Update:Ok a few people have asked so I suppose I should explain how I get to talk to thesepeople. I work as an assistant editor at a community newspaper in the D.C. But I also do entertainment writing (film reviews, game reviews, reporting on local concerts, etc.) so when directors actually come to D.C. I get to talk to them. I'm actually an acredited member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association, which actually means about as much as a 360 achievement. As a side note I'm looking for other jobs, freelance or not so if anyone has information on a movie/game/entertainment site that needs an expierenced writer/editor love to hear from you.
Also I'd like to start asking more gaiming questions to directors and actors I talk to. I'll start posting what interviews I have so you guys can throw me some questions too.
Editors note: My review of the film will come with the my Monday Reviews but in light of everyone having to see this movie this weekend I will say that everyone has to see this movie this weekend. Even if you don't like action we should all support any director who also plays video games.
Power level is above 9,AWESOME!
Michael Davis is one of those rare directors who was and still is, for lack of a better word, a movie fanboy. That is to say he remembers what it was like to watch action movies and just want more - more action, more shooting, more fast cars, more of everything in bigger, louder and better ways. It is ever so clear from his new movie “Shoot Em’ Up” that this Rockville, MD, native and avid video game player hasn’t lost the boyhood awe that great action movies create. The film, about a solitary man, simply named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) who rescues a child from the devilish assassin, Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) is crammed with gun fights, car chases, one liners and ridiculously over the top action.
Talking with him about his film, action movies and video games you find a man who is vehemently passionate about a genre of film that most people write of as needless fluff. More surprisingly though he is able to get the people around him excited about it. Be it the A-list actors, including Monica Bellucci, in “Shoot Em’ Up” or the relative freedom he got to make the film from New Line cinema his passion for action clearly inspires others to want to go out and blow stuff up too.
Michael Davis, pointer extraordinaire .
Some critics have taken the movie to be ridiculing the action genre; I didn’t really see that. Was that your intention? There was only one guy who said that. I ended up bringing him a suitcase full of my DVDs to show him that I loved action movies. I’m a huge fan of the action movies. That was just some guy who was trying to put his smart spin on it. I was such a big James Bond fan, I love these movies. I’ve been an action fan since I was kid, when Indiana Jones opened I got dressed up like him. The only commentary that the movie has is that man do I love action.
So do you like this new trend in action cinema to go way over the top like the “Transporter” films or “Crank," this sort of uber-action movie? That is exactly what they are, uber-action. I was a big James Bond kid and I love the scene in Moonraker where Jaws and Bond fight in mid air. I just like to see stuff that’s fun and has imagination . Sometimes if you stay constricted to reality and don’t crank it up a notch you don’t get the freedom to do really cool things. I’m not sure if it’s a trend in film or not but I think you just see these film makers that loved these action movies growing up and now they get to make them.
Do you see a problem with the hyped up violence in films like these and in particular your film? I think in “Shoot Em’ Up” it is just fun and larger than life violence. It’s not a realistic world. I mean Clive Owen kills a guy with a carrot. This is nothing to be taken seriously. It’s just for a good time with some popcorn. Because it’s treated light-heartedly I don’t think there is problem with the violence.
How did you come up with the idea for the movie? Part of it I wrote for myself. I said what do I want to see in a gunfight. I like the fact that every gunfight has its own particular theme or idea. You get ten or eleven of these sort of encounters. A lot of these action movies you get some action but you need to wait 20 minutes for the next action scene. I wanted constant action, I was going for an action narcotic. There is a great story but I wanted an action scene every few minutes. I’d rather give the audience all the action they can handle and only have a few expository scenes.
Was that the idea behind the sex/gunfight scene with Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci? Cinema has historically been about sex and violence and a gun fight while having sex like this is the ultimate representation. You like to see the hero hook up with the pretty girl but you also like to see him killing the bad guys so it just makes sense to put the two together. I was so excited about making the scene, it is just so natural. I don’t know why anyone else hadn’t come up with it before.
You don't know what came after this shot, but I promise you it was awesome
So did you sit around thinking “You know what would be awesome?” and then make a movie with all those ideas? I like how you put that, “You know what would be awesome?” You kind of try to figure out all the awesome things in a gunfight. I’m a big action fan so why not make the ultimate action fans movie. The thing that is interesting is that you are getting story within the action scenes. You set up character through action. Its not just an action sequence you’re also telling the world who this guy is. It’s sort of woven in there, you have the tension in the action. I like that you kind of tell visually on screen that this guy is a broken man, he kind of grows into a make shift family with the child and woman. You can see the whole situation was healing him. It’s not all action for action sake, though it is at the same time. It’s like the John Woo or Hong Kong films where the action develops the character along with the talking.
You bring up John Woo and while watching the film you get the feeling that if his films are the ballet of gunfights, then this is the heavy metal… I really like that comparison, and it’s exactly right. Though ballet is a kind of dance…
Sorry, mixed metaphor. How about the mosh pit of gun fights? Yea that works well and it sort of comments on what the movie is; a mosh pit of action violence. You can use that to describe the whole of the movie because it kind of moshes together all the different ways you can do all these action shots.
Speaking of the shots, was most of the action done digitally or for real? Clive Owen did a lot of the stuff himself, like the repelling down the stairwell was all him. Obviously the skydiving gunfight was digital with Clive in wires. Throughout we tried to mix in visible and invisible effects work, like we wanted Clive to have a real baby so we had to put in a lot of digital flash effects for gun fire.
You bring up Clive Owen and the film has some other pretty heavy hitters in it with Paul Giamatti and Monica Bellucci. How did they get involved? I know it’s a bunch of A-list actors in a B-grade movie. The first was that Clive Owen was always my number one choice. I loved him in the BMW shorts and I wanted an actor who hadn’t done all this action before but had a taste of it. He’s kind of a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Sean Connery, you just want to see him in action. When he first got the script he said it was not usually his kind of thing but when he read it he just couldn’t believe how it worked out. So Clive came aboard.
So what was working with him like for this film, how did his character develop? The thing about directing is they always say it depends on whom you cast and by the fourth day Clive and I were on the same page. He really worked on the character and came up with some great stuff.
I think he likes playing this sort of fractured hero. I like the idea of contrasting the hard-boiled with the innocence and here you have this hard-boiled guy in Clive Owen with this small child. He’s supposed to be the angriest guy in the world and you find that the audience, and myself, find him relatble cause he gets mad at all the little things that piss us off but he ends up doing something about it. He is the guy that we would all want to be.
And what about casting Paul Giamatti as a hit man? A bit against type there, how did that come around? When I wrote the script I wasn’t thinking of him but I had this great executive who suggested it. So I got to the point where I was going to be disappointed if we didn’t get it. I didn’t think the studio would spring for him since he had just done “Lady in the Water” and his price had gone up but they did.
In this shot alone you have two big guns, two big actors, a carrot, baby bottles and a whore house.
Was he into the character since it was so different? I think he’s played so many downtrodden characters that he sort of built up this energy where he could be a guy where he could kick ass really well. He did say before he lost his hair that he played a lot of bad guys on stage. He was always very assertive when he was doing it. He had a lot of pride in his athleticism. He had this huge gun and just looked great with it. I gave him the freedom to make his own character and figure him out and he said he had always wanted to do that and came back to me with that great dark voice you hear in the movie. Now I talk to him and his normal voice seems strange. The best part was that he had to go to the Academy awards with the character’s uneven beard and bad shaving.
The two actors get to throw out some pretty awesome, and cheesy, one liners, was that in homage to the great Bond one liners? We found as we were making the movie that there is the premise that Clive Owen is protecting this baby and that’s kind of a dark idea so we wanted to remind that audience that this was a fun movie. So we wanted these little comedic things, the Bond films the one liners are almost sad, there is a kind of darkness behind him that there isn’t in “Shoot Em’ Up,” they’re just for fun and since the movie is so over the top the lines work. It’s not supposed to be award-winning writing; when you see an audience enjoying them even though they aren’t Shakespeare you get what you want.
The other big feeling I got from the film was that the action sort of played out like a video game? Are you a gamer? I’m a big gamer. I have a 360, a PS3, a Gamecbue, plenty of last generation stuff. I’ve yet to get a Wii but I want one. I love the whole game experience where you are constantly in danger and the body count can be high really high. American cinema wants to be realistic to much so the body count cant be high, you get a lot of bullets hitting walls and going through windows but not killing anyone. In Hong Kong movies and video games its cool to shoot up all these bad guys and that’s what you want to see out of a hero: killing bad guys.
How did the gaming background effect “Shoot Em’ Up?” I took from the video game experience that people could accept the larger than life feeling. Gaming lets you do some amazing things and people want to see those things in film too. The difference is that in the games, because your limited to the gaming engine, it’s just the given strategy to get out of a situation. In movies you can do what is the creative cool way to get out the situation, any way you want. It’s not just blowing guys away in film but new things each time you have to kill a guy. But you get that great onslaught feeling from video games and I took that for the movie.
Would you direct a game if you got the chance? I would love to direct a video game. I would like to be involved in something that had some new type of programming so you could make really creative ways to get out of situations. I’d also love better dialog in games that’s far less expositional. Why not have some stuff like the talk about in “Clerks” where the storm troopers are just regular guys having a conversation and you’d have that dialogue in the game. Why isn’t there funny dialog and interesting pop culture things in games too, that have nothing to do with the plot? I think if you can take the freedom in great movie dialog and put that into games it would be incredible. You could change gaming and the way people perceive it if you made dialog less plot oriented and more fun and natural. That’s one of the reasons why, I believe, people like the online experience cause you get to shoot people and have a great dialogue with your friends. But yes, I would love to direct a game if I was ever so lucky.
You’ve sort of already been involved in gaming though. The Double Dragon movie was... That was a long time ago. My partner and I came on and did the rewrite. We needed a job and wanted a way into the screenwriter’s guild. The director had never done anything before and you got terrible casting with twin brothers who don’t look alike! The movie takes place in post earthquake apocalyptic LA and then they didn’t shoot it there, they shot it in Cleveland. A film that actually takes place in LA, where movies are made, they shot in Cleveland! People hold me, the screenwriter, responsible when I have the least amount of power over it. Plus it was forever ago, aren’t people allowed to get better. Back then I would have worked on anything to get into the business. Movies so expensive you feel lucky you get to work on any script.
So if directing a game isn’t next what is? I’m writing and directing. I’ve been able to write and direct all my movies so I ‘d love to continue on in the vein of that. It might even be a little wilder and more exciting than "Shoot Em’ Up."
Oh and Blindside, the answer is both, but if he has to choose orange because it doesn't stain as bad.
I realized that I got through the entire post without a good shot of Monica Bellucci, how silly of me