With this blog we’ve set up a discussion group on Facebook, and when I stumbled upon the post of Michelle Muldoon’s all-female western, I was intrigued! I bought the short on Vimeo on Demand and loved it so much, that I decided I wanted to know more about it. Read the interview with director Michelle Muldoon:
What is the film about?
The Clantons; horse thieves, cattle rustlers, sisters who believe that the town’s fortunes are theirs for the taking. The Earps; the strong arm of justice, sisters raised by a hard-nosed father to unflinchingly right the wrongs of a cruel world. Last Stand to Nowhere is an all-female re-imagining of the most famous gunfight in the history of the West; the ultimate family feud that finds its resolution at the end of a gun barrel at the OK Corral.
How did you get the idea of making ‘Last Stand to Nowhere’?
I grew up watching Westerns. My father introduced me to the movies of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and the maestro himself, Sergio Leone. The genre has always been a part of my life.
Roughly five years ago I was on one of the local Vancouver Western film sets helping dig a cemetery for someone’s short film. I had the opportunity to walk down the Main Street with two other women. I remember saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun if” and then filled in the rest of the sentence repeatedly as the idea started to flow; if there was a women’s Western where women had a showdown, if we made a Western with women, if there were women gunslingers. A year or two later I had a block on a feature script I was working on and decided to finally write the short script as a diversion. The idea was already there, and it was easier than agonizing over the issues I was having with the feature script. I think it might be the best writer’s block I’ve ever had.
Try to summarise your motivation to be a filmmaker in one sentence. Why are you making films?
I make film because there is no greater addiction than a collaborative process that culminates in something easily shared with those not in the process itself.
When watching your film, it reminded me of Guy-Blaché’s film ‘Les Resultats du Feminisme’. I’m curious as to whether the film is meant as a mirror of our society and viewing habits, or if it’s rather how you envision a matriarch world would have developed in the Wild West? (Obviously, the answer can also be somewhere in the middle ground.)
I think the answer is neither. The purpose of the film is layered like an onion. You need to pull back several layers to see why. Heck, I needed to pull back several to understand it myself. At the core, I just wanted to make a Western that I could relate to and have fun with. I love action and genre films. I always have, but women are never truly actionable characters in them (until the last few years).
Westerns are the worst genre in film for the Madonna/whore trope. I loved the old Westerns where men were self-actualized and truly responsible for their actions but that’s the key, it was always men. I wanted to see “me” in that self-actualized protagonist for a change.
Pre-production is never about understanding what you are doing, it’s about focusing on what needs to be done. On Day 1, on the very first scene, I started to understand what that next layer was and at festivals since then, I’ve peeled back other layers.
I think this is a highly feminist film but not because we have created a matriarchy but because we’ve created an egalitarian, equitable world. Women are still wives, Madams, and Saloon Singers but they also happen to be horse thieves, Marshalls and gunslingers that play a wicked game of poker over whiskey. In the world we’ve created, gender does not define what you do to survive. Women are everything in our world and we see that reflected in the glimpses of the people that live in the town.
I chose this story because it’s based on a historical event that’s been seen through the lens of one man’s eyes, those of Wyatt Earp. It’s not really fact, but it is real. Hollywood latched onto the story and it became the most retold Western story in film to the point that I think it has become a modern myth.
When you throw the glare of the lens onto mythology it fairs no better than Westerns with great myths focused mostly on male protagonists with women generally representing a failing if they are present at all. I want us to look at these women and see that we can be all things; good, bad, damaged, ambitious, cowardly, skilled, and bold.
In the last several years archeology has gone through a reassessment of how it looks at finds. Shield maidens have been confirmed as more than myth. Scythian warrior remains were recently tested and confirmed to be women. A Saxon grave in the UK was discovered with a woman with weapons. We don’t know why women like these couldn’t have existed in the West. All we know is, the men who recorded history didn’t care to mention it.
The layers of the onion keep peeling back for me with this film and I don’t think it will stop.
What was the biggest difficulty you faced making this film?
The first difficulty was the one every female filmmaker has, money. We were turned down by every funding mechanism we applied to. Not one institution wanted to support this project, so we went in search of our audience. Support started building for us once we had a few key actors in place. We ran a successful crowdfunding campaign which brought in approximately 75-80% of our budget. The local Vancouver film community and the ‘When Calls the Heart’ fans, Hallmark Channel’s Hearties fan base, supported us through this. I credit our incredible cast for making that happen.
Finding a Western town in the area in our price range and that could fit us into their schedule was a challenge, but Bordertown came to the rescue. We had to wait a year for that, but it was well worth the wait. After that, our sponsors base grew. Areas we thought we could never afford were miraculously dealt with by sponsorship. I look back on it and am left speechless by the generosity of so many.
What was the funniest moment during the shoot?
There were two that come to mind, and I can’t decide so here they both are:
1. The day we moved onto set was also the day that the locations prep crew from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was also moving into a room across the Main Street from our saloon. We were going to finish on the Sunday night, and they were supposed to move in Monday morning. I walk down the hill to the saloon on move in day, and I’m greeted by the location manager and some of our team. They tell me to turn around and when I finally did, I saw the Church painted as Satan’s Hell Home. It was going to be in my shot. The location manager let me turn several shades of white before telling me they had a greens team and could cover it for me.
2. We were moving over to a location in front of one of the buildings to shoot what we called, Earp Corner. Everyone stopped working and our First A.D. came back to the production manager to say there was a bobcat in the way. Everyone thought she meant the mini-bobcat compact loader but what she actually meant was a real, wild, bobcat roaming in the grass by the building we were setting up in front of. Turns out bear horns work for bobcats too.
What would you like your audience to take away when watching your film?
I want women to walk away seeing the Western of their dreams; one where we aren’t life’s spectators but instead the agents of our own destiny as well as the agents of our own fall from grace. I want men to cheer and feel a connection that surprises them.
Most of all, I want anyone who sees the film to feel compelled to process it through conversation. I want us to all talk about why film is so afraid to give us these women, how we genderize everything including the dialogue we give characters and how perhaps we need to take a deeper dive in to history itself and ask, why have our stories been so limiting.
Are you working on any sequel, feature, or series?
The overwhelming response to the film has been that the audience wants more, and I would like to give it to them. I have a pilot script to go with the film as a pitch for a limited series. I’m also planning to expand the story into a feature script. There’s more story to tell but I can’t finance it the same way. I need a broadcaster, financier, or studio to see the value because I think the response to our film shows very clearly there is value in building on this proof of concept.
How can people support you?
The easiest way to support is to “like” or “follow” us on social media and then share our information as we share it. Social media activity is part of being able to prove there’s an appetite for the story we have and wish to tell.
We are building our distribution network and taking the time to see our film on one of our channels is a big help.
There’s a ton of content out there so every small act someone can do is a small step in lifting Last Stand to Nowhere above all the noise.
Where can they watch the film?
We’ve just started building our distribution network. Currently you can find us online at ‘Great American Westerns’ and ‘The Reel Women’s Network’. They are both subscription-based services. The film is also available on ‘Vimeo on Demand’ for both rental and purchase. The purchase is the best deal and unlocks two mini-interviews from set with actors Luvia Petersen and Johannah Newmarch.
I’m excited that these opportunities are available, and I hope to build on them so we can spread the Last Stand message out there on as many platforms as possible.
If you had a wish free for the future of entertainment, what would it be?
Stop limiting the worlds we build and the women who populate them. Complex, interesting, flawed, heroic fully formed characters are interesting to everyone, regardless of gender, time period, or period outside of time itself. Be brave and take the plunge. It’s a great, brave untraditional world out there.
Anything else you want to add or mention?
A Western is a tough film to pull off these days. People think it’s a dying genre, but I’ve learned in our festival run that there is nothing further from the truth than that. There’s an appetite for Westerns and best of all, there’s an appetite for daring Westerns in the Western community.
While we have had a few dismissive experiences, by and large the Western festivals and fans have embraced us. We screened at the Almeria Western Film Festival in Spain. Almeria is the home of the maestro, Sergio Leone, the man who made the Dollars Trilogy and elevated the Spaghetti Western to an art form. They showed only thirteen short films, and I was the only female director there. The response was amazing. The festival director pulled me aside and thanked me for the film and told me we needed more women in Westerns. We’ve screened several times in the Southwest and the experience there has been just as positive. These are the people steeped in the great history of the Western and they want what we’ve created. Isn’t it time that we kicked down the door and took a brave new step into a Western genre made for the twenty-first century?
Thanks so much for the interview!
About Michelle Muldoon
Michelle Muldoon is a writer/director living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her films have screened in festivals in North America, Europe, and Australia while her screenplays have also received festival accolades.
Last Stand to Nowhere marries Michelle’s love for writing female roles with her love of the action films she grew up watching with her father on snowy Sunday afternoons. The list of films her father introduced her to includes the great Sergio Leone Dollars Trilogy that highlights the Italian era in Westerns.
Michelle is the creator of the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival Screenplay Competition and instructs the Introductory Screenwriting Workshop for Raindance Vancouver. Michelle Muldoon is a past Board Member of Women in Film and Television Vancouver.
Juliane is an award winning film director and producer, with more than a dozen short films and several features under her belt. She has given guest lectures on various filmmaking subjects in universities around the world. She founded this blog in order to connect with her ‘dream audience’, which is, if you read this far, you!
You can support her by signing up to her newsletter here, and watching her last films, the psychological thriller 3 Lives and 8 Remains, and the mockumentary Kinks.