Sierra Vista Herald, Beatrice Richardson, Associated Press
TOMBSTONE, Ariz. — Under the bright desert sun, a dusty hand clutching a stone drives a grave marker into the sand at the head of a pile of large rocks. His work done, the young man stands before the graves and says a silent prayer, then vows to himself that he will avenge the murder of his father, before riding off on his horse into the desert, alongside a man he barely knows, to seek his revenge.
"Cut!" a voice calls out from behind the graves.
The voice ringing out across the desolation is that of Royston Innes, director of the upcoming web series Dead Men. The low-budget independent series just wrapped up shooting after several weeks of filming in and around Cochise County. On Tuesday of last week, the crew were filming a crucial scene in a wash outside of Tombstone.
"We were very specific about shooting out here," Innes said during a pause in filming about the decision to shoot the series in southern Arizona. "My partner Ric (Maddox) shot something out here before and he just kept going on about how great the people were, and it just really stuck with me."
During location scouting in the area months ago, Innes said the choice became clear.
"You know when things are meant to happen, everything just kind of unfolds in front of you? So we just met the right people. The pace of how everything moved here is perfect for the film we're trying to do, and everything just seemed to open up. It was meant to be," he said.
Another advantage to filming in the area is the opportunity for vast, open spaces that are so closely associated with classic Western films.
"You can only get those shots in so many places, and Arizona is one of them," Innes said.
Looking to foster a strong connection between Los Angeles-based film production and Arizona, particularly for the Western genre, the crew hired several local actors to fill some of the series' biggest roles.
"We genuinely have a love for Arizona and we don't just talk about it, we act on it. We want to make this a relationship, almost like the new Hollywood for Westerns," he said. "The only way to really do that is to incorporate as much Arizona talent as we can."
Much of that talent was found in Cochise County, like Geno D'Ambrose, a member of the Wild Bunch reenactment troupe in Tombstone, who plays Capt. Roy Struthers in the series.
"I like doing Westerns. I grew up with Westerns on TV. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy. I'm living my dream," said D'Ambrose, who has been a part of about a half dozen Western-themed productions and commercials over the years.
So what's different about shooting a production like Dead Men as opposed to doing reenactments in Tombstone?
"In these kinds of things there's a lot of sitting around. Sitting and waiting. With the Wild Bunch, we just go in there, do our show and it's done in 40 minutes," he said.
Filming for the web series began in May, when crews shot for two weeks before taking an extended break and returning this month for a final week of production.
Each episode will be about 10 to 12 minutes long.
There will be 10 episodes in the first of five planned seasons.
Being a Western in the classic mold, there are several incidents of gunplay and shoot outs.
"Seems like every time I'm on one of these productions I'm an outlaw or something like that and I end up getting shot," said Warren Neff, a member of the Tombstone Vigilantes and another local actor cast in the series. "What's the secret? You've got to die well, I guess."
Richard O. Ryan is the co-owner, along with Katrina Matusek, of Suncast Entertainment, a Phoenix-based production company partnering with Maddox and Innes' Saddlecreek Films to produce the series. Ryan also plays one of the main antagonists of the first season.
"I love playing the bad guy," he said. "The villain is so much more interesting, from an actor's perspective, because I'm not a villain. So I get an opportunity to dip my toes into the dark side."
Ryan's character, Cole Roberts, is determined to use any means necessary to take back land he previously sold to Capt. Roy Struthers after Struthers discovers gold on the property.
"It's very fascinating to deal with a character who is a borderline psychopath," Ryan said. "He's not afraid to kill."
Dead Men is set to be made available online in September.
Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, http://www.svherald.com
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