In “Kill or Be Killed”, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee and his gang of cutthroat outlaws – the most wanted men in Texas – are on a desperate ride across five hundred miles of badlands to recover a fortune in hidden loot from their most daring robbery. But Barbee and his crew aren’t the only coldblooded killers riding the range. With a large “dead or alive” cash bounty on their heads, the outlaws are being picked off one by one. What began as a hard journey driven by greed becomes a feverish race to survive.
In an interview with Celebrity Examiner Jae Monique, filmmakers Justin Meeks and Duane Graves shared how this production is different from others in the same genre and the challenges with bringing the script to life.
Jae Monique: How did you get involved? And why did you want to be involved in this production?
Duane Graves: It’s a bit of a journey with the characters in the film. The beginning was in 2008. We were at a film festival with our first film which was called the “Wild man of The Navidad.” It got us a meeting with the Winson Company. We had this idea of a western we wanted to pitch. We went in the meeting with an idea to pitch, but we didn’t have a script. We spent 8 to 9 months writing it after the pitch. By the time we finished, things changed over there. We had to put in on the back burner. We did another film, then went back to it in 2012 and we polished it… The journey had been about 7 years.
JM: What was challenging about bringing this script to life?
Justin Meeks: We had just directed “Butcher Boys.” It was a change from what we did on “Wild man of the Navidad”, sort of being on our own and having full reign of the process. Coming back to this western, actually financing it, from executive producers, to acting in it, it was just what we really needed to motivate us to that next step. It made us stronger and the crew stronger as well. Everyone just joined together and like Duane said we were traveling at malls…everyone enjoyed the process as well. It’s such a hard genre to create. Duane–No matter what direction you look, there’s going to be something modern…we were constantly battling situations and had to work around it just to stay in a position where we wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. The horses were the biggest one. Script was written from west Texas to the coast and brought on all types of challenges–Traveling, fatigue… the crew really took it as a challenge and that’s something that is in the art of the filmmaking process.
JM: How is this production bringing something new with this story?
Meeks: I think in the genre of western, we wanted to write something different, something with a little spice to it that wasn’t afraid to shy away from the darkness, but at the same time, we wanted characters to be likable that had comedic elements to it. We molded and shaped it until we had what we had.
Graves: With the tone, it’s hard to tell exactly where it will land. When you’re writing it, you can tell if it’s going to be super scary or a little dark. Once you get into production and actors bring their performances, and once you get into post production, you have music, special effects, etc. That can totally take you in different directions and show you things in the film you didn’t realize in the beginning. We’ve always been a fan of western. It starts as a traditional John Wayne western feel and turns into a mystery road movie, then turns into a horror feature.
JM: What’s going to surprise people about this movie?
Meeks: In the third act. There will be something you don’t see in the trailer or has been touched on until you watch the movie. Keep your ears and eyes open because it throws for a loop there at the end. Graves—We ended up with scene that didn’t make it, but they will be on the DVD.
JM: Do you feel that your character was similar to you as a person?
Meeks: Yes. There is a piece of me that I can draw on and expanded it to create Claude. Actually, about 25 percent of that I took from my father…Claude is a lot more cut throat then I would ever be. Claude definitely doesn’t have any boundaries, he’s definitely power driven and will do anything to reach that.
JM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Graves: The original title got lost when it got retitled, it was called “Red on Yella Killa Fella.”
The film was released on VOD and DVD March 1.