Co-writer/director: Ty Roberts
What inspired you come up with the idea for the film?
Based on the wonderfully written novel of the same name I was completely moved by this true-grit West Texas oilfield story and romance. From page one, the book felt like a movie and I related to so many characters — many of which hit close to home.
Why did you want to tell this story?
The main characters’ story was not unlike that of my grandfathers who started out in West Texas oil fields just before WWII. Having grown up in Midland the oil man is a character I know well and have always wanted to put into a film. The Iron Orchard captured it all and I felt like I was a natural fit to tell this unique story.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
I come from three generations of independent oil men and have seen the ups, downs, and in-betweens of striking out on your own and trying to make it. Oddly enough an independent filmmaker and independent oilman have many of the same characteristics — dreamers, risk-takers, movers and shakers and both like to have a lot of fun along the way.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
Probably the grandiose nature of the some of the oilfield scenes — in particular, a major rig fire in the book (and early versions of the script) that is the pinnacle of our characters downfall. The blowout is a metaphor for his building madness and it all comes tumbling down at once. We achieved the same results but with less fire and explosions. Operating on a small budget also made us very careful to keep large scenes with lots of extras and cars to a minimum.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
Already a full day behind schedule and the pressure building, we chose to cut the afternoon short — during one of the main oil well strikes — because of approaching thunder and lightning. It was 107 degrees out but the storm brought grape-sized hail that would have been horrendous to deal with out in the field. It was hell cutting the day short — because just as fast as a storm can approach, it can also disappear — but I commend my AD and producers for making that call. It took a lot of courage to put us behind even more but in the end, it all worked out and was a very smart decision.
Were there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Countless. The aforementioned storm. The weather, in general, was constantly changing. The heat. Days of 112 degrees were common but the misery shows — it’s definitely what we wanted to feel from our characters. Despite it being difficult we played it smart, drank lots of water and got what we needed. I think it resonates on screen.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
Mostly old French and Italian cinema mixed with some Christopher Doyle/ Won Kar Wai….Happy Together in particular.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
Making a low budget epic period piece in West Texas about oil is a risk in and of itself. I had way more people tell me we couldn’t do this than said we could, which creates an inherent sense of risk to the project. But the main “risk” I suppose was finally accepting the fact I was not going to raise but about 30% of our intended budget and we went ahead with the production anyhow. We just cut back scenes, downsized and somehow made it work.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screenwriting or film producing?
Getting a film made is incredibly difficult. I admire anyone who can pull it off. If you’re hell-bent on dedicating months or even years of your life to something for the sake of telling “your story” then absolutely go for it. But be prepared for a tremendous roller coaster. And once it’s all done and ready to show the real battle begins. But just as you found creative ways to tell and make your film you will find ways to get it shown and out into the world.
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