Ryan Piers Williams’ Sundance ’10 film “The Dry Land” starts its theatrical run in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. Williams provided indieWIRE with an exclusive clip and commentary from his feature which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, starring Ryan O’Nan, America Ferrera, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama and Melissa Leo.
“The Dry Land” follows a young U.S. soldier, James (Ryan O’Nan), as he returns to his home in Texas from a tour of duty in Iraq. James hurls himself back into his old life and finds it no longer fits. He tries to reconcile his experiences abroad with his life in rural Texas, but despite the support of his wife (America Ferrera), his mother (Melissa Leo), and friend (Jason Ritter) he is unable to settle in. James turns to an Army buddy (Wilmer Valderrama) for help and together they travel the country in search of redemption. Thinking that the war was behind him, James comes to realize that the fight for his life has only begun.
“The Dry Land” director Ryan Piers Williams, who was profiled in a iW Futures column, sets up the clip:
In this scene, James has just woken up from a night of drinking with his co-workers Michael (Jason Ritter) and Joe (Evan Jones). Michael and Joe have taken James out, gotten him trashed and are now embarking on a rabbit hunt. James is ripped out of his drunken sleep by several gunshots. In this scene we see Joe taunt James for not wanting to partake in the senseless humiliation of the rabbit he has just shot. This scene comes at a major turning point for James’ character and marks the beginning of his downward spiral.
I chose this scene because I believe it illustrates one of the central themes of the film – the disconnect that exists between James and the people he returns home to. He comes home to find an essential lack of understanding from his family and friends, and in this scene specifically a lack of sensitivity to his mental, physical and emotional state. This disconnect comes to a head when James is provoked by Joes’ unrelenting harassment. Ultimately, this scene is James’ tipping point. From here on out everything becomes about James’ immediate survival in a world where no one understands his inner battle.
I wanted to shoot the scene in mostly masters to conserve setup time and to help the actors stay in character. There were only a few shots that we punched in for; the majority of the scene was captured in masters.
This scene was probably the most difficult scene to shoot. We shot this scene on our last day of photography in Albuquerque, NM. When we arrived on set we were welcomed by 40 mile-an-hour winds. Our base camp, which was about a half a mile away, actually blew away that night. Our DP, Gavin Kelly, had to find a way to light this scene in the middle of the desert in a way that still looked like night but allowed for enough light to shoot the scene. I wanted the freedom to shoot and move the camera 280 degrees, which was a bit of a challenge. At one point one of our bounce boards blew away deep into the darkness of the desert and Ryan O’Nan went running after it. All I could think was, “Great – this is the part when my lead actor gets bit by a rattlesnake. Does anyone have eyes on the medic?” Thankfully, he returned with a smile, the bounce board and no venom to be found.
It’s a tough scene on many levels, so I really just wanted the actors to be able to push themselves and have some fun with it. Evan Jones brought such an insane energy and I just let him run with it. Jason Ritter decided to chew tobacco for this scene. I really loved this choice and how it added such a gritty quality to his voice and forced him to constantly spit. Unfortunately, Jason had way too much tobacco and got a bit sick from it. Ryan was able to really capture the drunken haze James wakes up in. My favorite part of this scene is watching Evan’s stringy hair blowing in the wind. It’s really nasty…I love it.
Overall this scene really represents the heart of how this film was made – shooting on real locations, under harsh conditions, in order to capture the scenes in the most raw and unaffected way.
For more information on the film, visit the film’s website: www.thedrylandmovie.com