BEHIND THE SCENES
HELL RIDE’s long, dusty road to the screen began when one of the film’s stars had a serendipitous encounter with her future executive producer.
"Five and a half years ago I get a call from Laura Cayouette, who plays Dani in HELL RIDE, at around midnight," Larry Bishop, HELL RIDE’s writer, director, producer and star remembers. "She says she’s standing next to Quentin Tarantino, and that he says he’s my biggest fan. She says: ‘He loves those motorcycle movies that you did decades ago.’"
Cayouette handed the phone over to Tarantino, and a friendship and working relationship were born. (Tarantino later wrote a memorable role for Bishop as Michael Madsen’s employer in KILL BILL.) After their initial conversation, Tarantino organized a screening of THE SAVAGE SEVEN, one of Bishop’s most notable biker films. The get-together led Tarantino to suggest that Bishop write his own ultimate motorcycle movie. The title of the movie, the involvement of HELL RIDE star Michael Madsen and even character names were discussed in that first meeting, long before Bishop wrote a single word: "Quentin gave me my name," Bishop recalls. "He said, ‘You should be called Pistolero in this.’ So I am Pistolero."
The films that enticed Tarantino were part of a wave of independently financed and distributed motorcycle sub-genre that brought the rebellious counter-cultural antics of bikers to b-movie enthusiasts. These low-budget, quickly-produced films helped launch the careers of many actors, including Larry Bishop, Bruce Dern, who toplined CYCLE SAVAGES, Dennis Hopper of THE GLORY STOMPERS and EASY RIDER, and even Tyne Daly, who starred with Bishop in ANGELS UNCHAINED.
"I was under contract to AIP -- American International Pictures," Bishop says of the roots of his impressive career. "I did about twelve movies for AIP, and about half of them were motorcycles movies. Relatives stop talking to you when they heard that you were doing these movies. Your parents stopped talking to you. They didn’t want to know anything about these motorcycle movies."
Though a biker role might cause an actor to be ostracized, there were advantages to the extensive publicity tours that accompanied motorcycle fare: "I actually used to tour with these movies. AIP used to shoot these things in four weeks, and then you would tour for about six months, going to all the drive-in theaters. And it was a big kick to do that because I was only about eighteen or nineteen years-old. It was a ball."
The few details discussed at the fateful screening of THE SAVAGE SEVEN became the beginnings of Bishop’s intense, dedicated screenwriting process. With the help of producers Michael Steinberg and Shana Stein, Bishop developed and wrote his script over the course of several years, long before and long after his role in KILL BILL had been filmed and released. "I’ve known Larry for about twelve years," Steinberg says. "We’ve stayed in touch over the years. I ran into him at a party that Quentin had thrown. He mentioned that he was interested in doing a biker movie. I told him that’s one that I would definitely come on board for. I thought the idea of bringing the biker genre back was too good of an idea to pass up." Steinberg later brought in Stein to produce HELL RIDE with him.
Bishop’s process even involved writing this story as a novel before turning it into a screenplay. "I decided to write a four hundred page novel," Bishop says. "It pleased me while I was writing it, but when we got into the actuality of the movie, I had to turn a lot of the wordplay into visual action."
"It was kind of a design piece. It was really cool," Steinberg says of HELL RIDE’s first incarnation. "I went through the book and circled the stuff that would be good for the screenplay. We worked on developing a screenplay from this book."
"The first script we had was a massive epic with big battle scenes with 600 guys on bikes pulling up on bikes. We got our budget and said, ‘OK, it’ll be six guys," Stein jokes. "Larry measured every word and every description, almost like a poet. You have to be careful because if you take one line out of one place, the whole thing can fall apart. He understands every element, almost like an architect. His writing is definitely informed from the place of being an actor first."
Inspired by the work of his executive producer, Bishop blended influences and genres when crafting his script for HELL RIDE. "I love Sergio Leone’s trilogy. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST influenced me quite a bit," Bishop says. "In fact, when I started writing HELL RIDE, I wanted to make an amalgamation of a biker movie and spaghetti western. It was an odd thing to hear but Quentin’s take on it was that he saw me as kind of the John Wayne of motorcycle movie people."
Bishop also placed an emphasis on sexuality in his film, largely in part because of the limitations placed on the motorcycle sub-genre in the late 60s: "I definitely wanted to up the ante with the sexual quotient. When I made these films in 1967 through 1972, there was only a hint of sexiness. I thought that this was one of the things I always felt like could be improved upon given the nature of the movies that have been made since like 1972, prior to LAST TANGO IN PARIS."
"There’s a lot of consenting sex in this movie," HELL RIDE star David Carradine jokes. "When I first read the script I said to Larry, ‘Where are you going to release this?’"
Michael Madsen was the first actor other than Bishop to be cast in HELL RIDE. The role of The Gent was designed specifically for Madsen.
"The Gent is supposedly famous for getting really, really nice right before he does something bad," Madsen explains of his character. "And that’s how he got named ‘The Gent,’ because just when you think he’s going to be your pal, he’s going to put a bullet in your head."
His gentlemanly nature extends into his wardrobe—a black tuxedo. Madsen explains the character choice: "I thought it would be funny if I was wearing a tuxedo. First of all I’ve never seen anybody riding a motorcycle in a tuxedo before. I thought it would be funny—trying to add a little bit of a touch of humor to the movie in a crazy kind of way."
HELL RIDE marks Dennis Hopper’s return to a genre that helped launch an estimable career. Hopper, who plays Eddie "Scratch" Zero, appeared in THE GLORY STOMPERS and co-wrote, directed and starred in EASY RIDER. "He was the perfect guy," Bishop says. "I actually told Dennis that I had met him in 1967 or 1968, and we were both hanging around Barney’s Beanery. Dennis Hopper was in Barney’s Beanery the night I was 86’d for life from Barney’s Beanery. I was like eighteen or nineteen years old at the time, and I was trying to impress a couple of girls, so I was talking very loudly, and with a lot of profanity. I felt Barney’s hand on my shoulder, and he said, ‘Son, we don’t allow language like that in here.’ And he said, ‘You’re 86’d for life,’ and I remember seeing Dennis Hopper’s face. His was the last face that I actually saw as Barney was escorting me out." It was fitting for this project that Hopper’s face would be embedded in Bishop’s memory during a characteristic moment of rebellion.
"It was fun for us when we got the call that he wanted to do the movie," Stein says. "He’s a great guy, and he’s quite the raconteur. You know you’ve got a great set when Dennis Hopper is the sanest man on set. He was the square of the bunch."
The production was pleased that all of the actors involved in HELL RIDE responded to the script and creative team above all else. "Because we had such a low budget, we weren’t cast-contingent," Steinberg says. "I think there’s a lot of affection for Quentin and for the genre itself. Dennis is famous for EASY RIDER. GLORY STOMPERS is a big favorite of everyone on the movie."
Casting Comanche, a role that Bishop intended to give to Tarantino, "was tricky, until Eric Balfour walked in the door." Bishop recalls. "I knew the second Eric Balfour walked in that exactly the guy I wanted for the part."
Balfour, who appeared on "24" and "Six Feet Under" was attracted to the rebel world of Bishop’s screenplay. "HELL RIDE falls under this strange umbrella of a movie that takes place in the present time, but has its own reality, and its own space. None of the rules of our society, or our laws, or governing bodies apply to it. HELL RIDE is this story of revenge, and reconciliation. And it’s a badass biker movie."
Vinnie Jones, a former soccer player in the English Football League, plays Billy Wings. "Vinnie Jones is hilarious," Stein says. "First of all, his enthusiasm and energy are fantastic. Secondly, he let us light him on fire twice. He wanted to do his own stunts. He wanted to go for it and he kept people in stitches the entire time."
"I guess you’d call ‘The Deuce’ the president of a club called ‘The 666,’" David Carradine says of his character. "I’m the only guy in this whole movie that wears a suit, because I become a business man. I’m running a whole lot of games. I possess part of a secret that everybody wants to know."
"There are no good guys in this movie," Carradine adds. "There isn’t anybody who’s any better than anybody else. Bad guys have some meat to them. This has a certain amount of qualities of a Tarantino film in that they’re all bad guys, but they all have a certain honorable streak about them."
"Larry and I worked together on KILL BILL, and I really got to like the guy," Carradine says of his writer-director. "He fashioned this little part for me which is really cool. The character’s really cool, but it’s also cool that for the first two-thirds of the picture, they’re talking about me in almost every scene and you never see me. And then finally I show up, a little like in KILL BILL."
"Leonor Varela was someone we were always very interested in," Steinberg says of the actor who plays Nada. "We just thought that there weren’t many actresses who could pull it off. It’s very sexually aggressive, but not in a campy way. She is a mature woman, and we thought she could handle it. She by far surpassed any hopes we had for the role."
The role of Goody Two-Shoes is played by Michael Beach: "I’m the good cat. I’m the reliable cat. I’m the guy you can count on," Beach says of his character.
Julia Jones plays Cherokee Chism. Jones describes her character: "She is one of Pistolero’s many loves. Much of the action of the movie takes place twenty-something years after she’s died. She’s very complicated. It’s not a huge role but there are a lot of important pieces to her." A portion of Jones’s involvement is as the film’s seemingly omniscient narrator.
Jones found her way into HELL RIDE quickly, after co-star Eric Balfour recommended her for the role. "Eric called in the middle of the afternoon and said ‘Where are you? What are you doing? Are you working on something? Are you in L.A.? Can you come down to set tomorrow?’ I got on the phone with the producer, and I went into set the next day and read for Larry and the producers, and showed up on set three days later or four days later."
Finally, there’s the role that went to the actress that brought Tarantino and Bishop together. "I’ve known Laura Coyouette for about ten or twelve years. I wrote the part of Dani for her. It kind of mirrors what the reality of our life is -- the way it intersects. She does a number of things for me, and that’s what Dani does for Pistolero."
Production on HELL RIDE began in May of 2007. True to Bishop’s AIP ventures, the HELL RIDE was filmed in the scorching California desert heat over a very brief twenty days. Tarantino felt that the film’s budget should mirror what was available in the early days of the motorcycle film. He believed that monetary limitations would only enhance its biker movie authenticity. "It was Quentin’s idea," Steinberg explains. "He wanted to make it for a price that it was a good financial deal. He wanted to keep it as authentic as possible. If you adjust for inflation, we probably had about the same amount as producers of the first wave of biker films."
"We could have done Larry’s script for twice the budget. Being a fan of low budget movies, Quentin wanted us to do it super low budget, the way they used to do them. We were shooting an unbelievable amount of footage every day," Stein says.
Unfortunately, the high desert greeted the production with a wind storm that severely hampered their first week of filming. Nevertheless, the producers managed to keep the production on time and on budget, despite some obstacles imposed by Mother Nature.
"There were sixty mile per hour gusts," Steinberg recalls. "It was about 105 degrees. We were exposed to the elements. It was absolutely brutal, but nobody complained. When you’re only shooting for twenty days, you get through the first week and you’re a quarter done. It was also a nice bonding experience."
"We had one crew member say he worked in worse conditions, and that was in a mine in Illinois in February," Stein adds.
Justin Kell, who runs a vintage motorcycle shop called Glory, was approached by Steinberg early in the process to be a technical advisor on the film. He supplied many of the bikes in the movie, and trained Balfour. "He specializes in vintage motorcycles. He built the motorcycles and taught Eric Balfour how to ride."
Balfour, for one, had no prior experience riding a motorcycle. He also had the task of riding the most complicated vehicle, a 40s-era "Indian." When he wasn’t taking a crash course in the biker cinema of the 60s and 70s, Balfour was learning how to ride his motorcycle in Griffith Park and on the streets of Los Angeles neighborhoods. "The bike had complicated mechanisms. Fortunately for me I didn’t know any better. I was just kind of dumb. It took some getting used to. Eventually I just really got comfortable on the bike."
Balfour’s dedication impressed Madsen: "An Indian is a goofy bike because everything is on the wrong side. The throttle is on the left, and it has a foot clutch. It’s tricky to ride one of those damn things. And you know what? He did it, and he’s riding it, and that’s not an easy thing to do. I’m really proud of him. I’m really happy that he’s in the picture."
Madsen notes that the experience of acting on a bike made his usual trepidations subside: "Being an actor is a very neurotic thing to do for a living. Trying to sit at a table and do dialogue scenes is not fun. But if you can get on a Harley and ride around behind a camera truck, that’s when my job is fun."
Bikes aside, the cast is quick to praise their director’s sensitivity to the actor’s process. He’s an actor so he knows how to talk to actors," Jones says of Bishop. "He takes an emotional path into what’s going on. He thinks in metaphors and images."
The production brought in veteran bikers to portray the "extras" in the film. "We got some great background guys," Madsen enthuses. "A couple of those guys ran with some pretty good gangs. They’re not bogus background people--they’re bikers. It’s really good to have them in the movie. They’ve done a heck of a job."