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When I first caught wind that a movie written by legendary Texas songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard was in the works, and that it starred Kris Kristofferson and Dwight Yoakam, my ears perked to say the least. But as the movie neared release, it was clear something about Last Rites of Ransom Pride was off. Information about the film was sketchy at best, and despite my best efforts to obtain more, emails and phone calls weren’t returned.
Then when it came to the movie release, there seemed to be all kinds of drama and confusion. First it was announced that it would be first motion picture released solely online. Then all of a sudden, almost on accident I discovered a dozen or so poorly-promoted short-run screenings had been set up around the country, and was in luck that one was in driving distance. The screening wasn’t promoted at all, and was attended by only three people. Despite the star power and intriguing trailers, something was clearly amiss behind-the-scenes of Last Rites.
Interested to find out the whole story, I reached out to the Ray Wylie Hubbard camp, and was granted an exclusive interview from Ray to discuss for the first time the background of Last Rites of Ransom Pride, and why the project has had such troubles.
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Ray Wylie Hubbard: In my camp we didn’t talk about it. And it could kinda make you curious, here it was, I wrote this movie with Tiller Russell, with a great cast. And the reason was I got my heart broken. And the movie, in my opinion, did not turn out very good, because of a number of reasons.
I met Tiller Russel through Charles Bowden whose a writer. Tiller called me up and wanted to do a video for a song I wrote called “Resurrection.” So I flew out there, met him, and we went out to the Salton Sea and shot the video. Then we started talking about movies, and we wrote The Last Rites of Ransom Pride together. I flew out there (LA), he flew out here (Austin), and we wrote the screenplay and he took it to a producer out there who said it was really good. Tiller said “well I want to direct it, and Ray is gonna score it,” and he (the producer) said, “In order to do that, you have to shoot it independent, and you need to shoot 8 to 12 minutes of something. So I called up Jack Ingram, and got Gary Busey and Taryn Manning, and we shot a short in a day out there where they filmed The Alamo. Then we went around to Houston and Dallas to these rich people’s houses and gave them the pitch.
So they raised $2.9 million dollars here in Texas, with no help from the Texas film commission. New Mexico offered some incentives, but Nomadic Pictures out of Canada said, “Will give you another million if you shoot it in Canada,” so that gave us 4 million. We were scripted at 6 million so we had to cut some things out. We had to go from four bad guys to two bad guys, stuff like that. I sent the script to Kristofferson, he said “Yeah I’ll do it.” Then somehow Dwight got it, and I gave it to Earl Brown from Deadwood. So they went up there and filmed it.
Ray Wylie Hubbard:I was there for the first 8 days.
I was music supervisor. I had tried to convince Tiller and the production company that if I could get Hayes Carll, Jack Ingram, Cody Canada (from Cross Canadian Ragweed), and Randy Rogers in this scene, they didn’t even have to speak, but if they were over there, then I could use them to do a soundtrack album, and I thought it was a brilliant idea. Tiller said no. So we started butting heads. Now instead of being my screenwriting partner, he was the director, and I was the music supervisor. We could have gone to a record label and said we had the first Americana movie ever made. So at that point I had lost any influence I had over Tiller.
Triggerman: So you were kind of marginalized, from a creator and originator of this film.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: The script was really strong enough to get these actors to sign on. They wouldn’t have signed on if they didn’t like the script. When I was ready to score the picture, Tiller said that because of the Canadian laws, they had to get a Canadian to help. So I met this guy, great guy, great keyboards, but when they sent me part of the movie with this score on it, I hated it. I hated the score and I hated the editing. I said, “I can’t approve that.” As music supervisor, that means I would approve that, and that thing is like The Jonas Brothers trying to do “Sympathy for the Devil.” So we had a horrendous fight over the phone. I said, “Tiller, this is not the movie. What happened to this thing that I stood in these people’s living room and told them I was gonna score and how it was gonna be and we raised money on what I said.” So we parted ways.
At that point, I started to pull all of my songs out of the movie, and Judy (Ray’s wife) convinced me not to. She said you need to honor your contract. I haven’t seen the whole movie. I just run through it to see what they did to my songs, and it broke my heart. Then I read the reviews, and the reviews, the consensus was that it was probably pretty strong on paper, but the editing, the movie came across as cheesy, and I’d have to agree with them.
Triggerman: So you’re not happy with the score. Are you not happy with what they did with your script as well?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I thought the editing and the score ruined the rest of it. I think the dialogue is good, the storyline was good. It just seems like they kind of got in there and didn’t know what they wanted to do. They didn’t know if they wanted to be “Kill Bill” or “Appaloosa.” It’s painful in that it could have been powerful. It could have been a really powerful movie, with the score just being simple and dirty, and the soundtrack album could have been great.
At some point along the way decisions were made based on fear, not on art. I wrote the script with the music. I really have a lot of respect that the movie even got made. But from where I am, we could have at least got a triple, and we didn’t even get a base on balls, we struck out. And then Tiller called me up and told me he was wrong because he never even gave me a chance to come to the plate and swing. I will tell you that Tiller called up about a month ago he said “I was wrong.”
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I reached out to the co-writer and director for Last Rites Tiller Russell, who sent me this statement:
“I think Ray is a brilliant writer. And collaborating with him on the screenplay for Ransom was a moving, memorable experience. I’ll never forget it. I’m saddened by his response to the film. But making a movie is a complex undertaking and a crazy process. We had our differences when it went from script to screen. I suppose time will tell about the merits of it. If you’re curious, please see it yourself. For my part, I will always have love and respect for Ray.”