Like many of us, Scott Martin fell in love with cinema in his youth. His passion for storytelling ultimately drew him to the Los Angeles where he would begin carving out a truly unique career path for himself. With over two decades of experience in all facets of the moviemaking business firmly under his belt, Martin has finally brought one of his longest running passion projects to the screen with ‘Big Kill.’ The film centers around a tenderfoot from Philadelphia, two misfit gamblers on the run, and a deadly preacher, all of whom have a date with destiny in a boom town gone bust called Big Kill. After the death of his wife, Jim, the accountant, has come from the East to join his brother in business. Jake and Travis, two misfit rogues with one foot on each side of the law, have come from the south after being run out of Mexico in a hail of gunfire. What they find in the West is a wild ride, a fight for survival, and a moment of decision that will change them all forever.
This gripping, old school western boasts an ensemble cast featuring Christoph Sander (Ghost Whisperer), Jason Patric (Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Yellow Birds), Michael Paré (Gone, The Virgin Suicides), Clint Hummel (The Quick and Undead), Elizabeth McLaughlin (Dead South), K.C. Clyde (Everybody Loves Somebody, Do No Harm), Stephanie Beran (Planet of the Sharks, Battle Force), Lou Diamond Phillips (Stand and Deliver, Young Guns), and Danny Trejo (Machete, Predators).
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Scott Martin to discuss his unique career path, the challenges of bringing ‘Big Kill’ to the silver screen, and the lessons learned along the way.
I wanted to start by giving everyone a bit of insight on your career. How did you get started on your journey to becoming a director?
That’s a great question. I have always been a fan of movies. Going into a movie theater and letting the outside world disappear for a couple of hours is something I have always loved. I was at TCU, working on a degree in economics. While I was there, funny enough, I took a fundamentals of film class. I thought, “Wow, this is really what I want to do with my life.” At that point, I went to the local Barnes & Noble and bought a book on how to write a screenplay. That’s where it started!
Obviously, this all doesn’t happen overnight. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the course of your career?
No, it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. Look, the biggest challenges in the industry in general isn’t so much the rejection part of it. It’s keeping yourself going after multiple rejections! [laughs] It’s tough to keep the motivation when you’re your only cheerleader. It’s important to get a good group of friends and family around you and that helps a lot. Grinding it out is the toughest part. It’s a marathon and not a sprint!
What went into finding your creative voice as both a writer and director?
Like I said, I’m a fan of movies in general and I’ve trained for years in acting. Writing is where I started, so I feel I have grown as a writer, as I’ve grown as a filmmaker from producing. I’ve produced a lot of pictures and through that process, you start to see how it’s worth doing things. You take away things from this person or that person and, eventually, your own voice starts to come out. Once I had the opportunity to direct, and it was something I had written, I jumped at the chance. It all went from there!
As you mentioned, you have a lot of very cool and ambitious projects under your belt. Which of those past projects had the biggest impact on you?
‘Battle Force’ was a great learning curve. When I did ‘The Rig,’ many years ago, that was my first real experience on a set, so it was a big eye opener for me. ‘Don’t Kill It’ really opened my eyes to many things that I incorporate now, and I think that’s been really important. I like to keep things in camera with practical effects rather than relying on visual effects as much as possible. That’s always how I thought you should do it if we could, but it wasn’t until I produced ‘Don’t Kill It,’ where Mike Mendez was the director and pretty much demanded that everything was practical and in-camera. It turned out great, so I have really incorporated that kind of mentality going forward.
Your latest project is a true passion project. What made ‘Big Kill’ a tale you wanted to tell on screen?
I actually wrote ‘Big Kill,’ at this point, 13 years ago. We started pre-production almost 12 years ago and I wrote it before that. I have always been a fan of westerns and it’s my favorite genre. One of my first memories of watching movies is watching ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ with my dad. It’s his favorite movie and one that’s stuck with me. My list of favorite movies is also filled with westerns, so I’m a fan of the genre and it’s only natural that I wanted to make one. I wrote ‘Big Kill’ and at the time we thought we were going to make it, we didn’t. I set it aside and over a decade later the opportunity to came up to do a western, so I pulled that script back out and said, “Let’s do this one!” [laughs] Over that 13 year period of time, I didn’t touch the script but I thought about it a lot as something I wanted to do but I didn’t touch it. When we decided to go ahead and move forward with ‘Big Kill’ recently, I went through and did a polish on it and updated it. I’ve grown a little bit as a writer since I first wrote it, so I did update some things. It wasn’t a big rewrite or anything, just a little bit of updating.
That’s really interesting. Not many people get the opportunity to revisit their early work.
Yeah, definitely. Some of the things I updated included some of the dialogue that at the time I thought was kind of funny and cheeky but really isn’t, now that I look back on it! [laughs] There was updating that sort of thing, but I didn’t touch the action. As I was directing it, there were parts I knew I wanted to expand on, how to shoot it and how I wanted to shoot it. That’s the kind of stuff I didn’t know as well back when I originally wrote the script. I didn’t know about the shooting days of an action sequence, the angles and what looks best. Hopefully, I brought a little more of that into the script. That’s the big thing with me and directing. I had a pretty clear vision on what I wanted, the characters, the style and all that kind of stuff. It’s also important for me to stay open to the idea of others. There are a lot of people on this movie, both actors and crew, that have a lot more experience than I do, so it would be wise to listen. You have seasoned actors like Jason Patric and Lou Diamond Phillips who have been doing this a long time, so if they have a suggestion, I’d be a fool not to listen to them. These guys are professionals and great guys who come in with ideas on character and things like that, so we talked about them and it evolved from there!
You have assembled a tremendous cast for the film. What was it about this film that attracted them to the material?
Thank you. What they told me is that they really responded to the script and the characters. There is also the fact that there aren’t a lot of westerns being made in general, but those that are made aren’t written like this with a little bit of a throwback to the old school feel. The characters they are portraying are these larger-than-life, fun people to dig into. That’s what they responded to really! We were fortunate and blessed to get those guys to come on and join on this adventure.
You’ve obviously lived with these characters and this material for a long time. What did the actors bring to the characters that you might not have expected?
From the beginning, the Jake and Travis characters were the same actors from when I originally wrote it and they were the only two. It was Clint Hummel and myself. Everyone else came in fresh, so it was really fun to see what talented actors bring to the material. Christoph Sanders, who is so well-known for comedy on ‘Last Man Standing’ on Fox, he came in for the main role of Jim and really brought this humanity to it. It really grounded that part of the movie when the characters around him are a little crazy! He came in and did a great job. Jason Patric is a very understated actor and grounded that character as well. That character, the preacher, had a lot of history and things going on to bring him to where he was. He and I talked about that quite a bit. Then, you have somebody like Lou Diamond Phillips. He comes in and plays Johnny Kane, who is this gunfighter/sociopath kind of guy. The thing about Lou is that he has such charisma and it just bounces off the screen! It’s funny because you kind of like his character even though you don’t want to! [laughs] He’s a killer with a gleam in his eye, a smirk and a smile that’s just a lot of fun to watch. When he came on set and did a few of the scenes, there were lines that came out that I just wasn’t expecting to be portrayed that way. I found myself, at times, watching as a fan because it was so good! It was so much fun to see people come in, really enjoy what they are doing, and bring something to a character that you just didn’t expect. The Felicia Stiletto character with Stephanie Beran is one of my favorite characters. It’s this sexy, dangerous, killer woman with an incredible confidence on screen that is a lot of fun to watch!
What do you consider the biggest obstacles you faced and overcame with the making of this film?
There is definitely one thing that stands out and it’s something I should have known this going in but I didn’t. We shot in New Mexico and, originally, it was supposed to be a hot, sweaty kind of movie. It was written that way. We got there and we were shooting just outside of Santa Fe in early November and went through December. I didn’t realize how cold it gets there! We got there and it was beautiful! It was sunny, gorgeous and I thought, “This is fantastic!” Then it just kept getting colder and colder and colder! There was one night we were shooting, and it was in the single digits! A few days into it, we decided it was going to be a cold weather movie! [laughs] There was no way around it! We knew we were going to see our breathe and all those things. In fact, it got so cold that our propane tanks were freezing! In the past I have shot in a lot of heat but never in that kind of cold. It was a learning experience for sure. With that said, people were game! They worked hard, layered up on clothing when the camera wasn’t rolling and really went for it!
With this latest success under your belt, I’m sure new opportunities are presenting themselves. Where do you see yourself headed in the future with the projects you take on?
There are a few different genres I want to touch on. There is a bigger action movie we are putting together and then a drama as well. It all boils down to the script and the characters. When I see a script and see the movie in my head, I find myself asking, “Is this something I would want to watch?” If I want to watch it, am interesting in it and feel I can bring something to it, then I want to go make it! I’m sure I’m done with westerns yet. I really enjoy the genre!
That’s so cool to hear because you definitely brought your A-game to this one!
Thank you so much!
We have just scratched the surface of your career today. I know our time is short, but I have one more question for you. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Never give up! I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now — 19 in LA or something like that. You always have your ups and downs but as long as you believe in yourself, believe in what you’re doing and surround yourself with good people, never give up! Keep going and keep working towards it! Everybody will get their chance!
Thanks so much for your time today, Scott! I wish you continued success!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate you time and enjoyed talking with you! Keep in touch!