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Interview With Ward Roberts & Amber Benson About New Indie Film Dust Up

IN THE September 8 ISSUE

FROM THE 2012 Articles,
andLorie Lewis Ham,
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by Lorie Lewis Ham

When I heard that the wonderful Amber Benson of Buffy fame was going to be in a new movie I made it my quest to get to see it. Well not only did I get to preview this interesting Indie action film, but I got the chance to interview Ward Roberts who wrote and directed it, and I got a chance to again interview Amber! So I hope you enjoy both interviews, watch the new trailer, & check out the film when it is released next month.

Interview with writer/director Ward Roberts:

Lorie: I see that you are both writer and director–how did the idea for Dust Up come about?

Ward: My mom, Ingeborg, moved out to Joshua Tree about five years ago and the first time I visited her I knew we HAD to make a movie out there. It is just such an epic, inspiring landscape and a community pulsing with creativity. I was soon gorging myself on classic westerns and listening to the music of Spindrift and Gram Rabbit as the script came tumbling out.

Lorie: What does the title mean? Does it have something to do with the desert setting?

Ward: Dust Up is an idiom for a fight or a brawl, especially apropos for a throw down in the desert where sand is flying about as in the case of our film. Our Music Supervisor Nik Hoffman used the phrase to describe a skirmish our dogs had and it just clicked. A perfect title for our grindhouse neo-western.

Lorie: What was the process of getting this movie made, and how did you end up casting Amber?

Ward: Wow. Where to begin on that one. Could write something Homer-esque for this but I’ll boil it down to this…family, friends and even a few strangers read the script and believed in what it would become. A dedicated army of souls went into the desert for a month with almost no money, a whole lot of heart and staggered away with a film we are all massively excited to show the world. Ella was the only role we auditioned for and Amber CRUSHED the audition. We had coffee a couple days later and I knew right away Amber was one of us…a filmmaking sister from another mother, if you will.

Lorie: Did you have specific people in mind for this film?

Ward: Oh yes. I wrote the parts specifically for Gaffey…yes, we call him Gaffey…Devin, Travis and Mike Nelson. I wanted to play Buzz badly but when I thought about Jeremiah in the role I knew it had to be him. That was absolutely the right call.

Jack (Aaron Gaffey) and Mo (Devin Barry) in Dust Up

Lorie: What was your goal with the story of Dust Up? What message were you trying to present? Or were you just out to have some fun action?

Ward: Ultimately I want to make people care…about the characters, their relationships and the ultimate outcome of the story. Yes, I wanted to pack in as many laughs and gasps as possible, but all that had to be built on this foundation of characters you can believe with real struggles to overcome, some dealing with it much better than others. We weren’t trying to deliver any particular message, I am fascinated with the line that must be crossed that makes one human take up arms against another, both on a global and a personal level. I abhor violence in real life but if it came down to defending myself or my family there would be no question in the matter.

Lorie: I definitely cared about the main characters. There is a lot of graphic violence in this movie–why did you feel that was necessary and what do you feel it added to the film?

Ward: My last film was very low-key and with Dust Up I wanted to go completely in the opposite direction…in your face good times. Lotsa laughs, lotsa blood. For me personally the graphic violence is often so over the top it is more humorous than disturbing but I know to others it is just plain disturbing. In many ways this movie really pushes the envelope…the humor, sexuality, drugs, the characters, the odd locations…and letting the blood gush fell right in line with all of those elements.

Lorie: Your villain is just plain crazy–how did you come up with the character and why did you make him the way he is? He seems almost like a cult leader in a way–was there a message there in his craziness?

Ward: Totally. He is the opposite of Jack. As a young man Buzz saw and did terrible things and ended up losing himself in that darkness. He saw the worst in humanity and became it…afraid, angry and violent. So he demands control…through his drugs, thugs and sexual misconduct…but deep down he knows he can never really be in control. Up to this point he has done a solid job channeling his insanity into building his little drug empire but when Jack and Mo enter the equation he finally snaps and crosses a line he can never come back from. And he tries to take everybody with him.

Lorie: I really liked Jack’s story–the tortured soul due to what happened to him fighting with the military now seeking redemption. Was he based on someone you know? How did you come up with his character?

Ward: Hondo and Shane where two characters from two films that certainly influenced the premise of Dust Up and the role of Jack. These loners who drift along, stoic and heroic, find struggling families to help survive bad guys on the frontier. I wanted to figure out how to take that archetype and make it relevant today. For more than a decade we’ve had a steady stream of war veterans returning home with PTSD so giving him that tragic back-story did that and provided his motivation within the story.

Lorie: I loved his crazy friend Mo, how on earth did you come up with that quirky character?

Ward: I had my cowboy so now I needed my Indian and I wanted them to be buddies. Undoubtedly my childhood days of playing with my Lone Ranger and Tonto action figures flared to life as these roles where created. Again, we needed to take a classic western character and breathe new life into him. Devin is such a cool, funny and interesting guy in real life I knew if we stayed true to that and dropped him into a solar-powered teepee and dressed him up in a combination of traditional Native American dress and hipster garb we’d have something fresh to which today’s audience could relate.

Three Wheeler Heroes-Jack, Mo and Ella (Amber)

Lorie: I really liked the whole tie in to Amber’s character and her baby, with what happened to Jack in the military.

Ward: Amber played Ella to perfection. This sweet, awkward, loving mother and wife who is finally pushed too far. She has been way too patient with Herman for too long and finally awakens to that. Later, when the psycho bad guy is threatens her child, she goes into full-on crazed momma bear mode. Watching Amber’s transformation from passive housewife to gun-toting bad ass is sooooo fun to watch.

Lorie: How did you decide on this particular setting?

Ward: The desert is this beautiful, brutal canvas on which to tell almost any tale. The reason the western endures is because of how it just strips it all down to the bare essentials of story-telling. And it looks EPIC.

Lorie: How do people see this movie? Is it going to be straight to DVD or will it be shown in theaters? When is it’s official release date?

Ward: The Video-on-Demand/Digital release is on October 2nd and our DVD release is November 13th. We are having screenings in late September and early October throughout the country. Check out this link to see if there is one near you and if not sign up to host your own screening in your own town. How cool is that?

Lorie: This last question is one I was personally curious about. I’m assuming this is what you would call an Indie Film? I’m not all that familiar with the film industry other than being a fan so if it is one I wanted to state so in my intro to the interviews. And if yes, why did you decide to go Indie with Dust Up?

Ward: Oh yes, we are very indie and never considered doing Dust Up any other way. There are many films I’d love to do with various studios but for Dust Up to be the truly one-of-a-kind creation it is we had to do it independently. Frankly no studio would touch this film with a ten-foot-pole. :0)

Interview with Amber Benson

Lorie: How did you being in Dust Up come about? (Ward talked about it a little but I’d love to hear from you as well)

Amber: I just met with them and they liked my vibe and I liked theirs. I thought it was a weird, funny and smart little script–and I knew if they executed it as well as it was written, it was gonna be great.

Lorie: What was it like filming this movie? You get to be quite the bad ass in the end.

Amber as Ella

Amber: We had so much fun making Dust Up. We shot it in Joshua Tree, out in the desert, and it was a real family affair. There were a few tense moments here and there–mostly due to an errant pony–but other than that, all we did was laugh and have a good time. Seriously, it was like being at movie camp–so much fun! And there was lots of blood, too. Which was also super fun. I think I found fake blood in my ears and up my nose before it was all over.

Lorie: What was your favorite part about this movie?

Amber: All the practical effects and special effects make-up. Tom Devlin and his minion, Andrea, pretty much did every wound, sore, bloody arrow, decapitation and evisceration you see in Dust Up.

Lorie: What was the hardest?

Amber: The hardest thing about making Dust Up were the looooooong nights of shooting. They were punishing.

Lorie: Anything else you would like to share about this experience?

Amber: I had a blast making the film and I think anyone who sees it–and everyone should!–will have a blast watching it. There are some truly unique things in this Grindhouse Western, things you have never seen anywhere else!

Keep an eye on KRL–we hope to be doing a Dust Up giveaway sometime later this month! And to stay up to date with everything Dust Up follow them on Twitter @DustUpFilm

Editor’s note: Check out our review of Amber’s book How To Be Death & an earlier interview with her. Amber’s fifth book, The Golden Age of Death, comes out March 2013 and we will definitely be reviewing it! Maybe we can even get Amber to do another interview!

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

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