Life Amid the Ashes

Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche.
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

David Gordon Green is a big-time Hollywood director who estimates that he visits Los Angeles no more than three times a year. The filmmaker, best known for the stoner comedy ‘Pineapple Express‘ and the indie darling ‘Snow Angels,’ spends most of his time in Texas, where he’s just purchased a 45-acre property in the Hill Country outside Austin. His new film ‘Prince Avalanche‘ stars Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, and Bastrop State Park, a forbidding piece of charred forest not far from his new home. Green says the park, which he visited regularly with his dog before massive fires ripped through it – and 1,691 nearby homes – in 2011, has become an unexpected inspiration.

“Near the park there is a big water tower with a smiley face, and during the fires you’d see huge plumes of smoke behind it and it was so ironic and strange,” says Green. “I go back to that image because it sort of inspired the tone of the film.”

The indie movie, filmed over 16 days, tells the story of Alvin and Lance, road workers struggling to get along while painting the lines on a country highway charred by wildfire. Alvin doesn’t approve of Lance, his girlfriend’s flighty brother, so they bicker and camp and bicker and camp. Based on the Icelandic film ‘Either Way,’ ‘Prince Avalanche’ is a meditative tribute to the joy of being outdoors, the horror of intimacy, and the complex beauty of the charred park. Green lingers on both the thin blackened trees and the life – turtles, caterpillars – flourishing amid what seems at first blush to be a dead landscape.

Green says his cast and crew were similarly invigorated by Bastrop, though also humbled by the struggles of some of its residents. During filming, the director and his stars hung out in the cabins the state park service rents out in the forest.

“I enlisted guys I knew would be up for the challenge, guys I knew would sit in a camp chair and drink from a canteen,” Green explains. “After we finished shooting, Paul basically just changed his clothes…. It was summer camp.”

Not content to film just one movie in Bastrop, Green returned to the park while shooting ‘Joe,’ an adaptation of the great Larry Brown novel about tree poisoners working for a lumber company set to debut at the Venice Film Festival later this month. He says Nicholas Cage came out to scout locations and, once shooting began, “insisted on using a venomous cottonmouth snake as a prop.”

“Bastrop is not just a cool backdrop where we set our little movies,” says Green. “The place is a combination of nature and civilization. It is beautiful but complicated.”

More information: The town of Bastrop is a 40-minute drive from downtown Austin. The park and the cabins, which cost from $80 to $200 a day, are a 10-minute ride into the skeletal woods. ‘Prince Avalanche’ will play in select theaters starting August 9.