unusual production that I think that we needed to take time to find our space, our audience. We had been going through the process of applying for a grant to get the project on its feet, and while waiting to hear back on whether we received it or not, we decided we’d put together a crowdfunding campaign in the meantime. While we were eventually turned down for the grant, we started to experience surprising success with our campaign and thought, “Hey! We might as well go with that!”.
Crowdfunding can be a huge beast! What would you say led to some of the success you experienced?
The only success I can take credit for when it comes to our crowdfunding campaign is to have been smart enough to listen to Wendy D Photography. She sat me down and said, if you really want to do this right you need great concept photos. She was right; the photos she took for us were hugely impactful. On top of that I got a lot of great advice, I did my research, I looked at other successful campaigns, and I treated it like a job; I was on it every day. If you’re not willing to work your crowdfunding page and build your audience every day, you will not be successful. Plus, it’s true what they say: concept is king. We had a good script, and a killer cast, and that got people excited enough to get invested. The cast that came on board all came with their own existing fan base. We engaged with that fan base, and through that engagement we’ve become partners with them in many ways. As they donated, they made it clear, you know, “if we’re going to donate, we want to understand the process”. So, we continued to keep them informed on everything. I really view that relationship as a partnership.
Would you do crowdfunding again?
I don’t think I can for a while…you can’t go to the well twice. However, would I do it again eventually? Sure! I’d love to see every indie filmmaker in this city empowered to believe they don’t have to go hat in hand asking for votes, and they can find a way make their film.
If we can take a film that had 8 guns, a horse and a western town, and get enough money to get us to production (with the help of a variety of people, of course) and find a way, then others can too. I’d love to see other filmmakers embrace the whole journey, embrace how long it takes, and embrace the risk more than anything.
How did you learn to “embrace the risk”?
I’m stubborn. Every time someone says “no” I’m like, “Ok, fine. Game on!” The other thing I’ve learned is, you have to talk about your project! You have to tell people how excited you are about it. People get excited to be around people who are excited! It’s also just a facet of being a part of the community. I always say community is an active process; if you are not willing to be part of the active process, you aren’t willing to be part of the community. I’ve made myself a part of it by working on other people’s films. I’ve been crafty on 3 or 4 different films for people and I think it’s the best job to get on somebody else’s film. You don’t feel compelled to insert yourself into the film, you’re supporting their efforts by doing something not many others want to do, and it’s an incredible way to find potential people to work with on your next projects…because if someone is not nice to crafty, believe me, I’m not paying them a penny to work on my future projects.
Great point! What about your team for Last Stand to Nowhere? Did you purposefully fill your crew with women, and did it create a different feel on set?
Here’s the thing; the feeling we had on set was all because we had the right people with the right attitude coming together. To me, the best productions should be a combination of men and women. While I applaud an all-female production to provide experience and help us get up the ladder, I think we need to show that our male allies are not going to get left behind in this movement. Men that respect women on set, that respect everybody’s ability to do their job, that only want to work with good crews regardless of gender, deserve our respect too. I definitely think we chose the right people. Although, I will say…on prep day, there was one man on set in a group of 14 women…and he wore his kilt. SO, that’s what I mean – it’s the right people.
What do you hope is the audience takeaway?
I want the audience to want more, because I want to make more! I want the audience to enjoy the story and realize gender doesn’t matter. I think it’s time to smash the perceptions of genre. We need to transcend genre. What I am hoping is that Last Stand to Nowhere kicks down the door that Godless (Netflix) unlocked. If you had asked me two years ago if this movie would have happened, I don’t think I could have imagined it this way. I don’t believe in confidence, I believe in conviction. Because when you’re at your most frightened, or your most insecure, and feel your least confident, you need to have the conviction to take the right step. I believe heavily in conviction.
I’m curious to see where the conviction comes out in these types of characters.
Oh yeah. There’s one scene in particular that encompasses that quality…and I love that scene. Two of my actors said they could do that scene all night. Maja Aro, our stunt coordinator, brought in a stunt performer to perform a fall down the stairs for us. My opening scene – of a really low budget indie short – has a stunt performer falling down the saloon stairs in front of a horse. I can’t believe I actually got to film that! So, I think that conviction exists in the characters, and in the entire team that put this film together.
I, for one, can’t wait to see the film! What can we expect next from Last Stand to Nowhere?
The goal is to finish the film by the end of summer. We’re heading into post-production, and have just paired up with an incredible artist who will be doing our poster design…we haven’t fully advertised who that is yet, but I can tell you we are so excited by it!
I’d like to treat this as a proof of concept, and I would like to make a 6-part limited series, and I would like to re-imagine the half hour western for streaming services. I would like to re-imagine the west. In our world, men and women can be villains. In our world there are still farmers and business owners, regular people…but these particular women happen to be good with guns, and that’s how they choose to survive. There’s a lot of opportunity in our world to discover grand stories and rich characters.
Thank you Michelle for sharing your process with us. If you’d like to keep informed about Michelle’s work or what’s coming up next for Last Stand to Nowhere, follow their social media: