The Baytown Outlaws – a new, locally-shot film opening exclusively at Chalmette Movies this weekend – is a pulpy, Grindhouse experience dripping with sweat, grease, and tobacco spit. Garnering obvious comparisons to the oft-copied genre films of Quentin Tarantino and his numerous successors, the low-budget flick is an over-the-top, in-your-face southern fried action-comedy.
“We wanted to be big, bold, and crazy with it. It absolutely was supposed to have that ‘rebel yell’ spirit about it, we wanted it to be fun . . . ‘audacious by design’ was a term we kicked around a lot,” explains writer/director Barry Battles. He expanded on the influence by saying, “Those are the films (Reservoir Dogs, Boondock Saints, Smoking Aces, etc.) and filmmakers (Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez) I grew up on, studying, poring over, and watching. Then we like to mold that into our own voice, our own sense of humor. Our style and instinct lean much more towards that than others. That’s where I do feel comfortable.”
Filmed during 2011 in Slidell under the name “Baytown Disco,” the movie’s title changed after test screenings revealed a disconnect with the term “disco” and the images on screen – which is understandable. When most people hear “disco” they think Donna Summer and Saturday Night Fever, not redneck mercenaries and Grindhouse violence. “It’ll always be ‘Daytown Disco’ to me,” remarks Battles. But a last minute title change is just part of the film’s journey from Alabama to Los Angeles to a Slidell set and ultimately a New Orleans theater this weekend.
Southern boy and self-described “former terrible background actor,” Barry Battles worked his way up the Hollywood ladder, starting as an extra (which completely disillusioned him on acting in general) and ultimately moved behind-the scenes, first as a PA, then editor and commercial director. After all the grunt work, Battles and his writing/producing partner Griffin Hood (who he met going on auditions) decided that if they wanted to make it in the business then they had to get to it, which for them, meant making a short film. And it worked. Hitting the festival circuit with their 11-min. comedy short Mr. Extion, the guys began to get noticed and distributors encouraged them to make a feature.
Taking example from various filmmakers they respect’s first films (Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, Sam Rami’s Evil Dead, Kevin Smith’s Clerks), they rolled the dice: sold his truck, maxed out their credit cards, and got to work on what would eventually become Baytown Outlaws. “We wrote the script in three weeks. We wrote what we had access to and what we could shoot. We wanted to shoot this on the fly – a total guerilla production.”
They sent the script to a fellow actor friend Clayne Crawford (who did end up playing one of the leads, Brick Odie, in the film), hoping he would do it for cheap. He not only agreed but did so much more, bringing it along with him to various Hollywood meetings with agents and producers. The response was very positive and soon Battles and Hood joined him out in L.A. and began taking meetings themselves. The script even landed on the 2009 Black List, a renowned composite list of the year’s most liked and talked about sceenplays.
But as Hollywood often does, things cooled down and there was even talk about sending the script out to other directors (a first time director is risky for any producer, to say the least). In an effort to gain everyone’s confidence, Battles shot a quick tonal sample to showcase his enthusiasm and vision – a comic book-infused, rip ‘em up, shoot ‘em up good time. “When we first came up with the idea of the film, it was after a year of movies that everything we watched was so depressing. We said, ‘Where did the fun go in films?’ So that’s what we set out to do – not in a cartoony way, but in a fun, Grindhouse-y way.”
It was this quick sampling that first caught the eye of star Billy Bob Thornton, who purportedly said after watching it, “I don’t know who made this, but I can guaran-damn-tee you it didn’t come from Hollywood.” And with that, he was on board. Then the dominoes really started falling. Armed with a buzzing script, an infectious video sample, and a major movie star, financing soon lined up and casting began. Thornton’s name was able to lure other stars like Eva Longoria, Andre Braugher, and Michael Rappaport, while Battles, Hood, and other producers focused on casting the three brothers at the heart of the film – the Oodies.
“We have to cast these guys authentically or we are dead in the water,” Battles insisted. Friend Clayne Crawford (24, The Glades, Justified) was already in place and was soon joined by two other young, up-and-coming stars Travis Fimmel (Tarzan, The Beast, upcoming Vikings TV series) and Daniel Cudmor (Twilight and X-Men film series). “They both owned it. Magnetic . . . That was such a fight to get those guys. But things lined back up and we got them. I was super pleased how the cast came together.”
As stated before, the film shot in Louisiana, in and around Slidell. Of that experience, Battles describes it as “like the Moontower in Dazed and Confused . . . Because of our indie constraints we stayed real close, kind of left to our own devices. It was kind of perfect because there was not a lot to do. We hung out all day and partied in the parking lot at night grilling out. It took us back to a simpler time . . . A great familial and bonding experience.” And as is the case much of the time now in Louisiana, they were not the only production filming at the time (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 21 Jump Street, and others shot around the same period in New Orleans). “We were always competing for crews, but ended up having such a great dedicated group of people. A phenomenal crew despite such a small budget (about $2.5 million)”
Like many independent films in today’s more technology/convenience based culture, The Baytown Outlaws has seen a rather untraditional release schedule. With a mix of small theatrical, On-Demand, and online releases, the film is already widely available. “For such a small picture like we were, you have to have the means to do some kind of ground swell to get the film good exposure. It was a good situation for us.” It is surely the kind of film that is destined to gather a strong cult following one day. But in the spirit of a true Grindhouse experience, the movie really should be seen up on the big screen.
The Baytown Outlaws opens Friday, February 1 at Chalmette Movies for a one-week limited engagement with two screenings daily (4:30 and 9:15 p.m.). Battles, who will be in attendance at the later show Friday night for a post-screening Q&A, was excited to learn that the film was being shown so close to where it filmed. “We never got a chance to do a cast and crew screening in New Orleans, so I would love to let this be a sort-of a wrap party/premiere and it should be a fun night.”
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