Griffin Hood is co-writer of The Baytown Outlaws, the action comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton and Eva Longoria released on DVD and Blu-ray on 26th December 2012. Starting out writing and directing short films with his friend Barry Battles, the pair have now moved into Hollywood’s sights with the debut feature directed by Battles and written by both Battles and Hood. I sat down to quiz Griffin on how they managed to get the film made, what it was like working with Billy Bob Thornton and what advice he would give to aspiring filmmakers. Listening to his laidback Southern drawl is a great pleasure as he recounts his own Hollywood success story.
You wrote a short film called Mr. Extion on the difficulties of making films. What can you tell us about the process of getting The Baytown Outlaws made?
Barry and I had done that short film and then we went around to as many film festivals as we could and we tried to use that as a learning process and watched a lot of independent feature films. We then decided that we wanted to move up from that into a feature film because we’d always be at the kids table, you know making shorts. So we wrote this script based on surroundings that we have and something we thought that we would want to watch. Everything that we wrote in it, as far as location-wise were places around Alabama or Mississippi that we knew we would have access to. Our initial thought was we’ll just write it and then we’ll shoot it on the weekends. We’ll cast locally and do whatever we can to get the feature film made. We wrote it for Clayne Crawford, the guy that plays Brick. We got the script and he loved it and then he got into some representation and then after that Hollywood started to show interest in it.
We went out to L.A., we took a bunch of meetings trying to see if anybody wanted to make it. Nobody was willing to make the sacrifice to shoot it because it’s kind of a gamble of a film. It’s not 100% commercial. So we came back to Alabama and we shot the opening basically. Barry was like ‘I want to be able to show what at least the opening would look like if I was given the opportunity to direct’. So we did that and then we signed with (agency) ICM and then it was about a month later, they had gotten it to (producer) Bill Perkins, the guy that paid for it. He got the script and the trailer that we shot and six months later we were making a movie. The whole process from writing to actually shooting was about three years.
You say ‘Hollywood came calling’, how much was that to do with your previous work or was that purely down to this script?
It was due 100% on the script of Baytown. People got a hold of it and then it started going around town and then it made it on the black list that year of unproduced scripts in Hollywood. So that gave it some heat and we’d met Bob Teitel, one of the producers, and he really wanted to make the film. He was trying to find money and he was kind of running into dead ends with Barry attached to direct because nobody wanted to gamble on a first time feature director. So that’s why we decided let’s just shoot the opening to the film as a sample as to how Barry wants the tone of it to be. And it was off of that trailer and the script that we were able to get the financing.
You mention the script getting on the Hollywood black list. I imagine it still has to be developed with the aid of producers even after that. What compromises does that process lead to?
We did have to make compromises in the process but we felt like at the end of the day we were happy with the end product. We picked our battles and we felt like for the most part we won the battles that meant something to us, things that we wanted to make sure we kept and were intact in the script because without them the integrity would be lost. I feel like that’s the way it would be with any notes process. You try your best to still make sure that at the end of the day that you come through or what you initially set out to do in that trip is what’s still seen at the end and you don’t lose your voice along the way.
You wear a number of hats on the film; writer, executive producer and taking an acting role. How much were you actually involved in the production of the film, being on set etc?
I was there on set every day. All during pre-production I was there. Me and Barry scoured through directors of photography and crew personnel, sat in auditions for actors and just made it as collaborative a process as possible. Then once we got to Louisiana this year for pre-production, Barry did his directing thing and then I was off doing more of the producer roles of securing certain locations and trying to make sure we got certain things at the right price because we didn’t have a lot of money to go around.
You mentioned auditioning and casting... what was it like to get Eva Longoria and Billy Bob Thornton involved?
It was phenomenal! We were able to get Billy Bob because Bob Teitel had just done the movie Faster with him and The Rock and so he took the script to Billy Bob and was just like ‘take a look at this, let me know what you think’. We originally wanted him and his band also to do some of the music for the film but right at the same time that he was doing Baytown, his film Jayne Mansfield’s Car, the one that he wrote and directed and starred in, he was heavily involved in that and then afterwards the editing process so he wasn’t able to have the time to do the music as we were hoping for but he was able to lend us his acting abilities and I think he’s phenomenal in the film.
There have been some flattering comparisons made between The Baytown Outlaws and the films of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. What were your inspirations when writing it?
Definitely Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Barry and I are huge fans of both directors. We’ve seen every film that both of them have done so we do have a lot of influence from those guys but we also really wanted it to have an Old West Sergio Leone type feel to it as well. We really wanted it to have that male bravado feel. They really had a texture to them, like it wasn’t just the story it was the movie itself had a certain feel and texture to them. That was something that we envisioned and that we also wanted to be able to show, that style of filmmaking as well which I definitely think, Tarantino especially is influenced in a lot of ways by those same films but I would say that those were our major influences.
Tarantino is of course making his own ‘Southern’ now with Django Unchained. You guys have set both your short film and this feature in the South now. Is that more to do with ‘writing what you know’ or is it more about budgetary constraints or an affinity for where you live?
Basically it was kind of a sense of writing what we know. Like I said we originally planned on doing it ourselves for as little money as possible. So we were trying to write locations that we felt we would have access to and like you say writing what we know. We knew these characters, we knew people like this. But it’s definitely we have a deep affinity for the South. We love the South, we both live in the South and hope to live here and spend as much time here as possible but we still would love to expand as well and not have everything we always do take place in the South.
You’ve done a lot of acting recently. You also write and exec-produce. Are there other things you want to try in the filmmaking process like directing perhaps?
No not really. It’s more writing and producing is kind of the focus at the moment. Staying on that and then just letting Barry do the directing or if he happens to be directing something and I am able to write something and have somebody else direct it, I’m okay with that. Directing is something that’s not really on my radar at the moment.
It’s an amazing journey Billy and yourself have been on from shorts to this feature in five years. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
My best advice is not to wait on other things to happen, not to wait on anything really. Just kinda do! When Hollywood first got the script and then nobody wanted to do it, we could have just said ‘ok’ and moved on to the next thing but instead we came back here and we shot a trailer and we tried to be as proactive as possible in the pursuit of wanting to get the film made instead of just going ‘ok well nobody wants to do it, I guess we should just forget about it’. It’s just staying the course. Anybody we’ve talked with in L.A. said it’s the ones that just stayed the course, no matter if it took five or ten years or whatever to get their break. So many people do drop out of the race, the ones who stayed the course and you know had talent of course that helps, but the ones who stayed the course eventually found their success in one way or another in the business. And I would also say be willing to be flexible. Don’t think that your words are precious or don’t think that your work is the be all end all because other people have been in this business longer and can definitely know what they’re talking about. And don’t shy away from an opportunity because maybe you think that your words if you’re a writer are going to be changed too much. Just find a way to do what’s being asked of you but still keeping it yourself.
Can you tell us anything about your future projects?
We’re up for a rewrite job right now that we’re working on and that’s gotten our full attention and then we have a couple of ideas that we’ve considered but nothing that’s concrete at the moment. We’ve been working on and attached to or trying to get attached to a couple of different writing projects that are already set up at certain studios. You know rewrites based on an article and that sort of thing.
The Baytown Outlaws is released here on Boxing Day but it’s not a Christmas movie. So finally what’s your favourite Christmas movie?
Actually I really like the movie Love Actually. It is one of my favourite Christmas movies. That and (National Lampoon’s) Christmas Vacation are my top two.
The Baytown Outlaws is released by Universal Pictures (UK) on 26th December 2012