Joshua J. Smith’s feature debut, Buckshot, is the story of Charlie Stillman (Conor Murphy), a struggling singer from New Jersey who travels to Nashville to follow in his late father’s footsteps and fulfill his dream of becoming a country music star. The old man’s checkered past derails his chances, however, and his only job offer is to drive Buckshot Thomas (Tim DeZarn), an aging, hard-drinking honky-tonk legend, from Washington to Nashville to perform his final concert.
They despise each other at first sight. Buckshot views Charlie as a pretentious poseur and Charlie is appalled by Buckshot’s reckless behavior, but gradually they forge a unique friendship.
Writer/director Joshua J. Smith was kind enough to answer some questions about his film in preparation for its Alamo City debut.
You said you were inspired to write this film by the time you spent working with Willie Nelson and the Texas Tornados in Austin. Do you think there’s a piece of county music history that’s in danger of disappearing today?
Pop country is dominating the charts now, but I’m very hopeful that the history Willie and the Tornados represented is being carried on by some brilliant new troubadours — Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Cody Jinks and Nikki Lake, to name just a few. And the artists we landed on the soundtrack — Mike and the Moonpies and Cecil Allan Moore — are keeping the outlaw spirit alive and well.
And you said you’ve never attempted to write anything musical before. How did you work with composer John DeFaria to set your lyrics to music?
We talked more about mood, as that is something I could articulate more clearly. I am a very good researcher, so I was able to curate a reference playlist that we were able to use as our touchstone.
You have to look twice when Buckshot’s character first appears because he looks so much like Willie Nelson. Was that the intention in casting?
In my mind, Buckshot was an homage to all the great country legends. Tim DeZarn has the good looks of the Red-Headed Stranger, the grit of Billy Joe Shaver and the comedic edge of Kinky Friedman.
He gives off the perfect Willie Nelson/Jeff Bridges/Robert Duvall vibe. How did you know he’d be right, especially since he comes from such a colorful character background in completely different cult films like Fight Club, Cabin in the Woods and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot?
I’ve always loved character actors, so much so that I wrote Buckshot with the great Warren Oates in mind. Sadly, he passed away quite a while ago, but I was channeling him during the writing process.
The other lead actor, Conor Murphy, introduced me to Tim. They’re family friends who lived in the same neighborhood. Tim has a lot of Warren’s qualities: a toothy grin, great accent an incredible talent for bringing a character to life with a richness that shines on the big screen. He was the perfect embodiment for Buckshot.
How fortuitous. Conor is also a nice discovery. And he can sing, too! How did you find him?
I auditioned a lot of Los Angeles talent for that role and Conor was heads above the rest. This is his first feature film, by the way. He locked the acting part down quickly, but I was still on the fence regarding the singing. I asked him to sing a Townes Van Zandt song, “Poncho and Lefty,” and his unique performance won me over…and landed him the role.
The locations are definitely Last Picture Show attractive. Where was Buckshot filmed?
It was actually all shot in L.A., except for pick-up shots in Texas. One of our favorite B-roll shoots was driving the back roads from Marfa to San Antonio.
What format did DP Charlie Hayes shoot in?
We used a mixed-media format. Our main camera was the Red one, but we used the Black Magic as well as the Osmo. There’s even one shot from my iPhone, if you can believe it!
What do you hope San Antonio audiences will appreciate about Buckshot?
I made the film out of my love for country music and Texas. I hope that the San Antonio audiences will pick up on some small Easter Eggs about Texas that I’ve sprinkled throughout the film. Plus, I’m looking forward to turning them on to my soundtrack of amazing, up-and-coming country artists.
Have you been to the San Antonio Film Festival before? What do you hope to get out of the experience?
This is my first time! I’m looking forward to meeting the next crop of filmmakers from the great state of Texas.