Interview with Tiller Russell – ‘Cockfight’ Movie Director
FUENTE: MOVIE MIKES
Tiller Russell started his career as a documentary film maker. His documentary cover vast subjects from cockfighting to prison baseball and he has since went on to direct his first feature film “The Last Rites on Ransom Pride”. Movie Mikes had the opportunity to talk to Tiller to discuss his documentaries and his transition from documentary to feature film and what’s in store for the future.
Mike Gencarelli: You started your career with documentaries, about cockfighting, arm wrestling and baseball, can you tell us about some of subjects you’ve covered?
Tiller Russell: The way it started out, the first film I did was “Cockfight” about underground rooster fighting. I basically did that because I didn’t have any dough to do too much more than sort of borrow a video camera and try and find a fascinating subject that I never seen anyone do a film on before. I got tipped into the cockfighting world and once I got plugged in I knew visual, controversial, violent and full of fascinating characters. With documentary, one access breeds more access. One subject leads on to the next. When someone has vouched for me and they pulled me in and I found myself at some crazy underground cockfights in the states. I was with cartel members in Mexico, whatever the case might be. That film played at a bunch of festivals and aired on TBS. From there basically subjects in a way started coming to me. Sometimes it would be “Hey that is the cockfighting guy, maybe he would be interested in arm wrestling? Or maybe he would be interested in doing something in a prison?” Sometimes it would be from reading a subject in the newspaper or my wife would find something and turn us on to a new subject. It came from a bunch of different ways but one subject sort of lead on to the next in some way. It was a path that I only saw when I looked back in retrospect.
Mike Gencarelli: How did you find the transition from documentary to feature film for “The Last Rites on Ransom Pride”?
Tiller Russell: It is a fascinating transition really, at the end of the day it is all about story, right? It is a sort of visual story telling. All of the skills I learned as a documentary filmmaker where immediately relative and applicable to this. How do you find drama? How do you find tension? How do you find cast or create fascinating characters? At the same time the scale and spectacle about it is much bigger. When we were making the documentaries, it was basically a couple of guys, a couple of cameras and a sound guy. You were a small mobile crew. This was huge sets and construction. There were stunt coordinators and a massive army of people that are required to do a feature film. In a way you are surrounded by people that are all experts in what they do, in whatever capacity. What I did was surround myself with the smartest most talented people I could find and trust them guide me through the things I didn’t know how to do. I articulated to them a vision of what I wanted it to feel like, look like or be like. Luckily I had an amazing group of collaborators that were able to shepherd me through that process.
Mike Gencarelli: Tell me about “The Last Rites on Ransom Pride”, what is it about?
Tiller Russell: I like to say that “it is a tale of bad-bitches and despicable bastards who cuss and kill each other”. That is a one liner I ripped off from my writing partner. He said that and I busted out laughing and I said I think that is exactly what it is. It all turns when Juliette Flowers swears to bring the body of Ransom Pride home to Texas after he is gunned down in the streets of Mexico. In order to do so, she has to battle a murderous reverent, a wicked outlaw, two savage bounty hunters and a vicious Mexican brouhaha. She gets helps from an opium smoking Siamese-twin, a shotgun toting dwarf and Ransom’s crack shot younger brother. She ends up spilling blood on the border to honor hear oath to Ransom Pride.
MG: How was it working with such an amazing cast on the film?
TR: It was absolutely amazing. These guys had such range of talents. It was great having the chance to sort of work with icons, like Kris Kristofferson, and Dwight Yoakam and talented young actors like Jon Foster and Lizzy Caplan. It was just amazing. I was able to take Jason Priestly and put him in a weird ass role and a light you have never seen him before. Peter Dinklage was great. It was inspiring and fantastic. I hope to have the opportunity to work with any or all of them again.
MG: What was your biggest challenge while filming “The Last Rites on Ransom Pride”?
TR: Well I would say just the sheer scale and spectacle of it. All of people when they do their first film pick something small and on a small canvas to work on. Like the walkie-talkie in New York kind of vibe. This was a big sprawling gnarly comic book western and just going from page to screen it was an epic scale. It was a massive jump. But like I said I was very fortunate to have an amazing group of people from producers and co-writers to every department head and all the actors helped me bring it to life. I was just very lucky to have brilliant and luck people surrounding me and helping me through it.
MG: What do you have planned next? More documentaries? More features?
TR: I will definitely end up doing both. There is something about non-fiction storytelling that is in my blood and in my bones. I actually have a project that I have been shooting for close to ten years, which coming close to being finished. At the same time the joy and freedom and making a feature film is one of the most exhilarating things in the world. I’ve got a small comedy that we’re in development on. Like I said, I’ve got the ten year documentary. I have a sort-of supernatural thriller that I am working on too. We will see what catches traction and ends up taking the top priority spot. I definitely want to do both.
MG: Tiller, Tell us when we can see the film?
TR: If you’re in Scotland, you can catch it this week at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Here in the States, it will be released in the fall. We urge you to go to the website (http://lastritesfilm.com/) and let us know where you live, and we’ll ask our distributor to see if we can bring it to theaters in your town.
MG: Are you excited that the film is being show at Edinburgh?
TR: John Huston once said “the only film festival that’s worth a damn is Edinburgh.” And given that John Huston did pretty much everything a body could dream of — both on the silver screen and in life, I’d have to say unequivocally, “Hell yeah.” We are incredibly stoked it’s playing in Edinburgh. And we are grateful to be bringing it into the world and seeing it premiere at the festival in Edinburgh.
MG: Thanks again and good luck with the film Tiller! Look forward to seeing it!
TR: Thanks again Mike, I appreciate you taking the time and best of luck with the site.