Recently, the crowdfunding campaign of an upcoming Western called Gunhand was pointed out to me. I was very impressed: production values look amazing, and the story sounds promising. Not a Western fan myself, I was intrigued nonetheless, also by the filmmakers, who turned out to be from The Netherlands. As originally Dutch myself, this piqued my interest instantly, because I’m always curious about Dutch filmmakers. They’re relatively rare, and aside from Paul Verhoeven, there are only few who have become famous on an international level. But when they do, it’s always because of their great work.
Gunhand was written and will be directed by Rey Agaoglu, who was born in The Netherlands and emigrated to Canada at the age of nine. He combined sports, drama and graphic arts while attending high school in Kingston, Ontario. In 1993 he graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor’s degree in history and sociology. A professional American football career brought him back to Europe: he started playing for the Amsterdam Admirals in the NFL-Europe League. During that time, he developed his Storyboard Animation skills at the Cartoon School in Amsterdam. Since 2003 he writes, produces and direct his own films.
David van der Meijde, who will serve as director of photography on Gunhand, was born and raised in The Netherlands, and still lives there. Son to a successful photographer and a hat designer, he grew up watching many films and series as he could. Particularly inspired by the Harry Potter and Lord of the Ring films, he pursued music composition and started studying film in college. He worked on commercials as a camera operator and editor during this time, and after graduating, the video productions got bigger and bigger. That’s when he founded his own production company, Welldone Pictures.
I spoke with Agaoglu and Van Der Meijde about Gunhand and some of the challenges of making a Western, and how they are planning to make it abroad.
Manon de Reeper for Film Inquiry: I actually attended one of the Amsterdam Admirals games when I was very young, and to be honest I don’t remember too much about it except for it being very loud (and that I didn’t understand the rules at all!) How did you get into American football, are you still active? How does that combine with filmmaking?
Rey Agaoglu: Wow! Great to hear you actually saw a game! I grew up in Canada and started playing football in junior high and was lucky enough to play football in college at the University of Guelph (Ontario) where I studied history. After that I played in the NFL-Europe league for the Admirals from 1996 until 2001. I haven’t played for many years but I still coach amateurs here in Holland.
There are many similarities between coaching a sport like football and the effort and teamwork needed to make films. Professional athletes have a lot in common with professional actors. My football background often helps to understand and communicate with them on a level they might not find somewhere else.
What excites you about working on Gunhand?
RA: It’s very exciting to breathe new life into a genre that’s been dormant and somewhat forgotten for a while. Working with younger filmmakers on a “classic” genre injects many new creative ideas and choices. We’re definitely making a new type of Western that should also appeal to a somewhat younger audience in the style of how it’s being crafted.
What are your favourite Westerns? How did they influence Gunhand?
RA: My favourite Westerns are not the rootin’ tootin’ shoot ’em up kind. A film like Unforgiven is a major influence, but also lesser known films like Ride the High Country and some of Anthony Mann‘s works. Those films deal with the darker side of being a gunslinger and living in the harsh, lawless environment the old west. The line between good and bad is blurry, that’s what I love about those films.
How do you feel about the current state of Western and recent influx of Western films Hollywood’s seen? What are some of your favorite recent Westerns?
David van der Meijde: I think it’s a very good thing that Westerns are making a “comeback”. Did you know that the Western is the first real feature film genre? My favorite recent Westerns are Django Unchained and The Revenant.
In the film description you mention Gunhand is like the “classics of old” but with a “modern twist”. What kind of modern twist are you talking about?
DvdM: The modern twist will mostly be the visual style of the film.
RA: In the classic Westerns the heroes were often too perfect. In our story the characters are much more human, they have their faults like the rest of us. We hope that kind of realism will appeal to a modern audience.
David, can you tell us a bit about the cameras you’re using, for our filmmaker audience? Any unusual tech you’ll be using to achieve the look of Gunhand?
DvdM: In this phase, I tried a lot of different cameras to see what works best for this project. All the teasers that we made are shot on different cameras. Most westerns are shot in a very “static” way. I hope to bring some change to the Western genre, with my active camera style.
Because the story is character driven, I really want the audience to feel the presence of the actors. I want to achieve this by shooting wider, even the close ups are going to be shot on wide lenses. This will give it the feel that you’re really in the scene itself, instead of observing the actors as a fly on the wall. Another reason why this film is going to have a very wide look and feel, is because I want to capture those beautiful landscapes that really are a signature for Westerns itself.
The film will be shot in The Netherlands and Spain. What are you going to do to make those countries look and feel like they belong in an American Western?
RA: Part of crafting a film is choosing the right locations and camera angles to create the “illusion” of being in a certain time or space. A great example is the teaser we’ve been working on for the past year as a proof of concept. Spain has wonderful scenery and the exteriors for the film will primarily be shot there. The interiors will be shot in the Netherlands on our own sets.
What is the Dutch film industry like, and why did you choose to take Gunhand abroad?
DvdM: The Dutch film industry is very small, and it’s hard to get in. That is mostly because it’s a real “who knows who” situation. In every movie and series, you see the same actors playing the same kind of roles. It’s also difficult to make a big movie in The Netherlands because there isn’t a lot of money for film projects.
$3 to 5 million is a very high budget over here. If you compare that to Hollywood, you’re talking about “micro budgets”. Another important reason why we’re choosing to fund it through crowdfunding, is because there aren’t a lot of English films in The Netherlands. We hope to make a statement with Gunhand.
If all goes according to plan, when can we expect to see Gunhand?
DvdM: In the spring of 2018.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, David and Rey!
On Gunhand‘s Indiegogo campaign page and Facebook page, the filmmakers will take their campaign’s backers and fans on their filmmaking journey, posting videos and photos weekly of the process of making Gunhand. There are exclusive behind-the-scenes content for backers. You can contribute to the campaign with just $1, and they have some pretty cool (and creative!) rewards on offer, like a wanted poster featuring your face that will be used as a prop in the film, or have your name used in another prop, like a brand of whisky or the name of a saloon.
At the moment, they’re running an early bird special, where you get the $50 reward, being part of the film’s test audience, a mention of your name in the credits, poster, artwork book and the digital release of the film, for just $35. That’s a pretty great reward for just $35!
All in all, I’ll be keeping an eye on the campaign of Gunhand and will be intrigued to see where it and these guys are going to go!
Does Gunhand pique your interest? Let us know in the comments!