Interviews: Lawrence Roeck - Director of Diablo

Lawrence Roeck, director of the upcoming Diablo, talks film making and the Western comeback trail.

TMS: 2015 was a banner year for character rooted Western tales making a major comeback. Between your film, Diablo, the Western/Horror Bone Tomahawk, and numerous others, the genre is on another major upswing. Why do you think that is?

LR: In my opinion it was a genre of film that had been largely ignored over the past 20 years. Maybe even more. So when you have a gap like that the industry is bound to look for something new and I think some really great filmmakers all kind of turned of the western genre at the same time. It's pretty neat to see.       
TMS: Some of the greatest movies ever made have featured cowboys and that era. Working in the confines of the Western genre, how hard is it to come up with a fresh idea? And is it a real challenge to make something that fans will latch on to?

LR: Well it's always hard to make something that fans will latch onto but I really tried with Diablo not to make the movie for the hard-core western fan but rather make a really authentic film set in the 1800s wilderness of the west for the psychological thriller fan. So that's really the core of the film that sets it apart in terms of its fundamental construction and a lot of the creative decisions and how the screenplay mechanics work. It makes the film feel different and a lot of the musical choices different. Also common western cliches like dusty street gunfights and "howdy y'all" are never used. We just went straight hardcore into the woods and stayed there until it was done.

TMS: What was your main influence in making Diablo? Is there a movie or another story that directly contributed to you working on this film? And are there any classic stories that assisted in your development of the movie?

Lawrence Roeck on set
LR: I pictured one of the lead characters to be a lot like Anton Chigurh, the killer that the Coen brothers created in No Country for Old Men. I mean it wasn't based on that character but he certainly had the same kind of work ethic in terms of his desire and dedication to pursuing his prey. But the original reason I did the movie was I wanted to work with Scott.

Scott and I had both grown up in the Carmel, Ca. area and originally Diablo was planned to be a coastal California Western shot in Big Sur. But in the end the movie was better suited for a different wilder look in the Rocky Mountains. Big Sur had way too many "bogeys". We would have had to paint out houses, roads, power lines, etc and put so much money into that it would become a cash hole so we shot in Alberta, Canada. I was born up there and many many great movies were shot there. In certain areas you can shoot for miles and miles without ever seeing a modern structure or any kind of human footprint. Except when we were shooting Diablo we could look across the river and see the tents from The Revenant shooting across the Valley. It's incredibly beautiful in Canada and they have great movie crews there.

Regarding classic stories none really affected me in terms of the concept of the movie and the overall arc. I'm a big fan of classic cinema and love to watch all the greats but when it came to Diablo I really just wanted to take a stab at it from a fresh perspective without leaning on any other kind of film before it. But when it comes to how we executed all the little details and some of the visual metaphors we incorporated a lot of inspiration from other films and themes in classical literature. For instance the two bits Jackson takes from his victim and the crossing of the river before we meet Ezra, Walton Goggins' character, are all metaphors and representations of other things. I won't tell you what you'll have to figure out when you watch the film, but that's the fun of watching Diablo multiple times. You see those details over and over again and they start to really come out.

TMS: The cast you have for this movie is a verifiable amalgamation of extremely talented individuals. How did you get such a great group of people together to work on Diablo?

scott eastwood
Following in his father's footsteps,
Scott Eastwood stars in Diablo.
LR: I think a lot of them were really interested in the screenplay. The number one best way still to this date to get a great actor is by the screenplay. We had a really unique story and we had an amazing director of photography attached, Dean Cundey from Jurassic Park and Apollo 13, and then on top of that they knew that I cared and was passionate about the film. Lastly, with Scott Eastwood on board it helped close the deals. It really was an amazing group of people to work with and I'm very thankful that they all decided to be a part of it.  

TMS: Heading back to influences, what do you think is the greatest Western of all time? And, (if any) what other modern Westerns do you think fall in the same level of greatness as the classics?

LR: I love them all so much I couldn't possibly say that one of them was the best of all time but I really do like Tombstone in terms of a modern Western that I find entertaining and as for the classics I really enjoy the Sergio Leone movies like Once upon a Time in the West.

TMS: Obviously, Scott Eastwoods father is still a huge influence in Hollywood and will remain a legend forever. On that note, I recently read that Scott receives over 50 Western scripts a month. Yet, he chose yours. I cant expect you to speak for him but why do you think he chose your project, Diablo?  

LR: It wouldn't be polite to speak for Scott so I'll have to defer a bit but I can say that he was intrigued by the psychological thriller concept the same way other actors were. Except the one little detail that was different was that he was on board way before we even had a screenplay and had a huge hand in the development of the story and the overall theme of the film. We both hadn't worked together in that capacity before and it was fun to collaborate that way. Scott always likes a challenge and Diablo was definitely a huge challenge. Plus (joking), I saved him in a bar fight in Carmel at the Hogs Breath once so he owed me one. He was ready to get pounded by a couple of guys over a girl and I was only one that would back him up. Things ended up in our favor so I feel that maybe that had a little bit of something to do with the reason why he could make a movie with me. I would not leave him hanging out on a limb.           

TMS: Youve been getting great early feedback about the movie. Ive read positive reviews across the board including the one we just published. Whats the special ingredient thats helping your feature get such an excellent response?

LR: They are good? I didn't know that (ha ha). Seriously though I had no idea. I'm just grateful to have been able to make a film. I read a couple scathing reviews and they're actually quite entertaining. I think I emailed the critic and thanked them. But if I get a few good ones I'll be stoked though for sure. If people like the movie it was because a small group of really talented people believed in the idea and did everything possible to make it as good as they could. Everything from the score to the cinematography, visual effects, sound design, editing, actors, crew and so on and so forth we really all just put our very heart and soul into every little detail trying to create a real world that audiences could enjoy. In the end you just hope it resonates                         

TMS: So, you have an obvious love for storytelling, mysterious character development, and the genre as a whole. If you had the chance to remake any of the classics, which one would it be and why?

LR: I think they are perfect the way they are I couldn't imagine possibly imagine remaking any of them. I'd rather put my effort into preserving the original. 

TMS: Fair enough. Continuing on that topic, what major lead actor would you like to work with and what would your dream project be?

scott eastwood
Related Review:
LR: It's kind of a fetish idea, but I'd like to direct Walter Moura from Narcos as Pablo Escobar. That would be amazing. The only problem is I think somebody else has that job (ha). But if I really had to choose an actor my first choice would be Brad Pitt. He just seems like a really cool guy with his eye on doing incredible quality work without all the drama. That would be my happy place as a director. Plus, I hear he surfs so I would try and get him out in the water for an afternoon. But you can't forget the ladies. When it comes to the great screen actresses of our day I would love to work with Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep. I admire both of those actresses greatly. They are incredible at their craft.

TMS: What can you tell us about your next project? And where and when can people see Diablo?

LR: Diablo opens in theaters January 8th in the following cities nationwide: LA, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Tampa, Phoenix, Chicago, Sacramento, Kansas City, and Atlanta. If you can't get it there then it's available like any other movies on Netflix, iTunes, etc. after the initial theater run.

We're working on our next project right now. It's going to be a really interesting movie filmed in a way that allow us some unique opportunities for telling a really global story. It's an international action-adventure-thriller with really cool actors and some great locations around the world. I can't wait to pack up and take off on the journey and film the thing. It's going to be a massive endeavor and the biggest film I've ever tried to put together. I hope we pull it off.

TMS: We're sure you will. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. 

Diablo is in limited run theaters on January 8th.