Western filmed near Chandler was labor of love The Chandler Arizonan

Western filmed near Chandler was labor of love

November 3rd, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Western filmed near Chandler was labor of love
City News

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Not even the COVID-19 health pandemic could stop Ed Vanderlee and his friends from finishing their low-budget, indie western flick.

Shot over the course of nine days near Chandler and other Arizona locations, “Royals’ Revenge” tells the story of four siblings out to avenge the murder of a family member by taking down a ruthless cattle baron.

It echoes a premise played out dozens of times on big-screen and TV westerns many times, but “Royal’s” protagonists are also racing against a clock, as they must eliminate their nemesis before he is elected governor of the Western territory.

Like the film’s heroes, Vanderlee and his colleagues raced to finish a movie just as Arizona and the rest of the country was starting to buckle under the threat of a contagious virus.

Vanderlee, one of the film’s producers and actors, said the shooting for the production luckily concluded before COVID-19 started to spread rapidly across the state in June.

That ended up being one of many fortuitous developments that helped “Royals’ Revenge” finally get made after decades of failed attempts.

“All the planets aligned and we were finally able to do it and get it done,” Vanderlee said.

George Nelson, a local stunt man and Vanderlee’s business partner, conceived of the film’s story nearly 20 years ago but never managed to put together the resources to put the script into production.

After Kellen Garner signed on to co-direct and star in the film, other pieces started coming together. Vanderlee said the team initially set out to produce only a short film they could show to financiers in order to entice them to bankroll the entire production.   

But after shooting about 50 minutes of footage, Vanderlee said the producers anguished over how to cut it down to a short clip.

They chose an alternative route, scripting another chunk of the movie and scrounging up the money to shoot some additional scenes.

“We got creative and found a way to do it right away,” Vanderlee recalled. “Everything fell together so well.”

Because Vanderlee and Nelson have a long working relationship with Rawhide Western Town, located near Chandler on the Gila River Indian Community, the production could be shot at the western-styled theme park as one of the film’s shooting locations.

Rawhide’s property is designed to take visitors back to the 1860s by filling its landscape with horse-drawn wagons, mercantile stores and crusty gunslingers ready to draw their pistol at any moment. 

Vanderlee grew up watching cowboy stunt shows on Rawhide’s sets and later became a stuntman himself at age 33.

The original Rawhide park operated in Scottsdale for several years before moving down to Chandler in 2005 and has since become a popular destination for concerts and festivals.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Rawhide’s managers to cancel most public events for the rest of this year. That’s been a detriment to Vanderlee’s stuntmen company, Rough Rider Total Entertainment, which makes most of its revenue through doing live shows and events.

Yet the premiere of “Royals’ Revenge” on Oct. 23 has become a recent bright spot for Vanderlee and his colleagues.

So much joy and creativity went into making this film, Vanderlee said, and it will hopefully demonstrate to local moviegoers that Arizona is already home to some talented storytellers.

“You don’t have to have a $10-million-dollar actor in a film to be entertained,” he added. “Local talent can pull off a blockbuster-type movie.”

It was important to the film’s production team to keep it local to Arizona, he said, because it has so much to offer filmmakers.

Although Arizona hosted several film productions throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the state’s tax incentives currently can’t compete with the bargain filmmakers can get in states like Georgia or Louisiana.

Despite Arizona’s ideal weather and opportune scenery, Vanderlee said the state has a terrible reputation in Hollywood as a shooting destination. Perhaps a film like “Royals’ Revenge” can prove to outsiders that entertaining films can still be made in Arizona with local talent, he added.

“We wanted to show people we could do it right with a great team,” Vanderlee said. “We can get ourselves back on the map as a film location.”

The film’s premiere comes at a time when most theaters are desperate for new content to screen to audiences. Most Hollywood productions have been delayed due to the pandemic and few new films have made their debut since March.

The low-budget, indie market could take advantage of this current moment, Vanderlee said, because there’s fewer big-budget Hollywood films to compete against for screen time.

One showing of “Royals” has already sold out, he said, which could be a positive sign for the future of independent films in Arizona.

The pandemic might end up teaching the big Hollywood studios they need to find a more sustainable model for producing quality movies, Vanderlee added.

“I believe, after this pandemic, Hollywood’s going to have to reinvent itself in some way or another,” he said.

“Royals’ Revenge” will screen at eight Harkins Theater locations in Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Yuma and Prescott Valley for at least a week and may become available on streaming services at a later date.

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