Director Ami Canaan Mann talks Texas Killing Fields

Director Ami Canaan Man discusses her crime drama Texas Killing Fields, available on Blu-ray and DVD January 31

Director Ami Canaan Mann first broke onto the scene as a director with Morning in 2001, after serving as second unit director for her father, Michael Mann, in Heat. After writing and directing for the small screen for several years, Ami Canaan Mann returned to the silver screen with Texas Killing Fields, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD January 31. I recently had the chance to speak with the director about her crime drama, which is based on the true tales of several unsolved Texas murders. Here's what she had to say below.

The first time we talked, you said that (screenwriter) Don Ferrarone's script went through a lot of different versions. Can you elaborate a bit on how different those earlier versions might have been from what ended up being the finished product?

Ami Canaan Mann: I'm actually not too familiar with the different versions. The script was in development for 11 years. John Hillcoat was attached at one point, and I'm not familiar with those earlier drafts. The big difference between the version I had first read, and the version we ended up shooting, was I wanted to elevate the Chloe Moretz character, and really have it be a three-hander between her, and Sam (Worthington)'s character and Jeffrey (Dean Morgan)'s character. As it turned out, when I proposed this to Don, that had actually been one of his original ideas, and he was very much on board to make that change.

Did you have Chloe Moretz in mind early on? It must have been before she really became well-known.

Ami Canaan Mann: Oh, yeah. When Don and I were working, there was no cast, no budget, and just the slightest inkling of a chance that we might get to make this. We worked on the script for about a year before it went to any talent, so we were very lucky to get someone like Chloe. I felt like if we had this sort of child character, that would really help thematically underscore the perspective of the victims and potential victims. I felt like that was an important aspect of the story.

I was really impressed with how deep the bench was on this cast. You have Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but also have actors like Jason Clarke who gives a nice performance even though he doesn't have a ton of screen time. Can you talk about the thigns you were looking for, when assembling this cast?

Ami Canaan Mann: Sure. I just have to say I got so, so fortunate across the board to get a cast like this. Yeah, Jason Clarke, Stephen Graham, Sheryl Lee. They're all incredible. They came to me in different ways. Chloe and Sheryl auditioned, and I knew right away with both of them, they were the ones I wanted. Jason Clarke and I sat down and talked about the bad guys, as it were, and discussed their differences. Stephen Graham, I was just really familiar with his work. In This is England, I thought he was genius. I would say the common denominator, aside from their talent, was they responded to the material in the way that I originally responded to it. You just can't believe this is inspired by real events. It's an incredible story, and we need to do whatever we can to try and tell it, to shed some light on these 50 some odd crimes down in Texas. I think and hope that sense of purpose really permeates the film.

You said earlier that you screened it for the actual detectives. I was curious if you received any other feedback from Texans who saw the film?

Ami Canaan Mann: It's interesting, because it was released in a platform release in New York and L.A. and Chicago. Then it kind of went around the country a little bit, and I was thrilled that theater that did the best business, is the theater in Houston, which is about 30 minutes away from Texas City. I actually went down there for a screening, and Don was there and the real Mike and Brian was there, and we had a Q&A afterwards. I was just really honored that was the theater that did the best business. As I said before, the objective was to tell this story, this tough story, in the most authentic and respectful way possible. The audience's reaction was really heartfelt and really genuine. This is literally their backyard, and they let themselves be engaged with the story. They let themselves feel for the story that was their story. I was just honored that they responded so positively to it. I felt we had done our job.

I have to imagine they were surprised by Sam's accent, because I thought he really pulled that off.

Ami Canaan Mann: You know, some people have said you can feel the Australian in it, which I couldn't see. The thing is, there are a lot of different Texas accents. People from Houston sound a lot different than people from Austin. He spent a lot of time with the real Mike, and he nailed it. I don't know what they were hearing, but I thought he nailed it.

Wow. I never heard that before. I was really impressed by it.

Ami Canaan Mann: (Laughs) Yeah, I thought so too.

When we last spoke, you talked about a project based on your friend, a boxcar musician. Is there any movement on that project at all, or is there anything else you're developing that you can talk about?

Ami Canaan Mann:Yeah, we're casting that now, and we'll see what happens. It's a very, very independent film. It's the kind of movie that has to be done with very little money, so we'll see what happens. Hopefully we're shooting it this year, and there are also a lot of other things in development.

What would you like to say to anyone who missed Texas Killing Fields in theaters about why they should give it a shot on Blu-ray and DVD this week?

Ami Canaan Mann: The cast and the crew did a tremendous job. They just put a lot of their heart and their soul and blood, sweat, and tears into the film. I think that shows, and it's a story you should take a look at.

Great. That's my time, Ami. Thanks so much.

Ami Canaan Mann: Thank you.

You can pick up Ami Canaan Mann's Texas Killing Fields on Blu-ray and DVD shelves everywhere January 31.