CW Rowe has it all. He owns the cotton gin, making him the wealthiest man in Harrison, Texas, and his ascendancy has solidified an unshakable belief in the system that enriched him. Few things ever interrupt the purity of his vision, with the exception of the weekly visit of a young man, Ned, who lost an arm in the gin’s machinery. Ned is a little touched and believes CW can give him his arm back. On a normal day, he goes away when CW offers him five dollars. But today is anything but a normal day.
The thing is, my father died during the week of preproduction. He had suffered the twin degradations of Alzheimers and Parkinsons for years. His death wasn’t unexpected, but like the death of any parent, it was shocking and monumental. And I had to make a decision whether to attend his funeral or continue on and make the movie.
The script had always held a special power for me. In part this was because Horton Foote had a unique depth to his exploration of what it means to be human. His subtext seems never-ending.Frequently, Horton’s characters are caught in yearning for the unreachable; for the idealized family; for a position of respect in the world; for the return of a missing limb. They are trapped in a belief that they can attain something, which will finally fix them and make them whole. Horton’s extraordinary humanity embraces the impossibility of this belief and recognizes our natural attraction to it. His comedy and tragedy flow lovingly from this stream. This worldview, which I adore, definitely runs through One Armed Man.
This script, written in 1985 is for me, above all else, a cautionary tale about the danger of stratifying our treatment of other human beings. When I read it now, almost 30 years after it was written, I realize it is a prophetic and relevant social-issue drama. We now live in a world where top executives make thousands of times the money the workers on the factory floor make. However one may feel about this conversation, the popularity of movements like Occupy Wall Street show that the discussion is still alive, current, and energetic.
It was my joy to work with Horton on a number of occasions. And my bigger joy to marry his daughter, Daisy. So here I was in preproduction with a script written by my Father-In-Law and my own father having just passed away. And I was struggling with the question of how one properly returns devotion.
Strangely this theme also echoes in the text. (CW calls Ned “son”). The prayer they all struggle to remember begins, “Our Father, which art in heaven…”
But to what idealized Father do each of these characters pray? Is it the God of Commerce or the God of Humanity. Can they ever truly return to what is genuine?
In the end, I missed my Fathers funeral and chose to make this movie. At night I dreamed of him. And during the day, during work, I grieved. And I laughed. And I was acutely aware of the joyous, fragile gift he had given me. So this film is for him. And for you.
Creating a film whose story takes place in another time is daunting. A story that takes place in the future can often be easier because you can make it up, all if it. But a period film, a story of history and authenticity, presents challenges even to the most overblown Hollywood budget.
ONE ARMED MAN, financed entirely by director Tim Guinee and his wife, Daisy Foote, did not have such a budget. If audiences of independent film have grown accustomed to the word “micro-budget,” the way to describe available funds for ONE ARMED MAN might be “miniscule” to “non-existent”, in comparison to the challenges the period presented.
To make a film with such a budget takes passion, miracles, and support.
For months before principle photography started, Production Designer Jesika Farkas scoured local antique stores to find perfect period details that would be both seen and unseen by the audience. In a period piece, it is important to transport the audience seamlessly into the world being presented in the story, using an attention to detail that borders on obsessive. Cars. Clothing. Architecture. Nothing can betray the sense that what we are watching is absolutely truthful. The same is true for the actors. It helps them to create their characters more fully knowing, for example, the coins they jingle in their pockets are from 1920, and the paperwork filling desk drawers are authentic, even though the drawers may never be opened, the contents never shared with the audience.
ONE ARMED MAN is such a production.
Jesika discovered that the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, an incredible “living museum” of antique aeronautics (http://www.oldrhinebeck.org ) has an amazing collection of antique cars. As with every other detail in the film, it was important that C.W. drive to work in an authentic car of the period. The museum provided the production with a beautiful 1911 Baker Electric car (yes, electric, but that’s another political discussion for another time). Though the Baker Electric was one of the most popular models of its time, there are only four working models left in the world. Jay Leno owns one of the other three. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome also loaned the production an extraordinary moving truck and an amazing belt-driven motorcycle.
At one point, still searching for a car, director Tim Guinee, visited an antique motorcycle show, where he happened upon a man named Brian Trudell who is an antique engine enthusiast. The film had a scene which called for the gin’s “factory floor” to be seen. Miraculously Brian agreed to let his engines be used in the film and in fact refused to accept any payment for their use. “He even volunteered to truck them over to the set”, said Tim, “but they weight two to three thousand pounds apiece. We were shooting that sequence on the second floor of an old barn. Those engines would have gone right through the floor”. Incredibly Brian offered the use of an old woodworking shop he had. The shop was scheduled to be torn down, and Brian allowed the production to “do whatever they wanted” to the space. With time on their side, the art department was able to duplicate the look of the set at the other location, allowing seamless intercutting between the two locations.
There were lots of little miracles like this on the road to production. And more than miracles, some great industry stalwarts lent their energy to help the film.
Costuming can be one of the major expenses in making a period movie. Designer Ingrid Price received two extraordinary gifts: Steve Buscemi and the Boardwalk Empire Costume Department (Lisa Padovani, John Dunn, Emily Loreto, and Joseph LaCorte) lent the movie wardrobe free of charge. Likewise Eastern Costumes, Jim Livie at the behest of Darryl Levine (of NCIS Los Angeles) sent a 250-pound crate of period clothes.
If it wasn’t for passion, miracles and the support of great friends, this movie simply couldn’t have been made.