Western shot in Maryland comes to Carroll Arts Center

Eric Roberts portrays Tanner in a scene from "Day of the Gun."
Eric Roberts portrays Tanner in a scene from "Day of the Gun." (SUBMITTED PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

When Earl Klemm was young, he spent his days with friends and family in Carroll County enjoying the films of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and John Wayne. He never thought he'd be joining them on the big screen.

Klemm, now living in Ellicott City, executive produced and acted in "Day of the Gun," an indie-Western produced primarily in Maryland. The film takes place in 1895 and follows a widowed ranch owner who is caught up in a land dispute with a cattle baron. As the violence between them escalates, she contacts a shadowy figure from her past. Klemm plays an intense villain named Nelson "Nubbs" Nubbins.

The film will be shown Friday at the Carroll Arts Center.

Klemm, who recently retired from accounting and retail work, said he fell backwards into filmmaking when a friend of his asked to use his home as a location in a film.

"He didn't pay me anything for using my house, so for payment I told him he had to cast me in his next film," Klemm said. "After that I started to help produce films and do some acting. I'm doing a few bits and pieces. To me it's not a career; it's a hobby. I'm retired now. I can do what I want."

"Day of the Gun" was directed by Wayne Shipley, a Jessup resident who directed his first film, "One Eyed Horse," in 2008 after retiring from teaching English in Anne Arundel county.

"I taught an introduction to film as literature. I've always been interested in film since I was a little kid," Shipley said. "Most people look at film as just pop culture entertainment, and it can be that, but I look at it more as a valid form of literature as well."

Shipley said in his film course, he helped students produce their own short films, and in the process developed his own filmmaking skills. After retiring, he joined several Hollywood productions that shot in Maryland, including "Runaway Bride," "Liberty Heights" and several John Waters films.

Shipley and Klemm first met on a film shoot where Klemm played a zombie. Klemm said they hit it off and discussed working together on future projects.

"We got to talking after Wayne shot me about 50 times," Klemm said. "Of course that doesn't put down a zombie."

"Day of the Gun" was shot on Shipley's farm in Jessup, where the filmmakers built a replica Western town including a fully functional saloon. The film features a cast and crew of around 300 people, including veteran actor Eric Roberts, who was recently seen in the films "The Dark Knight" and "The Expendables."

Fellow executive producer William Blewett said one of the most vital parts of creating a Western is doing the appropriate research. Blewett was responsible for researching Montana's history in the 1890s to accurately reproduce it on screen.

"In one of the scenes, the lead character refers to the fact that her ranch lost half of its stock in the previous winter," Blewett said. "If you look in the history books, in Montana, in that decade, there were two terrible winters, which decimated people's stocks. So to a casual viewer it doesn't mean a lot, but if someone knows their history, it adds a lot to the film."

Klemm said shooting the film was incredibly fun, though working in a pared-down Western town led to some issues.

"There was one night when we were filming that it was so cold even the horses were shivering," Klemm said. "We wanted to get done as quickly as possible. I was in a barn with a horse who turned around and stepped directly on my foot. I didn't say anything. You could say I was a trooper the rest of the night."

In addition to the scenes shot on Shipley's farm, second unit photography - a crew that shoots footage of scenery or additional scenes not featuring the principal actors - took place in Montana. When edited together, or made into a digital composite by visual effects artists, the Jessup farm is transported to the Montana backdrops, creating a Western vista primarily shot on the East Coast.

"Anybody who's my age - I'm 70 now - watched Westerns on television," Shipley said. "Back then every other program on TV was a Western, and in theaters in the '30s and '40s, they were cranking out something like three B-Westerns a day, and they were very successful. We as a culture lost interest, but they always kept coming back."

Klemm said he's looking forward to seeing his Carroll family and friends at the screening. Klemm, Shipley and Blewett will be present at the screening for a question-and-answer session following the film. Shipley said it was Klemm's Carroll County connections that brought the film to the Carroll Arts Center.

"My parents got a chance to see an earlier screening. They had never seen me up on screen before," Klemm said. "They didn't know I could be so mean."