a film by R. Zane Rutledge

P R E S S    K I T
About the Low-Budget
Film Project

  by R. Zane Rutledge,
  writer, director, co-producer, editor, etc.


A u g u s t    1 9 9 9


Hell is Texas was definitely a longshot.

An action-adventure western and a twisted ghost story rolled into one... A shoe-string budget, super low shooting ratios, unknown actors, an inexperienced director, and an unproven crew. A ridiculously ambitious vision. No Hollywood backing. Barely enough money to get it "in the can." No real plan for finishing. ...The deck was stacked against us.

We figured if we failed at least we'd have given it a try.

Principal photography for Hell is Texas happened way back in 1993 and '94, shot in 16mm in the drylands of West Texas where me and most of my crew grew up. It was a grueling two weeks in 101-degree heat with an expanded crew of about six-to-twelve people at any one time.

Pick-up and flashback photography took almost six more months, and was only a three-man crew: me and my two best friends Jance Allen and B.Z. Lewis (sound/music, and so much more). This phase took so long primarily because of the near-insane needs of 1800s costuming, something I should have thought about a little harder when I was first writing my script. Of course, rough editing was happening simultaneously (which revealed the need for most of the pickup shots).

The original Texas production was blessed by many miracles, in spite of the overly-ambitious script. In fact, we broke most of the low-budget rules, including: action/fight sequences (including swordplay), guns and bullets, horses and stunts, high-speed cars, visual effects, and more. Somehow getting it "in the can" all worked out anyway.

We had some remarkable help with some real production professionals: Ron Hubbard and Janet Hurley (fight coordination), Randy Moore (pyro) and Dave Whitley (makeup). Other close friends were acutely involved: lensman Charlie Bott (D.P.) and co-Producer/A.D. Karen Inwood dedicated their vacation time -- spending two brutal weeks on shoot, as well as invaluable effort and support in the weeks beyond.

Our two leads -- Mark Nutter and Tyler Mason -- were both minor miracles. Talented, daring, and full of the raw energy we needed; they became great friends as well. Even after we'd put them through our own private version of hell.

Local support near Big Spring, Texas also contributed a wealth of resources. Ranch-hands turned to stuntmen played outlaws with uncanny skill, and the entire community contributed performances, costumes, locations, equipment, support and boundless encouragement -- a major force in seeing the shoe-string guerrilla production through to a finished "rough cut."

In all, we spent about nine months in Texas getting a complete rough cut of the picture, and then another four months or so in San Francisco finishing sound and music, before we were completely broke and completely exhausted. We had a cut, but we were less than satisfied with calling it "done." It still needed work, but by now we were too close to the project to see it objectively.

Our financial resources dried up. Hollywood distribution was a sketchy possibility, but most of us agreed that a final cut was important to us; we didn't want to give the film away and let someone else finish it. There was interest in the project, but only hollow promises and a questionable back-end. So we shelved it. At least temporarily.

The exhausted filmmakers returned to the world of "real jobs," hoping to find new resources or other ways to complete the wounded project. We all made positive strides in the industry, learned more tools, gained more skills, made more contacts. Hell is Texas stagnated, faded from memory...

Years passed, as they'll quickly do if you aren't watching carefully. Suddenly Hell is Texas had remained untouched for four long years. And about then a new revolution in low-budget filmmaking was upon us.

Somewhere in the earliest days of DV (digital video) technology, I knew the means to finish Hell is Texas was at hand. I did a test, enhancing the opening minutes of the film with simple visual effects I could complete on my own Power Macintosh. The results were encouraging. I finagled enough time to dedicate to the project and got back to work, this time with almost no additional budget whatsoever.

I had new resources at work (special thanks to Western Images), and new friends and volunteers who once again came through for me. My nine weeks of personal project time became another seven months of late nights and long weekends. B.Z., meanwhile, was spending every spare moment he had tweaking the sound and music to match the new cut.

The new cut built on the original, and went beyond. All of the original 16mm film was retransfered, color-corrected, sometimes enhanced with new digital tools. Some footage that was originally considered unusable was salvageable with digital tricks or manipulation. These tricks included obvious things like stabilizing shaky footage, reducing grain, or combining multiple exposures; it also included building synthetic shots with computer graphics or adding digital matte paintings into existing photographed plates.

All of this and a tighter cut completes the final (director's) cut of Hell is Texas. Two-and-a-half years of work spread out over six years of time and experience. Better late than never.

Hell is Texas was a longshot. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

-- r. zane rutledge
september 4, 1999

Hell is Texas ©1999 by Puppy Dog Head Productions. All Rights Reserved.
668 ©copyright 2000 by r zane rutledge. all rights reserved.