Writer/Director Matt Knudsen on his first visit to Old Tucson, 11/20/1989
Cassidy Red Principal Photography: 8/10/15 - 8/29/15
Old Tucson Studios, Tucson, Arizona
Originally the plan was to shoot in Los Angeles. That would have been the obvious choice given our budget and resources. After all, westerns have been shooting in and around Los Angeles County for over 100 years. In the mid 20th century heyday of American western film production, the Big Sky Ranch, Paramount Ranch, Melody Ranch, and Golden Oak Ranch were hotbeds of activity- churning out dozens of films and television series every year. But as I began my first round of location scouting in late 2014 (a process that would take nearly 8 months and span 3 states) I discovered a sobering fact about the great “cowboy movie” standing sets of Southern California- they’ve uniformly fallen into disrepair. Few western films are made nowadays. No production equals no money and no resources with which to maintain these historic sites. The western town I discovered to be in the best condition was the Melody Ranch, a historic location home to HBO’s Deadwood for 3 seasons, a decade ago. I had my heart set on what I considered to be the only feasible location within LA’s 30 mile zone to suit our needs. But the ranch’s relationship with HBO was intact and our dates conflicted with those of the upcoming series Westworld. So I started thinking outside the box. I knew we couldn’t afford to shoot in Spain where Sergio Leone shot most of his masterpieces. But if we were going to have to travel to make our film, why not go to the logical destination? The location in which the story is actually set- Southern Arizona.
After one afternoon spent on the backlot at Old Tucson Studios I knew we had our home. Not only did the location offer everything our script required- a 2 story saloon, multiple ranch houses, jail cells, hanging gallows, a train depot, etc. They also offered amenities galore- running water, restrooms, air conditioned stage space, wifi, on-site catering, in-house stunt teams, parking, wardrobe… Despite the fact that we had never intended our project to be an “out of towner” it was clear that we were going to need to find a way to work with Old Tucson Studios. In addition to the fact that their facility was perfect for our needs, they had the added benefit of representing sentimental value for me. My parents had taken me to tour the studios when I was an adolescent. In addition to being a working production facility they also function as a theme park for part of the year. I had wonderful memories of spending time in the park as a child- one who dreamed of being a filmmaker from a young age. So the idea of coming full circle to shooting my first feature at OTS was too much to pass up.
So in early August of 2015, with a small but dedicated crew of close, resourceful professionals (many from the film department at UCLA) willing to withstand 3 weeks in the late summer heat of Southern Arizona, we loaded up 2 production trucks, 2 passenger vans, 4 crew cars and headed east. What waited for us in the Grand Canyon State was one of the most rewarding, inspiring, invigorating, grueling, and physically and emotionally taxing experiences of my career. Our 18 days on set in triple digit temperatures and daily torrential monsoon downpours were some of the hardest and most educational I’ve ever had the unique privilege to be a part of. I always feel guilty hyperbolizing the on-set experience. One could make the argument that the utility of making art, even under extreme conditions, can’t touch the spiritual importance of medicine, science, law enforcement, or combat. And while I agree that perhaps we’re not “saving lives” or “doing rocket science” as filmmakers, I have experienced those moments of epiphany- that spiritual rush of being part of a collective, of working towards a common goal, and being present at that magical moment when all the cogs line up smoothly and that one PERFECT SHOT is executed flawlessly. I experienced that more times on this shoot than I could count and I feel like the luckiest director in the world to have been part of such an amazing crew.
Getting to work at Old Tucson was an overwhelming pleasure and a unique artistic gift from the cinematic gods. I hope to go back to work there some day soon and I would recommend the facility to any filmmakers who want to be inspired by a location.
-Matt Knudsen, 12/2015