July 23, 2019 | 67° F

'Heathens and Thieves' Q & A


Courtesy of NJIFF

There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned shootout to settle an argument. The Western drama “Heathens and Thieves” tells the gritty tale of two small-time thieves who hatch a plan to steal the rumored treasure of a Chinese family living in a large ranch on the outskirts of town. However, the thieves aren’t the only ones after the gold, and soon more parties ride upon the ranch, each with their own agendas. Events quickly heat up as lies, betrayal and paranoia run rampant. Inside Beat had the pleasure of interviewing directors Megan Peterson and John Douglass Sinclair about their film.

IB: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Megan Peterson: I’ve always been a storyteller, and I come from a long line of dynamic storytellers. Even the way I tell jokes generally stems from a funny story or experience. Then, when I was 8 years old, my parents brought home our first video camera (which had to be carried around with half of the VCR in those days), and I’ve been hooked on the medium ever since.

John Douglass Sinclair: My background was always rooted in writing. I actually started out working as a journalist and writing fiction on the side, so I came to filmmaking later than a lot of directors. Writing is a lonely process, and I wanted to see my stories through creatively to the final stage on the screen. And that’s where the fun of collaboration kicks in — working with so many other talented people who help bring a story to fulfillment in their own ways, from production design and camera work to costuming and makeup.

IB: How did you come up with the idea for this movie?

JDS: Megan came up with the genre based on [location, horses and a strong community network] and she and Pyongson Yim, our [director of photography], had a love for noir which I share. I struggled at first with the idea of writing a Western, a genre I’d never worked with before. But rather than do a lot of research at first, I just developed the kind of story I’d like to see told in an Old West setting. Bringing in the Chinese angle was a way of exploring a side of America’s history that has traditionally been ignored in most Westerns.

IB: What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced in making this film?

MP: Like most indie filmmakers, financing was by far the biggest challenge. We had to raise money at each phase of production, and even divided our shoot into two parts. But we wanted to do the absolute best film we could do, and thankfully, we had a couple of angel investors who believed in us.

IB: What drew you to the Old West motif?

JDS: Western and noir have been called the only two genres truly created in America. I think they’re both in our blood from childhood, whether we’re fans of those genres or not. A Western is a creation myth of sorts. Seeing how the genre has been transformed and revised over the years tells us a lot about who we were then and who we are now.

IB: What was the most rewarding aspect of making this film?

MP: The most rewarding aspect of making this film for me was getting to work with and learning from our amazing cast and crew. Hands down it was one of the tightest sets I’ve ever been on and many dear friendships and working relationships were born from it. Now, it’s also incredibly rewarding seeing the film being received so well. Every time we get to sit in the audience and hear people laugh or gasp with surprise, I get a little shot of excitement and then can’t wait to do it all over again.

JDS: Starting with nothing more than a few scribbled notes on a bar napkin, and four friends around a table trying to figure out how to pull off a movie, and from there bringing together a small army to make it real and finally show it to audiences. ... That process is a miracle in itself, and the hardest work and the most fun imaginable.

IB: Who are some of your biggest influences?

MP: For this film, some of our biggest stylistic influences were “Unforgiven,” “Once Upon a Time in the West” and Wong Kar-Wai film. But we watched countless noir films and Westerns, and Kun Hua, our femme fatale, was definitely inspired by a number of those.

JDS: On the noir side, films like “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” But as Megan says, we had a lot of different influences from a lot of unrelated genres, and I don't think “Heathens and Thieves” reflects any one direct influence. I've always admired Luis Buñuel and David Lynch. But whether or not you could point to any of their influence tucked into [our film], who knows?

IB: How long have the two of you been working together?

MP: “Heathens and Thieves” is the first project we’ve done together but we are actively searching out our next project together, and hopefully bringing a number of people from our production team with us.

IB: How does it feel having you film screen at the New Jersey Film Festival?

MP: We are absolutely honored and excited to be screening at the New Jersey Film Festival. They have been incredibly attentive and present, and really seem to take pride in the films that they select. We would like to tell them thank you.

JDS: It's a huge honor. NJFF is a festival for people who love great films. Hope they come out to see “Heathens and Thieves.”

“Heathens and Thieves” will be shown Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. in Voorhees Hall Room 105 on the College Avenue campus. Tickets are $8 for Rutgers Film Co-Op/NJMAC friends, $9 for students and seniors, and $10 for general admission. For more information about tickets, times, location and the entire schedule, visit njfilmfest.com

Alex Natanzon Film Editor

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