Local writer and director film TV pilot in Montezuma County
It’s not too unusual for the television and film industry to seek out locations in the West, but that wasn’t the case with this project. “Badwater” is actually a product of its setting, as the co-producers—writer Chuck Greaves and director Félix Alcalá—both reside in Montezuma County.
The two were introduced by a mutual friend in 2019 and had an immediate connection. “We really hit it off,” said Greaves, “and we hatched the idea of trying to do something together. I wrote a treatment for a TV series about a fictional town (Badwater) that we could film in Cortez and Mancos. It’s sort of a neo-Western crime/noir drama.”
Greaves and Alcalá make a formidable team. Greaves is a screenwriter and the author of six novels, including Tom & Lucky, which was a Wall Street Journal “Best Books of 2015” selection and a finalist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize—and he has been a finalist for most of the major awards for crime fiction, as well as the New Mexico-Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado Book Awards.
Alcalá is a director, producer, and cinematographer whose television credits include episodes of ER, Third Watch, The Shield, Criminal Minds, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, SouthLAnd, Blue Bloods, The Good Fight, and Madam Secretary. He is a recipient of the 2001 ALMA Award for Outstanding Director of a Drama Series and has been nominated for the Primetime Emmy, ALMA, ASC, DGA, and Hugo Awards for his directorial work.
Developing a series typically means partnering with a production company and a studio—this brings money to the project, but it can also dilute creative control for the writer or director. Greaves and Alcalá took an alternate route: They raised over $600,000 in investment capital, took advantage of Colorado’s film incentive rebate program, and filmed the pilot episode themselves in Montezuma County in October 2020. Once post-production is finished, they will shop it directly to distributors. “It’s very unusual, but that’s what we decided to do,” said Greaves. “If we succeed, it will provide a tremendous economic stimulus for the community.”
One of the main goals for “Badwater” is to benefit the community. The narrative pays homage to the diversity of the culture in this region—it begins with the disappearance of a local Native American school girl, and the main characters include a sheriff, county commissioners, a judge, a Latino DA, an Indigenous rights activist, and a news reporter. The production also provided work for many people in the community. “The only casting we did in L.A. were the starring roles. We held an open casting call in Mancos in July, where we auditioned for smaller roles,” said Greaves. “We had six locals in speaking parts and more than 100 background actors, plus a lot of the crew—camera operators and assistants were local; more than fifty percent of our cast and crew were Colorado residents.”
Filming during a pandemic presented its own set of challenges. The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) guidelines were very stringent—522 COVID-19 tests were conducted, sets were closed, temperatures were taken every morning, everyone wore color-coded wristbands, and N95 and surgical masks were used except during the actual shooting.
When the show does get picked up, it will feel very familiar to local viewers. Although some of the Ute reservation lands were closed due to the pandemic, the producers were able to find similar spots to film, and got permission to shoot in the Montezuma County Courthouse, the Columbine Bar in Mancos, the Mancos High School, and the Angel’s End Zone sports bar in Cortez. Ideally, the pilot will turn into a series and provide hundreds of jobs for locals.
Eventually Greaves and Alcalá hope to incorporate an educational element to train local people interested in the industry. The intent of the project was to give something back to the community, and the pair was humbled by the way the project was embraced locally. “The whole community was supportive,” said Greaves. “It was an amazing process.”