Filmmaker finds ‘dream location’ for miniseries at Robber’s Roost

Actor-turned-writer/director pursues passion project after Bakersfield Heart Hospital active-shooter experience

Filmmaker finds ‘dream location’ for miniseries at Robber’s RoostWriter/Director Mark Wayne and Cinematographer Robert Murphy shoot a scene with actors Brandon Diaz and Jolene Merryman at Robber’s Roost Ranch last month. — Photo by Laura Austin

------

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

When Writer/Director Mark Wayne was working on his screenplay, everything was coming into place – except for a location.

“I had an imaginary place in my head – a group of buildings in the middle of the desert that could be a convincing cartel outpost,” said Wayne. “A friend showed me pictures of this place called Robber’s Roost Ranch near Inyokern, and I said, ‘That’s it. That’s the place.’ I fell in love with it.”

Since then, Wayne and crew have spent multiple weekends shooting hours of footage for a dark, crime-thriller mini series (working title yet to be announced). Wayne and company described the series, which involves human trafficking, as a Tarantino-style take on dark dramas like “Breaking Bad” and “Sicario.”

“It’s very dark subject matter,” said Wayne. “It’s focuses on human trafficking, but it’s also a vigilante story. It’s very racially loaded. There’s lots of controversial stuff, but that’s kind of the point.”

Wayne had long been working on a script for a short feature he wanted to do, but he said that as he was writing, it kept getting longer.

“I realized it was long enough to be a film, but then I kept writing and said, ‘This thing is a miniseries,’” he said.

And it was an “unlikely series of events” that led him to know about the Robber’s Roost location. As an employee at Bakersfield Heart Hospital, he was there when Brandon Clark forced his way into the hospital with a rifle in December.

“I heard there was a man outside the hospital with a gun," said Wayne. “At first I thought they were joking, but then I looked at the security camera monitor that everyone’s eyes were glued to and I saw the man outside the employee entrance.”

At that point his instincts kicked in. Wayne, an Army vet, instructed a small team of employees to watch his back as he approached the entrance with a fire extinguisher.

“Deafening gun shots blasted past me from the glass door, and I told everyone to run to their cover points,” said Wayne. “Everyone took cover in locked rooms, and I ran to the intersection of the hallway. I saw a group of people trying to escape the building, but they were coming toward me in the direction of where the shooter was entering, and I signaled to them to go back the opposite way.”

At that point he was confronted with the erratic gunman in the hallway. At that point, Wayne struck up a conversation with Clark.

“I asked him who he was looking for, and he told me he was looking for his mother,” said Wayne. “So I proceeded to ask him questions to buy time and stall his progress in the hospital.”

Wayne said the conversation turned toward Clark’s dog and Wayne took the opportunity to lead him out of the hospital to “look for his dog,” Max. Once outside, Clark saw the police and began to panic.

“He asked me if there were cops in the building and I told him the cops were already inside and to not come back because he’d get caught,” said Wayne. “I was lying, of course. I had no idea if there were cops in the building, but it worked and he took flight to the parking lot.”

At that point, Wayne said, he heard the “Drop your weapon” command from SWAT officers, followed by gunshots. Officers had shot and injured the gunman, who was immediately treated by hospital staff after he was subdued.

“I was in a state of complete euphoria that nobody had been killed and in a state of prayer for the gunman’s life,” said Wayne. “This was truly a miraculous and unusual active shooting in the sense that nobody was injured except the shooter, and even he survived at the mercy of the same hospital staff that had been his target.”

Wayne said the incident made him “somewhat known” to a lot of the staff, and he became good friends with Mark Pope, a surgical technician who worked in the operating room.

“One day I was talking about this project that I wanted to film, but one of the episodes required a certain imaginary location in the desert. I was just dreaming of this location,” said Wayne. “When he heard about my vision, he wasted no time in telling me about this perfect spot out near Inyokern. After seeing the pictures I fell in love with the whole area, and from there we planned our first shoot.”

This is Wayne’s first go as a writer and director. He goes to acting school in Ontario, Calif., and recently finished extra work for the USA series “Shooter.” He enlisted several of his fellow acting students and film-making friends, and now they’re up to their necks in filming.

“A lot of people who heard the script just got really inspired by it and started pitching in their own skills,” he said. “It’s an extremely tight budget. But it goes to show you that money isn’t everything – it’s really about the friends you have.

“Where Hollywood has money, we have to solve problems in a different way. We lost electricity the other day and had to shoot a whole scene with the flashlights on our phones, a battery-powered LED and my vape pen for a fog effect. It actually turned out surprisingly well.”

It was his friend Pope who introduced Wayne to Robber’s Roost Ranch owner Jon Knutson. But when Wayne arrived to meet Knutson, there had been a failure to communicate.

“It was funny because I came out here with my assistant director, Jae. The owner came out and just squinted at us like a cowboy in a Mexican standoff and said he had no idea we were coming,” said Wayne. “I told him the idea, and he kind of stared at me a little and then gave me this little smile like ‘O.K.’

“He’s been really supportive and hasn’t charged for using his property. I’m just excited to see where this thing can go.”

Jae Guttierrez said she couldn’t believe how many people were pitching in to help.

“We don’t even know anybody in this county,” she said. “You guys are like a family. You are so welcoming, you’ve taken us in and are so down- to-earth, humble and loving.”

“This kind of thing would never happen in Los Angeles,” added Cinematographer Robert Murphy.

Wayne said that prior to working on the story, he actually wasn’t very familiar with human trafficking, nor did he realize it was a trending problem in Kern County.

“I just picked this location because of the desert,” said Wayne. “But I’ve been learning a lot about it, and it’s brought me on a journey. It’s forced me to meet people who have experienced it.”

The footage includes “a lot of uncomfortable shots” so far, given the subject matter. For those who don’t mind minor spoilers – Wayne said part of the desert plot line involves a corrupt cop who is killed by a young girl.

“We’re actually shooting the second episode first,” said Wayne. “It will be one of the most difficult episodes to shoot, but also the most exciting.”

He said all of the action in the lonely desert might turn this episode into the premiere, in which case Episode 2 would be a flashback and would take place in L.A.

“Should this be successful, we intend to continue shooting all over the country – the Deep South, Chicago, wherever,” he said. “The story line has a lot of parallel subplots that will all start to meet up toward the end.

“We only planned on using this location for the one episode, but now I’m thinking it’s just too valuable…. We may have to create another subplot that brings us back here.”

Wayne said he’s working with his agent and acting coach, Tommy Ybarra of In the Moment Acting Studio, to pitch the project to online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. While there’s a working title, he’s keeping it under wraps until the production gets submitted to some film festivals.

Wayne and his team plan to continue filming this month at Robber’s Roost Ranch. He doesn’t currently have a timeline on when the initial production will be complete, but he said he hopes soon.

“We already have more than six hours of raw takes and footage, so that’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “We’re also filming out of order like crazy, so it’s like putting together puzzle pieces.”

“This place is beautiful,” said Wayne. “I crave this type of scenery. It’s like going back in time to the cowboy days — a ‘trust-on-a-handshake’ kind of place. I just want to express my appreciation for this county and Ridgecrest in general.”

Story First Published: 2018-05-04