The Gunslinger: Q&A with Director Jeremy Heslup
Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, Brand Storytelling
Behind the wheel of an “all-powerful stagecoach,” a dead shot gunslinger teams up with a brave saloon girl to rescue a besieged frontier town from the grips of a villainous gang, led by a nefarious man in black. This is the premise of 'The Gunslinger', a fun-filled, not-so-traditional western created by Valkyr Productions to showcase the Rolls Royce Cullinan. Brand Storytelling caught up with Valkyr founder and director Jeremy Heslup to learn more about what went into making the film and his position on brands telling narrative-driven stories:
What was the impetus for making this film?
We wanted to make a hybrid narrative short with a commercial angle, something that captured both the western genre and positioned the product (a car in this case) as a character within the ensemble cast.
The Cullinan was the only choice as, being the pinnacle of modern luxury, it is so far removed from the desolate nature of the old west, yet still very capable as an off-road stagecoach that we needed our hero to pilot.
Why a short film?
Short films have a very clear beginning, middle and end. They can be very thought provoking and layered to the max. In this case we wanted to make the most out of our time on set and it felt right to tell this story in this format, as opposed to a 30-60 second. There’s too much going on for it to be that brief.
We believe that the future of advertising is capturing sustained human emotion, as people are wise and are getting more and more burnt out on junk food ads that don’t commit to anything and expect to create net promoters just by showing them shiny images…we wanted more than that for this.
What inspirations were drawn on when putting the film together?
Westworld for sure. It had the right mixture of modern elements and old west. Treating it with strong tropes was the only way to get away with inserting the anachronism that is a modern car in the old west.
We also pulled from 3:10 to Yuma for the Man in Black and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the very classic and stately Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone vibes.
Who was tapped to play the various roles in the film?
The lead and most important character in the story (as it’s her POV) is Isabel played by the talented Claudine Quadrat. Having worked with her on previous projects, she was the perfect talent to embody the expressive (albeit silent) heroine who was the only one willing to take action in her town.
Jarret Worley captured the calm and confident aura of the dead-shot gunslinger, practicing extensively with the replica pistols.
We found great local talent to play the Man in Black, Joe Wayne, and Second in Command, Corey Birkenbuel.
What did production look like? Where did you shoot and what did you use to capture all the action?
Production took place at Yellowstone Film Ranch in Montana, as well as the surrounding area of Paradise Valley. It was shot over a period of 4 very long days, with 30 cast and 30 crew. The spirit of the production was an all-hands on deck one, with many people contributing extra time and resources where they didn’t have to. It was a real labor of love that everyone got behind and one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been a part of.
We shot on Alexa Mini LF with Cooke Anamorphic SF FF lenses, to capture the expansive nature of the scenery and the story.
While lots of brands are catching on to producing brand films, few of them try and tackle fictional narratives. Do you think brands could and/or should lean more into fictional storytelling and why?
These days, we are bombarded with great options from all directions. In regard to automotive, even the budget brands are delivering high-quality products. Consumers/audiences are wise. They catch on and know when they are being sold.
In our opinion, to be effective, brands really need to target the early adopters ahead of the curve. To do this, we believe they need to commit to the core pillars of their internal ethos and find a way to share those with audiences.
We believe this can best be done by wrapping up these traits in distinct characters, perhaps using narratives that span across a series of ads or campaigns. Ultimately people respond to people they can relate to. We feel that if enough care and thought goes into a brand film, the early adopters will not only get behind it…but help promote it to the masses.
Where can people watch The Gunslinger and see more work from Valkyr?
People can watch The Gunslinger and more of our work at http://valkyrproductions.com
About Jeremy Heslup
Jeremy Heslup is a filmmaker and director based in Culver City, California and the founder of Valkyr Productions LLC.
With an affinity for structured storytelling in narratives, docs and commercials, he believes memorable characters are at the heart of success for any project.
For over a decade, he has been directing and creating films, docs, commercial spots and brand films with a focus on automotive, music and lifestyle.
From hundreds of mini-docs for the likes of Petrolicious, Praemio and Crown & Caliber to commercials for Lexus, Czinger 21C, Motul, TAG Heuer, Land Rover, Puma, Omaze, Wahl Clippers, Ferrari to documentary features and narratives, he thrives on creating and directing all over the globe.