Emmy Award-winning writer-producer Kirk Ellis grew up all over Texas, but today, when he is not working in Los Angeles, he makes his home with his wife, Sheila, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His love of the West began with his interest in the ancient archeology of the Southwest. He also loved the stories of the Old West he watched on TV and at the movies. His passion for storytelling and history led him to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema and Television. After graduation, Ellis was a film critic for The Hollywood Reporter and, at age 24, served as the magazine’s international editor.
In 1992 Ellis formed Shadow Catcher Productions, an independent production banner under which he develops his own indie features and documentaries. His collaboration in 2005 with Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks on the miniseries Into the West brought him the Western Writers of America’s 2006 Spur Award for Best Drama Script for the episode “Hell on Wheels.” A decade later, Ellis is one of the most respected and sought-after filmmakers, writers and producers of historic period drama. For more on his current projects, follow him at IMDB.com.
As a storyteller of Western history, Ellis believes five classics are a must read:
1. The Western (George N. Fenin and William K. Everson, Penguin Books): The first comprehensive history of the genre, first published in 1962 and updated in 1977, remains essential reading. The authors trace the growth of the Western—from one-reel silents to revisionist epics—with great affection and a keen critical eye.
2. The Six Gun Mystique Sequel (John G. Cawelti, Popular Press): Cawelti’s pioneering study of the underlying themes and archetypes of the Western and their reflection of American culture is still the most readable of the countless academic analyses devoted to the genre. Cawelti writes clearly and simply, with the passion of an acknowledged fan.
3. When in Disgrace (Budd Boetticher, Fallbrook Press): The maverick director’s unsparing account of his “lost years” in 1960s Mexico is as exciting as one of his vintage Randolph Scott Westerns. Frank, violent and often uproarious, this hard-to-find account of hubris and exile is arguably the best of all Hollywood memoirs.
4. The War, the West and the Wilderness (Kevin Brownlow, Alfred A. Knopf): The amazing adventures of the brash Silent Film era pioneers who forged new cinematic trails when the West was still wild are chronicled. Brownlow brings the period to vivid life, letting the participants tell the tale in their own words, supplemented by rare vintage photographs.
5. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in 20th-Century America (Richard Slotkin, University of Oklahoma Press): This is the final volume in the author’s massive trilogy of works dissecting the darker side of our national obsession with the West—violence, imperialism and racial misunderstanding. Slotkin’s prose can be dense, but his arguments are never less than fascinating (or, depending upon one’s point of view, infuriating).