As a huge Western fan, I appreciated director Timothy Woodward Jr.’s latest feature The Outsider. Asians are rarely featured in the genre, and Jon Foo is actually the film’s lead. Couple that interesting element and pair solid work from vets Trace Adkins (Hickok, which Woodward Jr. also directed) and Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints), and you have a pretty promising film. I ended up digging the film, and check out my post below as Woodward Jr. talks about the challenging but ultimately gratifying journey of making The Outsider.
The Outsider centers on Jing (Jon Foo), a railroad worker whose seeks vengeance after his significant other (Nelli Tsay) passes away. Her tragic fate was sealed by the morally bankrupt son (Kaiwi Lyman) of Marshal Walker (Trace Adkins). Although Walker understands his son’s actions are unforgivable, he continues to protect his kin out of blind love, awaiting a final showdown with Jing, a man who has a knack for killing men within the blink of an eye.
Timothy Woodward Jr. is a director who makes movies at an impressive clip even though he isn’t armed with the biggest of budgets or the most available of resources. Still, he finds a way to make it work, as you will see from our discussion.
I’ve seen a ton of Westerns, and The Outsider has an extremely unique perspective as your main character (Jon Foo) is Chinese. Can you talk about the genesis of The Outsider?
I had done two Westerns in the past and when the idea came up, I wanted to do another one. We wanted to do something different and the entire timeline of the (building of the railroad) and the Chinese immigrants was something that was super fascinating. It was something we started diving into and we just liked the idea of the fish out of water story on what it was like to be Chinese, to be working on the railroad, and coming through these Western towns.
They would move from tent camp to tent camp and wherever basically the railroad was being built. It was this story of what would happen if this couple (Jon Foo, Nelli Tsay) would have walked through this town and encountered the wrong person. I thought that was really interesting.
Instead of taking an easier route and shooting your Western during the day, a big part of The Outsider takes place come nightfall. What were the challenges of shooting a healthy portion of your film at night?
Yeah it would have been 100 times easier to kind of do a lot of day (shoots). Any time you’re doing nights, especially with a period piece, you don’t have street lamps, you don’t have all the things you would have in a (modern day) set movie. So the lighting (set-ups) are really unique.
We took it up a step more, as a lot of the scenes (take place) in the rain. So it just made it as extremely difficult but I thought it was rewarding since it was something different. When you think of horses and cowboys, you don’t think about them trucking through the mud at night in the rain. It was exciting to do but it was also extremely challenging. It was also during the time when we had a lot of fires in California. It was extremely windy, so we would often have to set up four or five rain towers with two water trucks at a time. We just didn’t know the directing the wind was going to blow.
Sean Patrick Flanery and Jon Foo also have an interesting dynamic in the film. Actually, you’re entire ensemble is pretty top notch.
Sean Patrick Flanery was great. He came in prepared. He came in with a lot of ideas regarding the backstory of his character. I loved the idea and told him I’d imagined that this guy would kill himself the night before (meeting Jing) because he just has these demons and he’s always moving around from place to place.
Everybody interacted really well. Trace Adkins I’ve worked with several times and he’s got this deep voice that draws you in. Along with Jon Foo as our lead, I was extremely happy with everyone’s performances. We all worked really hard and I hope it all came across.
When you add the element of all this conflict and tension whether it’s the father and son (dynamic), the man who lost his wife, the guy who’s on a mission to kill himself and is looking for nothing and you collide these characters in this very tragic circumstance, I think that’s interesting.
You make more than one film per year and your productions feature epic stories but with an indie budget. How challenging as well as gratifying is that process?
Yeah it’s tough, I’ll be honest with you. Because you get a script and you have someone come in say ‘Make this movie’ for under a million or two million, or under $500,000. You’re trying to stay true to the story but also you’re trying to deliver at a level that’s above that and make it something really big.
For us, it’s really taking our time. We focus on the lighting. We focus on set pieces. We focus on character. We just work really twice as hard and try to make sure everything is perfect and everything is as good as it can get. We talk to people and try to make deals. We’ll come into the studio maybe when it’s on the weekend because we can’t afford it on the weekday and make a deal in order to get in this place.
(It’s) just coming from a more strategic way and not looking at what you can’t do and looking at what you can do.
Since 2017, you have six directing credits. You would have definitely flourished in the Hollywood system during its Golden Age. Do you ever feel a kinship to those directors?
Yeah so it’s funny, I didn’t know I had that many out because two or three a year is my absolute max. But I’m actually located at Sunset Gower Studios which was also known as Poverty Row. It was back in those days where they would rock it out. I love history and how Harry Cohn built the studio from nothing.
For me, I’m learning every time. I’m growing every time. If I could spend all my time on a film set, I love it that much, I would.
A lot of people feel you get penalized for doing something or they’re nervous to jump in. If I can find an experience out of this (and) if I can do something different, if I can push myself to the limits and tell a good story, then why not? I’m not afraid of work.
I’m not afraid of failing either. Even with this movie there are some things I look at and I would do it differently but I know I gave everything I had to it. I know that I tried with everything that I’ve got and I know that my team did as well – that alone is like a satisfaction. If I had taken it half way or taken it easy, it’d be different.
What has been your partnership with Trace Adkins like?
I love working with Trace Adkins. He’s extremely talented. He actually is a lot more talented than he realizes. He’s a singer first and an actor second. That’s how he looks at himself.
But I’ve told him a thousand times, and I don’t think he believes me, that he has such a big aura about him naturally. (He) can walk into a room and command it just by (his) presence alone. It’s really incredible working with him and I definitely like working with him in the Western genre. I think he can do a lot more outside of that.
I like to work with a lot of people frequently. Kaiwi Lyman – I’ve worked with him three or four times now. He’s a really good actor as well.
Can you name one of your favorite films and what is it about this film that you love?
Gosh, you just asked me the hardest question ever.
Sorry, I apologize!
There are so many I love. In the Western genre, it’s probably Tombstone just because I love everything about that film. It’s well made and it’s just a really good story.
I just watched a movie the other night and it brought back (memories of) childhood. You’re probably going to laugh – it’s the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder. I still love watching that movie. It’s just for different reasons. It depends on if I want to escape or if I want to see something that has a serious meaning to it.
With films, it’s entertainment no matter what but there are different films for different days, every day of the week.
The Outsider, co-starring Danny Trejo, is now out On Demand and Digital and it makes its Blu-ray and DVD debut on August 6.
To take a listen to the latest episode of CinemAddicts, a movie review podcast I co-host with Anderson Cowan, check it out below: