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Francis Galluppi on 'The Last Stop In Yuma County', his feature debut

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Picture this. It's a hot desert day, and you're just out of gas, the latest in a long streak of bad luck. Thankfully, you found a small two-pump station in the middle of nowhere. But...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST STOP IN YUMA COUNTY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Sorry, but our gas pumps are dry. Waiting on the fuel trucks to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I'm almost empty. Is there another gas station around here?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Not for another hundred miles.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Damn.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You're welcome to wait at the diner right next door.

RASCOE: Now you're stuck with a waitress, a couple of bank robbers, a cast of other oddballs and a real big bag of money. Everyone's armed and suspicious. What's your next move? That's where the film "The Last Stop In Yuma County" drops you. It stars Jim Cummings, Jocelin Donahue and Richard Brake. Francis Galluppi wrote and directed the movie, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

FRANCIS GALLUPPI: Hey, thanks for having me on.

RASCOE: This roadside diner where the movie takes place - what drew you to it? It really is, like, the last stop in the middle of nowhere.

GALLUPPI: (Laughter). Yeah. So with my short films before this, I was writing scripts based on locations that we had free access to because we didn't really have money. So when it came time to writing the feature, I was sort of looking for locations in the LA area. I typically gravitate towards writing period pieces. So I found this location, Four Aces out in Palmdale, and I was like, this looks like a pretty cool spot to make a movie.

RASCOE: And when you talk about a period piece, what year is this supposed to be?

GALLUPPI: Yeah, it's a little ambiguous, but there is one little Easter egg in there that sort of gives the audience a clue as to what year it is. But it doesn't really matter. It's kind of whatever you want it to be.

RASCOE: Part of the thing with this movie is that it does have to take place at a moment before cell phones and internet.

GALLUPPI: Yeah, cell phones - they make movies boring, in my opinion.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Did you look at this as a Western? Like, when I was watching it, I felt like this is like a modern Western.

GALLUPPI: Yeah, it's funny. You know, it's like partly yes. But even when I was talking to actors before production, they would say, oh, this is a Western, and I would say, well, it's sort of a neo-noir. It's a moral dilemma film. In terms of the story, I always looked at it as a neo-noir, but it definitely has a lot of, like, that modern Western flare. I don't know. It's kind of a bunch of things, really. But yeah, I do get Western more than I get noir. So we can call it a Western.

RASCOE: We call it whatever you would like to call it. It just felt like - I think when you have the people coming into the space and...

GALLUPPI: Yes. It's the saloon kind of thing.

RASCOE: What stood out to me is in this movie, it seems like there's a question of heroes and villains stepping up to help or to hurt. But in this movie, it seems like those lines are very blurry.

GALLUPPI: Yeah, I feel like in this movie, everyone's kind of a piece of [expletive]. But...

RASCOE: Yeah. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GALLUPPI: Except for Charlotte...

RASCOE: Yeah, that's what I felt.

GALLUPPI: Except for the waitress.

RASCOE: Yeah, except for Charlotte, yeah.

GALLUPPI: Yeah, yeah. But that's sort of like the classic throughline of a film noir, as well, right? You have, like, these characters with a skewed moral compass, and you put them in a situation where you kind of test their morality.

RASCOE: This film really showcases the actors because, I mean, this is a cast full of character actors, not necessarily names that everyone would know, but, you know, those who know know. Talk to me about the casting process for this because these characters - they really have to shine without time for a whole bunch of backstory on who they are or where they came from or what - you know, all of this extra stuff. It's really these moments that you get to know them.

GALLUPPI: Yeah. I mean, really nobody auditioned for this movie. This was sort of my dream cast. There was a time where we were going to make this movie on like, a bigger budget with this other production company, and it was like they were going after names that had, like, quote-unquote, "value." And it was really disheartening because it just wasn't right for the movie. Like, the whole time I really - this was the version that I wanted to make.

My casting director - he helped me get personal letters out to every single actor. So I just wrote heartfelt letters to everybody just saying how big of a fan I was and, you know, what movie I saw them in and why I think they would be perfect for this role. I never expected to have the whole thing stacked this much, but I kind of just kept pushing my luck.

RASCOE: Do you feel like there's anything you would have done differently if you had more money?

GALLUPPI: No, you know, I don't think so. And it was a big lesson learned because there was a moment where - when we thought it was going to be this, like, $5 million movie with a couple, like, bigger-name actors. When I was shot listing, I, like, was thinking, oh, I'm going to get, like, a techno crane. I'm going to have all these toys to play with. And so I started designing these pretty intricate shots that, once we realized what the - the budget that we were actually working with, I was like, OK, I have a tripod, and I have a dolly. And that's it, you know? And so it forced me to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure this stuff. And I watch the movie now, and I'm like, oh, man, like, I'm so glad I didn't have those tools because I think it would have just - we would have overdone it.

RASCOE: Folks at home will know what this means after watching the movie, but is another moral to be careful about taking advice from crossword puzzles?

(LAUGHTER)

GALLUPPI: I love that. That's great. Yes.

RASCOE: Yeah (laughter).

GALLUPPI: The idea there was just like, The Knife Salesman is - he's seen all these things, almost like winks from the universe. And they're guiding him, and - or I guess he's using these things to justify these really bad decisions, which I think we all do as human beings, right? Like, anytime you do something that you know is wrong, like, you sort of justify it in your head. But yeah, you're right. We should not take advice from crossword puzzles. It will lead you to a bad place.

RASCOE: Unless it's Will Shortz's crossword puzzle. Then he's - he's our puzzlemaster. He would never...

GALLUPPI: Awesome.

RASCOE: ...Lead you astray.

GALLUPPI: Yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GALLUPPI: That's awesome.

RASCOE: That's Francis Galluppi. He's the writer and director of "The Last Stop In Yuma County." Francis, thank you for being on the show.

GALLUPPI: Oh, thanks so much for having me. That was a blast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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