PALISADES The Deadliest Town in the West

A Civil War cavalry veteran reluctantly agrees to engage in a series of staged gunfights in a dying western town. The charade to bring in tourists turns deadly when the Army arrives, and our veteran tries to keep the Cavalry away from the Indians, and the handsome young officer away from the lovely young innkeeper

I recently finished my newest screenplay “PALISADES”. Or perhaps it’s “PALISADES: The Deadliest Town in the West”. I’m a bit conflicted over the title length. Apparently single word titles sell better, but I really like the descriptive version.

Sometimes an idea takes a long time to come to fruition. Such is the case with this script. I hit on the idea sometime back around 2003 or so. I read about this crazy town in the West that put on ‘fake gunfights’ – mostly as a way to fool the greenhorn tourists coming west. Just the local boys having fun at the travelers expense. But this town took it to a whole new level. Fake blood, bank robberies and Indian raids.

Things got so bad – allegedly – that the President had to send in the cavalry to quiet things down. The cavalry promptly joined in on the charade.

“How in the hell is this not a movie already?” I asked myself. So I decided to do some more research and work up a script.

Some sixteen years later, I finished it.

What kept me? Well this and that. It took some time to dig up more information. This was early days of the internet. (I’ve since gone on to find more about the town and the incidents in question.) Other, more pressing and ‘better’ ideas would take hold and push this notion to the back burner. Or hell, into the cupboard if I’m honest.

But if I’m honest – it’s because I know this is going to be a big (ish) budget film, and well… “It’s a WESTERN!” Everybody knows, nobody buys westerns. Except – yeah, occasionally they do.

Over the years of research, I took notes. I noticed where different versions of the tales conflicted,and where they overlapped. At one point, when I was travelling across the country to direct a show in Pennsylvania, I drove THROUGH Palisades. Or, what was left of it. Nothing really.

Around 2011 I took a stab at starting the script. I got about eleven pages written, then… stopped. The idea never left my mind, and beginning in December of 2018, I decided to work on a new limited location horror script I want to do. I sat down to write it, and that muse of the mind said… “NO! FINISH PALISADES!”

“But… it’s a WESTERN!”


“But it’s probably a big budget, it’s got a TRAIN in it!”


“Well, if I can find my old notes, and the beginning of the first act I had on a different computer… maybe…”

And like that, I was off into the quirky little town in Nevada.

I did have some notes. Some ideas for what was going to happen. Some character sketches. A loose idea about how to finish it. Nothing really solid. I’m not the type to outline an entire script with ‘beats’ for every page and such. I like to let the story surprise me as it unfolds.

And boy, did it. Gone entirely is the idea of the local telegraph kid, replaced by a young Shoshone. A MUCH better choice. And the perfect ending I had planned some ten years earlier? Yeah, it disappeared as my two characters discussed how to solve the problem. They came up with a whole new solution.

Funny how that works.

I created the lead characters pretty much out of whole cloth. I invented the pretense for the charade. I built tension around a love triangle, and even tossed in the themes of redemption and tolerance.

And in the big showdown, as the hero rides into town in a cloud of dust, I was surprised by who he turned out to be. Sometimes, your sub-conscious hides things from you. Funny how THAT works too.

At any rate, it’s as ‘done’ as it needs to be. Yes of course, if it’s ever optioned someone will want changes. That’s one thing I’ve learned about the process. And yes, it’s a mid-range budget film. (It’s got a TRAIN in it!) There aren’t a lot of calls for Westerns from independent studios.

But when the muse calls, you answer.

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