He’s the man behind the camera for three episodes of the Paramount+ series.
Strictly speaking, Lawmen: Bass Reeves isn’t Damian Marcano’s first rodeo. Indeed, you wouldn’t be far off the mark to call him a seasoned veteran, considering all his directorial credits for such TV series as Claws, Snowfall, American Gigolo, Greenleaf, and Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
But working on three episodes of the Paramount+ series presented new challenges for the Trinidad-born director. For one thing, Bass Reeves — which had the year’s most-watched season premiere globally for Paramount+ — is his first Western project. And the location filming in Texas was… well, thanks to the caprices of Mother Nature, more than a tad stressful.
Still, he’s not complaining too much about his experiences. After all, he got the chance to work with such notables as David Oyelowo (who plays the title role of the legendary slave-turned lawman), Dennis Quaid, Donald Sutherland and Lauren E. Banks (pictured above between co-star Demi Singleton and Marcano). And he greatly appreciates the opportunity he was given to help reveal the man behind the myths surrounding the first Black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi .
"His endurance, his faith, his commitment to his family, his ability to achieve his goal when he was up against all odds, in a time when he should not have been doing this — you know, that sounds a lot like the reggae music I listen to," Marcano told Wide Open Country. “And for me, Bass became something that I felt. Just like some of my favorite reggae songs, this story will probably play forever.”
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Marcano about his adventures in the Lone Star State. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Cowboys & Indians: So what are some of your most vivid memories, pleasant and otherwise, about shooting on location in Texas?
Damian Marcano: I’ve been saying all day that the weather affected this shoot, right? The days that we wanted to shoot something, we couldn’t shoot, blah, blah, blah. But what I also appreciated were the fine people in Texas. There was something about the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the spirit. And I knew it was bigger than me. I’m a Rasta man, so I go through most of life thinking everything is bigger than me. But there are times where it is really daunting. There were moments when you’re like, “Hey, that’s David Oyelowo, and that’s Dennis Quaid, and that’s Donald Sutherland.” But then you’re like, “Oh no, that’s just three guys in Texas right now.”
And the cowboys that we had on our staff were the coolest guys I feel I’ve ever seen at this point. Those were the guys essentially teaching our actors how to become this and how to live this. And with each of them, respectively, I think they all bought into that. I think we all had a terrific time together because we needed to. We all needed to band together so that we could figure out what we would shoot on what days Texas would allow us to.
C&I: Were you at all intimidated by the knowledge that you, Oyelowo, and executive producer Taylor Sheridan were able to tell Bass Reeves’ story after so many other similar proposed projects had never come to fruition?
Marcano: No, no. Well, I will say, maybe this was a bit of blindness, but I never looked up anything on Bass. Even when I got sent the script, this pilot script that [series creator and showrunner Chad Feehan] had written, I just thought it was a beautiful portrayal of a man. I just thought, like, this is what it was to be a man in the 1800s and have a wife and kids, and also to come from slavery and etc. Just what a crazy time. And thank God I didn’t live in that time. But I felt like that’s what it was, and that’s sort of why I signed up for it. I didn’t do any of the research because I think if I did, it may have hindered what I was trying to do.
I was more interested in getting with my writers, getting with my cast, and just getting with some great people in Texas to see what we could come up with. Because we had this brilliant roadmap of a script, and all we had to go out there and do is shoot it. But it required so much just to even get two pages of this thing shot, because of the weather conditions. We were just like, “OK, we're here, right? Let’s do the best that we can today. We’ll do the best that we can tomorrow. By the weekend, we’ll look at some dailies.” And then by the weekends — that’s when everybody started feeling pretty good. Because during the week you’d be losing your mind. But by the weekend you’d be like, “I think we got it.”
C&I: Looking back, what do you think was the most difficult scene you had to shoot in the episodes you directed?
Marcano: There’s a shootout that happens at the Bywater Store [in Part V], and we had to build this entire — well, not just an outpost, but everything that came along with it. So there was a railroad track extension. We needed 80 cattle to sit in a corral right next to the general store, and the corral. And the cattle had to be the right height so that we could see them. We’re building things now that existed back then, and there was a reason they did certain things back then. We scouted that location for a month. And over the course of three weeks, I kept on returning — and it was still just a dirt pile. But then finally on the fourth week, there you had this store, and everything to go along with it, and a path up to it. Which speaks highly of our production design team.
But then Chad had this thing where he wanted to do something big. He loved the movie Heat, and he said, “Listen, this is one of our really big shootouts of the season. We got to get this right. This has got to feel like Heat.” And yeah, we brought some storyboard artists in, and showed them a location that didn’t exist. We're like, “So what you have in this area of dirt here is going to be that. The front door is going to be here." And somehow, we dreamt that stuff up. We were able to see it ahead of time.
That was just one of those really, really, really big moments, because you’ve got David, you've got his sidekick, you've got other people, you’ve got animals, you’ve got a dog that’s trying to attack him. If there’s anything at all that could be happening, it’s happening in this scene in the 1800s. And that was something that we planned for easily a month. Just for that one scene.
Photos: Lauren Smith/Paramount+