Painted Woman will open at AMC Theaters in Fort Smith, Fayetteville, and Tulsa on Friday (Dec. 1) and Oklahoma City on Dec. 8. The western throwback inspired by Springdale author Dusty Richards’ 150th novel (The Mustanger and the Lady) tells the story of Julie (Stef Dawson, Annie Cresta from The Hunger Games), a woman in the old west who escapes an abusive relationship to find her identity.
It is the first produced feature of Conway-based screenwriter and producer Amber Lindley, who collaborated with industry veteran and Fort Smith native James Cotten on the screenplay. Cotten directs the film, his fourth feature following 2007’s Sugar Creek, a horror/western hybrid, and action-drama La Linea (The Line) starring Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Esai Morales, and Armand Assante.
For Painted Woman, Lindley had adapted the novel into screenplay form prior to bringing on Cotten, but she looked at the script as a living document.
“It was a novel with a lot of action and characters and a lot of conflict. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure which way to adapt it — that’s always the dilemma when you’re adapting, what parts do you tell on screen — but as the hiring process began, I knew whoever we hired, I wanted them to have a lot of creative freedom,” she told Talk Business & Politics in a recent interview.
Lindley had decided to tell the story from the female character’s point-of-view, and after bringing on Cotten, she and producers found a kindred spirit.
“It was very important to me to find the right director. We interviewed him, the producers and I, and James had made a western before. He had made an action film and had done some horror. When you have a western and you’re trying to tackle one with somebody like Dusty Richards and his persona of the west, you need a cool factor and someone who understands action. So I started recognizing how much experience James had, and he was really just the whole package — the quality of his storytelling, his experience, the fact he was from the same region. My hope was that all of those things would make for great communication and productivity, and it did.”
The production used a mostly Arkansas and Oklahoma cast and crew, and according to Cotten, it helped him stretch the budget to appear more expensive than it actually is. While Cotten was not authorized to discuss budget numbers, he felt comfortable working within his restraints. (See the trailer at the end of this story.)
The filmmaker, who lives and works in Hollywood and boasts a list of more than two dozen editorial credits on films like Curse of Chucky, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, and Captain Fantastic with Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) has seen the filmmaking industry from multiple sides — creative, behind the scenes, and business.
He directed his first movie under the tutelage of Roger Corman, who gave initial directorial breaks to Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and James Cameron. The Corman job was for Demon Slayer, a low-budget independent horror film that Cotten shot and finished for $80,000. Corman later signed a three-year, six-figure deal with SyFy to air the film.
“One of the things I’m very proud of about this movie is that we were able to make it look bigger than the money we spent. If you build production value, then you look like you can compete with other films,” Cotten said.
In an early test run, it did more than compete. Premiering at Poteau Theater on the weekend of Nov. 10, Painted Woman sold more tickets than holdover Thor: Ragnarok and Daddy’s Home 2 in the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy’s opening weekend. Cotten sees — and believes audiences see — in Painted Woman a “movie for home.”
“It’s made with Arkansas producers. We shot it all in Oklahoma, and now we’re getting to show it in states that are the most involved,” Cotten told Talk Business & Politics. “I’m excited about it, and we’re getting a lot of positive buzz. I think we should be able to do fine in some pretty big markets.”
But beyond budget and home, Cotten said it “tells a story that needs to be told right now.”
“There is a character in this movie who is basically the Harvey Weinstein of 1899, and I had no idea any of this was going to come out when I was writing it. I was just writing based on the stories of abuse out here that I’d heard. I didn’t know all this was going to come out,” Cotten said, adding that “if the film can save one person from living in that same life of abuse, that’s the reason you make movies.”
Thus far, Cotten and Lindley are seeing their “perfect storm of a movie” resonate with the audiences who have seen it while catching the attention of some major players in the film distribution market.
“We played it at Bentonville (Film Festival), and the real run will be getting it into Walmart,” who is behind the film, Cotten said, adding that he expects DVDs to drop in stores in February. Echo Bridge Home Entertainment — distributors of Hellraiser, Children of the Corn, and From Dusk Till Dawn — picked up home video distribution rights, Lindley added.
Additionally, Painted Woman has garnered a positive response on the film festival circuit, winning Best Romance at the Alaskan Film Awards, receiving multiple Best Film nominations, and winning the Third Place prize in the Feature Film category at the Lake Charles Film Festival in Louisiana and Best Picture at the Arizona-based Wild Bunch Film Festival.
Painted Woman stars Dawson, Matt Dallas (Kyle XY), Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga), David Thomas Jenkins (Girl Meets World), and Robert Craighead (Future Man, New Girl, and Tyler Perry’s Too Close To Home).