“The one thing you can always count on is that it is never going to rain in Death Valley,” says director TJ Scott. Of course, save for when he’s filming his own personal project, an action noir thriller called Death Valley. When it rains, it pours.
“We were there on our last day and it rained half an inch, which it hadn’t done in fifty years,” he says.
The story, which takes place entirely in Death Valley and is filmed on location, involves four people stranded in the desert after accidentally running over a woman with their car. It stars Katrina Law (CW’s “Arrow,” Starz!’s “Spartacus”), Lochlyn Munro (Scary Movie, Freddy vs. Jason), TJ’s wife, Victoria Pratt (ABC’s “Day Break”, Marvel’s “Mutant X”), and Nick E. Tarabay (Starz! “Spartacus,” Star Trek Into Darkness), with Kelly Hu (X-Men 2, The Scorpion King) and Jeremy Ratchford (CBS’s “Cold Case”, “Unforgiven”).
It’s simply another intringuing challenge for the man who has directed endless challenges, from the modern-day version of Spartacus to 12 Monkeys and The Strain.
“Being a director, I always wanted to go on Survivor,” he says. “You get thrown in with people you’ve never met before and you have to quickly become the leader.”
Directing may be the next best thing, as his mettle was surely tested during his Death Valley days.
“Wrangling a crew and getting them to not only embrace your vision, but to see it and understand it and translate it, is an art,” he says, “and it’s one that I really keep working on. I think all good directors do. Over your career, you should get better and better at it, and to use more succinct language to get that vision across — what language to use for each department to tell them how to get what you want.”
This, of course, was no cozy Hollywood movie set. As unreal as studio work is, this location is as surreal as it gets.
“You never know what you’re getting in Death Valley,” he says, recalling that freak rainstorm. “Luckily, we were half-a-day ahead of our 12-day schedule. We all went inside and sat at the bar while it rained cats and dogs for four hours, and then we went outside and finished the movie. However, the weather actually mimicked the story. I think it’s called prophetic fallicy.”
Actually, that’s exactly what it is, where human qualities and emotions are attributed to nature. For TJ, the prophetic vision started early.
“Death Valley was my favorite place on Earth,” he says. “I remember traveling through it when I was like six or seven-years old. It’s so dry and so cool looking. I always wanted to do something there, and later in life, I wanted to make a movie there. Death Valley is a character within the movie. The idea is that you never really know anybody until you face adversity with them, to really see their true colors. People have different faces, different masks that they show you. Sometimes you can peel away somebody’s masks and see behind them. Certainly, when you are faced with danger, adversity, death, the masks begin to peel back.”
The intense, merciless heat also helps those masks to peel, but these days, you don’t have to travel to a godforsaken location to get mask-peeling realism. The new rules of television, where (almost) anything goes, is making his job as a director more interesting.
“Fifteen years ago, Breaking Bad could have been a one-off movie,” he says, “but on TV [today], you really get to explore those stories.”
One story he enjoyed exploring was the preamble to the Batman saga, told in Fox’s acclaimed (and popular) Gotham series.
“I saw the pilot and I said, ‘wow, look at the visuals in this,’ “he says. “They got the writer who created Rome: The Series [Bruno Heller] as the head writer, so you know it’s going to be good. I jumped on board right away because I knew this was a real quality, interesting project. They really found an interesting take into this world. All of these characters who we think we know — The Joker, Catwoman — it’s fun to to really see them when they’re young and making their bones and how they became those people. It has a lot of edge, and that’s why I like it. It’s on 8 o’ clock on Fox on Monday nights, but it’s really dark.”
Dark, yet right as rain.
Find out more about TJ Scott here.
Check out TJ’s coffee table book, In The Tub, in which he photographs intriguing celebs taking baths (you heard me). All profits from the book go to breast cancer research.