With the release of 6 Bullets to Hell still pending (May 9th), a bunch of us went back to Almeria’s desert to shoot yet another bloody (and dusty) western.
Believe it or not, it looks like Almeria is slowly becoming once again the European Hollywood, as it used to be called back in the 1960’s. The lasting economic crisis that almost brought Spain to a total collapse and the resulting poor salaries turned out to be the keys for the return of cinema to what was once one of the poorest parts of Spain. Films and TV series like Assassin’s Creed, Risen, A War, Game of Thrones, The Promise, Lost in the West and more recently Penny Dreadful have been filmed in the area since we shot 6 Bullets to Hell in 2013.
Yes, two years had gone by since our last rendezvous in Almeria, and truth be told, we were all itching for a new adventure. So, armed with a new script written by José Luis Villanueva, Aaron Stielstra and myself, and a cast that included 6 Bullets’ vets Ken Luckey in the role of Kidd Coffin, Crispian Belfrage as Harry Skinner and Aaron Stielstra as the infamous Dick Dixon, we all felt pretty confident we were going to do a good job once again. After all, we owe it to the late Frank Braña who once told me “you have to make an impacting western”.
The film deals with a bouty hunter (Ken Luckey) that accepts the risky job of transporting a known criminal (Crispian Belfrage) across the territory, but unbeknown to him a gang of criminals lead by a psycopath (Aaron Stielstra) are after the outlaw and the loot he has hidden in the mountains.
The cast also included the great Al Matthews (Aliens, The Fifth Element, 007’s Tomorrow Never Dies, etc), Ray Gange (star of The Clash’s movie Rude Boy), Richard “Dudanski” Nother (101’ers and P.I.L.’s drummer), Nick Reynolds (Alabama 3’s harmonica player), Daisy Hughes, Daniel Jordan, Almeria’s own Elena Cruz, model Erica Lawrence and our dear friend (and everybody’s) Mike Schnapp (aka DJ Uncle Mike) amongst many others.
So we were back in the desert with a great cast, a limited amount of shooting days ahead of us, a tight crew and the mighty task of having to shoot a hundred plus scenes… Thank God we had the amazingly energetic Paola Rowid in charge of the art department (Arte!!!), the multi-awarded stuntman Juan Manuel Torres in his roles of stunt director and horsemaster and a crew that included sound recordist Toner, local cameraman wonderboy Christian Pujola and London’s extraordinaire Lucy Yang operating the second unit and also appearing as one of the saloon’s soiled doves. She wasn’t the only member of the crew that became part of the cast for a day (o two). Producers, assistants, drivers, the chef, even me, we all get dressed up in period gear at some point and play a part, however small it is. Anybody hanging on the set doing nothing might get to become a townsman or a prostitute for a minute. It just makes the experience more enjoyable and memorable for everyone involved. Actually, we even had a couple of tourists who stumbled upon the shoot become a pair of Amish girls for the day.
Sergio Leone’s Mini Hollywood became once again our home for a few days, and the filming began without inconveniences except for the moustache I had grown for two months to play a Pinkerton agent for five minutes that was bothering me to no end. Despite telling all the cast and crew to grow facial hair nobody else had grown a proper 19th century looking ´stache and of course, I ended up being the only fool walking around the set twisting the end of my whiskers. But besides that, day 1 was great, we had good weather, the extras looked amazing and once we were done with the hangman scene it was goodbye to that silly moustache once and for all.
The following days we continued shooting on set until the exteriors began and that’s when the fun really started.
Getting to the deserted ramblas of Gador was an adventure in itself. It´s all dirt tracks full of rocks and sandy spots and one has to be very careful when driving down there. The 4×4 and the truck carrying the horses made it without problems but of course a car broke down and even my wheels got stuck in the mud much to the amusement of part of the cast and crew.
But besides these issues, the first day of shooting exteriors soon became a real party because that was the scene we were shooting, a night party, where the Dixon gang ate, drank, laughed and had actress Elena Cruz dance for their entertainment. The best thing of all though was Paola Rowid’s idea of giving a bottle of bourbon to actor Declan Hemp, who plays a drunken Irish renegade and of course, he didn’t have to act much. He laughed like a pirate, sang the worst version of “Whiskey in a Jar” I have ever heard and almost fell face-first on the bonfire we had lit for the scene. Too bad the cameras weren’t rolling at that moment.
Days went by as we shot in the desert and then we relocated to the nearby mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The majority of the cast and crew were all staying together in the little town of Abla where we shot the rest of the film. Days were spent horseriding, climbing, crawling, running, jumping, shooting, fistfighting and loving the local gastronomy and hospitality of the townspeople, who seemed to enjoy the company of the colourful and demented looking array of characters we had assembled for the occasion.
Two months after the shoot and while we were editing, we went back to Mini Hollywood for a day to shoot one final scene with German actor Dan Van Husen and local actor and stuntman Antonio ‘Pequeño Oso’ Ramírez. Dan started his career acting in Spaghetti Westerns in Spain and we all agreed it was a great that he decided to end his career appearing in our film, precisely shooting on the set where he had worked back in the 60’s in films like Enzo G. Castellari’s Cipolla Colt or Doc, appearing alongside Faye Dunaway and Stacey Keach.
The Price of Death will come out this year… Stay tuned!