Ridin' Down won

"Best Short Film".........Santa Fe Film Festival
"Best Western Film".......New York Int.
Independent Film & Video Festival
"Best Cinematography - Short Film"
AngelCiti Int. Film Market
Nominated as one of five finalists for the "Golden Boot Award" at the 2000 Best of the West Festival Nominated as one of five finalists for the "Golden Boot Award" at the 2000 Best of the West Festival

Sunday, 3 October, 1999 THE NEW MEXICAN DRAMATIC RIDE by Leslie Halpren

Searching for Randolph Scott at a low-budget Western

by Robert Nott

Last week I drove out to the outer regions of Madrid to watch the filming of a low-budget Western Ridin' Down, and find out whatever happened to Randolph Scott.

I almost didn't make it. My trusty steed-a 1983 Buick Skylark, for the record-gave out on me on one of the canyon trails.

I felt bad about that. I couldn't even put it out of its misery, since I didn't have a gun.

I was saved by a cowgirl named Patricia Conoway, who was driving a four-wheel vehicle. It wasn't exactly something Randolph Scott would have done, letting a lady save his life, but I didn't have much choice. Besides, there was something appropriately heroic about her efforts.

I never did find out whatever happened to Randolph Scott, but I did cross paths with Zorba, the film producer who was making Ridin' Down out thataway.

Zorba wasn't happy. Every time he pulled out a camera to shot a scene, Mother Nature interrupted, pouring rain all over the place.

"Film-making is not for the faint of heart." Zorba said in between downpours. "You have to be crazy to do this."

Zorba (who is not, to the best of my knowledge, Greek), is a well-spoken, good-humored guy who obviously possesses a lot of chutzpah. He said how was wearing a lot of hats on this production, ranging from producer to editor to cameraman.

During the time I spoke with him, he was wearing a cowboy hat, which seemed appropriate, given the film's subject matter.

"People around the world love the mythological story of the Old West," Zorba said. "It's a story of freedom, a story where a man has a chance to prove himself, a place where, if things don't work out, you can start all over again."

Zorba didn't actually grow up with Randolph Scott. He preferred the likes of Hopalong Cassiday and Roy Rogers on television. Somewhere, he said, there's a photo of him as a 6 year old, a pair of cap pistols on his side, ready for Western action.

I did grow up with Randolph Scott, on the late-late shows. When he rode off into the sunset in the early 1960's the Western rode off with him. I missed him and the Western and wondered whether Zorba's film would revive the genre.

Though the Western was a popular staple of cinema for a good 50 years, it began to die off like some aging gunman around the mid-1960's when the difference between good and bad was no longer so easy to discern. Men were no longer always men and women were, well, not so crazy about staying in the kitchen while Randolph Scott engaged in a gunfight out on the front porch.

The genre has pretty much been box-offfice poison ever since. there have been a few exceptions to that rule - Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven - but for the most part Hollywood has steered clear of the formula altogether.

It's amazing to think that someone is willing to buck that trend, but Zorba has a true pioneer spirit.

"There's no car chases or explosions or gratuitous sex in this," Zorba said of the film. "Hollywood is ruled by megacorporations now, and if you can't show them a movie that has a tie-in with action figures or a video game or Taco Bell, well, they're not interested."

"I didn't want to make a film that was going to be turned into an arcade game. I wanted to tell a simple story."

Ridin' Down is simple to some degree. Three pals, Preach (Adam Tim Taylor), who also scripted the film, Hogan (David Ode) and Lil" Pete (Marc Miles), get involved in a botched bank robbery, a botched killing, and a botched attempt to find a pair of pants. They take it on the lam, pursued by a determined lawman who's hell-bent for justice. The plot does take some twists and turns along the way, however.

Everyone involved with the film is working for free, including Conoway, the cowgirl who saved my hide. The company is utilizing locales in the Santa fe region.

Zorba said he plans to complete an abridges version of the film - totaling a half hour of screen time - and show the finished product to interested investors.

Zorba's goals and simple and realistic. "Im not looking for this film to be a blockbuster," he said. "I'm not kidding anyone about that. I just wanted to make a small film that makes a small profit and encourage others to make film here."

Zorba's van serves as the company's production vehicle. It's weighed down with about 8,000 pounds of film equipment and bears the scars of Western scouting expeditions around the area. His crew is small ( about 30) and dedicated. His budget is less than $100,000.

But Zorba and his posse are determined to get the job done and to see the final product showcased at a special screening at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid by Thanksgiving.

Ridin' Down is a film that's being made locally by locals.

It's been financed almost solely by dreams.

Randolph Scott would have been proud.

New Mexico Hosts Dramatic "Ride"


Markee NOVEMBER 1999

You know that old saw about never working with animals and children?" asks Zorba, producer of the independent feature Ridin'Down. "Well, it's even worse when the animal is 1,200 pounds. I learned that horses don't do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. They do what they want to do when they want to do it. The next time I make a Western, I'll revise my schedule accordingly."

Shot during three weeks in September 1999 in Raton, Cerrillos, and Madrid, New Mexico, Ridin' Do n tells the story of Preach, Hogan and Lil' Pete - three men suffering the consequences of one bad decision. Living in the New Mexico Territory during the 1880s , they plan a bank robbery that goes awry when a clerk is killed in the process. After the incident, they attempt to ride down to Mexico to escape their pasts and start a new life. The film stars actor and screenwriter Adam Tim Taylor (Young Guns II, Lonesome Dove) as the central character Preach. David Ode (Lonesome Dove, Lightening lack) plays his alcoholic friend Hogan, and Marc Miles, an actor, pyrotechnics expert and stuntman (India Jones and the Last Crusade, Desperado) portrays the slow-witted sidekick Lil'Pete.

Zorba describes Ridin'Down as a red herring piece that starts off humorously with Preach barely escaping a romantic entanglement with a large-breasted widow. "The story gets progressively darker as it develops," he says. "Murder makes things get really serious as the archetypal sheriff pursues them. We eventually learn that each man carries the seed of his own destruction."

Northern New Mexico serves as a backdrop for the film, directed by Ben Zeller and shot for under $ 1 00, 0. Zorba plans to enter the film in festivals, then expand into feature status for a nationwide release. "We hope it's the first in a series of locally based productions," Zorba says. "The local market is greatly under-served." Based in Denver, Colorado, where his production company is located, Zorba considers himself an honorary local of New Mexico, having spent lots of time there during the past 16 years. The rest of the cast and crew reside in New Mexico.

Ridin Down' uses remote locations rarely - if ever - seen before on film, according to Zorba. "One location was 21 miles from a paved road. Another was an 800acre ranch in north New Mexico owned by Zeller, just southeast of Raton. We shot exteriors there and built interiors in a storefront owned by members of the production learn."

Remote locations come with a price, however. "We had some occasional brief storms which had a critical effect on the terrain. It's dangerous bringing vehicles into the mud and even a brief storm in the desert with only 3/4" of rain can turn everything into mud. Working with this terrain can be difficult," he says.

Although one storm produced a freak gust of wind that caused $6,000 worth of damage to Zorba's camera, another storm produced a rainbow that created a magical effect in a riding shot. "The rainbow was enormous and totally unplanned. I'm not sure yet if I'll keep it."

Another day it rained and hailed while actors were on horses, Zorba says. "The horses and riders were at the bottom of a box canyon. The horses leaned up against the canyon to avoid the storm, not caring about squashing the actors' legs. I threw a tarp down for them, but my actors ended up soaking wet, riding 40 or 50 miles back wearing period costumes."

Although the weather wasn't always cooperative, most suppliers were. "We have lots of resources here. I needed half a dozen guns and a rifle right away for filming and it was no problem getting them," he says.

Getting a jack rabbit wasn't quite as easy, however. "We needed a jackrabbit for a scene in which Lil' Pete shoots it, giving away the location where the three men are hiding. After asking farmers, pet stores and cowboys, we still couldn't find the right size rabbit. And when people found out that we needed to kill it, they wouldn't let us have it. Finally, on the day of filming, the assistant cameraman, Rob Seymour, found a big old jack rabbit lying dead on the road during his drive to the shoot. The animal had just been hit by a car and was perfect."

Even with stubborn horses, thick mud, freak winds, pounding hail and elusive jack rabbits, Zorba says the production was a wonderful experience. "I had a terrific time making the film, doing exactly what I love to do. I believe there is a demand for good westerns out there and we made one. I have no interest in making a movie that ties into a theme park, a sandwich, or a taco."

- Leslie Halpern