Watson, 15, screens western debut
Brandon Watson doesn’t seem to do anything by halves.
When the now 15-year-old filmmaker decided to immerse himself in the western genre a few years back, he went deep, diving into the rich cinematic world of Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Clint Eastwood, classics starring John Wayne and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. So it’s hardly surprising that, eventually, the tropes of the genre began to dominate his dreams. One night, a particularly vivid storyline came rolling through his subconscious.
“I remember walking through a dark, musky alleyway and I came across two drunken cowboys and they were approaching a young girl ,” Brandon says. “So I rescued her and took her to my tenement and said, ‘Where are your parents?’ Then the rest of the story unravelled.”
Brandon, who was 13 at the time, quickly dashed out a script. By that point, he was already both a veteran film buff and filmmaker, directing, writing and starring in 12 shorts.
But Calico felt more ambitious. So he soon found himself overseeing his debut feature-length at the CL Ranch, a standing western set west of Calgary that has been used for the series Hell on Wheels, Klondike and the western movie Forsaken, among others.
On Tuesday night, Calico will be making its big-screen debut at the Globe Cinema, the culmination of what the young auteur reckons has been a solid decade of filmmaking. It tells the story of a teenager, orphaned after the murder of his parents, named Joshua Ingram (Watson). He rescues a teen girl from the aforementioned drunk cowboys, marries her and eventually takes her from New York to the mining town of Calico, California with four orphaned children in tow. Their attempts to settle into a normal life are disrupted by when some darkness from his past invades the small town.
Having the lead role in a film that you also direct, write, produce and help find financing for (his dad, Gary, who also put in time as director of photography, helped out in that regard) is no small feat for anyone, but particularly a 13-year-old.
“Ever since I started out, I had to do everything,” Watson says. “So I learned this stuff from every aspect. I’m already used to doing a lot of things for every production. I also like to have as much control over it as possible, just to make it my work. For this film, the way it came about, generally when you dream you dream from your own perspective. So it was from my perspective and the character of Josh basically was me. So I thought, ‘Who better to play him, than me?’ There was no point in going out and finding another actor.”
But while Brandon enjoys acting, what he has always wanted to do was direct. In fact, at four years old he seemed unusually drawn to the special extras of DVDs in his parents’ vast collection. It was the behind-the-scenes stuff that really appealed to him and led him to watching both children’s films and others that were perhaps not traditionally age-appropriate.
“I went to my parents and said ‘What do I have to do to become a filmmaker ... a writer, a director and all of that?’” Brandon says. “They said ‘First, you have to learn how to read and write.’”
Fair enough. But when he did learn to read and write, his dedication to filmmaking didn’t falter.
Eventually, he began making short films with his sister. Years later, his skills caught the attention of actor Gary Busey. Brandon had watched a video of the actor on YouTube discussing his young son’s battles with Kawasaki Disease. Brandon was touched by it and suitably outraged by some of the online comments ridiculing the actor and the disease, which can be fatal. So Brandon made his own film and asked Busey for permission to post it on Twitter. It became a bit of a hit online.
Eventually, he talked with Busey and his wife Sefanne about his own career. They suggested he contact the actor’s manager, Ron Sampson. Sampson is now Brandon’s manager. He also has a L.A. agent and has turned his attention to a new sci-fi thriller, in which he will again star, and a western series for the Vulcan Television Network, an online community network launched last September. Calico will also screen on the network on April 28.
But he also has more than half-adozen scripts on the back burner.
Future projects may be even more ambitious.
“I’m interested in every genre, just as long as its good,” says Brandon.