Saturday, February 27, 2016

'Kill or Be Killed"

Duane Graves and Justin Meeks finally get an Austin screening for their dark western Kill or Be Killed just prior to its DVD/stream release, and I sat down to talk with them for The Austin Chronicle.

The film has been a few years in the making. I visited the filmmaking duo on set, and you can see the story here and the rest of my set photos here

Justin Meeks, Michael Berryman and Duane Graves (Photo by Joe O'Connell)

They had 13 blank bullets to shoot in the crucial scene. It was 3am on a frigid morning at Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms, a living history museum on a swath of tree-filled acreage surrounded on all sides by a residential North Austin neighborhood. Duane Graves and Justin Meeks were in the middle of filming their dark Western Kill or Be Killed.

Go. The explosions barked toward the houses and echoed. Go again. Four takes in all before the police cars arrived.

"It wasn't our first rodeo," Meeks said and recounted an earlier short film production halted when police arrived at a rural creekside just as an actor was yanking a fake heart out of a bloody chest.

Kill or Be Killed was originally called Red on Yella, Kill a Fella, but retitled for release March 1 by RLJ Entertainment on DVD, streaming and in Redbox locations. First they'll have an Austin screening Feb. 29 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. It's the latest step in a slowly widening career for the unlikely filmmaking partnership that began in a college classroom and now finds both with wives and children.

Graves is the self-described emotional one who takes it all a bit too personally. Meeks is the charismatic actor/filmmaker with hair flowing down to his shoulders and an easy grin. He stars in Kill or Be Killed as outlaw Claude "Sweet Tooth" Barbee. Meeks' early work was dark, dark, dark. Graves first gained note when Slamdance screened his heartwarming and funny 2000 documentary Up Syndrome, chronicling his childhood friend Rene Moreno, who was born with Down syndrome. It includes VHS footage of the pair shooting goofy horror films in their backyards on a camera Graves begged his parents to buy him.

"Being co-directors is not for everyone," Graves said. "You need to know when to yield."

Have they ever come to blows? No, they say. But there have been disagreements.

"There are two egos here," Meeks said. "You have to put it in check."

"We end up laughing about it later," Graves said. "Two brains are better than one."

Read the rest here.