“I wanted to make a film that was really about Texas, and a part of Texas that I hail from,” says Ty Roberts, director of the film The Iron Orchard.
The film, set in 1939, follows Jim McNeely (played onscreen actor by Lane Garrison), who’s thrown into the rough-and-tumble oil fields in west Texas. Over time, he slowly works his way out of the deadly fields. It’s a world Roberts knows a thing or two about. It’s currently making the rounds on the festival circuit, including the Austin Film Festival, where we sat down with Roberts to discuss the long road of bringing the film to life.
“My family sort of spent a couple of generations out in west Texas and we’re involved in one way or another in the oil business, and I just hadn’t seen anything that was like True Grit — a great Texas film in a little while. I mean There Will Be Blood was filmed in Texas, but it’s really about California and New Mexico. No Country for Old Men, certainly Texas, but it wasn’t really a piece on any culturally specific story or anything like that. So, to me was, this hole that needed to be filled. A sort of side of the story [that] Giant told in the 1950s.”
He found the story in author Tom Pendleton’s 1966 novel of the same name.
“I came across the book man, and it’s just such a good book,” Roberts explains. “I mean, the first page, you’re just like, ‘God dang, this is just a very cinematic, visual book.’ The guy standing out on the side of the road in west Texas, waiting to be picked up by an oil rigor and I just knew that was what we needed to capture.”
It took some time for Roberts to get his dream project off the ground, but the years he put in only crystalized his desire to put the film on screen. “It took eight years or more and we just kept trucking along, trying to raise money and trying to create awareness casting all that, and it finally came together. But it was just, it was that thing that I had to do, you know, I’d been abroad for a little while and decided, you know, I’m gonna, come back to Texas and focus on something that is meaningful.”
Of course, setting a film in west Texas meant enduring the elements. Given that the film only had a 24-day shooting schedule, the 110 degree heat and nightly thunderstorms would constantly put hurdles in the production’s way, Roberts and his cast and crew were really put to the test.
“I’m just so proud of what we all collaboratively pulled off,” says Roberts. “It was really kinda an impossible [feat] in a lot of ways. And after day three of losing like two half-days in a row, I don’t know how we did it. I’m just so proud of what we did and our whole cast and crew.”
The Iron Orchard is playing in select theaters starting February 22nd. For more information, check out their website here.