As a long-time fan of the Western film genre, having grown up watching every single episode of Bonanza and Have Gun Will Travel, I have always been fascinated with all of the legendary characters of the Old West. But the one who stands out most is Doc Holliday. A complex man in real life, Holliday was a gambler and gunfighter, and friend of the legendary Wyatt Earp. I was thrilled to be able to talk with Eric Schumacher, who played the role of Doc Holliday in the indie film Tombstone Rashomon.
THE VIVANT: Before we dive into your recent film projects, tell me how you’ve been doing during the shutdown?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: I’m always doing something interesting. I’m an actor, but I’m also a producer and director. We have not been able to get on sets, but we do have projects that are in post-production, and there’s one that’s about to release. And we’re launching a program for authors, doing a lot of audio books, so I’ve been busy. And figuring out how to do audio projects where no one can safely be in each other’s presence has been a bit of a challenge. It’s been pretty endless.
THE VIVANT: Your latest project is The Love Song of William H. Shaw. What’s the latest status on that?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: The filming of that was stalled due to the pandemic. I have two projects that I was performing in that we were in the process of shooting before the pandemic hit. For The Love Song of William H. Shaw, we shot about 80 percent of that film, and had to stop as things were getting scary, so we’re on hold waiting for when we can get the last few days of that shot. And another project was a streaming series called Horse Camp. It’s a Western comedy, which had to pause for the pandemic as well. So we’re anxiously awaiting the time when we can all get together safely and get this finished.
THE VIVANT: What’s the Love Song of William H. Shaw about?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: It’s part of a series of films I got involved in about ten years ago. It’s set in a comic book store, and it’s kind of a nerd-culture comedy. It centers around two guys who run a comic book store together, and the people who end up being their extended family. I play John Burns, who is an uptight, Felix Unger type character, the fastidious, stressed-out guy. This leaves off from Revenge of Zoe, which is the film that’s about to see distribution. We had a character, who’s a screenwriter who had to write a movie about a comic book superheroine, and had gotten the help of the comic book store owners previously, but then betrayed them and took all the credit for the film and it was very successful. So in Revenge of Zoe, he’s down and out, down to his last dime, and has to convince them to help him write another movie. Meanwhile he’s being haunted by the ghost of the creator of the comic book character, and the comic book character, or at least he thinks he is. The Love Song of William H. Shaw is the next in that series, which is the aftermath of the previous film, and shows where the characters go from there.
One of the neat things about that film series is that a lot of luminaries from within the comic book and science fiction authoring and art community did cameos in those films. For example, in Revenge of Zoe, we had Timothy Zahn, who is known to fans as the man who saved the Star Wars franchise. And we had Lucas Turnbloom, who created a comic book called Dream Jumper. In The Love Song of William H. Shaw, we have probably five times the cameos than we did in the last film. We have some clever ways in which they do their cameos and we even have a scene in The Love Song of William H. Shaw where wandering around in the background is a bunch of people doing cosplay, and one of them is an actual space scientist wearing a space suit. It’s a blast.
THE VIVANT: Tombstone Rashomon is very exciting, and now available on DVD. You play Doc Holliday. It’s a Western, but not your traditional Western by any means.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: It’s an Alex Cox film, and there’s nothing traditional about Alex Cox films. It was a fantastic project to be involved in. To understand Tombstone Rashomon, one has to understand the director Alex Cox, who created movies like Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, and Walker. He has a long list of films that have become very well known, because they were so original, and became cult classics. He is a huge fan of the Western, so he wanted to do a film about the gunfight at the OK Corral. Nobody really knows today exactly what happened at the gunfight and what led up to it and what happened afterwards. The only things we really know were based on interviews that were done with people who were there, but they all had different stories based on what they wanted people to believe, or what part of it they saw, or what their opinions were of different people. No one’s entirely sure who was responsible. So he decided he wanted to do a version of this that was Rashomoned, based on the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, where there’s a murder, and an investigator interviews several people who saw what happened, and gets completely different stories from each one. So the premise of the film is that a group of time-traveling historians go back in time and attempt to get there for the gunfight, but they miss the date by a little bit and they do interviews with all of these historic characters. Then you see flashbacks of what they say happened. We shot the gunfight six different ways, based on six different stories from six different people. So we did all these flashback scenes, and then I had the wonderful opportunity to play Doc Holliday being interviewed by a TV crew.
THE VIVANT: It was just released on DVD a few weeks ago, wasn’t it?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: It was, and it sold out on Amazon in about a week. Then they restocked it, and it’s still going strong.
THE VIVANT: So has there been a pretty positive response?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: Yes, some great reviews and a lot of people have been writing to me to tell me how much the enjoyed it. That being said, a few reviewers haven’t cared for it because it’s not a straightforward western. Alex’s films can be a little polarizing because of the way he makes a movie. He tends to take a surrealistic approach. Like suddenly, we will see what might be in a character’s head, but we don’t really get an explanation for it. For example, there’s a scene which some people think is awesome, where there’s a fiesta going on and Doc and Morgan and Earp, and Big Nose Kate, are at a table gambling, and there’s a mariachi band playing, and a bunch of people are celebrating at the old Mission-looking place, and in the background is a modern cityscape. That’s the kind of stuff Alex will throw into a film to make you think about something, or take things from a different perspective.
THE VIVANT: Was Tombstone Rashomon actually shot in Tombstone?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: Part of it were. Most of it was shot in another historic place, where I’ve had the honor of working in three times now, which is Old Tucson Studios. Have you ever been there?
THE VIVANT: I was ten years old when we visited there, and there was a shootout with actors, and ten-year-old me thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: Then you remember the place. It’s truly amazing, and a part of film history. About 200 major Westerns were shot on those hallowed grounds, including parts of Tombstone, and so many others. We had people who actually hail from Tombstone in the film, and Jason Graham, who played Virgil, lives in Tombstone and actually performs in some of the re-creation shows of the gunfight.
THE VIVANT: It must be a very different experience shooting there, as opposed to shooting a film in a Warner Brothers back lot in Hollywood.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: Very different. It’s basically on location. If you’re shooting something in Old Tucson, you’re shooting out on the streets, or in buildings that have been recreated to look like Old West buildings. And you don’t have a lot of climate control. It creates a feeling of reality that’s pretty extraordinary, because the dust is the dust. It is the Old West. The mountains haven’t changed all these years. And a fair amount of honest-to-God cowboys come out and work as extras, too.
THE VIVANT: I grew up watching all those old Westerns. You must be a big fan of the Western genre.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: Heck, yeah. I grew up watching them too, and I still find myself catching the odd episode of Have Gun Will Travel. Huge fan of the show, along with High Chapparal, which was shot almost entirely in Old Tucson. I had the honor of sitting on a fan panel at a science fiction convention with Don Collier, who was one of the stars. You’ll probably recognize him. Among the many other things Don has performed in, he was well-known for a series of Bubble Yum commercials that ran for decades and had a western gunfight theme. As an aside, the last time I saw Don was at a western convention where he was selling autographed Bubble Yum wrappers to fans in between lectures. People loved them and him. Terrific guy. He teased me a bit in front of the audience at the panel discussion I was on with him at the TusCon Sci Fi Convention because we’d both played Wyatt Earp. So I’m a huge fan of the Western genre. It’s one of the most uniquely American setups. It was such a short time in our history, but it’s our equivalent of the Samurai era. It’s so very uniquely distinctively American.
THE VIVANT: You’ve played both Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp now, which Western character would you most like to play but haven’t yet?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: I would love to go down the list of legendary lawmen. I’ve always wished there could be a remake of Have Gun Will Travel, and I’d love to play Paladin. And I wouldn’t mind taking another stab at Wyatt or Doc. Despite that Doc is a very difficult role to play both physically and emotionally, I would love to revisit him. Oh, and I’d like to play the Lone Ranger!
THE VIVANT: You’ve worked with a lot of indie producers on these productions, and that’s very different from the big-budget Hollywood productions. There are no million dollar paychecks involved. How is working on an indie production different from Hollywood?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: You have a very different experience each time, and you’re not dealing with a big corporate entity. There are a lot less rules, and you don’t know exactly what you’re getting into each time, because you don’t have a large corporation that is guiding how production is handled. Sometimes corners are cut by necessity, there may be people doubling up on jobs, where they wouldn’t be on larger productions. Production schedules are very fast, and depending on the size of the production you may not have a trailer, and you may be working in a much more rugged environment, especially when a lot of the filming is happening on location.
THE VIVANT: It does sound like it would be great fun.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: It is, actually! When it’s a good team, it’s a blast. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie, and by doing so much location work, I find that I’m in the scene a lot faster. One day I was on the set playing Wyatt, and I got to the set early in the morning, but they didn’t end up needing me until late at night, so I just walked around dressed as Wyatt Earp all day, and by the time they were ready for me, I was him.
THE VIVANT: An interesting bit of trivia about you is that you like to wear wide brimmed black fedoras. We have that in common! It’s becoming more of a trend, especially since we’ve been seeing more period shows like Mad Men, where men dressed a certain way and had a certain flair, and everybody wore hats. And by hats, I mean a real hat, not a baseball cap with a beer logo on it. That’s not a real hat.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: I’m with you there. I think it’s awesome. I think that style is a thing, and while I am not obsessed with style, when you’re going to present yourself in public, you’re making a statement. And I think that making a statement relates to who you are as an individual, especially when you’re in the entertainment industry, it’s an important thing. Part of my actor training was being exposed to a lot of classic films, which meant I was watching a lot of Bogie, and the great 1940s and 1950s movies. I really developed a liking for this sense of crisp style and a sense of bearing that seemed to come out of them. Particularly wearing a darn good fedora.
THE VIVANT: You can’t watch Bogart and not want to start wearing a fedora the next day.
ERIC SCHUMACHER: I adopted that as part of my personal style. I think there’s something to be said for bold fashion statements like that. In its day, it wasn’t all that bold, but you can make a statement by the way you wear a hat, how you put it on your head, and what particular type of hat you choose to wear. There’s something adventurous about the fedora.
THE VIVANT: Everything in show business is delayed now and the future is up in the air. Is there anything else on the horizon you might be doing?
ERIC SCHUMACHER: there’s a lot of stuff on the plate that I’m under confidentiality agreements on, which is frustrating. But certainly completing and releasing season one of Horse Camp is very much on the plate, and I hope there will be more seasons.
THE VIVANT: Can’t wait to see Tombstone Rashomon! I’m going to put on some popcorn and make an evening of it.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.