Francis Galluppi recently burst onto the festival scene with his directorial debut The Last Stop in Yuma County, a wild one-location crime thriller starring Jim Cummings, Jocelyn Donahue, and Richard Brake.
Set The Tape’s Nicholas Lay spoke with Francis about how his first feature came about, working with Jim Cummings, and the brutality of desert rainstorms.
Nicholas Lay: The Last Stop in Yuma County is your debut feature. Where did the idea come from?
Francis Galluppi: I started off making short films with my friends for no money, writing stories based off locations that we already had access to, like my friend’s desert house or my friend’s cabin. When it came time to write the feature, I started to scout locations first. It needed to be something really contained because I knew we were going to be working with a small budget and wouldn’t have a lot of time. Then I found this diner on a set in Lancaster, CA called Four Aces. The place looked awesome and I felt a real ’70s kind of vibe. I went in and took a bunch of pictures, drew a map of the diner and began crafting the script based on the location.
Nicholas Lay: How did the picture come together?
FG: My first short film, High Desert Hell, played at the Horror Hound Festival in Cincinnati. While I was there, I met this guy James, who saw the short and said, “Let’s make a movie. I’ll give you $50K”, and I thought, “Holy shit, I can make a feature for $50K!”, because I was already making short films for $500. I did the math on the money and the time and it made sense. That’s when I started writing the script for Last Stop and it starting getting some buzz. Richard Brake signed on early on and we signed with a production company, but that turned out to be a huge headache and we were in limbo for a year and a half. They wanted to cast certain names that would bring value, but they weren’t really a good fit.
Once the option expired and I had the script back, I just started going out to the actors that I really wanted to work with, like Jim [Cummings]. I always had him in mind for the role of the knife salesman, so I wrote him a letter. He called me and asked if I wanted to come over and have coffee. We met and didn’t even chat much about the movie, but more about South Park and movies in general. At the end of the conversation, Jim just said he wanted to do it, but we still didn’t have the money. My friend James, who initially put up the development funds, ended up selling his house to finance the movie. It was a total passion project and as indie as you can get. I hired my friends into the crew and there was nobody telling us what to do. It was a fucking dream, man.
NL: It’s character actor central in that diner. Was it easy getting the cast together?
FG: At first, it was really tough. The company we were working with had promised us $5M and we were going out to big names who immediately said no, probably because I was a first time filmmaker. That was really discouraging as every few weeks we’d get another “No”, but I knew in my gut it wasn’t right anyway. After I met with Jim I wrote some more letters and reached out to Jocelyn [Donahue].
I’d been keeping a short list of actors, like Sierra McCormick, whose incredible in The Vast of Night. I saw Nicholas Logan in I Care a Lot and he just blew me away. I wrote them all letters and had a great casting director who was able to reach them, so we got really lucky. After that, it was actually pretty easy. I don’t know if it was the script, the letters, or jumping on Zoom calls with the actors, but once Richard and Jim were on board and we could include their names in the letter, that made it a lot easier. Once we had the six people I really wanted, I just kept pushing our luck and reached out to Barbara Crampton. I mean, why the fuck not! It’s a small part, but I was such a big fan. Again, I got lucky because the actors I picked were all cinephiles. On our Zoom calls, we just talked about movies and they had the same influences, so it just clicked with everybody.
NL: How did you feel when you first got on set with the cast? Was it nerve-racking at all?
FG: It’s weird, man, I never really got nervous. My director of photography and I prepped so much, and with all the delays on the movie we had even more time to do that. We shot and designed a photo board and were going out to the location regularly, so we came in with such a meticulous plan. On top of that I was getting on Zoom calls with every actor and going through the script. Anything that felt contrived, I would just rewrite it on the spot with the actor right there. We’d done so much prep that I couldn’t be nervous, and we had such little time that I knew we just had to go out there and fucking do it.
NL: Jim Cummings is a fellow writer-director who also acts in his own films. What was it like working with him?
FG: Well, Jim’s got one up on me because I’ll never fucking act in a movie! From the beginning he really trusted me and understood what I was going for, I think because he’s also a director. He took direction really, really well. Fortunately, we had some time during pre-light to rehearse with him and Jocelyn on set, and we really figured out his character during those few days. Once it clicked, he was just in. He was a fucking pro who was very respectful and kept that line of actor and director. I value his opinion and there were times when I would turn to him or Jocelyn or one of my friends and and ask them what they thought. That’s the way I do it, if I’m not sure, I’ll ask, so that was nice.
There were certain points during the process where I thought I was going to lose my shit. We were in the desert and out of nowhere it would start pouring with rain, we would lose time, and I’d be in the corner with my head down trying to figure out how to pivot and make this scene work. Jim would come up to me and tell me a joke or tell me it’s going to be OK. He’s just so sweet. He knew how I was feeling because he’s been there before. So he would approach me and cheer me up. I have a very few select friends that I’ve been friends with since high school, and the first time I sat down with Jim, he was one of us. Now, we hang out all the time and we’re just big nerds.
NL: The desert stopover and single location feature in many classic genre movies. What influenced you on Yuma County?
FG: It was more about me just consuming a fuck ton of movies, but definitely Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah, and a lot of Hitchcock. It’s always Hitchcock for single room location thrillers, like Rope and Dial M for Murder. Then there’s Le Silence de la mer, which is not really a thriller, but I love that movie. It’s just so captivating, and what Jean Pierre Melville does with a single room is amazing.
NL: A film featuring bank robbers inevitably runs into a Mexican standoff. What was the biggest challenge shooting that scene?
FG: A lot of time went into the slow motion sequence leading up to that scene. That’s the part I really like. I was shooting around my house and cutting it and figuring out what I was missing. For the actual shootout, I knew I wanted it to happen really fast, so it was a question of how can I show everything in as few shots as possible. We needed to frame a certain shot while seeing something in the background that takes us to the next shot,and I was writing with special effects and shot listings in mind. On my short films, we didn’t have a crew. I did all the production design and special effects, so I was able to map it out. Once that was done, I think the whole sequence was done in four or five shots.
At that point it became nerve-racking because there’s so many things happening. We use blanks, we use squibs, we used tubes, and we only got one take every single time because we didn’t have the money for extra squibs or the time to sew them into another costume. We were worried that a tube would malfunction, a blank wouldn’t go off, or we wouldn’t catch the muzzle flash. All these things ran through my head and we got really fucking lucky. For the first shot we did, the overheard of Beau and Charlotte, a lot of things had to go right, and when we got it, everyone was jumping up and down cheering. After that, we had a feeling it was all going to go right, and thankfully it did.
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NL: Did you have a favourite on set moment during the shoot?
FG: I think the real highlight was the two one shot takes we pulled off. There was the scene with Richard, across from Jim and Jocelyn, setting up the plot. My DP and I thought about that shot over and over and over again and didn’t know if we could pull it off. We did 15 takes, ditched the coverage, and just ended up committing to the shot. Once we got it, everyone in the room kind of knew that was it and it was just one of those moments. Then there’s the really long oner with Jim running around outside, which was a bit more chaotic. There was like cars zipping by halfway through a take, then a fucking motorcycle, so we had to start over, but it was pretty rewarding when we got it.
NL: And the lowest point?
FG: I won’t mention names, but one of the actors we had attached got COVID and couldn’t make it, so we had to recast somebody on tape the day before and then they showed up and it just wasn’t working. So we had to recast in the middle of the shoot, which was a giant headache. It all worked out great, but at the time I was questioning what we were doing there. Then there was the weather. It was the second day of the shoot and it’s supposed to be hot as hell outside, and it just started pouring rain. Like, a full on rainstorm with equipment blowing everywhere. It ate up half our day and I wondered if it would be like this every day, if we were completely screwed.The weather was just so unpredictable out there. We had a lot of stuff we couldn’t make up, but when I got into the edit I realised I didn’t need it, so it worked out.
NL: What’s next for you, anything in the pipeline?
FG: I’m working on a Western right now, a full-fledged western called By the Skin of One’s Teeth. That’s really the next thing I want to do. I’ve been thinking about for as long as I’ve been thinking about Yuma County, so I’m trying to get the wheels turning on that one. It takes place in 1856 in a fictional town in Northern California. It’s a snow Western about these two brothers mining for gold and everything goes wrong. It’s funny, my reps are like, “Don’t call it western”, because the second you say that, people are out. But it’s a fucking western, so I’ve got to call it a western. I fucking love them and don’t think there’s enough getting made, but when they are made, they’re obviously real passion projects. To get a western made in today’s climate is challenging so if you’re going to try and make one, it better be worth it.
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NL: Any other indie films or filmmakers you’d like to shout out?
FG: I’d like to shout out some of my filmmaker friends who’re trying to get their features made at the moment. I’ve read their stuff and it deserves to get made, and hopefully when the strike is over they can get it going. My friend RJ Collins is trying to get a movie going called Left Alone, which is a great script. My friend Jackson Stewart has a movie called Stereo Vision that he’s trying to get made, and there’s Sam Huntington, whose script I just read and it’s amazing. So, really just a shout out to my friends. They have really great material and I hope it gets made.
NL: Great chatting with, Francis.
FG: Thank-you so much.
The Last Stop in Yuma County is currently on the festival circuit. Keep an eye out for its theatrical release dates.