Appaloosa is the story of two friends, town tamers, of the kind what made the Wild West what we know of it today. Virgil Cole, played by Ed Harris, is an awful lot like Harris himself. Intense. A man focused on the task ahead, veering neither to the left nor to the right. Always centered on the LAW, even if Cole has to invent that law just for the purpose of bringing order to chaos. Nothing can be done without the law. Always following the law is the difference between murder and duty.
Everett Hitch is played by Viggo Mortensen. Hitch is a man not unlike Mortensen, a thinkin' man. Hitch is well read, possessing a relaxed frontier sophistication which hints at the Renaissance-man beneath; the foundation of his character.
Robert B. Parker wrote the characters of "Appaloosa" as if he were writing Harris and Mortensen themselves. The characters are developed with a familial warmth that will be instantly identifiable to any Veteran. Obviously, Parker has lived in the trenches and the barracks, comfortable with the bond between warriors. Parker's sparkling dialogue goes beyond words and conversation to reveal the closeness of two friends who know exactly what to expect out of the other. They can finish each other's thoughts and carry out each others reactions in a shoot-out. Parker includes us in the intimate relationship between Cole and Hitch through the rare magic of their spoken exchanges. If Harris' screenplay follows Parkers novel as closely as I have been lead to believe, "Appaloosa" will be an instant "Classic", just on the strength of the well timed and witty dialogue. I can see Harris and Mortensen getting their timing down and delivering these lines with a wry grin and a knowing glance. It will be a rare treat for movie goers if they pull it off, and I believe they will!
Add to this sparkling dialogue a great story line, action, the machinations of evil, betrayal, love and the devotion of a true friend, and you have one break-out, instant-Classic, Western, that goes beyond the genera, to live independently as human expression. From what I know of Harris' sensibilities, the screenplay and directing will be intense, tactile and above all else, draw us in with the reality of each situation; rather than relying on spectacular special effects. It will be interesting to see if Harris can fill in where Parker didn't. With all of the strengths inherent in Parker's writing, historical detail wasn't critical. The reader just filled in the mental images with whatever was available between their ears. The lack of historical detail didn't hurt "Appaloosa" the novel, because the reader sees what they know. However, in the movie version, Harris will be challenged with filling in the visual details Parker left to the reader's imagination. I hope Harris employs Historians who can provide the visual impact, insuring Appaloosa's place among the very best of Western Classics. I have every reason to believe he will.
Producers who tackle the "Western" today, face challenges not experienced by earlier efforts. With the rapid growth of Western Action Shooting and a renewed interest in everything "Old West", today's movie goers are more educated about the equipment, dress, weapons and vocabulary of the Old West than ever before. While these interests provide a ready pool of potential viewers for every Western that is made, it is a double edged sword. These are more than just movie goers, they are participants in living history events. They are far more critical of realism and attention to detail than anyone who watched, "Gun Smoke" the first season. Because of this, the producer not only has to have a great movie to start with, it has to be dressed-out in realistic style. That is where the historians earn their pay.
I have worked with David Carrico on the PBS reality series, "Texas Ranch House" and on "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". Carrico is working on Harris' "Appaloosa", so I know what Carrico brings to the filming will be right. Harris and Mortensen are both wearing rigs made by Carrico and Harris is ridin' one of David's saddles. I made a gun rig for Harris more than a year in advance of filming that Harris used to practice with. This is just one example of the intensity Harris brings to this project.
Harris' character Cole is smooth with a gun. He is beyond smooth. When Virgil Cole draws his gun, he does it with such grace and ease, it appears effortless. It's not as if Cole was quick with a gun, it is so natural and flowing, it looks as if he is moving normally, but the whole world has slowed down around him. To capture Cole's ease with a gun, I was told Harris began practicing while he was doing the one-man-show, "Wrecks" in New York at the Public Theater, (for once, I wish I could have been in New York!). Backstage, he would strap on the rig and begin to hone the mechanics that would develop into time-warping magic. A challenge for any actor, but with Harris' focused intensity, I'm inclined to believe he will pull it off.
Ed Harris asVirgil Cole
Viggo Mortensen asEverett Hitch
Screenplay written by
Ed Harris &Robert Knott
This rig was designed specifically for Ed Harris. Harris wanted to use the Colt with the 5 1/2" barrel, (my favorite choice for gun-handling, and the sexiest of the barrel lengths in my opinion). It had to have the classic "Old West" lines of historic holsters, but had to function like the modern quick-draw holsters. This was accomplished without using a metal liner for the holster. It is constructed out of heavy saddle skirting leather. Special construction was employed to keep the gun from getting comfortable in the holster and slowing its extraction.
The classic floral tooling on this holster was designed specifically for this rig. I liked the pattern so much, I made two holsters for myself with the same tooling pattern. The interrupted border stamping is repeated the length of the belt. This rig is finished using extra virgin olive oil. After a year of practice, it should be taking on a natural "used" patina.
The hammer thong, employed on this holster, was not a common feature to Old West holsters. However, to make this holster fast-on-the-draw, the thong is necessary to keep the pistol in its place during other activities. It is designed to be tucked between the holster and the belt and be invisible in close-ups.
Since I had an "In", by being asked to create a rig for Ed Harris, I was told it would be possible to get my saddles in "Appaloosa" as well. As it turns out, my "contact" was less than reliable, he was down-right dishonest. The production staff of "Appaloosa" had the good sense to exclude my "contact" from their production. Good for "Appaloosa", bad for Will. I spent most of the summer of 2007, designing and creating saddles for use by Cole and Hitch. I ended up with three beautiful saddles, but no contract for "Appaloosa". However, the matching saddles I built for Hitch are spectacular enough, I've included them here.
After Hitch left the U.S. Cavalry, he spent time bouncing around Southwest Colorado. It just happens, that was my old stomping grounds when I was a young cowboy. I know what it takes to negotiate the rough terrain of the ranching and mining country of the great San Juan. I also have intimate knowledge of the styles and history of saddles in that part of the country. The saddles I designed for Hitch are what you see on the right.
Hitch was a man who didn't give up on any gear if it served him well. For that reason, I incorporated Cavalry hardware that would have continued to be serviceable, after the tack itself wore out. I have added this Cavalry hardware to the civilian gear for Hitch.
The horse's bit is an 1863 U.S. Cavalry bit, the rosettes on the halter/bridal set-up are Officer's rosettes. The large brass heart from the military breast collar sets-off Hitch's civilian rig. Military buckles and snaps are used throughout.
The saddle itself is of classic 1870s Southwest Colorado style. The horn is large and set on a short, thick, wood neck. The high-back cantle sports a narrow Cheyenne role, common to that era. The rounded rear jockey, which also functions as the rear rigging, was a distinctive Colorado design feature. The saddle is double rigged with Bork cinchas front and back for added security on the steep grades of the San Juan country. Add to this the wide and deep 5" Dog House hickory stirrups, and this is the perfect saddle for Hitch. If Mortensen had set in this saddle, it is unlikely he would have ever been happy with anything else.
Cole's saddles were to be of classic Southwest desert styling from the 1890s. However, I found out I wouldn't be working on "Appaloosa" before I finished them. They got set aside while I scrambled to work on something I was actually goin' to get paid for. Too bad, they will be beautiful when I finish them.
The saddle trees for both Cole and Hitch's saddles were made for me by my good friend and award winning saddle maker, Jon Watsabaugh. If you want to build the best saddles, you have to make 'em on the best saddle trees!
I got started making gear for Westerns back in the late 1990s when they were filming,
"Ride With the Devil" down in Kansas. The thought entered my head, "I'd like to ride one of my saddles in a movie." I never did get a role in the film, nor did I get any gear in the film, but the seed had been planted, the idea kinda' stuck there.
I tried to get into other films, but only my gear found its way onto the sets. Of all the movies I've had a chance to be part of, "Appaloosa" is the one I find most exciting. Everything about it seemed to hold great potential. It will be one of the biggest disappointments of my business career if I don't have any gear in this movie. Oh well, that's show biz.
My second oldest daughter has been a missionary in South Africa for the last four years. Last year, when she came home for the holidays, she notice for the first time I was gettin' old. I wasn't the dashing invincible cowboy and soldier I've always been in her mind. She mentioned how much older I seemed since the last time she saw me.
I told her, "You know, your youngest brothers have never known that Dad you grew up with." (Augustus and Patriot are almost 20 years younger than Anita.) "I've been worn-out as long as they've been alive."
She laughed at me, 'cause the friends of her high school sisters and brother talk about how "buff" I am, (for a man pushin' 50!) However, it did make me think about bein' in Westerns again. By the time the little boys are teenagers, I will be old. They will never see me parachute out of a C-130, and maybe never watch me break another green horse. I'd like for them to be able to see me ride-like-the-wind and realize I wasn't always the crippled old man they will be living with. To ride one of my saddles in a movie is more important to me now than ever before.
So, if you are lookin' for a cowboy and soldier who can shoot anything from horseback, throw a rope, play harmonica, track across rough-country, knows how to live light in the saddle and survive off the land, (not that this is necessary on the set of a movie, but knowin' how to do it adds authenticity to the character), I'm still lookin' to get my mug in a movie, and my workin' end in a saddle. If I could somehow finagle a part in "Appaloosa", well, I could cross Hollywood off my list of things to do.
To Call Will: 515-979-7725
Parker wrote Everett Hitch carrying a double barreled 8 gauge shotgun. These are almost impossible to find, but Ed Harris has made sure Mortensen will carry one in the movie.
The visual of the large brass shells will intimidate anyone accustomed to seeing the tiny 12 gauge plastic shells used today.
The ominous "thwump, thwump" of the twin titans dropping into the gaping barrels will cause the heart to stutter.
Thundering fire and fury will belch across the screen when the hammers fall.
The 8 gauge will be an audio/visual experience all by itself. They better have firefighters standing by on the set when those twin cannons go off!