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Film: ‘Back to Billy’

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Submitted Photo In the pilot episode of "Back to Billy," this historic photo proofs that time travel causes havoc.

Plot of new Billy the Kid show with a twist released

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The pilot show “Back to Billy” stars Carlsbad-native Royd McCargish, Addison Foskey and Janelle Lovin Mancha and was made in New Mexico with a large cast of New Mexico actors and crew.

The first episode shows Martin Teebs with his wife Lilly traveling to New Mexico to indulge his obsession and fascination about Billy the Kid. Upon arrival in the tourist town of Lincoln, Teebs slips back to 1878 in the midst of the Lincoln County War. His actions change the course of history in both dramatic and hilarious fashion. Teebs discovers he’s had an affair in the past, killed someone, and lost one of his prized possessions with disastrous consequences. Suddenly in demand by women both past and present, Teebs frantically tries to fix his mistakes and get on with his former, mundane life.

With New Mexico’s fascinating history, iconic characters and still untouched scenery, it is no wonder that more and more movie companies, Indie directors and actors are focusing on the area. While the western genre has been in a slump, science fiction and fantasy is on the rise. Combining a western premise with time travel is a promising concept.

In an interview with director and writer Michael Anthony Giudicissi, he said that he actually wasn’t a science-fiction fan, but considers himself rather an amateur historian who likes to play with the idea of “what if?” The lead character going back in time is based on him.

“I guess you can say that the main story is like mine because I am originally from New Jersey and I saw the movie ‘Young Guns’ and became fascinated by the story of Billy the Kid,” Giudicissi said. In fact, he became so fascinated that he visited Lincoln and Fort Sumner and when the possibility opened up, he moved to New Mexico permanently. That was 1996.

Asked about the story, Giudicissi said, “This was an idea I had 20 years ago, and I started to write a novel about it, but I never finished it. When I got into the film industry, I pulled it out and decided that I wanted to finish it as a pilot for a series.”

Producer and actor Jason E. Hill was on board with the concept and joined as producer. Hill is known for “Independence Day: Resurgence” (2016), “The Lone Ranger” (2013), “Preacher” (2016), “Breaking Bad” (2011) and “In Plain Sight” (2011).

Hill is on the Cibola Search & Rescue Team and is the creator of “No Joke Survival,” a website where he posts articles he has written and information on survival. He has also hosted a 13-episode television show of the same name.

“We felt like we would make the pilot and then look for some distribution option, Giudicissi said. “But we always knew that Amazon Prime Video — as long as you can meet their standards — would have this wide distribution platform. We shopped for the pilot a little while, but we quickly decided we’d rather get it out there and hope to build a little fan base around it, rather than to just sit on it for six months or six years — however long it took. That’s the reason. It’s the same distribution platform that a large studio would use if they want to offer their film or series on Amazon Prime, so the playing field is more leveled now.”

Asked about the casting process, Giudicissi said, “Some of the actors I knew already, so I reached out directly.” They did video auditions and in three weeks, they finished the casting.

The actor who was cast as Martin Teebs, McCargish, was born in Carlsbad — his grandparents were from Roswell and are buried in Tinnie. Living in New Mexico gave him opportunities to experience a vast range of adventures. He lived the life of a farmer and rancher; hauling hay, riding horses, and the general sunup-to-sundown work ethic of this lifestyle. He had to learn to be a jack-of-all-trades; construction work with heavy machinery to the general repair of his grandfather’s handed-down Chevy pick-up truck.

McCargish was available for a phone interview. Asked how he became an actor, he said, “It was completely by accident. I was working for a general contractor and when things slowed down in our economy, I got laid off. I was actually going through the process of getting my own contractor license to start my own business when a friend of mine suggested on doing some background work (in the film industry). I did and fell in love with it. I was doing background work until I could get in front of the camera as a principal and just been going gangbuster style ever since, studying as much as I can.”

Asked about his role in “Back to Billy,” McCargish said, “It’s a very creative story and highly entertaining. I am very familiar with Billy the Kid, he is known statewide. I grew up hearing the story. It was actually very nice to go and play in that world, and Westerns are actually my favorite genre to act in. Michael (Giudicissi) was such a pleasure to work with. It is a great collaboration and a really neat concept. He is really fascinated with Billy the Kid. He won a contest at work for two airline tickets to fly anywhere in the country, and he talked his wife into coming out to New Mexico. They came out and visited Lincoln County. Of course, he didn’t time travel, but he got the opportunity and he moved out to New Mexico and so the character of Martin Teebs is very much the story of our director. It’s his life.”

Asked about the set, McCargish said, “We had two different locations. We went out to Bonanza Creek where we filmed the old West. It was just a blast. Michael and Jason, the producer wanted to film in Lincoln, because of authenticity, but it is really restrictive. The budgets have to be enormous in order to get the filming permits. You can block traffic and control the whole world, it’s just very cost-prohibitive, so we ended up shooting where we did because Bonanza Creek has Daisy Town — it’s actually a movie set, so there is nobody there to bother you.

“New Mexico has (had) a very strong Indie film scene for quite some time and the streaming platforms definitely opened up the market. But the Indie movie makers in New Mexico have always been making films. It’s just now we have a better platform to getting that content out there. Before it was only relegated to film festivals — we still send projects to film festivals, I also produce and direct myself — but now we have the opportunity to get to a larger audience. Hopefully, that will equate to getting an audience. With that audience comes funding and with funding, you can make more projects. That’s been the biggest hurdle for Indie filmmakers, being able to fund the projects. Almost all of them are self-funded. That’s like (’Back to) Billy’ with Jason and Michael funding this out of their own pocket. In the past, that’s what we did, but there was never any possibility to recoup financing or to be able to fund another project. Streaming allows us the avenue — none of us are looking to make billions off of it — we are looking to fund the next project. If we can make a living doing this film work that we love, that would be great,” McCargish said.

“The first time somebody saw it completed was when we did the premiere at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque, back in the end of March with the cast and crew,” Giudicissi said. “That was the first time they had an opportunity to see what they had created.”

Unusual for a director, Giudicissi gave the actor freedom in expressing changes to the script. “I encouraged the actors to bring in their personality, to re-write some lines, re-edit some comedic elements into it,” he said. “They got a little more lighthearted and it was really fun to see us walk on to set at day number one and see at the end of filming that we created something that I think was even better and funnier and really played to their strengths.

“All of our crew members were local and when we dressed the set for what I call, ‘modern Lincoln, New Mexico, tourist town,’ we needed decorations, and we needed a lot more decorations than we had. So a number of local businesses pitched in and gave us signs and banners that we could dress the set with to make it look more modern day. There are signs for shooting ranges and heating and air conditioning places and transmission places and real-estate agents all over the town, but we really wanted the contrast when Royd goes from modern day to 1878. We wanted it to be very stark, so we put lots of bright things all over the place.”

Asked about the storyline and the historical perspective, Giudicissi said, “It’s incredible to me how dedicated and how passionate people are about the smallest detail of these stories, like did Billy wear a pinky ring or was it on his other finger? Where did that sweater come from that he wore? I mean, almost as if the fate of the world would depend on it. So I said, what if we have this guy who has that same kind of fascination and he went back in time, and suddenly none of this stuff matters. He was caught up in the middle of the Lincoln County War and he had to survive, maybe kill someone.

“What if Billy the Kid would be able to get this information from the future? About what is going to happen and when and where he is going to die. What if he is able to escape that fate? What would happen to him and his life? Where would he go? How long would he live and what would he be like? I have written 10 episodes — we have an entire season written. If we generate enough revenue or get enough attention, so that a bigger partner could come in, I’d love to finish this season of the story. What you see first in this first episode is compelling and the rest, how we weave these time periods together is mind blowing and I really would love to make it,” Giudicissi said.

The pilot to the show “Back to Billy,” Episode 1, Teebs Returns has been released and is now on Amazon Prime.