Interview: Director Jeff Ferrell of DEAD WEST

In preparation for the release of the Western/horror thriller DEAD WEST, Abigail spoke with director Jeff Ferrell about his latest film as well as his inspiration for making a horror/love story seen through the eyes of a killer.  

Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Jeff!  Thanks so much for speaking with me today!  For those who don't know, would you mind telling us about your film, DEAD WEST, and its premise? 

Jeff Ferrell: DEAD WEST is about a serial killer who's on a cross country road trip in search of true love, and leaving a trail of bodies behind him as he travels from one town to the next, while escaping capture and the authorities.  It also tells the story of how he became who he is and the events leading up to creating this killer. 

NC: I dig the honky-tonk/western vibe.  What inspired you to do a movie with this theme? 

JF: You know, I never thought of the movie as being a Western - that thought never occurred to me until after the fact.  Everyone started seeing it as a modern Western, which I think is very interesting because the main character is kind of a modern day outlaw, similar to the killers in the Old West who would go from town to town, shooting down whoever they wanted while not getting caught.  I wanted to give the film a very Southern vibe - the character is from Texas but it never actually mentioned where the movie takes place or what year, but it definitely has a Southern vibe.  There's also a classic revenge plot in the film, which is also a classic Western element, especially the spaghetti Westerns, which I'm a huge fan of, especially the Sergio Leone films.  I wanted to explore that element of revenge, and what it could morally mean; when you decide to go on a quest for revenge, does that make you any better than the person you're going after and where is the line drawn between hero and villain? 

NC: What was the casting process like for DEAD WEST?  Did you have any specific actors in mind? 

JF: The lead actor, Brian Sutherland, who plays the Ladykiller was meant to play that character from day one because I created the idea for the film with him.  We were shooting my first movie, GHOSTLIGHT, about five years ago, and one night after filming Brian told me he wanted to play a serial killer and asked me if I could write a script for him to star in.  That kicked off the idea for DEAD WEST.  The idea was born with him, so he was always meant to play the killer, and he did a great job with it.  A lot of the other actors were actors that I've worked with before on other projects.  Several of them were in my first movie GHOSTLIGHT and are also in this film and I really enjoy working with the same cast and crew.  There were a lot of parts to fill for DEAD WEST - there's about thirty speaking roles in this film.  I actually cast a lot of the actors out of Portland, which is where Brian lives, so we could do the casting together.  That's how we got Katie Michels, Bethany Jacobs and Jeffrey Arrington, to name a few.  It was a really fun process of bringing all of these great actors together. 

NC: I definitely enjoyed that this film had some MANIAC undertones, and throwing that movie on during the drive-in scene was a nice touch.  Was MANIAC at all an inspiration to you for this film?

JF: Yeah, I love MANIAC.  I love the original, and the remake is really good as well.  Two things I really liked about the original MANIAC: one is that it's from the killer's perspective completely. It's one of only a couple of serial killer films that are from the killer's perspective, the other being HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, which is another great film.  Both of those are from the killer's perspective and there's no police presence in the film.  Usually with serial killer films, it's from the viewpoint of the cop.  I purposefully didn't want to do that, because I feel like, especially in modern television shows, it's kind of boring.  I didn't want to have a safety net of a cop character that the audience could side with.  I wanted to make the audience uncomfortable by forcing them to experience the story through the eyes of the killer.  So, MANIAC is a great example of that - both MANIAC and HENRY were definitely influential in those regards.  They are two of the only films I can think of that have the balls to be told from the killer's perspective and that's what I wanted to do with DEAD WEST.  But, one of the things I didn't want to do with this film, which both MANIAC and HENRY are, is I didn't want to make a really gory film.  So I intentionally wanted to keep most of the violence off-screen and really just focus on the psychology and the characters, and what makes them do the things they do. 

NC: Did you guys run into any challenges when filming? 

JF: Oh yeah - this movie is about two hours long, and there's about thirty different filming locations, thirty different speaking roles, and we filmed the entire film in twelve days, so it was a crazy challenge to shoot.  It was a very low budget, totally independent film, made by a small group of people with a lot of love and dedication and passion.  But it was a huge challenge shooting a movie of this size and scope on such a short schedule and on such a low budget. As a director, I always try to bring on the best actors and the best crew-members that I can, because great help enables you to move quickly.  Most of the scenes in this movie, I never had the luxury to do more than one or two takes of any given shot due to the tightness of the schedule.  When you're working with great actors who can nail it on the first take, it makes your life as the director so much easier.  So, you're not sitting there trying to work on the same scene for hours and hours.  All of these great elements can really allow you to do the best work that you can do. 

DEAD WEST will be available on DVD Feb. 7th.  For more information and to stay up to date with Jeff Ferrell, follow him on Twitter @JeffryFerrell