James Cotten Interview

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Painted Woman tells the story of Julie Richards, who is given the chance to escape her abuse filled life by two very different men. The film, which stars Stef Dawson,  opened MANFIFF2018 and went on to win Best Director for James Cotten.

We caught up with James to chat about the film and independent cinema. 

The film is adapted from a novella by Dusty Richards. What was it about the book that made you want to turn it into a film?

That’s actually a better question for the producers who started the project. I would tell you that they looked at it as beginning a relationship with Dusty, who has an incredible fan base. This was his 150th novel and it had already won a Spur Award.

As for me, when I was first hired, I saw that the producers were willing to be fluid with the story. That’s attractive to a filmmaker, because they were willing to listen to my pitch on the story I wanted to tell. 

Every film based on a book is an interpretation. When I read the book, I was most attracted to the character of Julie, who had a very mysterious background, so I wanted to tell her story.

You have made a western before, what is it that attracts you to the genre and what are they like to shoot?

Westerns get down to the basics of story. There is good and bad. It’s the American equivalent of a fairy tale.  

I like to twist classic formulas into something different. With Painted Woman, I hope we turned it in two ways. First by telling a purely feminine story in a male dominated genre and second by playing with structure, giving it two distinct chapters which mirror each other. The movie is the black hat chapter and the white hat chapter in Julie’s life. It’s different. Not something you’ve seen before, especially in a western.

Westerns are incredibly difficult to shoot. They're not like other films, especially in the indie world. Everything has to be created. That’s where your budget goes - art, horses and insurance. I’m really proud of the production value we got on this movie. I wrote the new script to over perform in the budget. The whole film was backwards engineered by writing to fit the best locations in Oklahoma and towards the things that would bring production value. I felt like a mad scientist and my crazy experiment worked so well.

As an independent filmmaker what are the biggest challenges you face?

I think it’s understanding what you’re walking into - whether it’s your pet project or someone else’s. You have to understand capabilities in the budget, how to fulfil a vision with what you have. That only comes with experience and every filmmaker should try to improve that knowledge, especially working in the indie world. 

You will never have enough money for a vision, so why not learn to achieve and manipulate that vision to get accomplished on what you can get or has been given... maybe even out do it. Fighting it only causes failure. Overcoming it is pretty gratifying. Exceeding it is amazing.

What are the films and filmmakers that have inspired and inspire you the most?

I like a lot of different things for different reasons, no matter the size, scope, or budget. Mainly, I love seeing a great story. I like seeing everything come together and feeling complete. 

If I had to pick genres that I like, I like fairytales, sci-fi, thriller, action. I’m a comic nerd but I like the hard stuff that shocks and surprises, makes you feel. I think people always see some Malick, Kubrick, and Mann in my work. I hear that a lot. 

My favourite indie is Let the Right One In. That’s a stretch right... from the guy who made Painted Woman.

As an independent filmmaker what are the biggest challenges you face?

I hate to sound like a cliché, but it’s always getting the money. And the hardest part is to stop talking and do it. Here’s the thing... there’s not a wrong or right way to do this. I was in Arkansas with Jeff Nichols when he started. He made a movie he wanted to make that could be made for the money he had... and it worked so well, he gets to make things he wants to make to this day. 

I’ve produced four first time directors. All are still making stuff. I started with Roger Corman, because he saw my short in film school. I’ve made all kinds of movies for other people because I was attracted to what they were making, and I really wanted to get better at doing it. 

I don’t think I’ve made a James Cotten film yet. Painted Woman is by far the closest, but I want to do one James Cotten film to know what I’m capable of. 

What is next for you and the film?

For me, I’m always cooking up the next thing. I’ve got three films I’m writing. I’m excited about all of them. They’re all very “me.” I’ve recently been sent a script that I really like, a dark sci-fi story that takes place in England. So, maybe I’ll show back up over there sooner than later. I’d like that very much.

Painted Woman was just at Cannes, so hopefully we’ll have some announcements on England very soon. In North America, we’re very happy to start on the Starz network in June. My understanding is that we start on Starz prime for 6 months and then we’ll play on their western channel for the year after. Very excited about that. 

For more on the film visit www.paintedwomanfilm.com