Interview: Robert Conway Talks Directing, ‘Eminence Hill’October 14, 2019
Recently we had the chance to talk with Robert Conway about his career, including his experience in the horror genre and Eminence Hill, his new Western that he wrote as well as directed.
Did you always want to get into this movie-making business or did you kind of fall into it, like a happy accident?
Robert: I always wanted to do it. I have been doing it since I was a little kid, even before I knew it could be a job, really. Yeah, been doing it my whole life, never did anything else.
So there was never a Plan B for you, in terms of another career choice?
Robert: My mother tried to convince me to be a graphic designer and I wasn’t very good at that. It’s debatable how good I am at movies but I was certainly not a good graphic designer. I do have a degree in that and it was something I did to keep the folks happy but as soon as I was done with that I went right into film school and in the direction I wanted.
You’ve done writing, directing, producing. Do you have a favorite or do things simply change from project to project?
Robert: I think to me it’s all kind of one thing. I come up with an idea I want to make a film on and then I plan to direct it myself, the script is my blueprint for the idea I want and then editing is a really big part of that as well. I work with other editors but I have it pretty clear in my head what I want from the scene when I shoot it, when I write it, so it’s all just one overall job, really. It’s unconventional and I definitely have a great team but…to say I’m a control freak would be a negative way to put it (laughs). I think it’s more that I just know what I want and I have an idea of how to get there.
You’ve done a lot of work in the horror genre. Was that by choice or did it just work out that way?
Robert: I’d say a little bit of both. My second movie was by choice and then it became something I was able to get work in. It was fun but then it got to a point where it was all I was doing so I really needed to make a transition back to what I started with, which was my first feature, a Western, and I really just wanted to get back to that. Right now I’m very excited about Westerns, I’m really enjoying that genre, so that’s my career evolution or de-evolution as it were.
Let’s talk about Eminence Hill. Where did the story come from for the film?
Robert: I really wanted to make another Western after my first feature came out, which was around 2009, we shot it a couple of years before that. I have some real cowboy friends here in Arizona and I was having a steak up at their ranch, looking at the sunset, and it just hit me that I was ready to write another Western. I came up with a very simple concept, I really don’t write outlines too much, I kind of write them based on an idea, feeling and an overall message I want to go with. It was basically, what would you say to the man who found your son guilty of murder, it was a fairly simple nugget of an idea there and kind of evolved from that.
Where did your fascination with Westerns come from?
Robert: It’s a lifelong fascination. I had two main sources that introduced me to the cinema, my grandfather introduced me to John Wayne and my uncle introduced me to Clint Eastwood. They are very different types of Westerns but they’re both great, I try and give homage to both, a hybrid with strong influences from both, they are both classic, iconic genres. I grew up as a kid before my family moved out West, in upstate New York. I’d make little cowboy movies with my friends, we lived on a farm, it’s always been in my blood, something I’ve always been attracted to. There’s a lot of romance and darkness but it’s part of the American ethos, history, and mythology, it’s a fascinating genre to play in.
What were the challenges, especially as the director, in terms of making Eminence Hill?
Robert: You know, the usual stuff, there’s never enough money or time. It was an ambitious project and coming from doing independent horror films that was a challenge as well, but this was definitely a step up. That was another reason why I put off doing it for a long time because I knew how grueling it would be, not just for me but for my crew. I think, at least I hope, that all of the people I brought into battle with me we’re happy to go through it, or at least happy with the results (laughs). People really had to soldier up on this and I’m just incredibly grateful that they were there for my vision and really supported me. I got an award the other day for directing and the only thing you can say is if you win for best director, is it’s because of your cast and crew.
It was wonderful to see Barry Corban and Lance Henriksen show up in Eminence Hill. Were they both involved in the movie from day one or did that evolve over time?
Robert: Yeah, it was really interesting. For Barry, initially Lance was going to do the role, at least I wanted him to and Lance just wasn’t feeling it, it wasn’t a character he wanted to do, but he wanted to do another character. I’ve been wanting to work with Lance for years so I was happy he took the role of Mason, a much smaller role but so glad we could work together. For Barry, I would have loved to think of him first for this movie but I honestly didn’t think we could afford him. At the last minute, Buck Taylor couldn’t do the role of Noah and his agent also happened to be Barry’s agent and she suggested him, so that’s kind of how that came about. I have nothing against Buck, I love Buck, but when you see Barry as Noah it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing the role now, he just really nailed it and was so amazing. It was a joy to direct him and Lance, both had a lot of ideas for the characters they played, it was really cool to be able to collaborate with both of them.
There are a lot of genres, especially science fiction, that owe a lot to Westerns. Are Westerns in jeopardy of dying out, due to the blockbuster mentality in Hollywood?
Robert: I don’t know, people have said that Westerns are dead forever. If you look back to the golden age of Hollywood, or even Tarantino’s last film, DiCaprio’s character is this Western star, that era of Western’s dominating TV and film is not going to return on that level but I don’t think Western’s will ever die. I just back from a little Western film festival in Arizona and the fans are passionate, dedicated, they love the genre, there’s a whole Western lifestyle. Again, it’s part of the culture, part of our history, I don’t see it ever going away and it’s also manifesting itself in other media formats like video games. Red Dead Redemption 1 and particularly part 2, excellent stories told in a new medium that people really embrace. That was one of the biggest video games last year and I don’t know if you’ve played it but it’s amazing. It’s so engaging, so emotional, and people just love the Wild West, it’s as American as apple pie.
You mentioned the Western film festival you just attended. Is it hard to market a Western film these days?
Robert: Market? No, not really. I mean, you have an audience that’s very loyal to the genre but you also have a lot of people that would love to see a Western. Comparatively, coming from horror, one of the frustrating things about horror titles is you’d make a horror film, release it and there would be ten films just like it or very similar coming out that same month. Horror fans are great, I’ve done the horror conventions and all that but there’s such a high amount of content that it can be more of a challenge to market your film than say a Western. With a Western sure, you’ll get a smaller audience but it has mainstream appeal, it’s not something that’s so out there, so avant-garde strange that people are generally turned off by the content. No, marketing-wise I found it to be a niche market but with mass appeal as well.
So what other projects do you have coming up?
Robert: Well, I’m writing another Western, I’m also writing and action/thriller kind of film but really, I’m very happy where I’m at right now with the Westerns, so I don’t want to shift too much away from that. As long as I can pull the projects together I really want to keep doing them, it was just so much fun getting back into that movie magic. After being in horror for ten years I was ready for a change, maybe in another ten years I’ll want to do sci-fi, I don’t know. (laughs) Right now though, I’m very happy where I am.
I want to thank Robert for taking the time to talk with us