Frequently Asked Questions with writer/director Robert christopher smith
1. Where did you get the idea for Rebecca/Mia Falcon and “Vengeance Turns”? Before any story was ever written at all, I just couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a woman who had been scalped as the main character in a revenge western story. I kept seeing these burning eyes looking up from under the brim of her hat before she would take it off to show that scar, screaming! I wasn’t sure of much at that point but everything was basically built around that one image. I knew I didn’t want the perpetrators to actually be natives, I knew my main character was of native ancestry. My younger sister’s name is Rebecca so I stole that and as the story developed, I really saw the character becoming a different person entirely as a result of the attack-- even taking on a new name. How we would get to her new name of “Mia” ended up becoming a pretty big part of the main story in “Volume One”. Mi amor.
2. How did you meet your co-writer Amanda Walsmith? Have you worked on anything else together? When my production partner, the Director of Photography on “Vengeance Turns: Volumes 1 & 2” , David Ruano and I first met and knew we wanted to make a western and knew those basics above. we also knew we wanted to bring in the actor who would play the character and have her co-write the screenplay with me. We composed a pretty extensive self-tape audition process that included rewriting a scene and shooting that as well. David and I Each loved Amanda’s approach to the character on both the timid and later more feral sides, and the two of us really meshed creatively. It was a lot of fun writing with her and we tended to really drive and bring out the best in each other throughout the whole process.
3. Was Amanda Walsmith the first actor who was supposed to play Rebecca/Mia then? Paola Luelmo plays the character now in the films hitting the screens, right? What happened with the plan to use Amanda? YES! We 100% planned on having Amanda write the movie with me and then play her in the film, and even based certain aspects of the character directly on Amanda. When we met, Amanda was a recently medically-retired El Paso Police officer. Her experience there not only really gave me a lot of faith in the authenticity of the violent scenes we would write together featuring Mia, but the same injury that led to Amanda’s retirement inspired Rebecca’s arm being crushed and her developing her “Falcon Claw” weapon after she becomes Mia. All that was back in early 2017, though and Amanda who actually does live in TX, has built and is running a very successful organization called “The Borderland 100 Club” that provides support to the surviving family members of fallen emergency workers, whether police, fire or emergency medical. She is still a producer on the project and fully supports Paola Luelmo in the role, recently raving about her to me.
4. Was the story always meant as a two-volume epic? Yes and no, but mostly no. Amanda and I originally wrote a 135 page screenplay as “Vengeance Turns” and we felt it told the whole story we wanted to tell, even though we knew it was super long. During the long time of its development and several false starts, David Ruano and I discussed a variety of ways to shoot the whole thing, one of which was actually to expand it and shoot as something like a 4-episode series. We all joked about it a few times during filming that we were actually shooting a film and its sequel. During editing, I couldn’t get it under 2 hours and 40 minutes without credits. After looking at its structure very closely and a very serious discussion with David Ruano, we decided our best bet for many reasons was to break it into two volumes like Tarantino did with Kill Bill.
5. Is it true that you plan to donate all of your royalties to charities if the films ever make money? Yes, any and all royalties that would be due to me for writing and directing the film(s) will now be redirected to a variety of causes that support everything from women and children in domestic violence situations to education to protecting wildlife and prevention of animal cruelty. There are links on our website to show all the organizations supported by everyone involved with “Vengeance Turns”. It was important to me that everyone from actors to crew have some philanthropic focus in their lives. Nevin Millan who plays ‘Ghost with Silent Knives Protects’ runs his own charity aimed at diversity for youth in a variety of artistic endeavors. My hope is that long after I am gone from this planet that my films will be some sort of perpetual donation machine, providing a legacy of giving and help for the future.
6. Was this story influenced by any classic Western films? My father, to whom this film is dedicated, showed me “The Outlaw Josey Wales” on HBO as a kid and it changed me forever. There is a scene where Clint Eastwood as Josey, spits on a dog’s head and believe it or not that was a transformative moment for me! It immediately struck me that someone had written a story where a dog gets spit on and that someone else had said “Yeah, let’s put that in a movie!” and then an actor agreed to spit on a dog and someone brought their dog in, agreeing to have him spit on, all while someone else held a camera and made sure it looked exactly right! My doors were blown wide open and I knew right then that there was all kinds of really crazy stuff that I would love to spend my life putting on film just the same way! All of the Clint Eastwood “spaghetti westerns” have been on repeat throughout my life since then as have all those he did in Hollywood like “Unforgiven” and “Pale Rider”.
7. Who are your favorite directors and is their influence felt in “Vengeance Turns”? David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino are probably my favorite directors and have had the most impact on what I put up on the screen. More than any one director’s style being obvious in my own, my biggest hope would be that if any or all of them ever saw something like “Vengeance Turns: Volume One” they would find it enjoyable. Having said that, I think the connections to Quentin Tarantino may be obvious before seeing one frame– Kickass Female lead in a movie with “Volume One” in the title? Where have we seen that before? But, I have to say that the very visceral style of David Lynch may really be more obvious in what I put together in this film. Darren Aronofsky always drives me to think of the stylistic elements of what I’m directing– what will my signature be on this or that film? Robert Rodriguez is someone I cannot say enough about– I love his work, and honestly believe I wouldn’t be doing this today if not for his “15 minute Film School” segments and commentary tracks on his DVDs. More than any of the rest, I hope to shake his hand and thank him for the motivation and inspiration he never knew he provided me (and probably many others).
8. What other influences will viewers notice? As far as movies go, I think the original “Death Wish” really has to stand out as an influence. I even took one of the most famous line from that movie and twisted it a little and let Mia spit it out in “Volume Two”. I am a huge comics fan, and have been collecting comics since I was about 5 years old and stumbled onto my Uncle Tony’s collection. The whole hero born in tragedy is certainly something bigger than westerns, and found regularly in the pages of all those comics as well. I really think viewers will very quickly know one of my favorite comics growing up when they see the “falcon claw” weapon that Mia fashions for herself and her ferocity when she uses it. This was definitely a chance to put something onscreen that I had hoped to see from “that other more famous character” several movies ago!
9. What challenges did you face during filming such a massive effort? Wow, what a question! Before we ever got to filming, we experienced a few pretty painful false starts, which while normal and expected in this business, was still painful nonetheless for me, for Amanda and for David Ruano too. At one point very early on, we were hearing promises of a $1 Million Budget from a producer who was throwing around names like “Emmy Rossum” and “Amanda Seyfried” to us. Once we did start filming it was in September of 2020– right in the heart of the Covid Pandemic. As if that was not enough, we were shooting the movie on a real shoestring of a budget– far less than the $1 Million we were hearing about in 2017 and trying to figure out our own “Covid protocols” on a daily basis. To make things really crazier, the producer who finally greenlit “Vengeance Turns: The Motion Picture” literally disappeared after our first day of shooting. He left us with no money, no wardrobe, no secured location. It completely blew my mind when I brought this to the cast and crew to hear “Screw him. Let’s shoot this and we’ll work out the rest later”, having most of them working now on deferred pay instead of guaranteed. David Ruano and I scrambled on a daily basis for 20 days to ensure that we would get the whole 135 page screenplay filmed. It nearly killed us, including a few 20 hour days (for us– not the cast and crew) but we stuck to our schedule and got it all done!
10. If you had the chance to adapt any novel into a film, what would it be? If I could adapt any novel, it would probably be something by Chuck Palahniuk like “Invisible Monsters” or “Snuff”; maybe something from Stephen King. From comics, I would love to bring the “Criminal” series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to life– that would be a dream!
11. Is there a “Vengeance Turns” comic book? “Vengeance Turns: Explosions of Truth” continues directly from the end of “Vengeance Turns: Volume Two”. It was written by me and has art by indie artist superstar Kurt Belcher who did a lot of concept art for me from the beginning of my development process pretty much. The art is already all done and we are having it colored right now. I think we might give out copies at film festivals for “Volume Two”. For “Volume One”, we might give out “ashcans” of a comic called “Vengeance Turns Back” with origin and background stories of all key characters. The plan is to merge the two as an original graphic novel later under the name “Vengeance Turns: Explosions of Truth”.
12. What would you like to see happen with “Vengeance Turns: Volume One”? Ultimately, I’m hoping that it attracts enough attention at the film festivals I am currently entering it into that someone would distribute it and make a deal to get “Volume Two” directly into theaters. Beyond that, I would love to continue working with the characters and developing their world, especially the “Lost People”, whether that takes place in future films, episodic TV or webseries, or the comic books that are already coming out.
CONTACT Robert Christopher Smith firstname.lastname@example.org