The High-Res Chaparral

Wear a star, be a star, in Western video-for-hire

Elvis Presley swaggered along its dusty streets in Charro!. Chuck Connors charged out of the saloon in The Rifleman. Jason Robards bathed in the town horse trough in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. More recently, Kenny Rogers demonstrated when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em when he shot exteriors there for The Gambler, Part II--The Adventure Continues.

Walking through the Apacheland movie ranch east of Apache Junction last week, Scottsdale entrepreneur David McCartney threw his own cards on the table. As the head of Rio Macho Productions, a proposed movie-themed tourist attraction to tbe headquartered on the historic lot, he's betting that 22 tourists a weekend will pony up an average of $350 apiece to star in a 25-minute video horse opera called Gunfight in Tombstone.

According to a press release issued last week, Rio Macho has "only"462 roles available in the 24-weekend wonders to be shot through the end of the '96-97 tourist season. Priced according to screen time and size of billing, the cost of the roles ranges from $99 to $799 -- an admittedly steep fee necessitated by production costs. After "reserving" a role by phone, participants receive scripts and pertinent character information ("Playing a scruffy role? Don't shave.") by mail. Several weeks after completing the two 11-hour shoots, participants will receive a professionally edited videocassette copy of their screen debuts. The cast will be recruited through ads in local newspapers and Wild West, a national magazine for history buffs.

"As far as I've been able to determine, no one has ever attempted to do anything like this before," says McCartney, founder, president and -- for the time being -- sole employee of Rio Macho Productions. Laughing, he adds, "Maybe there's a reason for that."

If all goes according to plan, McCartney may well find himself in teh Apacheland's answer to Boot Hill by the end of the season, the victim of overwork.

In addition to writing the script and recruiting customers, McCartney will also direct, operate the camera and (with the aid of three yet-to-be-hired technicians/assistants) tend to chores like makeup and costuming.

"We'll provide all the costuming -- for the most part," explains McCartney, who has a background in industrial film and TV commercials. "We do ask them to bring some of their own clothing, though, just in case there's a problem with fit."

Noting that the Earps, Doc Holliday and several other characters in the film dress "expensively," McCartney says that for the folks playing one of those roles, "chances are they can wear their own slacks."

Actually, wardrobe may be one of the very few things that these would-be Waynes and ersatz Eastwoods can bring to their roles. As a result, McCartney expects that on-the-set crash courses in acting, prop-gun safety, horsemanship and even rudimentary stunt technique will probably be inevitable.

"When we send them the preproduction packet, we indicate which roles require horseback riding, falling down or taking a punch," says the 40-something Bill Clinton look-alike. "That way, there are no surprises when they show up for shooting at 6:30 in the morning. Everyone knows exactly what he's getting into."

Well, almost everyone.
Apacheland's Ed Birmingham, who'll be renting his property to Rio Macho on a weekend-to-weekend basis, thinks McCartney has "a super idea" -- but one that needs a little fine-tuning.

"To get 20 people that don't know each other all there at the same time -- well, that's tough to do with professional actors, let alone 20 amateurs who just want to be in a movie," says Birmingham.

According to Birmingham, McCartney's plan is not exactly unprecedented: In the past, several major corporations have rented his facility to shoot daylong comic Westerns featuring top salesmen and execs.

"He wants to shoot for two days," says Birmingham. "Well, people that are on vacation don't want to mess around that long; they want to come out and have a good time for five, six, seven hours."

Birmingham's advice? Streamline the production and sell it to deep-pocketed businesses who could use it to reward employees.

"It'd be much easier for him to sell it to corporations as a whole package," he explains. "If he sells this to companies and conventions, they're going to see it as entertainment. Then he won't have to worry about retakes -- the people who screw up the lines and drop the gun will be getting more laughs."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, McCartney ponders another downside of pay-to-play casting.

"It sort of worries me that I'm not going to see any of these people until they show up that morning," he says. "One of my big fears is that we get a real nerd playing Wyatt Earp. Here's the guy who's got to carry the whole film and he just doesn't have it."

So what will McCartney do if the man who would be Earp turns out to be, say, an 18-year-old kid with a Mohawk?

McCartney winces. "Put a hat on him?

 
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