Bill Phillips has a theory about why moviegoers are drawn to Westerns.
“There’s comfort in (them),” stated the director of Gunless, a new comedy about fictional outlaw The Montana Kid. “The Western has evolved but you’re still getting those (classic) elements … it’s like meat and potatoes, you know what you’re going to get.”
Phillips knows what he’s talking about. A longtime admirer of the genre (“when I was growing up, there was nothing better than Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”), the Toronto-bred filmmaker crafted the premise of an American gunslinger (played by Canadian Paul Gross, ironically) that finds himself stranded gunless in peace-loving Canada years before he even made his 2002 Genie-Award nominated feature debut, Treed Murray.
“There is something about taking those iconic elements,” Phillips said of the genre. “You drag that north of the 49th parallel and start playing with it, bringing in the Canadian elements (and) it begs comedy. If it wasn’t going to be comedy, I’m not sure what it would be.”
As humour-laced as Gunless is, Phillips was careful not to overplay the genre’s American iconography maintaining the integrity of accentuating such authentic Canuck curiosities as sod houses and the progressive gun laws of 1880’s Canada.
“There is historical accuracy here,” explained Phillips. “We did our due diligence but I will say a Western is as much fantasy as science-fiction and we are never going to let truth get in the way of a good story.”
Phillips didn’t let some tough conditions get in the way either. Shooting in Osoyoos, B.C. (Canada’s hottest region), the cast and crew had to endure extreme temperatures, dust storms that shut down production and challenges that gave them a real taste of the wild west.
“You’d have to wash your hair two times to get all the dust out. I don’t think anybody got all the dust out of their lungs until two months after the shoot was done,” admitted Phillips before admitting if he had to go back, he might do it all over again. “Making a Western, it’s a blast. You got a crew of fifty people all playing cowboys and that is a lot of fun.”