Gerald Hanks Filmography

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Interview with Scott Martin, writer/director of “Big Kill”

Scott Martin has been a writer, director, actor, and producer of independent films since 2005. His new film, Big Kill, brings back the classic Western in an age of superheroes. The film stars Martin as Jake Logan, a gambler and gunfighter on the run from a Mexican general (Danny Trejo) and a gang of New Mexico cowboys.

Jake and his partner, Travis Parker (Clint Hummel) agree to guide Philadelphia accountant Jim Andrews (Christoph Sanders) to the town of Big Kill, Arizona, where Jim expects to meet his brother. When the trio arrives in town, they find themselves targeted by a power-hungry Preacher (Jason Patric) and the colorful gunfighter Johnny Kane (Lou Diamond Phillips).

Scott was kind enough to open up about his process for writing “Big Kill,” as well as the twelve-year process he took to get it made.

Thanks for letting me get a chance to talk to you. As your press agent might have mentioned, I write for an advice blog for screenwriters.

Yes, she did mention that. I was looking forward to talking to you. Not a lot of people want to talk about the screenwriting process, so it's nice to finally talk about it.

I got a chance to see the movie. It was really well done. It had that flavor of an old-school Western.

Thank you, that's what I was going for. I was going for a little bit older style and feel. I wanted the older feel while shooting with modern techniques. 

In this era of big-time superhero movies, what made you want to write a Western, of all things?

I've been a big fan of Westerns my whole life. It's probably my favorite genre. I love the feel of them. I've always wanted to make one.

How did you come up with the story for it?

I wanted to make it more like a buddy movie. I took some influence from movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a lot from Silverado, but also from some from the ‘60s, like the Italian “Spaghetti Westerns” and the American Westerns of the time.

I wrote the screenplay about 12 years ago. Since then, I've gotten more experience as a writer and a filmmaker. When the opportunity arose to make this film, I jumped at it.

I wanted it to be a travel adventure, so you could follow these guys (Jake and Travis) on an adventure. When we get to the town, we settle into the meat of the story. This is where we get to meet these larger-than life-characters. We start telling a more classic-style Western at this point.

You definitely have some colorful characters, like “The Preacher”, Johnny Kane, and Felicia Stiletto. What was your approach to writing these characters?

When I write, I first come up with a basic story. As I break down the story more, I pull out the main characters and do full on bios of these people. I knew that I wanted these larger-than-life types of characters, that's why I named them “The Preacher and “The Mayor” and “Felicia Stiletto”.

I wanted them to have, and I almost hate to say this, but that “James Bond” feel to them. To me, Felicia Stiletto is my “Bond Girl”. That's why she has that name. She uses the stiletto as her weapon of choice, so that’s why I gave her that name.

I wanted Johnny Kane to be a sociopath. When he walks into a saloon, he's like a peacock. He just struts into the room, and I wanted that feel for him. The Preacher would be the more quiet one, and that's how they just came together.

You have a lot of memorable characters, and you also have a lot of action. When you were writing the action scenes, did you write it shot-for-shot? Did you write out every bit of action, or did you just sketch it out?

I was very specific. I guess there are different ways of doing it, but I write it how I see it. I write it as if I'm watching the movie. I don't want to get too long-winded, because no one wants to read that. It's a screenplay, not a book. However, I wanted it to be specific enough for, when people are reading it, they know what's going on.

When I wrote it, I wasn't planning on directing it. I was writing it strictly from a screenwriter standpoint, so I was very specific in the action sequences. The (midpoint) shootout was not written as specifically as the others, mainly because I didn't know where it was going to be shot. However, the scene with Johnny Kane and the Kid, I wrote that as being very specific. 

The shootout at the end, the final showdown, those (directions) were specific as well. I even wrote down, “Johnny Kane steps forward, then Jake steps forward, and the others take their positions. The fight has already begun before shots are fired.” They're all positioning themselves, so it was all written out. Even in the final shootout, with Jim and The Preacher, that was very specific.

And there was a nice twist on it (which I'm not going to spoil here). Overall, the script seems very well done. I know you said it took you 12 years to get this made. But how long did it take you to actually write the script?

I write pretty quickly, but I do a lot of pre-writing before I start the script. Every scene, I break down into a paragraph, until I come up with about a six-page or 8-page treatment, and then I write the movie out. 

If I remember correctly, it took about 2 to 3 weeks (for the first draft), then I did a couple of rewrites for sure. And then it sat for over a decade. About two months before we started pre-production, I did some cleanup on it, just kind of updated it a little bit, but not much. I pretty much stuck true to the original script.

You said that you didn't intend to direct it originally, but you end up directing and acting it anyway. How are you able to keep all the roles separate between writer, director, and actor?

It can be challenging. The writing and directing kind of go hand-in-hand. There were times I would do a rewrite right there on set. I would just sit down with pen and paper and write something. Again, I write as I see the movie, so those parts just go well together.

As far as the acting side, my character, Jake, didn't have the biggest story arc. He's kind of a curmudgeon. He doesn't always want to fight, but he's the best fighter. If I had to play the role of Jim, he had a bigger character arc, and that would have been more difficult.

Since you've written a bunch of scripts, and you've had several films made, what advice would you give aspiring screenwriters?

One of the best pieces of advice I was given early in my career was this: Once you start writing a screenplay, don't stop. Do not stop, don't go back, don't start editing or changing scenes. Make sure you get to the end. Otherwise, you may never finish it.

Every script I write, I always get to a scene that I know has to go there, but I don't know what it'll be yet. I know who's in it and all those things, so instead of stopping my progress, I'll write in all caps, “THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO GO HERE IN THIS SCENE, THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN”, and I'll move on. The best piece of advice I can give is, “Keep moving.”

Anyone who's been writing, especially if you're new to it, at some point in writing, you'll think your script is the worst script ever written. You'll think that nobody would ever want to read this. You won't think this is any good in any way shape or form. 

Don't believe yourself. Keep going. There's a reason you're writing it, so believe in that reason. Trust that reason, and keep going.

Big Kill opens October 19. 

Thanks to Scott Martin and Melissa Smith at Allied Integrated Marketing

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