The cast was each assigned different classic Westerns to watch for performance, while “Dead Man’s Burden” itself is influenced by different elements of different Westerns.
Moshé described the breakdown of the influences in “Dead Man’s Burden,” saying “there were certain Westerns that the film was more based on, ‘Winchester ‘73
’ and some of the dynamics there. ‘The Searchers
’ in the use of the landscape, ‘Unforgiven
’ in terms of story structure, and then a little bit of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West
’ in incorporating the larger elements in a more personal story. Each conversation with all of them was all very different. For example, with Clare, I had her watch 'The Unforgiven
,' which is a movie about a woman on the frontier.” Call spoke about the influence of Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales
” on his research for Heck’s backstory, “I imagine something similar to what happens at the beginning of ‘Outlaw Josey Wales,’ happened to him. During the Kansas-Missouri border wars, abolitionists or Jayhawkers were coming over from Kansas into Missouri, Missiourians were going into Kansas, and it was this very violent, tit for tat, eye for an eye kind of world, if somebody comes in and murders your father and your brother and manhandles your mother and your sister, at that time in that place, you have to fight back, or you’re gonna die.” Moshé added on to the comparison, saying, “Heck’s story, in a weird way, begins at the end of that film, and what’s so tragic about his character is that he’s put his past behind him, and her action at the beginning of the film, causes him to devolve, and he’s doing it all out of pure love.” For Jacobs' influences, “anything Jason Robards
did,” even venturing out of the the Western genre: "‘Passion of Joan of Arc
’ was a big one for me. It wasn’t thematically the same, but I was looking at different performances like that that were so quiet, and that’s to the extreme, but that had such an impact on me the first time I saw it. So much of it is the moments in between dialogue that are going to make or break a performance.”
Writing and speaking in a traditional Western lingo came easily to both Moshé and the cast, but the utmost importance in the script was to bring a sense of realism to the dialogue.
Moshé had “done a lot of research and thought a lot about how I think these people would speak. The cadence felt very natural, and I knew where I didn’t have it right, where I’d go back and back and back over a line, trying to figure out how to say it that way.” Call, who has read a lot of flowery, verbose Western scripts, found that this script had “a nice balance, where the language was definitely of a period, but I never felt like I was forcing long run-on sentences to work.” Bowen mentioned that “There’s a similarity between the Australian dialect and Southern, there’s a laid back quality to it. It’s comfortably accessible to an audience, and they are just having a yarn, it doesn’t have to all be be epic or period,” and Jacobs echoed these statements, saying “it felt very subtle and very real and authentic.”
The Western is still a vital part of American art and storytelling, and still has a place in the moviemaking landscape.
Call expounded on this question, saying, “the Western is something that’s never really going to die, because like filmmaking itself or like jazz, it’s such an essential American art form, and part of our mythology... it’s important for people to continue to mine that territory because that time period represents the dream of America, it encapsulates all this great American drive and ingenuity, but it also represents the beginning of the end. You get so many sides of the American coin. The rapaciousness, but also the bravery, the nobility, brutality.” And Moshé asserts that, “there’s a hunger for them, there’s an audience."
The cast are huge Western fans, of both the classics and the obscure, and the so bad it’s good variety.
Moshé: “Ballad of Cable Hogue
,” “Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
,” and “Once Upon A Time in the West.” Also, “Unforgiven.”
Bowen: “I don’t have one, but I’ve got to say I’m really excited to see 'Django Unchained
.' I know this is completely off, but I loved 'Maverick
,' I couldn’t help it. I know, I know, it’s bad but I loved it.”
Call: " 'Unforgiven,' of course, I love ‘Josey Wales,’ 'The Proposition
,' I really like some obscure Leone, there’s this one you can find on Netflix called 'Duck You, Sucker
' that is incredible. Rod Steiger
plays a Mexican bandit, but it’s just the most dirty, disgusting performance you’ve ever seen, and James Coburn
is an IRA bomb maker who somehow ends up in Mexico and teams up with this bandit. It is probably his most stylistically extreme... it’s just so bizarre and so funny and off the cuff.”
Jacobs: "I’d say 'The Proposition,' is just a film in general recently that I loved. 'Zachariah
' the rock and roll Western with Don Johnson
. If you can get it, it’s two handfuls of fun."