Not even the pandemic could stop movie magic from happening; it just required a few changes.
Enter Matt Campagna, a writer/producer/director with a script set in a post-apocalyptic Western desert — incidentally, not the Sonoran Desert.
He assembled a small cast and crew, found an empty studio and began filming one actor on set at a time, saying their lines in front of a green screen.
Outside of camera range, actor Melissa D’Agostino read the other participants’ lines, with different voices and inflections, giving the on-screen actor someone with whom to work.
Finally, all the pieces came together in a digital studio, and “Six Days to Die” was born.
“It’s a lot of imaginary, with just enough touch of real,” Campagna said.
The final product will be shown at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, at the Galaxy Theatres Tucson, Montesa Plaza, 100 S. Houghton Road, Tucson.
It’s part of the Wild Bunch Film Festival, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, with film screenings and a party at 9 p.m. at R.J.’s Frozen Cactus Sports Bar and Grill, 5769 E. Speedway Boulevard.
The film festival continues with daily screenings through Sunday. Campagna’s film will be followed by an award show, but separate tickets are required.
“Six Days to Die,” according to publicist Kara McLean, is summed up this way: “Parched, ragged, and dragging a heavy iron chain, a lone gambler hobbles eastward through the endless desert. Not even a day behind him, a blood-thirsty marshal in a priest’s collar exterminates everything in her path, hell-bent on catching her prey.
“When the gambler inadvertently rescues a young boy from a town gone mad, the boy sticks to him like glue as they escape together before the marshal arrives to burn the town to the ground. But when the marshal finally confronts the gambler, he must make a terrible choice if he hopes to escape with his life.”
Because COVID-19 was literally in the air and there was no vaccine in sight, Campagna had to get creative with his filming. One rule dictated how things were done: if two actors were in the same bubble — for example, a married couple — they could be in a scene together.
“You just can’t quite replace a person touching a person with anything but actual people,” Campagna said.
Even crowd scenes were filmed one by one, for the most part.
“It was really about, at the time, depopulating the set,” he said.
“There was an actor in this cavernous green screen studio that we were shooting in because nobody could afford to shoot, so we got this amazing enormous studio that should have been shooting some multimillion-dollar Food Network show, but they couldn’t shoot. It was empty, so we were able to shoot in there, and it was in our not-enormous budget.”
There are at least two couples, one of them being a stunt coordinator and a stuntman, another being the gambler and the lady of the evening. There is even a father-son team.
Second, if an actor touched it, like a rock or chair, it is real.
“We had a general rule on the film,” Campagna said. “If it was a thing an actor was going to touch, it needed to be there. If an actor was going to lean on a table, if an actor was going to stand on sand, if an actor was going to stand on wood, those elements needed to be there.”
Some things are not real.
“Everything else, the backdrops, the mountains in the distance, the bar around the characters, those things, if they were far enough away from the character that they were never going to have interactive light, then we could do that in post-production, and it would be in a completely imaginary world that we could build,” he said.
Campagna said they worked with an awful lot of sand.
“We had real sand,” Campagna added. “We had a metric ton of real sand, and we had a real saloon facade built that we used for a couple of different moments, and we redressed it, but it was the same wood for everything.”
The movie is gritty, no question. The dialogue is, at times, clever, and if you like your humor dry, there’s certainly that, too. When asked what kind of lemonade he preferred, the gambler answered, “The kind that’s whiskey if you’re asking preference.”
It’s appalling when the marshal tells the farmer, “I’ll enjoy roasting you alive before I consume you piece by piece by piece.” We don’t actually see it happen.
Just for a little levity, when the bar owner asks the gambler if he preferred a certain type of inexperienced girl, the gambler said, “Seems like a virgin in this town is a girl who can outrun her brother.”
“Six Days to Die” stars “The Umbrella Academy’s” Colm Feore, Darryl Hinds, Melissa D’Agostino, Ari Millen and Kyra Harper. Breann Smordin and Elizabeth Frase are producers. The third film in the series, “Six Guns for Hire,” is in post-production now, and aiming for festivals in 2024.
“Six Days to Die”
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29
WHERE: The Galaxy Theatre, 100 S. Houghton Road, Tucson
COST: See website for details