Interview with Eminence Hill Director Robert Conway

By Kevin Hoskinson

Eminence Hill is the newest film from director Robert Conway. It released on November 5th on DVD and On-Demand; the film is a revenge thriller based in the wild west. The movie stars Lance Henriksen, Barry Corbin, Dominique Swain, and Anna Harr.

Recently, I had the chance to sit down and chat with director Robert Conway about the film, his inspirations, and what he thinks about the current state of cinema. Check it out, and I hope you enjoy!

PN: I actually just finished watching “Eminence Hill” a couple of hours ago, it was really great.

RC: Oh, cool, thank you.

PN: Can you tell me a little bit about the creation of the story? How did you come up with the idea for the film?

RC: I came up with the idea when I was with my friends, a real cowboy, and his girlfriend. I was at their ranch having a steak dinner and watching an Arizona sunset, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I was ready to do another western film after a good decade or more in horror. So I went home that night, and I started writing a scene. I had this idea of this outlaw confronting the man who had passed judgment on his son, and what that conversation would be like for an angry father who was also a killer.

The whole idea intrigued me. What attracts me to the western genre is that the good guys often have shades of black, and your black hats have shades of white. There’s these redemptive qualities to your villains, and then there’s villainous quality to your heroes. I think that makes for a more interesting human story, exploring the multi-faceted nature of most of us.

PN: Yeah, all the great westerns are these great morality tales; you have these shades of black and white.

RC: Yeah, that’s exactly right. They are morality tales at their core, that’s really what it is. Personally, I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan. Unforgiven is not only one of my favorite westerns, but also one of my favorite movies. There’s great gunplay, great stuff like that, but what makes it so special is the simple, intimate exchanges that he has with Morgan Freeman’s character, the guy who plays the kid, Gene Hackman. It’s the intimate, small, anecdotal stuff that really makes the movie very human and timeless. A western has a mythic stoicism to it, where it just works so well as a format for exploring humanity and hence exploring human morality, or lack thereof, but also the ability for redemption. The genre works so well as a baseline for that.

PN: Were westerns something that you grew up with? Were you a big western fan as a kid?

RC: I was, I really was. My grandfather was a huge John Wayne fan, and my uncles were huge Clint Eastwood fans, and I got introduced to westerns through them real young, and they were these very different formats. John Wayne had the John Ford-style, very cinematic, very big, very Hollywood, but a lot of fun with a lot of great stuff there. But then Clint tended to have the darker stuff, the grittier stuff. With Eminence Hill, I tried to take influence from both, the quick draw gun, and the big open skies, all that great iconic western imagery. But also, give it some of that grit that Clint brought to his movies. But yeah, lifelong fan and inspired by a really early introduction.

PN: The cast in Eminence is fantastic. Clint did a phenomenal job. Owen was great, as well. But Anna, she just takes it and knocks it out of the park.

RC: Yeah, Anna’s very special. I predict very good things for her. She’s one of those actors who can express so much with a look. She doesn’t need to rely on dialogue, she’s got such an expressive face, and she’s so fun to shoot. The thing about someone like Anna, who’s 19 now, is that she’s one of the most directable actors that I know. She has the ability to shift gears incredibly quickly and just get there, and that’s an amazing quality. I can’t think of an actor who does it better.

PN: In this film, you got the opportunity to work with Dominque Swain and Lance Henricksen. What was it like directing them?

RC: Dominique was one of the first people to get involved in the movie. I was really flattered when she told me that she read the script in one sitting, it was a huge script, so I was really honored by that. As soon as she told me that, I realized this was a good thing. It wasn’t only good because she was a name, but it was also good from a creative perspective. She wanted to ask me a bunch of questions about the character, had a lot of ideas for the character, all the really fun stuff. It was great because we had these conversations even before we went into the logistics of getting her in the film. I was glad to have her, she’s a great person. There’s the acting side of it, of course, but it’s always nice when there is a human interest when there’s a human connection.

And Lance is an awesome guy, he’s just a really cool person. He’s a great actor, but he’s a very down to earth, interesting guy. I can’t say enough good things; it was just a hell of an honor, really.

This is a small budgeted film. When people like Dominique, Lance, and Barry, who have worked on really big stuff, you always have that worry that somebody won’t take you seriously. Nobody put it out there that they are better than independent. They were very gracious to myself and the rest of the crew, which is so important. The crew are the unsung heroes of every movie, so it’s always great when actors relate well to them and appreciate what they do, and that’s what they did.

PN: What was your main inspiration for becoming a filmmaker? Was there a certain movie that inspired you, or a favorite director?

RC: My childhood was all sci-fi and westerns; Star Wars, Star Trek, and Willow, things like that. You had people like Eastwood and Spielberg, but then, when I was in my early 20’s, it was movies like Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction being really hot and really amazing. There were so many filmmakers, and there still are. Obviously, people like Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers are great; they are at the top of the game.

In the age I was going to film school, it was the era of doing new, creative, exciting, and risky forms of storytelling. I was lucky to come along in that era, as opposed to maybe today. I’m not personally a fan of the superhero stuff, amazingly talented people work on them, but they aren’t my thing. For me, I went out, and I saw the new Tarantino film the night it opened, and that’s because I came up when those types of films were more common. So yeah, the amount of influence comes from a tremendous amount of people and a great period of cinema there in the late 90’s early 2000’s.

That stuff is now moving over to streaming, a lot of amazing storytelling. The theaters are dominated by the megabuck, tentpole movies, which again, I’m not hating on. I think it’s great. I love Martin Scorsese, but I disagree with him saying it’s not cinema. Of course it’s cinema. It’s cinema because people are lining up to see it and experience it. When he says, it’s more like a theme park ride, that in and of itself is part of cinema, or can be a manifestation of cinema — the idea of an experience that is something important.

Kevin Hoskinson is a writer with a deep-seeded love for movies, comic books, television and the paranormal. From humble beginnings working the box office at his local movie theater, he’s worked his way to becoming a humble family man and professional bug exterminator. Growing up, he wanted to become an astronaut, a Ghostbuster, a dinosaur, and a Disney animator before he found his passion for writing as a teen. He studied film at Los Angeles Valley College with an emphasis on screenwriting and film criticism. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two kids. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter @Kevin_Hoskinson, and Instagram @kevinhoskinson

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