My Site Exclusive Interview With PJ Pesce
PJ Pesce
-- PJ Pesce (Left) on the set of his film The Desperate Trail
with Director of Photography Mike Bonvillain.


This interview was conducted on 2/11/99. PJ was extreemly kind to take time out to answer my questions and I'd like to say a special thanks to him for his generosity to this site and also for his revealing answers about his work directing The Hangman's Daughter, which I think you will all find enhances the experience of the film after reading the interview.


MARK: Had you seen the original From Dusk Till Dawn?

PJ: Oh yes. I'd actually went to the premiere in LA. In fact, I'd read it a few years before that someone had suggested me as a director for it after "The Desperate Trail"--and I'd thought that "the first half was great, but then the second half, huh?" Anyway, I didn't feel that way at *all* when I saw the movie. I *loved* the fact that it just broke in half midway through the picture--it totally fucked up the audience I saw it with, a very Hollywood-movie-premiere crowd who expect all movies to follow a rigid storytelling formula, like "Patch Adams" or something.

MARK: Where did you first meet Quentin Tarantino?

PJ: I first met Quentin in a closed down restaraunt in the mall where they were shooting "Jackie Brown." I went to meet with him and Bob Wienstein. In fact, it was me and Scott Spiegel going to meet with them to talk about casting and pre-production and going to S. Africa to shoot. And Quentin's first comment to me was something like "I *really* loved "The Desperate Trail." And you *have* to use Michael Parks as Ambrose Bierce!"

MARK: How did you first meet Robert Rodriguez and how were you approached to direct The Hangman's Daugther?

PJ: I found out later that all of young Hollywood wanted this gig: to direct the prequel that Robert & Quentin were going to produce. At that point, I was kind of worrying more about my band (a kind of mexicali country band called P.J. and the Chile Rellenos) than anything else. i got a call from my agent telling me that Robert Rodriguez had seen "The Desperate Trail" and wanted to talk to me, so we had a phone conversation that was supposed to be a ten minute kind of thing, but turned into about an hour and a half of both of us saying how we hated hollywood, movies we like, music etc.

A couple of days later I got a call saying that Robert wanted me to come down to Austin to meet with him. I was supposed to leave at 7am the next day, and I told my agent I couldn't do it because I had to rehearse the band. They thought I was *nuts*. (I think I'm just occasionally stupid). So, I went down, met with Robert, and all we did was run around like two kids on a play date. We played some guitar, looked at some movies, ran around his house (which is beautiful and awesome), and talked about everything *but* the movie.
When I was just about to leave, the car service outside yelling that we were gonna miss the plane, Robert says "uh, I guess we should talk about how would you direct this." I told him our styles were similiar anyway, talked a bit about color and camera movement and that was basically it. He called me a few days later to tell me the job was mine, and I was very happy. He was great as a producer because he understands the challenges a director faces at every turn, and he was a good friend and protector.


MARK: What was your vision for the film once you'd read the script?

PJ: I wanted to make a different type of movie than the original--I just thought, and Robert agreed, that we should go for a different feel, more serious and dreamy and supernatural throughout, to tie the western part and the vampire parts together. A film we both referenced a lot was Adriane Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder," a *very* frightening movie that didn't depend on effects as much as on wierd things happening and on mood.

Of course, I knew that a big part of a movie like this was the gore element and I went for that whole hog. I just wanted to make a movie that felt like a wierd bad dream at the end.


MARK: What was the shoot like?

PJ: F*cking brutal. Hot, dirty, in the middle of nowhere. I had an excellent crew though, and one of my best friends in the world, Mike Bonvillain, was my Director of Photography. He's shot almost everything I've done, so we have a great shorthand. Of course, it also means we fight like an old married couple sometimes, but at the end of the day I tell him to shut the fuck up and do what I tell him and it all works out fine . . . .

I was also very lucky to have Greg Nicoterro of KNB FX with me. He's become a good friend and was a great help, very knowledgable as you might imagine, about all aspects of horror and effects, and about filmmaking in general.
It was hard to work in another country because certain elements of the crew weren't used to doing things the way we do them. The grips were great, but the local production team was very disorganized, which made it almost impossible at times. They just weren't used to doing a movie of this size or complexity.


MARK: What kind of contributions did you make to the film once you came onboard as director?

PJ: Robert and I cast the movie together with our exellent casting director, Marcia Schullman. Robert also generously let me have a pass on the script, to get it into shooting shape. After that, they bascially let me alone to do my job directing the film. Once they trusted me, they gave me free reign to shoot it any way I wanted, to cut it, to design it with Felipe Fernandez, and to choose my crew.

MARK: The use of a historical character like Ambrose Bierce surprised me at first, but I felt it was perfectly suited to the film. What's your take on the character and his use in the film?

PJ: Well, Bierce was a writer who was interested in the supernatural and the macabre -- so i felt it was perfect for a character like him to inhabit this film. I tried to make the movie feel like a Bierce story: dreamy, wierd -- it's his dream that opens the picture.

Oh yeah, another thing: in actual historical fact, Bierce did disappear in Mexico in 1913, trying to find Pancho Villa and join his revolutionary forces, never to be heard from again. Some theorize that Villa couldn't take the cantankerous old f*ck and lined him up against the wall and shot him . . . .

MARK: Do you have a favorite scene in the film?

PJ: Yes, definitely . . . well, maybe it's a tie. The scene where Johnny Madrid hangs Reece is just horrifying--it seems so real, so f*cking mean. And then, the opening hanging/gunfight . . . ya gotta love that . . . .

MARK: After some test screenings, you have reshot the ending of the film, is it quite a bit different and what can we expect from the new version of the film?

PJ: We just all of us felt that the movie didn't really end--suddenly, everyone just disappears and none of the tensions we'd set up between characters had been resolved. The audience--rightfully so--hated it.

The new ending resolves all of those tensions and is much more dramatic. It also allowed me to go back and add some cooler, gorier vamp killings for The Hangman and Johnny Madrid as well as to . . . well, I won't spoil it for you.

MARK: Of all the work you've done so far, what are you most proud of?

PJ: The first reel of "The Hangman's Daughter."

MARK: What's your dream project?

PJ: "The Battle of Ono," a script I wrote for John Woo and Terrence Chang and Chow Yun Fat for me to direct. They approached me after they saw "The Desperate Trail" (guess they saw how much I'd stolen from John . . . ) and asked me to rewrite the script and direct it. It's an action western about the chinese immigrants that built the railroads in the 1870's. Fat plays a Tai Ping rebel who's great with guns. It's really like a Clint Eastwood movie from the 70's--the action grows out of character.

MARK: Is there anyone out there that you'd REALLY like to work with?

PJ: Sean Penn.

MARK: What's next for you?

PJ: Either "Cave," an underground action movie I wrote for Working Title Films, or "Have Gun Will Travel," a western based on the old TV series, for Warner Bros.

MARK: Thanks for doing this interview, Mr. Pesce!

PJ: Thanks fer askin'

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