It’s a warm, clear afternoon. Steely-eyed, Jesse James rides down a dusty New Mexico street toward a corner saloon…
Then, director Thadd Turner yells, “Cut!” Cinematographer Paolo Cascio can’t rein in his excitement.
“This is awesome!” he yells as he steps away from the camera. “I’ve waited 30 years to do this!”
There’s nothing quite like shooting a Western—even if it’s only a music video—to get a film crew excited.
It’s late summer, and for two long days, production crews, extras, band members, Nashville music executives and even five New Orleans Saints cheerleaders have joined country music star Clay Walker to film his latest music video. The song is “Jesse James,” from Walker’s 2010 CD She Won’t Be Lonely Long.
“I’d never been pitched a song like that before,” Walker says during a lunch break, sitting inside the saloon at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a movie set outside Santa Fe that has seen plenty of Hollywood Westerns, including The Man from Laramie (1955), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1968), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and Appaloosa (2008).
“The music actually fit the title. It’s very rugged, driving, a lot of energy to it, and I could picture the video unfolding. Most of the time, you don’t really think, ‘Oh, this song is going to make a great video,’ but [that wasn’t so] in this case.”
The Old West mythology and romance captured in Walker’s music video was influenced by his loves of Western cinema.
“I always loved cowboy movies,” he says. “Of course John Wayne, but I really loved the more modern Westerns like Unforgiven, Josey Wales, Tombstone. That’s the way I really pictured this song, more or less looking like Tombstone, which is now a cult favorite.”
Enter Turner, the actor-writer-producer-director who came up with the treatment for the video. Turner, who dresses and looks like Wild Bill Hickok, is no stranger to Westerns. He won a screenwriting Spur Award from Western Writers of America for his 2005 independent release Miracle at Sage Creek (since retitled Christmas Miracle at Sage Creek), and his Talmarc Productions has a number of Western film projects in the works.
Turner even gets his five minutes and plays a bad guy in the video who gets gunned down with two other hombres by Walker’s Jesse James in a saloon gunfight. Even Cascio gets a scene—as a Kenny Chesney look-alike—behind the camera for once, causing him quite a few headaches as director of photographer. “How do you light yourself?” he asks.
Gunfights ... Horses ... Cheerleaders dressed as saloon girls ... A night scene around an old train? Plus Walker and his band jamming a raucous little song… What’s not to love in this video that nods to the theatrics (along with some of the camp, kitsch, and fun) of cult Westerns.
Unlike performing in a concert, where the energy is full force and the reaction, and gratification, are instant, creating a music video means 10- and 15-hour days to film just a 4-minute, 20-second song. Anyone who has ever seen Walker perform knows he’s all about high energy and movement, but on set, he’s had to learn to “hurry up and wait.”
“Patience is something that is learned,” Walker says. “You realize that when you have this many moving parts, it’s not gonna go exactly the way it was planned. But in the end, if you get the product you’re looking for, then it’s all worth it.”
Besides, Walker says, it’s pretty cool to be on a set, dressed as a gunfighter.
“I’m definitely getting comfortable in these Jesse James clothes,” he says. “I can see me doing a concert wearing some of this gear.”