• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

“Better than a dream”

Solon’s Ginkens goes Hollywood and finds “Western Religion”
Solon’s Bill “Ginks” Ginkens and an unidentified actor play cards on the set of Western Religion, a film directed by James O’Brien, which was shot on location in Agua Dulce, Calif., in 2013. The Iowa premiere of the film will be at the historic New Strand Theatre in West Liberty Friday, Nov. 20. (photo courtesy Morgan Schmidt)

SOLON– It’s easy to call Solon’s Bill Ginkens a Renaissance man. He’s been a photographer, painter, musician, horseman and short-order cook at the former Reggie’s Weenies in downtown Solon. Now, he adds actor to his list of accomplishments.
Ginkens landed a role in the independent movie Western Religion, written and produced by James O’Brien, without even trying.
Ginkens was performing as a drummer for musician/songwriter Dustin Blank, who had worked on the soundtrack for O’Brien’s previous movie, Wish You Were Here. Blank and Ginkens were performing at the Hollywood House of Blues when Blank introduced Ginkens to O’Brien.
“I met ‘Ginks’ and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said I wanted to do a western for my next movie,” said O’Brien. As Ginkens and O’Brien talked, O’Brien’s interest in working with Ginks grew. “He looked like he could be in a western,” he said. With Gink’s background as a horse trainer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ginkens suggested he could be a wrangler handling horses on the set.
Ginkens’ looks and horse skills registered with O’Brien. “I could tell, there was something more to this guy. He’s quite a character, actually,” O’Brien said.
For Ginkens, the interest was mutual and instantaneous.
“He said he wanted to make a western, and I said, ‘I’m in!’” Ginkens said. “He started writing it, sent me the character list, and I got a hard copy of the script.”
“When I hire somebody, they’re on the movie, especially if I hire them before I’ve even written the movie,” O’Brien added.
Ginkens also served as a production assistant and the still photographer.
“I’m not a star,” Ginkens said. “I’m just an extra with some good eye movement.”
Western Religion is set in 1879 in Religion, Ariz., where an assortment of gunslingers converges for a high-stakes poker tournament.
“They think they’re playing in an actual poker tournament, when really, they’re playing (against the Devil himself) for their souls, so it has a metaphysical element to it,” O’Brien said. “I wanted to do something that was like an allegory or a parable. So I guess this came off as a Biblical narrative even though I wasn’t trying to make it overtly religious.” The film is also about the religion of the West, he said, both old and contemporary. “(It’s about) gold. Capitalism, which is what we still live in. The religion of the United States is capitalism,” O’Brien added.
Each character has his own philosophy, creating conflict between those viewpoints, but the story leads the characters to unite in a fight against the Devil. O’Brien likened the movie to a fable or fairy tale: simple in its message, but with depth.
Ginkens is cast as a “Border Roughneck” in the film, which stars Peter Shinkoda (I, Robot, Godzilla, Paycheck, The Hole), Vivian Lomolli (East Los High, Once Upon a Time: The Rock Opera, Soul Song), Miles Szanto (The Elephant Princess, Drowning, Bruno & Earlene Go To Vegas), Claude Duhamel (Valentine, Destination Vegas, Dawn Rider, Chasing Happiness), James Cotton (Phenomenon, Patch Adams, Chasing Mavericks, Rent), Sam Bearpaw (Nate and the Colonel, Yellow Rock, Cowboy Zombies) and Des Moines native Megan Hensley (The Crazies, Chatty Catties, Alice D and The Toy Soldiers).
As shooting was set to commence in 2013, the project was dealt a setback courtesy of the federal government. O’Brien had selected the Paramount Ranch, north of Malibu, for filming. However, the historic and often-used movie site is located within a national park, which closed at the time as part of a partial government shutdown. The search for a new location led the crew to the mountains of Agua Dulce, Calif., which meant building the set from scratch. O’Brien sought the expert advice of Peter Sherayko, who provided the extensive, historically-correct detail for the film Tombstone.
“He’s the guy in Hollywood for westerns if you want to go and get one-stop-shopping” O’Brien said. “He’s got all the set gear, the guns, the costumes…everything.” Sherayko is also an actor who performed in Tombstone and plays “Southern Bill” in Western Religion.
O’Brien discovered frontier towns were more often glorified tent cities rather than the neatly-constructed wood buildings with false fronts and plank sidewalks as has been commonly portrayed in Hollywood films. For Western Religion, an authentic Old West tent city was constructed within two weeks, with Ginkens among those swinging hammers.
When the Santa Ana winds kicked in full force and tried to blow the set down, Ginkens strapped things down in an attempt to keep them up.
“Lots of rope, lots of fancy knots,” Ginkens said. “The Santa Ana winds changed just before sunrise. When sunrise hit, the grand hotel kinda went ‘whoop whoop,’ and the canvas started ripping and everything just kind of blew apart.” The winds had been blowing from the east, so everything was strapped and braced to protect against an east wind, Ginkens explained. “When the wind changed (from the west), all hell broke loose.” The wind and resulting dust wasn’t all bad, O’Brien thought. As a film set in the west, it offered an appropriate aesthetic.
“It gave us the look we needed,” O’Brien said.
Twenty-one days of shooting led to a year of editing and other post-production work. This May, the movie debuted at the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera before being shown at the San Diego Film Festival, which showcases studio premieres and independent filmmaking, from Sept. 30 through Oct. 4. The movie’s American premiere followed in Los Angeles.
The Iowa premiere is set for Friday, Nov. 20, at the historic New Strand Theatre in West Liberty, where it will run until Wednesday, Nov. 25. From there, the film will be shown at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Houston before moving on to New York City. Nationwide distribution is anticipated in early 2016.
Ginkens and O’Brien have been putting serious miles on a mini-Winnebago motor home as they promote and premiere the movie.
“It’s our covered wagon,” O’Brien joked. Ginkens piloted the wagon to San Diego and, due to a mix-up, arrived a mere 10 minutes before he was to walk on the red carpet with O’Brien, Bearpaw and Cotton.
“We were walking down the carpet and it was like, ‘ZZ Top!’” he said, referencing the rock band known for their long hair and beards. “We were the first (Associated Press) picture that showed up. We were before (actors) Geena Davis and Adrien Brody,” he added.
“It’s not a grind, it’s a labor of love,” Ginkens said of the thousands of miles of traveling and the countless hours of promotion and marketing. “Nothing better could’ve happened.”
While people who love what they do say they are living the dream, Ginkens takes it a step beyond.
“It’s better than a dream,” Ginkens said.
The film’s Iowa premiere event starts at 6:30 p.m. with the movie hitting the digital screen at 7:30 p.m. The New Strand Theatre is located at 111 E. 3rd St. in West Liberty.