Interview: An American In Texas director Anthony Pedone on the value of community filmmaking

When Anthony Pedone took that twenty-hour flight from Texas to Sydney, he wasn’t making a galvanic trip to Australia’s east coast. He’d spent the past decade salvaging his life from a heinous past, with filmmaking becoming primary in his reformation. After producing more than twenty films and directing and writing three, Anthony was invited to premiere at a festival he’d been seeking to enter for years, the Byron Bay Film Festival. We took this chance to catch up with Anthony and try to understand a little more about his latest work An American In Texas

So the kids in the film, they’re terrorising the town, causing havoc and vandalising. Were you any one of those kids, or were you maybe all of those kids?  

The kids in the film are a combination of about a dozen of my friends and me. A lot of the stuff in that movie we really did. Like to have to go back to the Mayor of Victoria and say ‘hey, we want to shoot this scene in our new movie where we steal the flags’ made me think, does he remember that those flags got stolen? He was asking us ‘how are you going to get them off the flagpole? Those poles won’t hold people’ and I’m thinking, ‘I’m pretty sure they will’.

And what about the ‘Preakness’ (where the boys start at one side of a house and chop their way through to the other side, cutting through any walls or furniture that gets in their way) was this something you used to do too?

The Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Preakness are three big American horse races. It’s called the Triple Crown and there are very few horses that have won the Triple Crown. The story with the houses is that my friends and me never chopped through the houses. But one of my friends, Mark Cox, who is credited for extra material in the film, had moved from West Virginia in like ’87 and told us that in West Virginia he would get a bunch of axes and race through houses, chopping through furniture that got in his way. That story was always so interesting to us, I mean we would vandalise shit just like anyone, we would break windows and graffiti stuff but that story was always so epic to us.

Part of us didn’t really believe it but we always wanted to believe there was something that crazy so we wanted to use this as a part of these great events that take place throughout the film. There are three acts right, the Kentucky Derby is the house at the beginning, there’s the Preakness through the middle and then there’s the Belmont when Billy flips out at the end and yells ‘Triple Crown baby’. The horse racing is more of a symbol, these guys are fighting to break out of their town and they do these acts of vandalism while they are on LSD, so we’re trying to make this world that is real and isn’t real, they’re made up of these acts that form a part of their journey. But they really are just a bunch of guys in a captured space trying to get out, any way out possible.

So how many houses did you have to smash to get the shots?

Here’s the thing that’s so great about indie film and community creating. Victoria is a very small town, it’s not tiny but it’s like 60,000 people and no one makes films in Victoria. We’re the only ones making movies there and Victoria has really embraced that. People are very supportive, we can just advertise on Facebook that we need two hundred extras for a punk rock show and all of these parents bring their kids until two in the morning and they would be there for free, and you can see how into it they are in the film.

So when we were like we need a house to destroy, someone from the college was like ‘hey, we have two apartment complexes we’re going to knock down, you guys can go use them, go smash the shit out of them’. So we got insurance and I got my friend Erin who restores old houses to take a look at another house we wanted to mimic and he rebuilt the inside of the houses. We had all these rooms to fuck up for free.

The Hospital also supports the festival every year and they let us shoot there for free. Even the sheriff who you think would be the one guy telling us ‘no bullshit’, let us use the jail. I think that it’s so important to build a community around what you do. I felt disenfranchised from my youth when George W. Bush lost the popular vote, so I’ve always focused on those immediately around me, like my friends and family and tried to make change there. Build your community from there and grow it out.

It did feel like there was a sense of community in the film, it felt like such a real place.

Well it is, what we showed is exactly how it was for us growing up. We were like the fuck up dudes, we’d go to high school parties and the jock would come to the door and be like ‘sorry dude, the party is over’. Word for word I mean we’re not making that shit up, that shit really happened. We’re not that creative. Like that guy in the backyard (of the party scene) saying he’s not going to the war, that’s so bullshit because he’d be the first motherfucker there. You’re still stuck in this party world but if they called you, you would go. You don’t know what to do otherwise. And you may not want to go, but you may not have any choice, in Victoria there are seven chemical plants and that’s your only spot to find a job; that or the oil field or military. That’s all they had to offer us in the 1990’s.

The boys also seem to have a lot of natural chemistry when they are together. How did you go about casting them?

I’d worked with Tony Cavalero (Billy Haynes) before, but all of those boys, they are fantastic. I spent a lot of time with the boys on the phone, especially James Paxton (Chad). I spent time talking with him about the character Chad. I’d gotten into contact with him through a friend in the music industry that had worked with James dad Bill Paton on a film called 2 Guns.

Originally we wanted Bill Paxton to play the creepy father in the film but he asked to have the script sent to his agent and it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. So I suggested that we pass the script to his son and let him read it. And he did and called me. I had a great conversation with him, he was interested in the character and we didn’t have to go through the agency first.

Sam Dillon (Zach) is a kid I’ve seen in a lot of indie films before. He just has this face like nobody else and his attitude was so natural because he’d played in punk bands. It was also really essential for me to find a drummer that could really play. None of the other guys could really play, Tony played Dewey Finn on a Nickelodeon show so he could play a little guitar, but Sam could really play the drums. That’s one instrument you can’t fake.

Tony is a super talented comedian and has been working in the industry for a long time and this was his first chance to do a real heavy drama and he nailed it. He also brought J.R. Villarreal (Paul Villarreal) to the project. J.R came on last minute, like 30-days out, and he was already close with Tony but we brought them all in and put them in a house together. We had a guy let us use this huge hotel after he’d moved but something messed up out there so we moved in to town and his daughter let them stay in her bed and breakfast. Again, Victoria has supported me from the beginning and allowed me these opportunities.

I found an old interview you did back in 2012/13 where you said something along the lines of ‘DIY filmmaking is the new being in a band’. Is the accessibility in contemporary film kind of what you predicted?

It’s huge. In 2006 when I was in prison, right before I got out, my friend and co-writer Stephen Floyd came to see me. The thing that kept me going off the rails before I went to prison was playing music. I played in bands for years and I went to music school. When the guitar player in my band overdosed and killed himself I swore I’d never make music again. After that I became a really bad junkie and my little brother was killed, eventually I crumbled; I gave up on everything. But before I got out Stephen came to see me and was like what are you going to do when you get out man?

” He suggested we make movies, and this was in 2006 so I was like, what the fuck? You come all the way out here to tell me we got to make movies. Like how are we going to make movies? I got no money, maybe a pair of shoes and some CDs in my property box.” Anthony Pedone

He told me I had to get into something creative so I didn’t get back into shooting dope, but I couldn’t play music anymore. He suggested we make movies, and this was in 2006 so I was like, what the fuck? You come all the way out here to tell me we got to make movies. Like how are we going to make movies? I got no money, maybe a pair of shoes and some CDs in my property box. He told me digital filmmaking was going to be huge, that people like David Lynch were already doing it and in five-years they won’t even be making film cameras.

I thought he was crazy but he told me he’d gotten all of this software from Apple. He had Final Cut and gave it to me because he knew I could figure it out. I was three-months from getting out of prison at the time so I was ready to cling on to anything at that point. He asked me if I’d been writing in prison and I told him I’d been keeping a journal. He told me to just keep going, to not give up. So I got out and we started writing, I taught myself how to edit and film and then in 2008 we made a movie and in 2009 we screened it in six different countries and won a bunch of awards for experimental films.

When I went in (to prison) they didn’t even have camera phones. The DSLR movement was huge as well, because it allowed you to get that cinematic look with the depth of field. He (Stephen) was right, they’re not even making cameras anymore, it’s all digital now. What’s interesting is that Hollywood acted like digital filmmaking was a bad idea, then they took that concept and slammed the door in the face of all these indie filmmakers who created and drove that technology.

At this point you’ve held basically every position in the film industry, being a producer, writer, director and even a camera technician, so which seat do you like sitting in the most?

I love producing because I love coordinating people and putting people together. I’m good at casting because I have good intuition about people. I think that’s partly why I went to prison, because I was really able to coordinate things and create these massive schemes, but I’ve redirected that energy into creating things.

I like editing, I like directing, I love all of it man. I’ll do anything, I worked for ten years for free in film and these past two years are the only years I’ve really been paid. I would do anything to get more information and meet people to collaborate with. That’s how you stay in line, you keep standing there, like I know it sucks being in line, but people drop out and you can move forward.

The film has a great soundtrack and you have been so involved with music throughout your life, so was there any specific music that inspired you while working on An American in Texas?

The film was more about kids using music as a way of expressing themselves. For us in the 90’s in Victoria music was all we had. We weren’t good at football, we weren’t good at school or whatever … but we had that, and nobody else could do that shit.

We chose punk rock a lot on this film because we were able to get this demo from the bass player of the Circle Jerks. He’d recorded this demo and I’d heard it was out there but they weren’t releasing it. The guitarist’s name is Zander Schloss and he played the record storeowner in the film, so I wrote him a message on Facebook asking for some authentic punk music for my new film and five minutes later it was a done deal.

Once we got that music we were able to shape the characters and flesh it out. That was the music that really inspired it but there’s other music in the film. Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys did a lot of the artwork and animation for The Why and they wrote a lot of really epic songs for the film. That music is also really inspiring to me. There’s no one band or genre that really inspired me, it was just music itself, it feels like a whole different language. It was our escape from the shit and listening to music made us feel alive, like nobody could touch us.

So what’s coming up for Anthony Pedone?

I’m working on a documentary for HBO with the super talented Marc Levin and I have a feature that I start shooting in two weeks that I’m producing called Sanzura. It’s a first time feature shot by director Xia Magnus and his friend Elissa who premiered their short film at my festival (a few years back) and I really wanted to work with those guys. I also just wrapped a feature with Kenny Riches called A Name Without a Place and that will be out next year. And finally in February I’m shooting a feature called Shorthand with a really talented director name Melissa Daley.

An American in Texas screened at the Byron Bay Film Festival. For more details about the film, head HERE. And to learn more about the festival, head HERE. Part one of our interview with Anthony can be found HERE.