Interview: 'Dust Up' Director Ward Roberts On Money Shots, Cool Posters And Taking Risks
Nothing says movie fun like a little gritty exploitation. Last year, fans of old school grindhouse fare got a shot of adrenaline with the Rutger Hauer vehicle "Hobo With a Shotgun." This year filmmaker Ward Roberts has taken things up a notch with all the sex, violence, blood, gore and cool eye patches fans can take in his ode to all things outrageous entitled "Dust Up." The film tells the story a one-eyed soldier who, along with his faithful Indian pal, decides to protect an ailing husband and wife from a local gangster and find themselves in a heap of trouble. Not for the faint of heart, "Dust Up" is a fun five-star ride through all the naughty (aka fun!) bits great B-cinema has to offer. We’re celebrating the amazing "Dust Up" and all it’s over-the-top glory with some one-on-one chat with writer/director Ward Roberts who talks all about his inspirations behind the film, his highly memorable cast and all about the tasty "Dust Up" poster that has made a sensation on the net. (And on my Top Ten 2012 poster list for sure!) Grab a gun, bow and arrow and a drill my friends, here’s the inspiring...
The film seems steeped in exploitation craziness – what were some of the inspirations behind the film?
WR: Starting from the fundamentals of where the story came out of was my mother moved to Joshua Tree and I went out to visit her for the first time and was awestruck by the environment. It was right at that time I was starting to get into westerns. I always liked them, but I started to watch them obsessively. I thought yeah, we gotta do a western out here, but I knew I wasn’t going to have horses or period piece costumes. I wanted to make a western in disguise. As far as movies go a lot of that was subconscious or incidental. Certainly "Raising Arizona" is my all time favorite, loved the Mad Max movies, Tarantino, Wes Anderson – as weird as it is to put those two guys next to each other. Very little of that was conscious, but it’s clearly in there.
There are some truly awesomely shocking and disgusting things in "Dust Up." Was there ever any pressure from the powers that be to tone it down and was there anything too hot for the film?
WR: No – everything stayed in. (Laughs) And there was no pressure as we went through the line of distribution that said, ‘Ward, you need to remove this or it won’t be able to go as broad as you like.’ I certainly had made peace with myself a long time ago that we were not making the movie for everybody. It’s not for everybody – but it’s for a lot of people. I will say in screenings I did in my living room getting through editorial the money shot was really the one that was debated. We decided to do that on the fly, out in the desert with the actor playing Buzz insisting we shoot it that way. I thought he was joking at first, but when I saw he was serious he was like, ‘Do you want people to talk about your movie?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Alright – jizz on my face!’ So I was like, ‘Okay...we’ll shoot it both ways!’ And a couple of people during the editorial process were like, ‘You may want to take that out!’ Other people, namely my parents and Amber Benson were like, ‘You have to keep it in there – it’s all about taking risks.’
Was there any apprehension from either cast or crew about the more salacious material?
WR: No – our actors are so twisted that’s what I think was the greatest appeal to them. Most of the people involved we’ve worked with and played with going back to college, so we’re all demented in a very comparable way.
Can you talk a bit about some of your flavorful actors, how they got cast what they were each like to work with?
Aaron Gaffey as the sullen Jack?
WR: Yes. Jack, aka Aaron Gaffey, came into our life in the first film we did as a group now know as Drexel Box. We had him standing out in a courtyard for about eight hours auditioning and being called back for a film that I was the lead in called "Joshua." He was patient and brilliant in the film and he’s just a wonderful human being, so he’s been involved with almost everything we’ve done since.
Amber Benson as the unknowing Ella?
WR: Amber is the true exception when it comes to one of our leading actors in this film. The one role we auditioned for was Ella and as a Buffy fan when Amber Benson showed up in the room I was quite excited. But at the same time I was slightly apprehensive because I knew she’d had done some big time work and this film was very much the opposite of big time as far as production luxuries go. So we went out to coffee after she just totally killed the audition and I wanted to really pound into her brain how rough this shoot was going to be and make sure she was ready for that – and she was.
Devin Barry as the wise Mo?
WR: Ah, yes! So Devin, Travis – he plays Herman – and I all met in an improv group in college. We moved out together and we all lived on this house on Drexel right behind Sandy’s Camera and Devin has been an actor in a lot of what we’ve done. So Devin’s cadence, his delivery, his sensibility, his comedic timing, all of that had already been engrained in my head for about ten years at that point, but it was at a fever pitch as I was writing the script. I just knew he and Gaffey would play really well off each other as my anti-Tonto and Lone Ranger.
And especially Jeremiah Birkett as the sassy Buzz?
WR: Jeremiah has to take so much credit for what Buzz became because in the back of my mind I really wanted to play Buzz. I thought this is gonna be such a great bad guy role I can sink my teeth into, but hold on. I’m writing, I’m directing, I’m producing – that could be too much. So who could do it and bring some monetary value to the project? So I was thinking about Christopher Meloni. Just from "Wet Hot American Summer" and Harold & Kumar I thought this guy is brilliant and maybe we can tickle his funny bone with this script – but he pretty much passed right away! And then I thought about Jeremiah as he had played Lo in the movie "Lo" we did and was absolutely amazing. I called him up and said here’s the situation and he’s like, ‘I’m moving to New York – right before you shoot this movie.’ But he said, ‘Let me read it.’ He read it, he totally got it and he sent me a couple of clips of him reading scenes and I thought he’s gonna be amazing. He was like, ‘Alright I’ll do it. I’m gonna move my wife and child to New York City, fly back to L.A., drive myself out to the desert and I’m gonna do it – he was incredible.
Finally, I simply adore the tasty Grindhouse-esk poster for "Dust Up" – who came up with the design?
WR: It comes from the hero shot in the movie of the three of them on the 3-wheeler that we’ve been using pretty much as production and it was this red and yellow color scheme that Shannon Hourigan our DP had come up with. And it just didn't show enough of the humor and what was going on with the characters to work for the poster. So I was talking to a parent whose child goes to daycare with my daughter just a few weeks ago about it and she went to school with this gal Akiko Stehrenberger. So I saw Akiko’s website and she’s amazing and I don't know if you remember the "Casa de mi Padre" poster with Will Ferrell holding up the rifle and the woman draped over him – she did that one. So I was like she’s our gal...and she killed it.