Interview: Director Francis Gallupi Talks The Last Stop in Yuma County
Francis Galluppi’s directorial feature debut The Last Stop in Yuma County is a love letter to 70’s action thrillers with most of the story taking place in the one location, a café in the desert.
The story is about a traveling knife salesman who is stranded and forced to wait at a rural rest stop and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a violent hostage situation upon the arrival of two bank robbers who are on the run after a recent heist.
Francis stopped by to chat with me about the film.
I really enjoyed your latest picture The Last Stop in Yuma County; where did the idea for the film initially come about?
The catalyst was like trying to write something in one location that we had access to. So, I found The Four Aces, which is a set in Lancaster, California and I found that it feels like something I can craft a script based on this location and still have that 70s throwback feel. I found the location and took a bunch of photos, drew a sort of map of the diner and overhead and just kind of crafted the narrative around the location specifically.
I particularly love that opening shot, where it’s almost like a still shot. We’ve just got the bird and it’s just there until the car appears…
Yeah, yeah. You know, it’s funny, trying to come up with the opening shot of a movie; there were versions where we were going to put the camera on a crane and do this sort of North by Northwest thing and show how it’s really isolated. That bird for me is really significant with the story so, I’m just going to focus on that. From there, I just got a little finger puppet from Amazon, like a little bird. We did a test on the gas pump, and my buddy drove up to the gas pump and then the bird flies away. Then I sent that video to the bird wrangler. I said “I needed the bird to do this” and he was like, “okay, cool. We’ll train the bird for a couple of weeks”. And it was nerve racking, man. It’s a really long shot of where we needed that bird to just stay there and then fly off at a particular moment. It actually did it first take; it was pretty incredible man, so yeah, but I think we got really lucky with that.
Oh, yeah. I just love the fact that the camera actually stays still and slowly moves, which is once again, a nice Hitchcock throwback to old style filmmaking. This actually gives the audience time to let you get the feel of the atmosphere for the place and the characters.
Totally. You mentioned Hitchcock, and he’s my guy. I’m a student of his films. Periodically, I’ll just start from the beginning and go through his entire filmography and just study. He’s one of my favourites.
Is he your biggest influence for this film?
For this film? No, I would say more like Don Segal, Sam Peckinpah and that sort of gritty 70s vibe like Charlie Varrick, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Death Wish. That was kind of the goal was to just do a throwback like that and do it in a single room in this single one location story. I guess Rope and Dial M for Murder in terms of Hitchcock, pulling that off; that was definitely an influence.
The film stars one of my favorite actors, who I think doesn’t get enough appreciation. Richard Brake, he just makes any film better. I think he’s utterly terrifying in this movie. How was he to work with and why was he so perfect for the role?
Yeah, I mean, I always had Rich in mind with this character. Our executive producer James had a loose connection with Rich so, as I was writing the script, I was writing it with Rich in mind and he was the first person to read the script. We jumped on a call years before this thing got made and said he wanted to do it. So, I got really, really lucky with that and then from there were a lot of just conversations on how to play this character and finding that balance of making it feel real and grounded and giving him real motivation. I was trying to create a character that wasn’t like the twirly mustache villain but add some levity to it.
He could be scary without even saying anything. He just needs to stare…
Oh yeah and it’s just funny, because he’s like, the sweetest fucking guy on this planet (laughs). He is so nice and soft spoken. He’s professional and then yeah, the second he’s in character it’s fucking terrifying.
What is your process for putting the script together?
I don’t know; I would hardly call it a process. It’s just banging your head against the wall trying to come up with a story worth spending years of your life on. Writing a lot of character bios, extensive bios on every single character and making them real people and fleshing them out. Then when it comes time to actually writing the screenplay, it just makes it easier because you really understand these characters, and I got really lucky because a lot of actors I had in mind when I was writing these characters, actually did it. So, it was that much more like rewarding and sitting.
I love anything that takes place in a desert, particularly a diner in the desert. I don’t know why, I just love anything that takes place there…
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I feel you, man. I love the desert. I mean, my first short film was like, this desert horror movie. I think there’s just an inherent, almost fear of getting trapped somewhere so desolate, and just not knowing what to expect. Knowing that, then where the fuck are you gonna go?
I particularly liked your music choices; how did you go about choosing what kind of songs and music to use for the various scenes?
Yeah, that was all written into the script. My background is music, and I went to college for music. I kind of just keep the long playlist of songs that I really like. Some songs just have a cinematic quality to them, and every time the wheels start turning, if I’m listening to music, I’ll kind of drop them into the playlist. When I’m writing, I’ll listen to music and be like, “Oh, this is a perfect song for this sequence” or whatever. Then from there, I was just really naive and having the characters sing along to the actual soundtrack on set before we even have the rights to the music (laughs), because there’s a few needle drops in this movie that you really can’t replace with anything else. It is catered specifically to that song. Like the Roy Orbison Crying sequence. That can never be taken out. We shot it like 10 times in my living room with just my wife and I; it was essentially like shooting a music video in the middle of the movie.
Yeah, the music is like a character in itself.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Obviously, making a film is challenging but what do you think the biggest challenge was in putting this movie together?
Definitely finding the financing, which took a while. My good friend James, who put in the original development funds saw my short film at a film festival. I started writing letters to the cast, and we had the thing pretty much fully casted with no money, and he ended up selling his house to finance it.
Wow, that’s dedication…
Yeah, it was pretty nuts, man. So, once that happened, it’s just the little things like the unexpected weather in the desert and getting through those challenges. We’d wake up in the morning, and then it’s a full-on rainstorm, and it’s supposed to be hot as fuck (laughs); what are we doing? So, yeah, I mean, there’s even a few moments in the movie where it is pouring rain outside, and you can’t really tell; on the day we’re freaking out like, “this is never gonna work” and then with some coloring in I barely notice it.
The magic of the movies.
Yeah, exactly. Also, just practical effects. That was definitely a hill that I was willing to die on. I was just like, everything is going to be practical – squibs real explosions, all that stuff. Shooting an independent low budget movie, we had to compromise other things in order to get away with doing practical effects on set.
I will always choose practical effects. Always look better.
Every time, yeah.
What would you like audiences to take away from the film?
I just want audiences to have a fun time, man. I just want them to have a good time. There are just great performances all around and feel free to laugh because I look at this as a dark comedy. These characters are absurd and over the top and yeah, I just want it to be a fun experience.
It’s been great chatting with you; thanks so much for taking the time and all the best with the movie.