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"It would be that sort of thing, because they say country music was one of those genres that wasn't hurt by digital downloads, because those folks [who love country music] like to go to the store and buy a disc."
The South morphed into Arizona as the duo worked on the script.
"We've made two back-to-back films about Arizona," Page says. "Blood Into Wine is about Arizona . . . and then this film is kind of about smaller towns in Arizona."
7000 E. Mayo Blvd.
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Blood Into Wine is a 2010 documentary about James Maynard Keenan, the founder of progressive rock bands Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer — who (along with winemaker Eric Glomski) established a winery in Jerome ("Passion Fruit," November 20, 2008). Page and Pomerenke wrote and directed the film, and Hoy, Chris "Topper" McDaniel, and Jason Stall from Semi Rebellious Productions produced. All returned for Queens of Country.
"We're Arizona boys, for sure," McDaniel says. "People forget that we're in the Wild West, and we have cowboys and country bars. The small towns in Arizona are cowboy hick towns — we wanted Dry Creek, Arizona, to be that kind of a place.
"A lot of people come here and see the skyline of downtown Phoenix and feel 114-degree heat, and they think that's all Arizona has to offer. They don't see lush desert, green palo verde, and mesquite trees."
Yet, because of the film's eccentricities, it fits into the canon of Arizona's cult classics, like the existential 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop or 1973's motorcycle cop drama Electra Glide in Blue. But the film owes its most literal debt to Raising Arizona, Joel and Ethan Coen's 1987 comedy.
"Raising Arizona is one of my all-time favorite movies," McDaniel says. "When you look at the credits for Raising Arizona, we've got like 10 of those people in our crew. Set design, hair, construction. [We] even included a homage to that movie."
Shot for $5 million, Queens of Country had the largest budget of any film that Page, Pomerenke, and McDaniel have ever worked on.
"For an indie film, that's a ton of money," McDaniel says. "Our first documentary [cost] 300 grand, our next doc was between five grand and seven grand. [Queens of Country is] 10 times bigger.
"[Quirky major-studio comedy] Bridesmaids cost $20 million, I think. But . . . out of that 20 million, was it really $8 million, and then they spent $12 million on marketing? I'm saying ours was $5 million [for everything] — shooting, editing, getting the posters designed."
McDaniel and partner Jason Stall arranged financing of the film. With Blood Into Wine's success to build on, McDaniel secured the start-up cash from an investor, who wishes to remain unnamed, through a handshake deal.
"We feel that every filmmaker is stuck on one theme," Page says, considering his filmography. "Martin Scorsese might be dealing with guilt in his films. Examining our films, it just hit us like a ton of bricks: All of our films are about identity."
Page cites What Is It, the 2005 "Down syndrome opus" he produced at age 18 with reclusive actor/director Crispin Glover, and Moog, a 2004 documentary he produced with director Hans Fjellestad. Criticized for its wandering narrative, the latter picture devoted as much time to Moog's gardening as to his pioneering work in the field of analog synthesizers.
The Heart Is a Drum Machine, Pomerenke's 2009 debut, is "squarely about identity," Page says, about human beings sending a gold record off into space so that aliens can hear human music and somehow understand us.
"Blood Into Wine is about a rock star [who] wants to re-identify as a wine maker," he says. "[Queens of Country] asks: Is Jolene's identity defined by her external surroundings."
If Page is the duo's pragmatist, Pomerenke is the idea man, the guy whose lofty, metaphysical musings color the themes of the film.
"[There's this idea] that says 'I think, therefore I am,' but there's a lot of other teachings that say, 'You're not your thoughts,'" Pomerenke says. "That's sort of the plague of the human species right now, meaning the past 1,000 years."
Caplan's character, Jolene, identifies with the trappings of country music and defines her life by her clothes, car, and records. Her character is presented as the heroine, played against Keenan's character, Bobby Angel, whose desire to remain in the past makes him unstable and dangerous.
Keenan brings darkness to the film, and when he kidnaps Jolene, the film moves from quirky comedy to something strange and menacing.
"In some ways, Bobby is some sort of mirror for Jolene to look at and see the worst possible version of herself," Page says. "There are a lot of mirrors [like Bobby] and doppelgängers in the film. So, logically, the main character of such a film may go running in the opposite direction once she realizes she is stuck in the past. But our character finds a way to comfortably continue on her path."
Keenan, who presented the production company with a bill for all the wine imbibed by the cast and crew while making Blood Into Wine, was a natural for the Bobby role, Page says.
"We really wanted Bobby Angel to be played by a famous musician," Page says. "Maynard just felt right. He was amazingly dedicated to performing this character — [though when] you cast someone who hasn't done a lot of acting, it's always scary."