A Conversation with Gina Gammel, Franklin Sioux Bob, Jojo Bapteise Whiting & Willi White (WAR PONY)
(You can read the other War Pony cast interview at this link…)
Hammer To Nail: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I am wondering how each of you got involved in the project? For Gina, Willi and Franklin when did the inception of this film begin and why? And for Jojo how did you get involved?
Gina Gammel: For me the inception was Riley. She was shooting American Honey and Frank, and Billy, who are writers on War Pony, were in a scene with her. Their scene got pushed and they wound up spending the day together. From there a really special friendship was born. She hit me up that day and said, “I just met two amazing guys, I think they are going to be my friends.” A week later she asked me if I wanted to go to South Dakota for a trip. It was during summer vacation and I thought, “Why not?” We were young and did not have much else going on. That birthed what is now one of the most profound and meaningful friendships in my life with Billy, and Frank, and then Willy shortly thereafter. It was years and years of friendship that turned into exchanging of ideas and exchanging of stories. We created various forms of art together. This movie came much later. It really was a friendship.
Willi White: I do not know how aware of this they are but during the time they were working on American Honey in South Dakota I was working with Andrea Arnold shadowing her. I remember getting connected with Riley and Gina when they had come back out. Riley wanted to meet people locally and other filmmakers. They originally asked me to hop onto at VR project they were working on. At that time we were playing around figuring things out. They told me they were going to start working on a script and then suddenly they had this script for me. They already had the financing but that is when I got involved.
Jojo Bapteise Whiting: Honestly, I do not know. I think it was because I was different. They found me at a carnival. It was like a fare. I was just riding a ride, they came up and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. At first I was hesitant, I never reached back [out]. Later that year I was watching a movie, and I saw some scenes and I thought to myself, “you know what, that could be easy.” I try to live life where I do not have to think about the would haves, could haves or the should haves. If I have an opportunity I am going to take it. Where I come from there is not much opportunity. Everybody doubted me when I told them that these people wanted me to be in their movie. They thought that they were just trying to steal me. They immediately thought of all the negatives. They never thought that it could be a real movie or it could better my future. I really do not know how I was cast. I had dreadlocks, my hair was dyed, I was just different from everyone else and that is probably what stood out to them.
HTN: Thankfully you took the role because your performance was amazing.
JBW: Thank You!
HTN: The film debuted at Cannes, which is where I originally saw it. What was that experience like?
Franklin Sioux Bob: It was humbling. I had anxiety, imposter syndrome, all of that
WW: Everyone felt like it was a fever dream. Cannes is filled with so much luxury, it is very outlandish. If you throw a bunch of kids from the reservation into Cannes, it is super jarring. There was a lot that happened and a lot we were up against. There were a lot of conversations we had behind the scenes trying to make sure everyone was involved. We brought a lot of the cast to Cannes and it was a huge endeavor. Cannes is very traditional, they have lots of specific rules. We had to navigate a lot of those barriers together. Gina and Riley were very helpful in championing that. They made a huge difference in the experience for everyone who got to go.
GG: We made this movie in our own little vacuum of friendship. It was weird realizing that the film could be shared now. There is that very awkward moment in the filmmaking process where it ceases to be your project and it becomes for other people to absorb. It was hugely humbling, but it was also a huge honor to be invited to Cannes.
HTN: And then you guys deservedly won the Camera D’Or! Congratulations, that is such an amazing achievement!
GG: Thank you so much!
HTN: For Jojo, I feel like an extremely important moment for your character is when Allison is calling you out and you have your halloween makeup on. I really enjoyed the subtleties of your performance. What preparation did you do for this moment and for Gina and Franklin, what was your thinking in crafting this scene?
JBW: Honestly, I have been in some things you know? I have lived my life. Bill and I are not the same but we have been in similar situations. I would not say that I prepared myself for this moment, it was more muscle memory. I just knew how to react. At the same time I would ask for feedback to try and make it perfect.
GG: That sequence came late. It was not in the initial shooting draft of the script. There was something else that was there. The movie was shot over 3 years. We had to wait for the weather and people’s schedules were crazy. There were many reasons for the stop start nature of the shoot. It did give us time to tie up Bill’s relationship with that family and come up with that sequence. I think that Allison is so funny and such an interesting performer. We wanted this scene to be just between her and Bill cause they had unexpected chemistry and a strange dynamic together. Jojo is an amazingly instinctive and subtle performer. He brings so much to every take and the way he is able to adjust is similar to a seasoned actor. He just has it in him. He has lived a big life and been through a lot of stuff. This comes through in the subtleties of his performance. This scene, for example, Allison is really insulting his character, the way he was able to just internalize and reflect it was a hats off moment to Jojo and his ability to understand that, through living in moments like that situation, there is no performance needed, it is all in the subtext of their relationship.
HTN: That sequence was definitely memorable for me. Somehow you were not the only gritty drama film at Cannes that featured the song Look At Me by XXXtentacion, the other one being Rodeo. This was not the only moment featuring an XXX song either. How and why did his music play a role in this film?
GG: That is a question for Franklin and Jojo.
FSB: During the timeframe that this film was being scripted, XXX was alive. In a way this is a period piece for 2015-2018. There were a whole bunch of artists coming up around then and XXX had been the most timeless for us.
GG: For half of the shoot Riley and I were living with Jojo, and this man listens to XXX and NBA Youngboy pretty much exclusively. We wanted to capture everything. When you are coming of age, and even now for me, there are albums that you listen to over and over again when you are going through stuff. You listen to certain artists who become the artists of your lives and XXX was very important to Jojo and a lot of his peers.
HTN: Well, I am a fan of both artists so I was just wondering why! This film was shot digitally and I think it is gorgeously shot. I was wondering if film was ever considered for the project and if you could have shot on film would you have?
GG: Yes and yes. It would have been a dream to shoot on film. We were a very tiny movie and there was not really any budget to consider it. I think we thought about it for all of 24 hours before realizing that it is not possible. I think film captures things in a way that is so honest. The fact that we shot in digital allowed us to play in a way that we would have been limited by film. Overall, we would have loved to have shot on film and it was a shame that we could not.
HTN: No shame because it looks beautiful and is an amazingly shot film. A lot of people are credited for the screenplay so I am wondering what the screenwriting process was like?
GG: The stories were all Frank and Billy’s stories. The voices are all their voices. The process was like years of exchanging stories, and then Riley and I started to catalog it. Eventually we sat down with Final Draft and started to create a script. Billy and Frank were constantly reading and editing and adjusting. It was years of that.
HTN: The script came out so natural it was great. This was shot on location. I was wondering what the process was to be granted access to all of these locations?
WW: From a producing standpoint, coming from this community, it was difficult to navigate. We had a lot of conversations to make sure we got the right approvals so we could shoot on reservation land. We got the support we needed from the government and that was a huge step forward. A lot of projects shoot in Pine Ridge and shoot without asking permission. It was very important to us to get that permission because it was such a community based film.
FSB: For finding the locations it was a lot of asking family friends. It was hard to find people who would take us in for this amount of time, that was really what it was about, relying on the community. There was no way to build any of these homes as a set, it would look so odd. So we had just had to rely on the people of the community.
HTN: It was a privilege to sit with all of you today, I loved the film so much!
– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS)