To begin, how did you get involved In the film industry?
I’ve always love film from a young age and would use like this camcorder called the pixel 2000 that recorded video on an audio tape in black-and-white and made all kinds of movies with my friends. But I never had the ability to use real cameras or access to cameras that had a cinematic image until the DSLR’s came out. Around 2011-12, I purchased my first DSLR, Canon T3i. In 2013, I wrote my first feature length screenplay, and posted it on Simply Scripts. It was picked up by a producer from Los Angeles, who is now an Emmy winning Director, and he brought me out to LA. I was involved with the entire filming process and was able to watch it on all levels including casting and scheduling and I simply fell in love with being on set and all things filmmaking. Also while I was there, a producer who used to represent Tony Gilroy told me that he enjoyed my screenplay and my writing style really reminded him of Tony’s. That was just the nudge I needed that instilled a little confidence that I could do this if I’m willing to put in the work and time necessary. I was still practicing law at this time but a couple of years later I was at another crossroads. I wanted to be really good and I knew that would take a lot of work and I could not achieve what I would love to in film while still practicing law so I made a difficult decision to sell my law practice and went into filmmaking full time.
If I’m correct, you raised your son as a single parent and also graduated with a law degree, that must have been quite challenging?
Yes it was very challenging and looking back I really don’t know how I did it other than the grace of God. I had a lot of great friends and family that supporting me and somehow we made it. But being a single father and going through law school and opening a practice, I think really helped establish a solid foundation of hard work and sacrifice.
You have worked with some great actors, while also winning some awards for your movies, this has to be such a great feeling? Especially as your career is relatively fresh and just starting.
Yes it is. It’s also very humbling because I am in the infancy of my career and to have the ability to work with people who are amazing at the craft and who trust me to help shape and deliver performances is something that I take very seriously and I’m so thankful for.
You wrote and directed the movies, River Runs Red, Atone and Hell On The Border and Prayer Never Fails, what inspired you to write each of these movies?
Because I did not go to film school, with every film that I made, I was working on specific aspects of the craft. With Prayer Never Fails I wanted to examine the prayer in school phenomenon through the lens of a legal drama. It was my real first feature film so I was concentrating on being able to actually put together for 90 minute narrative. With Atone, I wanted to give an audience and action film that they could take their kids to watch without a lot of language with good messages and so we did it with a female lead trapped inside a church in a within a little bit of violence but still something you can you know take your kids to. And River Runs Red was one that’s really close to my heart. As a former civil rights lawyer I really wanted to examine what a person inside the legal system would do to get justice if the system that he served failed him. It’s more of a cautionary tale of what will happen in this world if the justice system fails to provide protection to minorities who are wrongfully killed by police officers. With Hell on the Border, I’ve always loved westerns. The tale of Bass Reeves is one that still touches me this very day. His life was so vast, it is really difficult to contain it in a two hour narrative. But I wanted to give it a shot and also wanted to try my hand at a classical Western.
Prayer Never Fails featured Lorenzo Lamas, Eric Roberts and Corbin Bernsen, they are quite big names! What was it like directing these guys?
Do you know these were the first “name actors” that I had the opportunity to work with. So it was someone intimidating, and very educational. Each one of those guys was very generous with me and I’ll be forever thankful for each of them, and Clifton Davis and Lynn Whitfield too.
Lorenzo is a favourite of mine, were you a fan of his action movies or his series Renegade, prior to filming?
Oh Yes. 100%.
Hell On The Border introduced us to Bass Reeves, do you have an idea for a sequel? Would you like to do more with the character?
I would love to do more with this character. I have several ideas for a series or sequels. I’d just want to make sure that we could have the budget necessary to really dial in and explore the richness of the old west.
Wes, you have dabbled in a few different genres, what is your favourite?
I would consider myself genre agnostic. I am really looking for great stories to tell no matter the genre. However I do have a fondness for action films that allow us to wrap socially relevant messages in with them.
Moving on to your most recent movie, A Day To Die! What attracted you to this movie?
After Hell on the Border, I was at a point where I am had to decide what type of filmmaker am I growing into and as I mentioned I’m really attracted to the action genre. They are commercial and allow you to say a lot about the world and entertaining package. So when the script came, I was looking for an action film to do and a friend send me the screenplay. After reading it I saw some opportunities to expand and introduce new characters like the character that Leon plays.
The cast is amazing for this movie, how long did you have Bruce, Frank and Kevin on set for?
Yes this cast was great you know. I know we see Bruce, Frank and Kevin’s name in lights, but this entire cast of just amazing from the amazing Leon, Brooke Butler, to Mohamed, to Curtis Nichouls to Vernon Davis to Alexander Kane, Gianni Capaldi, to all the other actors I was just really blessed to have this amazing cast. But specifically with Bruce, Kevin and Frank, we had Bruce for a few days Frank for a little over a week or so and Kevin was there for the run of show.
A Day To Die has a fun finale, it must have been quite fun to let loose with this gun battle?
Yes it was really fun. We have a great armorer, great stunt team, great special-effects team. Watching all the different elements come together was really special. All the gunfire and the explosions were done practically and it raised challenges to do that on a limited schedule but the team came together and we really pulled it off. And we were able to pull it off safely as well following all safety protocols.
How long did the movie shoot for?
We shot for 21 days.
The team of ‘Ghosts’ were so much fun to watch, you NEED to do a prequel!
Thanks. There was some great chemistry with the guys and we’ve heard this a few times! We’ve already outlined a scenario that seems fun! We will see what the future holds.
The story deals with corruption, it feels quite relatable in ways to certain aspects of what people may go through in day to day life, right?
I’m glad you picked up on that. It really is part of the full metaphor of the piece. Our cities are often run by people with good intentions, making bad decisions, or bad people who just make selfish decisions for the own personal benefit. Often times we have to take unpopular and revolutionary stances in order to correct those wrongs. We just looked at it in the course of a day with extreme pressure applied and people from different walks of life who are as far apart as anyone could be, have to put those differences aside to end the corruption.
The character of Pettis, he was more than a standard villain, his story arc had an opening and closing, how did his arc make you feel when reading the script?
Great question. This was one of the characters that I created after initially reading the screenplay. I wanted to introduce somebody who was doing what society considers wrong but also at the same time doing things that society would consider good. His ability to harm people who crossed him in at the same time love people who were striving to do things positive, made him a complex character and one that was fun to watch. After that it’s really Leon inhabiting the character and bringing him to life and understanding this characters life’s objective and bringing it all them to the forefront every time that his character was on screen. I felt that he was the crux of the equation in the metaphor that we were aiming for.
He was my favourite character, with some of the best lines!
Sweet! I’ve heard that from a lot of people. Leon is just an amazing actor in my hat goes off to him for bringing this character to life.
Before we wrap, what was the most challenging film to scene? And what is your favourite scene from the movie?
I don’t really have a favorite scene per se. I really enjoy the action scenes. I also enjoy the scenes where the ghost squad is together and I enjoy the scenes where Pettis is working his magic and even his relationship with Candace develop. I really enjoyed shooting action sequences and blowing up a lot of stuff, but the character moments really touch me. I would say the final action sequences were probably the most difficult thing to film because we were having to film over the course of several days and do it safely following all safety protocols. We had a lot of guns, car explosions and there were a lot of extras and a lot of different moving pieces of the puzzle so we really had to have everything buttoned up. There’s just a lot of moving pieces but in the end it was really really worth it.
Do you have your next project lined up?
Yes I have a few in the works but it looks like the next one is going to be Three Mile Inn, an action caper starring Kelly Rowland from Destiny’s Child.
A Day To Die is a fun action movie, congratulations on the release and keep kicking ass in the industry! Thank you for your time, Wes!
Thanks for having me and checking out the film. Means a lot to me and look forward to sharing the next one.