C.M. 'Carty' Talkington is the writer-director of the 'Western psychedelic road opera' LOVE AND A .45 (1994), a film that features Renee Zellweger in one of her breakout early performances and has an enduring cult following. Unfairly overshadowed by the success of Quentin Tarantino, who remains a fan of the movie, LOVE AND A .45 exudes the restlessness, wild imagination, eclectic tastes and rebelliousness of its creator. I talked to Carty about his career as a filmmaker and musician. In part three we talked about his time working for Richard Donner as an assistant, his documentary MUD MULES & MOUNTAINS (2015), and his music career with his band Texas Radio. 

Part one. 
Part two.  

How did you end up working for Richard Donner?
I was living with my girlfriend at the time, and it just so happened that her uncle was working for Dick Donner. She offered to set up a meeting. Seeing that I didn't know a single person in the film business and really wanted to make films, it seemed like a good thing to do.

Her uncle's name was Hank Palmieri, a great guy. Unfortunately he died of cancer several years back. I believe he was head of development at the time. He took mercy on me and hired me as a reader to cover scripts for Dick's development office. I read scripts and novels, and wrote synopses and reviews. I read everything at home, wrote the coverage and dropped it off on the Warner Brothers lot. The job allowed me to supplement my income from the video store and also hopefully make some great connections.

I have to admit I never got over the tingly magical feeling that I got every time I drove my recently purchased beat-up Volvo station wagon through security and onto the Warner Brothers lot. It has always been my favorite studio. It was an exciting and exhilarating time. Years later I would be hired by Warners to re-write DEEP BLUE SEA (1999), and get to spend time there as a completely different kind of employee.

How long did you work there?
Probably three years, off and on. I continued working there even after I moved to Santa Monica from Silverlake and got a job in a movie theater. I don't think I'd have been able to pay the rent if not for Hank Palmieri and Dick Donner. It was a great place to work. They would occasionally ask me to come and fill in, if someone's assistant had left or been fired. So I probably spent several months altogether actually working in the office. I was Hank's assistant for a month or two, which was kind of a benevolent disaster. I was even Lauren Shuler Donner (Dick's wife)'s assistant's assistant for a month or two as well, which was less of a disaster. I had learned a little more office decorum by then!

Did you get to know Dick Donner much?
At the time, he was King of Hollywood and wasn't around a lot. But I was fortunate enough to spend some good time with him and to get to know him a bit. He was a great guy. Great positive energy. Really deep voice. He was really fun to be around. I will always be eternally grateful to him for keeping me afloat during some very lean years. I'm sure he has no idea who I am, but he was an important guy in my life without him even knowing it.

Funnily enough he had briefly cast me in THE LOST BOYS (1987) a few years earlier, but he had no memory of it, and I never brought it up. I was still auditioning for stuff at the time, and had had several callbacks in New York with Joel Schumacher, and one with Dick Donner, for being one of the vampires. They called my agent and told him I got the part, but for some reason, they changed their minds a week later. My career definitely could have gone in a different direction had I been cast.

Did you make some lasting relationships whilst working for Donner?
I am still friends with Dick's personal assistant at the time, Jason Roberts. He's one of the top assistant directors in the business now. He directed a short film I wrote called Opportunity, kind of a twisted take on the American Dream, which is the first thing I had written that someone else directed. I'm also still friends with Jon Felson, who was one of Dick's army of assistants. We did a crazy Reverend Horton Heat video together in Texas years later. Jon is a successful writer and producer these days, and we still frequently speak and collaborate. Finally, I'd like to mention Scott Nimerfro, who was assistant director of development when I was there and was really good to me. Scott went on to produce TV shows like Hannibal (2013-15) and Tales from the Crypt (1989-96), as well as the films HANNIBAL (2001) and X-MEN (2000). Tragically, he died of cancer a few weeks ago. 

How did the documentary MUD MULES & MOUNTAINS come about?
Several years back, a friend of mine introduced me to the producer Patsy Wesson, who had been documenting a group of WW2 veterans for the past five or six years. She wanted to go to Italy and make a documentary about them revisiting the old battlegrounds of their youth. Two of her uncles had fought there. I have a lot of respect for people who serve and I love Texas history, so I said yes. I flew over to Italy with her and followed the veterans around with a camera, and then I did some more shooting at different reunions in Austin and San Antonio. I inherited some of the footage and shot about half of it  myself. I then edited it all into the mosaic that is the film today. Patsy and I are currently developing a new project together called Mascot. It's the story of how an American soldier came to adopt an Italian war orphan during WW2, and is based on Patsy's uncle's true story.

What does MUD MULES & MOUNTAINS mean to you?
To me it's less about war or history and more about people coming to terms with mortality. All of these guys should have died there 65 years ago and yet they're still alive but about to die of old age. And they're revisiting the place where they survived mainly out of blind luck. I couldn't believe the power of the memories these guys had and the horrible things they had seen.

What do you think drives you as an artist?
I have a lot of goals as an artist but what I want to do the most is make people feel. We are in danger of becoming numb and I want to remind people of how magical human beings are. Art is the most powerful engine of change and transformation and we underestimate it. I believe it's the role of an artist to try and make the world a better place. I think too much value is placed on entertainment these days and we need to talk more about the serious issues that threaten our future.

How long have you been writing and playing music?
I've been playing the guitar and writing songs for pretty much my whole life. I borrowed my stepfather's guitar and wrote my first song when I was ten years old. It was a country tune about not havin' a buck and drivin' a truck through Texas. I have a box filled to the top with handwritten songs. I write and play whenever I can. It's my greatest passion and most treasured pleasure.

Can you talk about your band Texas Radio?
I created the original Texas Radio in 1986 with my friend and mentor Scott Mathews. He actually came up with the name of the band, and I loved it. Scott was the original drummer for The Butthole Surfers. We met when I auditioned for a Theater Festival he and his partner Lisa Tomczeszyn, a wonderful production and costume designer, were putting on in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas in 1985. I learned so much from Scott. He was twelve years older than me, and I looked up to him like a big brother. We did a lot of projects together in my late teens and early 20s. He taught me many invaluable things about art. I wouldn't be the artist I am today without him. It was very hard on me when he died

Where did he get the name from?
Most people think of The Doors song, but it's actually a reference to the Outlaw Texas radio stations that broadcast illegally from across the border in Mexico from the early 1900s into the 1970s. Jim Morrison was referring to these stations in his Doors song The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). I actually feel like a radio antenna at times and I'm definitely from Texas, so I think it's very appropriate.

Who was in the original version of Texas Radio?
Scott was the drummer. I wrote the songs, played the guitar and sang. We had a couple of different bass players. We played and recorded in Providence, New Haven and New York City in the late 1980s, and we also went on a small tour of Texas. I still have all of our original recordings. I ended up moving to Los Angeles in 1990 and that was the end of Texas Radio at that time.

When you were in LA working on scripts, did you continue to play music?
Yes, I started a new band, The Furies, when I arrived in LA, and we played all over the city in the early 1990s. We never got a record deal and never had any financial success, but we had a blast. I started getting caught up in writing screenplays and once I was making LOVE AND A .45, I literally had no time for music and the band just sort of fell apart. I let some of my music muscles atrophy. My life has been a constant battle between my love of music and my love of film. They are without question complimentary art forms, but it's difficult for me to focus on the two mediums at the same time because they require two different mindsets.

What led to the return of Texas Radio?
I quit drinking alcohol about six years ago and I had a complete musical rebirth. I had so much more clarity and time to be more productive, and the songs just started pouring out of the ether. I was working on MUD MULES & MOUNTAINS during this period and I would work on that during the day, and my music at night. I started up Texas Radio again with a guy named Douglas Forrest. I kept hearing live music coming out of my neighbor's window across the parking lot from me, and it was him. So one day I wrote a note saying I would like to play music with him and I taped it to his door. I'm sure my writing looked like the scribblings of a mad man, and I got his name wrong. Unsurprisingly, he never got back to me, but I met him on the street six months later and introduced myself. I asked him again about playing music together, and he relented. We set a time for the following weekend and Texas Radio was born again.

How would you describe the music you make?
I like to describe it as western psychedelic soul music. It's music you might hear on a road trip through the Lone Star State, moving your way across the AM dial. I write songs to encourage people to conquer their fear and become what they were born to be.

How has the band been going?
It's been going really well. We've been playing shows in Los Angeles and Dallas, and we've had some great reactions. Playing music is what makes me feel the most alive. It's my favourite thing to do. It's very different from making films in terms of its immediacy. There is a direct electrical connection with the audience that is very rewarding and exhilirating. In terms of making people feel, music is the most powerful art form on the planet.

We have a full band now. I write the songs, play guitar and sing. Douglas plays guitar and sings. David Mabry plays the drums. And Kobie Baus plays bass and sings. We're about to make a new record in Echo Park and begin a new tour. There's no greater feeling than making music with my friends but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to make another film. With my newfound clarity and focus, I feel that I'm now capable of working in both mediums. I'm extremely interested in exploring unique new ways to synthesize sound and image, and that's what I'm going to do. 

I spoke to Carty by telephone on 3rd November 2015, and by email during April 2016, and would like to thank him for his time. 

Mud Mules & Mountains trailer and Facebook page.

Carty's band, Texas Radio, on Facebook, Soundcloud and YouTube    

Carty's solo material, produced by Jim Heath (of Reverend Horton Heat, who contributed music to LOVE AND A .45) on Soundcloud

Photographs are the property of CM Talkington and cannot be reproduced without his permission. All photos are by Zachary Mortensen, except (1) Danny Rothenberg, (2, 5) C.M. Talkington, (6) Trimark Publicity, (7) Nathan Thomas Millner, (8, 9) Allan Hayslip.  

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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