Oscars: 'Hell or High Water' Producers on Fighting Off Rattlesnakes, Heat Stroke in the New Mexico Desert
Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn spoke to THR about how they survived high desert hazards and their stars’ incompatible schedules to get the film made "come hell or high water."
When you are making an indie feature, Julie Yorn and Carla Hacken will tell you, there are times when you have to make cuts, and sometimes those cuts include a cougar. Regardless, the feline wasn't missed in the modern-day Western Hell or High Water, which is vying for the best picture Oscar — the first nomination for the duo, who produced the film along with Sidney Kimmel and Peter Berg. Directed by David Mackenzie, the contemporary Western follows the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), who plan to save their family farm by robbing the very bank that is trying to seize it, and the Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) who is hot on their trail. Yorn and Hacken spoke to THR about how they survived rattlesnakes, the high desert and their actors' schedules.
How did each of you get involved with Hell or High Water?
CARLA HACKEN When I came to run production for [Sidney Kimmel Entertainment], the project was here and was trying to come together. I was obsessed with the script before I even came to the company. I had tried to buy it at my previous job. I met with Taylor [Sheridan, the screenwriter], and I just loved it, and when I got here, I was like, "I'm going to get this movie made come hell or high water." (Laughs.) I said that long before it was the title. It used to be called Comancheria.
JULIE YORN You sent the script and told me how much you loved it, and I read it that night.
HACKEN It's funny because yesterday somebody asked me, "Oh, two women [produced] this movie?" And I never even thought of it that way. I just knew that Julie loved it as much as I did, and I knew that she would have a great temperament for our director.
The consensus from everyone involved is that they were just enamored with this script.
YORN That's why we're all here. The quality of that script just sort of brought everybody together.
HACKEN Chris Pine was one of the first people who read it and was like, "I'll do anything to be in this movie. I just cannot let anyone but me play this part." That spoke volumes to us and, not to mention, he was quite valuable to us in terms of name. Once Chris said yes, Julie, you single-mindedly could only see Jeff Bridges.
YORN I think we willed that into existence. Not only was he perfect creatively, he is one of both of our favorite actors of all time. I felt like he was going to define the movie. Jeff Bridges sets the tone for a high-quality film and, again, he is meaningful for financiers.
HACKEN I just remembered he gave his dates, like, "Well, I want to do the movie, but I don't want to do it [at this time] because I want to go to Montana for this amount of time." It was like the polar opposite of the dates we were given for when Chris Pine was available. It's shocking to me now that the movie actually got off the ground. (Laughs.)
You shot in New Mexico in mid-summer. Was that arduous?
YORN We got lucky with some of the temperatures in June in Albuquerque. But then we went on location to this place, To'hajiilee, which was where you see the Breaking Bad desert sequences. You're in the high desert — it was probably the most insufferable temperatures I've ever been in. You didn't even recognize anybody on the crew because they had clothes tied around their head like you were in the Arabian desert.
HACKEN I just remember at some point we were standing on the side of the road, and Lorey Sebastian, our still photographer, took a picture of you and me. Behind us was our rattlesnake wrangler, who, literally, was in [the] wardrobe [department]. He and his daughter would just basically comb the area in which we were all standing to look for and kill rattlesnakes.
Because of the budget, were there any tough cuts you had to make during production?
HACKEN There was a sequence that we called the Noah's Ark sequence. The scene where Marcus [Bridges] and Alberto [Gil Birmingham] are driving, and there's the whole cattle crossing of the cowboys, it was originally in the script that you see these local animals are all sort of being shooed away by the fire. This beautiful, proud cougar makes this meaningful eye contact with Marcus, and you know that he really sees Marcus in the midst of this kind of whirlwind couple of days. It was this really beautiful, lyrical, almost surreal moment, and it just didn't really work.
YORN It worked so well in the script, but we made such a beautifully grounded film that I think it would have made everybody go, "Wait. What?"
This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.