Jul 31, 2019
Today’s a big day for the podcast. Out of nowhere, Josh Riedford of Mr. Pictures contacted me to recommend their latest film, “Bullitt County”, the subject of today’s film. On a lark, I asked if they might be willing to do a Skype interview, and to my surprise, they said yes. And then I started panicking, because actual people in the actual film industry were interested in speaking with the podcast. It took a few e-mails, but we were able to work out an interview, and despite my nerves, everything went smashingly. A huge thank you to both Josh Riedford, for lining up the interview, and writer/director/actor David McCracken, for taking time to talk about “Bullitt County”.
All this means we’re having a bit of a format switch for today. Instead of the usual trailer segments, we’re going to run the whole trailer audio prior to the review and will be interspersing segments from our interview throughout the review. If you want to hear the full interview, it will be available in two parts beginning early next week as our first two Patreon exclusives. We will be publishing weekly exclusive content going forward, which you can only get by signing up with a monthly donation at patreon.com/onemoviepunch at any level. You’ll also be invited to request one movie review from yours truly, as long as we haven’t reviewed it yet, with just a few exceptions. All support goes to pay our expenses and to help us grow with our audience.
Here’s just a taste of what you’ll be missing:
DAVID MCCRACKEN: “I came up with the general idea of the story, the buried Prohibition money, the Bourbon Trail, kind of thing, and then it was really just what kinds of characters would have the hardest time in a situation like that?”
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Here we go!
<< BULLITT COUNTY TRAILER AUDIO >>
Today’s movie is “Bullitt County”, the Mr. Pictures production written and directed by David McCracken. Set between the late 1960s and late 1970s on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Robin (Jenni Melear), Wayne (Napoleon Ryan), and Keaton (David McCracken) reunite ten years later for a bachelor party for Gordie (Mike C. Nelson). While reminiscing about their last trip, and at Gordie’s insistence, they decide to hunt for a legendary prohibition fortune buried in the woods, and end up in very dark circumstances.
I’ve always found that period pieces present one of the greater challenges for filmmakers. For films set in the modern era, even in exotic locations, everyone from the writer and director to the cast and the audience can rely on their own place in time, especially in a rapidly changing and shrinking world moving at the speed of the Internet. For films set outside the modern era, the filmmakers have to capture the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic differences in culture and society outside our direct experience and end up having that work judged by the audience, and in some cases, historians and scientists. However, period pieces also bring a lot of opportunities, as David McCracken found in developing “Bullitt County”.
DAVID: “It just suddenly dawned on me, oh, this movie feels like a 70s movie. And I think a lot of it wasn’t just, ‘Hey, there’s no cell phones, so I can get around that!’, but it was more the aesthetic. It was the themes we were kind of dealing with, because Gordie is such a repressed character. There’s a kind of feminism streak in the movie, and all of that kind of thing. The women’s movement and Vietnam and Vietnam’s percussions on masculinity and everything like that. It all just kinda felt like I had been writing a 70s movie without setting it in the 70s.
DAVID: “And then, once I made that one change, which really didn’t change much of anything else in the script, it just started unlocking a lot of potential. Thematically. Aesthetically. In the 70s you usually kind of think of browns and oranges, you know, that kind of upholstery and wood paneling and everything. And that had been the aesthetic I had been going for anyway, because of the autumn and the bourbon colors, and things. So, it was really just one of those things like I had been writing a 70s movie all along and didn’t know it. So, when I made the change, it didn’t change much, and yet, it changed everything at the same time.”
McCracken’s commitment to the time period is evident in how well he brings everything together within “Bullitt County”. Rustic, seemingly timeless locations are combined with period-specific costumes, all of which is folded into a common color palette. It is a beautiful canvas on which to tell a dark story.
Just as important as making it look good, however, is having the right cast. Many period pieces have failed to capture the time because the cast is unable to immerse their performance within the setting, or by falling back on clichés developed by mainstream films during the golden age of Hollywood. The cast of “Bullitt County” are able to give more than convincing performances, especially against the well composed canvas, and by exploiting the synergy of developing characters with specific people in mind.
DAVID: “In terms of casting, it came together fairly quickly. I had directed my thesis film at University of Southern California, and Mike Nelson was the lead in that and we got along really well. And, he’s generally more known for his comedic work, and I just saw a lot of potential for him to be able to branch out and really do a lot more than just comedy.”
DAVID: “The character of Wayne, I had also worked with him. Napoleon [Ryan], I had worked with him before as well. And then I obviously I knew I was going to be in it. So, really, it wasn’t that many roles to cast once we filled those initial roles. It was really just Robin and the older couple and some of the supporting roles.”
DAVID: “Richard really was a funny story. I had met him ten years ago, and it was right before I had started USC, and I had just told him I was getting ready to start film school. And he said, ‘Well, if you ever make a movie, keep me in mind!’. And I said, ‘I will! I would love to cast you someday.’ And so, I just gave him a call, and that was it!”
“Bullitt County” is told in two distinct parts. The first act
brings the characters together, giving us glimpses into their
individual lives, and the relationships amongst them. The cast
shows more than the script tells, adding authenticity, and
complimenting the occasional flashback to their last trip ten years
ago. Eventually, we begin to see the usual strains in long-term
relationships caused by time and lack of contact.
Just as these feelings are coming to a head, the second act begins with a well-framed and sudden act of violence, which creates a great deal of immediate shock, progressively worse strain on their relationships, and utter chaos in their reactions. While their situation unravels around them, the viewer also learns more about their previous trip on the trail, adding context that begins to shift our perspectives about everyone, until we reach a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.
My favorite part of “Bullitt County” is the editing. The film opens up with a wonderful split-screen edit, as Gordie’s friends kidnap him in a classic opening mission reminiscent of action thrillers from the time period. The film accelerates the editing in the second act as the characters are often apart from one another, allowing McCracken to tell more story at one time, and adding to the general chaos leading up to the conclusion. The editing is never overdone, and added a nice flair to the rest of the film.
JOSEPH: “How do you know when enough is enough, though, when it comes to doing those kinds of framing edits and when it comes to cutting the various frames together?”
DAVID: “They weren’t actually built into the script or planned on, but the editor, Kevin Del Colle, he was editing while we shot, because we didn’t have pickups or anything, so it was important for him to get started on it, so if we forgot something, he could remind us to shoot it before we left. But, so he was cutting, and we were a couple days into shooting the kitchen stuff, and he called me up and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about split screens?’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds great!’, and so pretty much all the kitchen stuff with the split screens is a first cut. I mean, he really was the one composed those kinds of things.”
DAVID: “And so, once the kitchen felt like there’s no other way to do this, we needed to find a couple other places in the screen to do split screen, so it felt like it was of a piece, and not just a weird gimmick that came out of left field in the middle of the movie. Then it became an issue of when do we use it when it absolutely needs it, because we don’t want to force it.”
“Bullitt County”, of course, has some areas for improvement. A great deal of time is spent in the woods, which has a disorienting effect on the viewer. All the locations were well chosen for the individual scenes, but put together I had a hard time knowing where anyone might be at any given time. It’s an effective technique for a classic horror film, but not as effective in a daytime thriller. The last third also felt more drawn out than necessary, sometimes losing momentum in the chaos and revelations, and ends pretty abruptly, although I did love the flashback epilogue which closes out the film. I also felt like there was still more story to tell, not just about the survivors, but also between the characters, particularly between Gordie and Donna, to justify some of their interactions, and perhaps more of their time on an actual college campus.
Overall, “Bullitt County” is an impressive solo debut feature for David McCracken, built off an excellent script, and impressively shot on a tight budget with a convincing cast. While it may not have been a perfect film, it definitely makes me excited about future features from David McCracken and Mr. Pictures. Speaking of which...
DAVID: “I’ve been developing things concurrently with ‘Bullitt County’, and have probably ten different projects all in various stages of development, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to do a straight up horror movie next.”
Fans of 1970s period pieces, or noir thrillers, should definitely check out this film. Everyone else, check the trailer, and decide accordingly.
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%
One Movie Punch: 8.3/10
“Bullitt County” (2018) is not rated and is currently playing on
Netflix, Hoopla, and VUDU.
Don’t forget the full two-part interview will be available via Patreon at any monthly amount. The first episode will be available on August 4thand the second part on August 11th. Thanks in advance for your support!
A huge thank you to Josh Riedford and David McCracken of Mr. Pictures for their time. Looking forward to more from Mr. Pictures.
See you next time!