In Love and a .45, writer-director Carty Talkington has created a stylized, darkly comedic journey through the contemporary American landscape of murder, media, music, controlled substances and unbridled love. Fast-paced and infused with a refreshingly twisted take on pop culture, the film lures the viewer in with its peculiar charm before springing a plot and tone shift that at once stuns and captivates. Filled with unexpected strong performances and a rollicking musicality that often runs counterpoint to the dramatic mood, the film hardly plays like a directorial debut.
Though Talkington helped secure a deal with fledgling distributor Trimark Pictures by telling them his other films had all “burned up in a dorm room fire,” this is, in fact, his first feature film. Coming into motion pictures by way of the music business, where he formed and played guitar in two rock bands, and the theater, where he produced and directed plays for his independent company, Talkington wrote Love and a .45 intending to direct and even turned down some lucrative offers from producers looking to assign it to other directors. The film is currently playing to enthusiastic audiences on the festival circuit and will soon be released nationally. I met up with Carty Talkington to try to find out how he was able to put together such a compelling first film, where he came up with its $2 million budget, what brought him together with producer Darin Scott (Menace II Society, To Sleep with Anger) and how in the world they were able to sign Peter Fonda to play such a hilarious cameo role.
Tom Allen (MM): I saw the movie as a parody of past classics like Bonnie and Clyde, but refreshingly different from much of today’s fare which bangs you over the head with pop culture references and that kind of thing. Your approach is much more subtle. Was it important to you to find an original way of winking at our American film tradition?
Carty Talkington (CT): Yeah. At one point in the movie she goes, “We sort of remind me of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty…”—not Bonnie and Clyde, mind you, the actors who played them. I did want it to be fresh and one thing about the film, for better or worse, is it’s not a considered, contrived, clever little commentary. It was a very natural, intuitive process making this film. I took a stream of consciousness approach, even in the writing, which I did quickly, almost furiously. What I do, usually, when writing a script is write half of it and then rewrite the whole thing. I rewrote it pretty fast, in about two weeks. That’s the way I work, sort of in spurts. The every day discipline thing I still have a slight problem with, though I hope to develop that. Ideas percolate for a while and then I let them out.
MM: Is it pure economics or some other reason that draws you artistically to such graphic violence? We know that in the beginning of one’s career it sometimes helps to throw in gratuitous sex and violence because there’s an established market for that kind of thing, and good grosses can attract financiers for your subsequent films.
CT: I have an obsession not so much with violence, but…let’s put it this way, if I were not making films I’d probably be a criminologist. I’m very interested in criminal psychology, and of course there’s a lot of violence associated with that. And I’m really interested in the relationship between art and crime, the psychological relationship. But I don’t think the violence is gratuitous. For example when the girl in the convenience store gets shot, I didn’t show it. Everything occurs behind the counter, which to me is more terrifying because it piques the imagination. And the guy bleeding to death in the car, that’s done in black and white. You get a glimpse of things but you don’t really see it. I don’t know; maybe because it is gratuitous. But like I said, man, nothing was considered, it just came out.
MM: The film has a unique style, from the psychedelic car inserts to the scene transitions to the characterizations. Can we credit a successful collaboration between you and your DP?
CT: Me and Tom [Richmond] had an extremely successful collaboration. I knew from writing it what I wanted and how virtually everything should look frame-by-frame. The movie is a real roller coaster ride. I wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll movie, and I wanted to have some raw feeling in it, some energy, some soul. That’s what came out. It’s the moral ambiguity element that I really groove on. I didn’t want anything to be black and white. You’re working against type, playing with people’s expectations. Tom and I would discuss [each scene] and then he’d execute it and throw in some of his cool stuff. And it was through him we wound up getting Peter Fonda. He had shot this movie called Killing Zoe starring Eric Stoltz, who was going out with Bridget Fonda. Through that bizarre connection, we got [Peter Fonda] to read the script and he was like, “I’m there!” and worked for scale. I think he’s really good in the movie. He’s so in the character.
MM: How about Darin Scott? When did he come into the picture?
CT: He had just done Menace II Society when I hooked up with him through my agent. It’s kind of crazy. This guy’s incredible. We’re going to work with each other hopefully for the rest of our careers. He did Fear of a Black Hat and Menace and all of these sorts of black kinds of films. And then he turns around and likes my script, which is like this crazy white trash movie. He’s a very cool cat who marches to his own drummer.
MM: The soundtrack is fantastic. How were you able to afford such first-rate music?
CT: I got really lucky because a guy who’s friends with my agent saw the film and got us a record deal. The record company gave me enough money to get all this source music, and in return they’re planning to put out a soundtrack album on Epic. So I really scored. It wasn’t a very big budget, and the budget for songs was like nothing, zilch. So [with the record deal] we got to have like “King of the Road,” “Ring of Fire” and all these songs. We got The Breeders to record an original song for us, “Love Hurts”; we got Maria MaKee to do an original song; we got The Flaming Lips. And there’s sort of a consistency to the music. I wanted it to have a very western feeling. Old country-western-psychedelic is what I was going for. The film to me is a western psychedelic road opera.
MM: You also really scored with the financing. How does a first-time moviemaker come up with a $2 million production budget?
CT: Just under $2 million. To me that was more money that I could ever have imagined possibly getting. It’s insane. I was really lucky. People just really liked the script. My agent, Jeff Rovanoff at ICM, sent it around. I met him about five years ago through a mutual friend and gave it to him then. He liked it, but at that point I got really interested in rock ‘n’ roll and started a band so I just blew the whole movie thing off. Then after I did my little rock ‘n’ roll trip I came back to him and asked if now we could do it. He was cool and sent it around and a lot of people were really interested. Some people wanted to buy it for a significant amount of money, but at the expense of me not directing. I wanted to hang onto it and push the project through myself. It’s hard to turn down money when you’re really poor, but at the same time, with money, all you do is spend it and then it’s gone. I wanted to be a filmmaker, so it wasn’t even really a consideration, though slightly painful. What are you going to do? I don’t want to be a screenwriter, I want to make ‘em. Then we went through all the rigmarole and finally found Trimark. This company is what New Line was a while ago, up and coming.
MM: How much artistic freedom did you have to sacrifice by accepting financing from Trimark.
CT: I would say none at all. I was very fortunate. It was ideal. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that situation again. I had control over the script, mutual approval on casting. And once I got things going they just sort of left me alone. So it’s all my fault. I can’t point to them and say they fucked with me; if it fails, it’s all my fault.
MM: The path that led to your working in film is an interesting one. Did you have a formal film training, or was it just a passion of yours like music?
CT: Yeah, it was just a passion thing. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been doing plays and acting and being focused in this direction. I have a lot of experience working with actors and acting. I’d directed a lot of plays. But I definitely learned a significant amount with this film. It was like getting paid to go to film school.
MM: I understand you had to reshoot some scenes after production wrapped because of a lighting problem. What were some other problems you faced?
CT: Well, one horrible awful tragedy is that a guy got killed. After a late-night shoot, our special effects guy crashed his car on a small Texas road and died. Being a first-time director and having something like that happen, having to rally the crew and actors who all really liked this guy, it was really hard. It was really sad, really hairy. Then the set director, who had been sick the whole shoot, died of cancer soon after we wrapped.
MM: Are you looking forward to working with bigger budgets in the future?
CT: Not really. Big budgets aren’t as important as people think. I really believe that if you do a $200,000 film or a $2 million film, it’s virtually the same thing because so much of the bigger budget is eaten up with people’s per diems and hotel rooms and renting all the stuff. If you can get free equipment and people working for free, you can do a lot. So much money on a bigger budget is eaten up by just kind of bullshit, I think. But I had a really good Unit Production Manager and we really put everything pretty much on the screen. We stretched it, man. We stretched it. MM
Featured image by Trimark Pictures.