if you’re a fan of Western movies you
are soon in for a treat a project to film 12 westerns in 12 months is
underway and believe it or not it’s got some deep roots right here in
Mississippi joining us today is the mastermind of this massive effort
filmmaker Travis Mills and you’ll remember Ward M bling the longtime
director of the Mississippi film office who worked to bring movies to the state
well now that he’s retired he’s found a new career in the movies man welcome
number one Travis I’m surprised you have time to even come and sit down and talk
to us today hey grease 12 movies in 12 months okay so the dictionary opened it
up to hardest man the hardest-working man in show business that would be you
yeah Tom Cruise than me maybe yes exactly but congratulations and it’s
kind of neat that you’re gonna be you’re here in Mississippi to do some of the
movies too yeah absolutely I love making movies in Mississippi yeah and you’ve
got roots here too and that’s I think that’s what’s kind of a neat part of
this story is that how you came to find that Mississippi was a great place to
shoot films absolutely my mom is from Brookhaven originally and my
grandparents lived there and then before that our family goes back to Monticello
so we have deep roots in Mississippi and in 2016 I came here and made a movie
yeah and it was kind of just a supposed to be a one-off and then it was
successful on an independent scale successful and that just led to more and
more films but one of the things that I remember reading an article about when
you came in is like the whole community just got behind you I mean there’s
something people were like it must have been a big deal when you were shooting
oh yeah well that was the difference in making films in Mississippi versus
Arizona is that people here take ownership of the towns that they live in
that their families are from so when you go make a movie there they really care
about that from a community aspect yeah I heard you met the director of the film
office here Mississippi and he was actually a decent human being yeah he
came down on he actually took the time because now he drove to Brookhaven on a
very rainy day for this launch and just it was kind of random that we got him
there but yeah that’s how y’all got yeah where we first met very cool I love this
filmmaker because he makes films yeah you know and that’s one of the things
that we always needed we’re you know a filmmaker who would make films and use
local people yeah and and he did it and you look at these films and you see
really good performances in those films so that just helped even more you know
creating the actor base and right crew base so well that’s always a big part of
it too is having not only you think about when the movie comes here but it’s
nice to have the you know the soundstage the people that actually know how to do
to operate the equipment and so forth and I know we’ve you and I’ve talked
about that for years whenever you become on my radio show but it was it’s
important to have that to have that base here and we kind of lost it a little bit
and yes yeah we did it looks like we’re what but we did and we got the tax
incentive came back didn’t it yeah that non-resident which went away two years
ago came back this year and and that’ll help but we lost a lot of ground right
right in those two years not so much with other stage we just lost a lot of
crew yeah yeah so you have to build that back up yeah and so you know it’ll
happen but they’ll definitely well the movies twelve months and you were time
bastards crossings the first one that’s gonna be in January yes sir and you talk
about crew and you talk about things and this was a little aspect of it that I
never really thought about that you’ve actually got a horse a person to teach
the actors how to ride horses oh yeah that’s pretty important in it in
western well I learned a hard lesson when I made my first Western which I
made a Mississippi blood country yeah as I asked all the actors hey can you can
you ride horses yeah and they all said of course yes actors will always say yes
because they’re worse on a job they worried about losing their job right and
then of course the day the day of it gets whispered in my ear like these
people have never rode horses before like maybe they were on a horse at some
point and I was like great and you know we may do but this time we’re not making
do they got to be put through the ringer I was on a horse the other day being put
through the ringer so that’s how it’s gonna go it’s kind
like something like save it private rhyming where they put the actors
through boot camp you got putting them through horse okay exactly exactly but
you know I think about it if you’re leading a horse and that horse knows
that you don’t know what you’re doing yeah actually become a comedy very oh
yeah even just walking a horse you really need some experience you need to
be comfortable and the horses immediately reading your deal and if
you’re intimidated it’s like I own you they know they know question is since we
have one of the actors of Basterds crossing in the studio with us right now
no longer behind the scenes he’s now in front of the camera that’s right have
you gone through horse camp yet not yet it’s in December okay but I will say the
first film I did was a movie called the adventure the musical Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn this was back in 73 and they shot in Natchez and of course we
all they you know they said can you do this can you do this can you do this and
it’s like can you ride a horse and we all said of course I get cast as a
character that has to ride a horse not only you have to ride a horse I had to
shoot a rifle from the horse Wow so it’s like I’m glad these horses are well
trained that was the best part the horse just went where it’s supposed to go I’m
just holding on so are there any blooper reels or anything that we can find on
you – no because it was all perfect okay so no because that horse was really
really well trained and I just like I said on that me there’s a lot of footage
of me you know galloping up I don’t remember that maybe – that’s incredible
there’s a lot of fun Travis why why westerns I’ve always been interested in
westerns obviously it’s like one of the it’s the only genre I think that we’ve
really invented yeah you know or it’s our banjo as Americans and there’s a lot
that can be done with it I really think that like a true Western is about the
question of justice yes moral codes in conflict and with
that you can make movies about what’s going on now that’s set then and I think
it’s a lot easier to think about what’s going on now sometimes when it’s out of
context yeah definitely because people don’t get offended you know or whatever
they see though there so how would you know we’re talking a little bit before
or we’re walking down to the state about some of our favorite westerns and
everything what are the ones that really inspire you well the first films that
inspired me were the John Ford and Howard Hawks Western you just like
watching stagecoach and The Searchers and Rio Bravo and Red River those films
just really got me and then I started to dig deeper and I was looking at but
bedecker and Anthony Mann like some of the guys we were talking about who
really their work is just just as good and recently I’ve been studying
Peckinpah who is an influence on the Basterds crossing movie we’re making
because his his films everyone’s just so dirty in them and I told my team I said
that’s what I want Basterds crossing to look like everybody just needs to be
just several layers of dirt you know and in tobacco stained beard sorry you got a
good point because I mean you look some of the old ones that everybody has
perfect teeth and there’s like no way everybody had perfect teeth backs on
that bastards crossing it’s the first one and of course you’ve already got
everybody cast or the most vegetables they’re cast the principals are cast on
that and so talk about some of the because obviously this is and I said
that you’re probably as good at planning as you praise anything else because to
get 12 in in 12 months you have to have a process I would imagine for each one
and have it done in a certain amount of time so your room it must look like a
crime you know something in a cop would have with all the strings and everything
point right at what where are you right now what bachelors crossing well I work
every day on these films yeah on all of them right and so I’m doing everything
you know I’m doing call sheets for bachelors crossing and right now which
is something that I would normally do you know a month a month and a half in
advance yeah I’m doing it right now so we’re doing everything from from call
sheets conversations with my sentiment hard for next week we’re gonna be doing
set prep set design all kinds of stuff organizing a table read
working with sag I mean it’s just it’s so many things and you know for these
other westerns I’m walking down costumes and people walking down which extras
gonna be there on a film in April and they think I’m crazy cuz I’m like can
you 10 extras April 12 and then I’m like dude it’s months away
like I need them right April 12th yeah I want to do it now not in January I mean
you’ve got to figure you got to have lumber delivered on November 14th for
the 12th movie yes you’ve you’re thinking that far ahead
yeah have to because while I’m making the films I won’t have as much time to
produce the future ones it needs to be as as you know set up as it can be when
you’re looking to get actors I mean obviously you found one a very good one
I might add we’ll see well I mean yeah that’s right that was 25 years I mean
obviously you throw it into the wind the word where do you get your actor from
it’s a combination you know we do casting calls we did a big casting call
at the Art Museum here in Jackson on July 21st saw about 60 actors I loved
doing it that way in person you don’t know who’s gonna show up a lot of times
someone shows up like I made a civil war movie and this woman in Vicksburg showed
up at the Strand theater audition she she was just crossing it off of her
bucket list she had really no intentions to act just let me give this a shot I
cast her as the lead female oh wow Wow and most people are like wow she’s great
and I’m like yeah because most people can act yeah they just need to be
comfortable in front of the camera they need a little bit of work and it’s it’s
bringing who they are to the film and she had no expectations so she just came
in there was natural oh yeah yeah I’m or she was a little stiff at first yeah the
first time we put her with the first thing we put her on was a battlefield
scene and there’s you know blank fire going off cannon fired she’s just like
next to the tree just just not even moving just just as stiff as can be its
natural just take a few takes to get her to loosen up like we run out of the
blanks here okay you’re gonna have to exact your start using live bullets if
you don’t have said that I’ll remember that for the list exactly no problem you
free of charge I appreciate it but wasn’t that one of the things I love
though is that you you were okay and actually probably encouraged them coming
in and period clothes oh yeah for sure so it kind of gives you a better feel
doesn’t it on yeah I mean it shows their passion and
their their interest in this and there’s a lot of people just like this award
there’s a lot of people that love westerns and intellect Western gear and
if they want to show up like this weekend we’re doing one in Vicksburg and
I know that we’ll have several for the these are auditions for the Natchez
Trace movie and we’ll have several Madam’s coming in hmm and in costume I
can’t complain about that no no so the Natchez Trace move usually got a
title right now it’s a two-part film because it’s such a big story and it’ll
be clear this will focus on the bandits of the Natchez Trace the Hart brothers
and Samuel Mason these notorious outlaws yeah and it’ll be like Kill Bill volume
1 and volume 2 it’ll be spread out over two films right and right now they’re
called the Wilderness Road because some of this took place in Kentucky and then
the Natchez Trace so those are the two okay excellent
actually I look forward to that because I’ve always thought the Natchez Trace
story was coming oh it’s amazing I don’t know why they haven’t done more Oh No
kidding because it was literally like the only
way you could get back to Nashville and like you were probably going to get hit
over the head or worse okay so some of the movies are in Arizona which is I
guess where you’re from technically right I don’t know where you’re from I
would say I was born overseas yeah I grew up overseas I went to high school
in Arizona started my company there I am a confused per I’m the next Patriot
right let’s just call me that but you love coming here though to shoot the
films don’t you oh yes you shoot yes for all the reasons we were talking about so
I mean what so you’re doing 12 so you’re going are you going back and forth
between the two places yeah so basically gracious I’ll start
out I’ll make a couple here I’ll go out west I’ll make a few there and then I’ll
come back and do some more here okay Lord you’ve seen a lot of movie makers
in your time have use anybody that is ever attempted this sort of thing no
we’re not twelve different movie right you know you you know that a lot of TV
series or they’ll prepare for a feature that will take you know all in there you
know right doing the whole thing for a year and a half whatever what but
preparing this is like television right I mean it is like television except in
television you you even then have more time you have
more overlap and you have more help yeah you know you have to first 80s right
you’re shooting and it’s never done with one director yeah so you know you don’t
have somebody doing like a be director of BC yeah would be for this to war
that’s true for this to work and for it to be an interesting project right it’s
the same person at the helm of twelve movies in the same genre you want the
same feel all the way through to or different feels how how can you yeah how
much can one person explore the Western in twelve movies that’ll be cool I think
so I think so too so what’s your budget
cuz I see you know you see obviously so you’re not gonna do a 300 million dollar
with you know basically Industrial Light and Magic right right okay I work for
extremely low budgets right budgets that people just don’t even think it’s
possible when I tell them about it like they’re just like that’s that’s not
possible to make a period piece film for this amount of money you know just to
give you an example we made my Mississippi Western blood country for
$50,000 yeah as feature film Wow okay and it would yeah I’ve seen your work
too and it looks very lush and very there’s areas where you can see this is
a little budget film but a lot of people that watch it on Amazon have no idea
that it wasn’t made for ten times that amount yeah and that’s great
that’s that’s a great compliment to the work and so basically we are making
these films for what we can yeah and it’s also about being responsible to the
people that fund them you know I want this to be sustainable I want it to be
something that continues time and time again and that movies lead to other
movies like Roger Corman’s company they were successful and that’s why he made
what produced like 300 movies right and I want to keep up that momentum and that
requires them to be profitable right definitely well I would think at 50,000
that probably helps your chances of them being profitable exactly on that how do
you I do go fund me do you have people that believe in your work that write you
checks or just a common it’s like have a lemonade stand I mean
do we have a number at the bottom of the film yeah it’s a do that you get food
donations I do yes the food donations are huge I mean it’s it’s really a
combination of a lot of things the most the the biggest part of it is investors
who have come in and invested in the work and seen a profit for what they’ve
put in yeah and then on top of that donations crowd funding local resources
later today as soon as I leave here I’m going to pick up some lumber that’s
being donated at an incredible discount I’m out and it’s this kind of networking
that allows you to make a film for $50,000 I’ve seen when we’ve had you
know some big movies filmed in Mississippi the incredible pride of the
community and I imagine people are like when you’re coming in they’re like oh
how can we help so they do bring the food and they do breast brings or talk
about the economic impact whenever there’s a movie done in Mississippi
because it’s it’s a huge turnover per dollar well they’re all different in
terms of what they do I mean his films Travis’s films at 50
and under an episode they spend money in a different way yeah
and but a lot of it but most of its going to the community because most of
its going to people who live here right exactly and a big movie that comes in is
is is spending again spending money in a different way more food hotel rooms more
different right they’re burning their eyes fast and their alienation and and
so they’re all different there’s no I wish there were kind of this one model
but they all have a different impact number they all have it but they all
leave a lot of money the money things great and I’ll be honest with you and
I’ve seen this just over the 20-something years I’ve lived here it’s
the pride factor that’s in there it’s just so cool knowing hey you’re here
filming a movie in Mississippi and so then when we get to see it we look
around and go how cool that’s aunt Edna’s house you know but there’s that
degree of pride and I mean I think it’s really great you’re coming here to do
this and what we used to always say in the film office and I guess they still
do but Nina nice talk about the opportunity of everyone
you know a movie came to Mississippian that Huck fan came in 1973 and
essentially changed my life yeah you know it
that was my film school right and and and that was a movie that came here and
who you know who knew same thing happened to me and the same thing
happened to any number of people that that are in this industry in this state
and and in other places but so we know what we always knew every day in the
film office that every film that we worked on created an opportunity for
someone that they never imagined that they would get right so Jennifer Ogden
Combs Jennifer she worked on a movie and she just fell in love with it and she
became a producer she worked on Huck Finn yeah Huck Finn yeah yeah Wow yeah
cuz she said that she was working it and she said I just wanna do this for the
rest of my life yeah so okay tell us what are the twelve movies well there’s
actually some opening still because I a couple of these have not been expected
you know like even bastards crossing this is not my idea someone approached
me and said hey I have an idea he’s a writers name’s Jo Peavy those are the
ghosts and you know a lot of times I’m like look I have plenty of ideas I’m
sorry right but if it catches me right you know on the right damn like wow that
sounds really cool and I happen to have a old Pony Express station on a property
in Brookhaven you know so let’s film there but the ones that
have been decided are bastards crossing in January Texas red which is an amazing
Mississippi true story in February then we moved to Arizona
she was the deputy’s wife which is script I wrote years ago one that I
didn’t write a guide to gun fighters of the Wild West which is a comedy western
and then I move on and do some more westerns in the west part of the gun
frontier the slow death of Frank paths arrow eventually we come back here and
do turn and burn which is a modern-day barrel racing western and we do the two
part Natchez Trace films which will take two months to shoot and then like I said
there are more than enough scripts I could make 20
westerns right so it’s about deciding what the right projects are so I’m kind
of leaving things a little open I really loved how kind of your perspective or at
least your your target on how to get actors for turning burn you’re not
looking for actors that you have to teach how to be barrel riders no that
was a we talked about it with the writer and he said so I would think that you
know we have to cast actresses and then they would learn to bow raise I said no really I see potential here uh-huh
that’s right in the berries we’ll just have to wrap you in before the clown
that runs around rap or something but that’s a great idea and people generally
rise to the occasion don’t they yeah well we need to see authenticity yeah in
a film like this and I don’t want to be constantly switching the actor out for a
stunt person I want it to be look real in every moment and I you know acting is
difficult on one hand and on the other hand it’s not difficult like barrel
racing yeah so like I said almost anyone can do it with willingness the right
attitude and some training definitely so I think it’s gonna be a really cool
process and we’re auditioning those people in Meridian where we’re gonna be
filming and November 30th we’re doing these auditions and that’s gonna be a
different kind of casting call because they got to show up on their horse and
bill raised for us oh wow yeah so I think you’re not gonna do it like inside
of a cafeteria nope okay that would actually be kind of fun to watch oh by
the way Joe PV is how we found out about all yes offices Facebook he’s incredibly
talented guys that’s really cool so when you do get I mean like I said just the
sheer logistics of what you’re about to pull off just blows my mind I mean I’m
I’m about ready to do this to you I can’t even keep up what I’m doing what
might might work for a week but when you do get finished we’re we’re
gonna be able to see these movies well you know that’s gonna be the hard part
making 12 westerns in 12 months is easy compared to showing 12 westerns in 12
months in 2021 we’ll release each of the films my hope is month by
month right and we’ll take them on tour so you know whenever I show my
Mississippi movies I do screenings in Madison and Vicksburg and Brookhaven and
Oxford and we’ll do the same kind of thing with this you know the Arizona
films will mostly be targeted releases over there in the West but I’m sure
we’ll be doing screenings in Mississippi for those as well and then they’re gonna
drop on Amazon and other opportunities like that hopefully red box and big box
stores and all that kind of stuff yeah and or do you do to like different
film festivals around the country – yeah select Film Fest it’s tough you want to
find a festival that really fits in the timeline of release and also it’s the
project well when he comes time for you to have to come back to Mississippi let
us know it’s a little bit of a do show that would be definitely fun cool Lord
like I said this is gonna be fun for you acting how long do you think it’s going
to take how long is it gonna take you for shoot your scenes you think no it’s
three weeks of work he’s the word is the main character in
this film yeah he plays a character named kam Talcott who is a kind of a
rascal in some way decent man who becomes that’s gonna be romantically and
more more and more rascal you know I mean it’s it’s it’s three weeks of work
yeah and it it’s mostly all in one place so it’s interesting
it’ll be fun you know I’ve been since I retired I’ve been able to go back on
stage where I was trained yeah you know it at Millsaps
and in London so it’s been nice and so this this is going to be interesting
because it’s a film but it’s going to be comfortable because it’s in what
settings so it’s like a play and in a lot of ways right but yeah it’s not so
much how long will it take to do it it’s it’s getting ready to do yeah because
it’s so different from a play right at the end of the day because it’s it’s
preserved forever it’s not in the moment as a play is well yeah but I mean you
also have several takes – so you don’t have to maybe not it you know
that’s where that’s where your money goes away but there’s got to be a
spontaneous feel I would imagine – yeah we’re gonna prep and rehearse to the
point where you know the actors know what they’re doing and and their subtext
is there but there always has to be an element of spontaneity right and I love
improvising on set and adding ideas and oftentimes the best moments in the movie
come from what’s figured out right there on sets the ideas that are thrown out at
the last second but like he says this stuff lasts forever and that’s what I
tell my crew on every film crew and cast first day of filming I said what we’re
about to do lasts forever so make it count yeah you know if you come in on a
day and you’re checked out your heads just not in the game that’s gonna show
and it’s it’s never gonna be taken back wow you know that live ammunition I
think you can definitely get their attention of course bill luck it’s going
to be joining you on so you’re you got a great cast I was sitting there looking
at all the characters that you had in there so there’s gonna be a lot of fun
well with this one I wanted to this is the type of movie where every person
that shows up has to be clearly a distinct character you know and and you
know before they open their mouths who’s this guy you know he’s the prospector
he’s the burly man you know and Bill’s one of those presidents when you know
his when his six six frame walks into the scene it will be like alright what’s
this guy gonna do of course everybody knows you know Bill’s famous for being
mayor and you know running for governor and gosh and hanging out with Morgan
Freeman and so forbidding that he’s going to become more famous as an actor
yeah well see congratulations good luck like I said it’s going to be fun
watching this process go forward I think it’s really good inspiration to get to
meet you yeah always good to see you too good to see you yeah to be here so thank
you all for joining us here thank you you