Writer-Director Scott Wiper Drew Upon His Northeast Ohio Roots To Make 'The Big Ugly'

click to enlarge Writer-Director Scott Wiper Drew Upon His Northeast Ohio Roots To Make 'The Big Ugly'
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
In the opening scene of The Big Ugly, a gritty new action flick from writer-director Scott Wiper that opens today at area drive-ins and select theaters, Preston Lawford (Ron Perlman), a tough-as-nails oil tycoon, rips down a Confederate flag that a group of rednecks have fastened to the back of their pick-up truck, telling the guys that it’s the flag of “losers.”

It’s a tense scene that sets the mood of the movie, a dark film about criminal behavior and the possibility of redemption.

“I wrote that scene in the summer of 2017 after seeing some of those flags as I was living in West Virginia motels and eating dinner in bars,” says Wiper in an email exchange. “I got into a ‘chat’ with some guys. I realized I was not going to make my point on a broader level, so I boiled it down to a basic argument that anyone could understand — you lost. When casting scripts, you always need a good hook for a character’s intro. I wrote that to introduce the bold man of honor — oilman Preston Lawford.”

When he first read the script, Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) loved it and signed on to do the movie if only to deliver that line. He actually phoned Wiper up and said the line to him over the phone before he'd even met Wiper.

"Ron called me after he first read the script, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘If you wanna fly a flag, motherfucker, go win something,’” says Wiper. “We both laughed, and he said, ‘I want to do this movie. I love this character, but I really want to say THAT line, and do THAT scene.’ I don’t think I’d written it with the profanity, but Ron is very skilled at inserting profanity into most any sentence. I had no idea the issue would be so current in the summer of 2020. Neither did Ron.”

Set in West Virginia (but filmed in Kentucky) the movie centers on the conflict that ensues after a British gangster (Malcom McDowell) strikes a deal with Preston to launder some dirty money. The film’s anti-hero, Neelyn (Vinnie Jones), a guy Wiper describes as “a lost man in a foreign land searching for an identity,” puts his loyalty on the line to defend himself against Preston’s asshole son, triggering a battle between the Brits and Americans.

Wiper, who moved from Ohio to Los Angeles in 1995 after completing Captain Jack, a low budget-film he’d shot in Licking County, tapped into his Ohio roots to make The Big Ugly.

“I produced the film with Karri O’Reilly and Vinnie Jones,” he says. “Karri and I bonded back in 1993. We were both just out of school, and we were Ohio filmmakers. We’ve worked together before. She’s amazing. She’s a very smart filmmaker. And, she knows everyone in Ohio who works in film. Together, we put together a crew that I’d say was 75 percent Ohioans — Cleveland and Cincinnati, mostly. There’s a huge wealth of talent in Ohio, and we were fortunate that the timing was right, that we were able to enlist the best of the best. At first, we thought we’d film in Ohio. But for various reasons, including tax incentives and landscape, we moved south across the Ohio River, but we remained very much an Ohio crew.”

A dark movie — literally and figuratively — The Big Ugly concludes with a dramatic showdown that involves a vicious battle between the British gangsters and their American counterparts. Though extremely violent, the movie’s conclusion somehow still delivers a message of hope, in part through the character of Thomas (David Myers Gregory), the town drunk who’s a helluva lot smarter than he seems. Thomas forms a bond with Neelyn that suggests communication can take place between people with wildly different backgrounds.

“I feel a darkness in society now, but I am a warrior of hope, I’d like to think,” Wiper explains. “I see a brutality in society. I see 18 years of war. I see it gets harder and harder for the working class to survive. I see Wall Street greed. I see the opioid epidemic. I see unfairness and division. These things deeply upset me. Show business is brutal. However, I am an optimist. The Big Ugly is about redemption and enlightenment — so the story tries to bring these loners together, through a series of events, and together, with the smallest act of kindness and humanity exchanged, they make it to daybreak, together, when light overcomes darkness."

He says working with people from the Midwest helped bring that vision to fruition.

"I"m trying to make movies, but doing so with friends and good people, and — maybe shaving off some the assholes that often come this show business grind," he says. "I think we did that successfully on an administrative level; we worked well together out here in the Midwest with a fantastic group of filmmakers.”

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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