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– by Gig Patta

Nearly forty years ago, the notorious convicted murderer Gary Tison led a band of outlaws in a killing spree in Southwestern United States after a jailbreak. Tison, his three teenage sons and a cellmate Randy Greenawalt tried to escape the law enforcement leaving a trail of carnage. A sheriff tries to lead a team to hunt them down while Tison’s wife vehemently defended her family with the media.

The film stars Robert Patrick as Gary Tison in this terrifying tale. It also stars Heather Graham, Bruce Davison and Chris Browning. The director is Dwight H. Little and the original story is based on James W. Clarke’s bestselling book Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison. The adapted screenplay was written by Alvaro Rodriguez (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series).

LRM had an exclusive phone interview with director Dwight H. Little on this film. He talked about his continued relationship with Robert Patrick and on why he was perfect to play the murderer Gary Tison. He also talked about creating a 1970s period piece along with the indie challenges.

Last Rampage is currently in limited release in theaters. The film is also available On Demand and Digital HD.

Read our interview transcript below.

LRM: So I’ve checked out your film Last Rampage. It’s very entertaining. I didn’t even know about this story itself. I guess I’m a part of a different generation. How were you attracted to this project?

Dwight H. Little: My stepson is an actor. He, at one time, was approached to play the role of Donnie. In that version of the movie, it never came together. He outgrew it since he is a lot older now. He always remembered the book. I was also saying that I wanted to make an independent movie since I do a lot of television.

He gave me a copy of the book. I’ve read the book and then I was absolutely obsessed with the James W. Clark book. I thought it was Shakespearian. I thought it was Biblical. I thought it was universal. And yet, it was so crazy that you wouldn’t even believe that it was true.

LRM: Did the book became the first time you’ve heard of the story for yourself?

Dwight H. Little: Honestly, it was. Yes. People had heard of the different Ted Bundys or different crimes. I didn’t really know about it until about four years ago.

LRM: Did you have to do some extra research into the story after reading the book?

Dwight H. Little: We were very fortunate when we acquired the book—we acquired James W. Clark’s interviews and years of research that he had done. It’s so thorough. It’s in cold blood. He talked to everybody. We had this bible that we could use as a source of the truth on what really happened. It was certainly a big help.

LRM: For this film, were there anything fictionalized to fill in the blanks for the story?

Dwight H. Little: There was actually. The character of Molly C. Quinn is a composite character. There were reporters from the Arizona Republic and Arizona Daily Star who were chasing down this story. There was an interview with Dorothy with Mary Jo Clark on television was completely real. That did happen.

The young reporter, who Molly C. Quinn played, is not an exact person. She’s a composite character of [many reporters].

As for Cooper, who Bruce Davison played, is also a composite character. There were several lawmen who were tracking this from different points of view. There were the Arizona State Police and some Feds were involved. So he’s a bit of a composite.

All the details of the manhunt—how it proceeded and what their clues were—straightforward as in how it happened. Dorothy did, in fact, met with a reporter and had that TV interview.

It’s not different in any way. We just had to combine a few characters.

LRM: What is the specific approach for you into this film in terms of dramatizing it? As I watched it, many of the scenes were very disturbing and violent.

Dwight H. Little: Well, I wanted to try to take Donnie’s point of view. I felt that he was the closest to what an audience might think. He goes along with it to protect his brothers. He just wanted to be a team player. He wanted to get on the plane to get his dad out, because his mother asked him to.

He’s the one who starts to slowly realize that his dad is not on who he thinks he is. He starts challenging his dad early on about Randy. I felt like I was telling it somewhat from Donnie’s point of view. He’s the one who realizes that this guy is a complete monster. By the time he tried to save his brothers, it’s too late.

LRM: Was it difficult to create a period piece like this one? I want to say that it’s almost forty years since this incident happened?

Dwight H. Little: Yeah. It was 1978. It is [difficult].

We were very careful. There were the wardrobe, the cars and even the interiors of the homes. Every prop and every curtain were all spot on accurate.

We had one advantage that a lot of the film is out in that big open country. If you’re in a city, you really can’t do it. There are all these business displays, billboards and other things. It wouldn’t be possible to do 1978 in the city. But, out there in the country, that landscape hasn’t changed for all these years. [Laughs]

LRM: Speaking of being out in the country, where was the setting production at? Arizona? California? It could’ve been anywhere.

Dwight H. Little: It was California. We’re not in Arizona. Spoiler alert. [Laughs] They were California locations.

LRM: Let’s talk about your cast. Robert Patrick was indeed terrific in this film. It must’ve been a boon you got him on board with this project.

Dwight H. Little: Well, I’ve worked with Robert three times. Once when he played Agent Doggett on The X Files if you remembered that. On the Robert Rodriguez’s show From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. And then again on Scorpion.

I knew him. I knew him as an actor. I worked with him enough to know that he was Gary and he could really bring it. That was kind of a huge plus to know an actor who was able to deliver like that.

LRM: Does it make it a lot easier to work on a project like this by working with the same actors?

Dwight H. Little: Well, it does. If you have a relationship and you have a shorthand—it really does help. I think you’ll find some of the really, really important directors forming allegiances. [Martin] Scorsese will usually work with [Leonardo] DiCaprio over and over again. Or even before that, he’ll be working with [Robert] De Niro over and over again.  And Ridley Scott would like to work with Russell Crowe multiple times.

There is a relationship and a trust that get established. It’s really a good thing.

LRM: Talk about the rest of your cast. You mixed your cast with some pretty good names and with certain lesser known names.

Dwight H. Little: We auditioned the boys. I didn’t know anybody from my work that I can go immediately to say, “Hey. Do you want this part?”

Alex MacNicoll is quite the up and comer. We were very lucky to get Alex. They all came in and we talked about the characters. They came in and read with Robert. We wanted to make sure that chemistry between Donnie and Gary would be great. They read scenes together around the table to make sure that they’ll be comfortable.

Bruce Davison—I’ve been a fan of his for years and years. Chris Browning just came in to audition the part of Randy. It was a mix. Some of the cast I knew very well. Some of them we actually auditioned.

LRM: What do you supposed was the most difficult thing you had to do on an indie project like this? You must’ve faced a few challenges.

Dwight H. Little: You don’t have the resources that you are used to. Time is your enemy. You never have enough time or the time that you want. There are production challenges, because you don’t have that depth of the number of electricians or the number of grips. You just have to be very guerilla, light and nimble. You must know exactly on what you want.

On the other hand, there’s a freedom that comes with that. You’re not reporting to a studio or network—you’re just out there on your own.

LRM: Now you don’t do too many indie projects yourself—do you want to do something like this again?

Dwight H. Little: Yeah, I have one in mind actually. There’s another indie project that I’m working on. I’m also having a studio script that is going out this week. I’m opened to everything.

But, what I like to do is more indie movies. Creatively, you can dig into many interesting corners of the world. Studio movies are great, but you have to have that big audience. It has to open huge, right?

LRM: That’s right. What type of genre do you typically if you get to choose?

Dwight H. Little: I love thrillers. I’ll tell you of an example. I loved Michael Clayton. Do you remember that movie?

LRM: Yeah, I do.

Dwight H. Little: It’s about a guy who got caught up in a compromising ethical situation. He had to uncover out the truth.

It all comes back to those 70s movies like Three Days of the Condor. They’re reality-based movies, but also thrillers.

I just recently loved this movie Wind River. I don’t know if you had the chance to see it.

LRM: I saw it. It was nothing on what I would’ve expected. That’s a terrific movie.

Dwight H. Little: Personally, I’m not a fantasy guy. People adore comic books and all of that. It doesn’t interest me. It just never has. Best movie that was made in the 70s was All the President’s Men, right? It’s one of the greatest movies ever made, because it’s so true and so accurate. You’ll realize that you really didn’t know this story at all.

I love that a movie can be made to make you see something else differently than on what you thought you knew. Like this story—I didn’t know the real story about three teenage boys breaking their dad out of prison. It’s just crazy! [Laughs]

LRM: I never knew about this story either. I had to Google it and didn’t even realize it was forty years ago since this actually happened.

Dwight H. Little: Yeah, a long time ago.

LRM: Well, thank you for bringing this story on to screen. It’s been my pleasure in speaking with you.

Dwight H. Little: Thanks for the call. I appreciate it.

Last Rampage is currently in limited release in theaters. The film is also available On Demand and Digital HD.

Source: LRM Exclusive

Gig Patta is a journalist and interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review since 2009. He was a writer for other entertainment sites in the past with Collider and IESB.net. He originally came from the world of print journalism with several years as a reporter with the San Diego Business Journal and California Review. He earned his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and BA in Economics from UC San Diego. Follow him on Instagram @gigpatta or Facebook @mrgigpatta.