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AICN's Exclusive Interview With The Director Of SHOOT 'EM UP!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

If you don’t know what SHOOT ‘EM UP is yet, don’t worry... you will. This sounds like it’s going to be big sick fun, and I’m pleased that we’ve got an interview with the director of the film right now, before the film begins. It’ll be fun to look back at later.

Take it away, Tequila Mockingbird...

It’s a great time to be a discerning action fan. We’re long past the days of macho body builders simply blowing shit up. Peter Berg did a brilliant remix of the staple ‘80s action films with THE RUNDOWN, which is to COMMANDO what Godard’s BREATHLESS is to THE MALTESE FALCON. In spite of this, as with any genre, there’s a need to move forward, a need to break new ground. Wes Anderson kicked ass and took several names with BILL MURRAY VS. PIRATES. (Oddly enough, several venues mislabeled the film as THE LIFE AQUATIC). Anderson’s style was so fun, unique, and kinetic that you really hope Scott Rudin and Touchstone have the balls to finish the trilogy. We need BILLY MURRAY VS. NINJAS and BILL MURRAY VS. THE INTERNATIONAL CRIME LEAGUE.

As if that wasn’t enough, FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY turned the genre up to 11. Any film where Elijah Wood plays a kung fu cannibal, complete with a Charlie Brown sweater, is guaranteed to melt your face off. They even included a brilliant homage to the classic scene in Truffaut’s SMALL CHANGE, with Clive Owen’s Dwight recreating the plummet from the window. We’ve come a long way from the films of Lord Joel Silver and Senor Bruckheimer, which rock in their own respective ways, but we’re slowly reaching a point where the seeming rules related to the genre are disappearing, and we’ve found a place for blazingly original approaches like gunkata.

New Line Cinema is poised to create a new benchmark with two new films. Keep in mind, this is the studio that brought us SURF NINJAS (which is in dire need of a remake, Sony could fund the entire thing through product placement, just swap the Game Gear for a PSP) and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT (which would probably make 80-100 million if we digitally replaced Geena Davis with Cameron Diaz and re-released it), so they already know a thing or two about shaking things up.

First we get DOMINO, from the best and craziest script ever to make it through the studio system (technicality: does Hadida count as the studio system?). When your film includes the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 playing themselves, a heartfelt plea to legitimize the term “blacktino,” shady frat boys, God in heaven flipping a coin to determine the fate of the characters, Mickey Rourke, and Tom Waits as The Wanderer… you’re on a Kaufman level of lunacy few films reach. To top it off, Tony Scott 3.0 is at the helm. This is the new and improved version of our beloved rock star director, inspired-by-CITY OF GOD, seizure-inducing, and James-Brown-lovin’. Few people have any idea how fucking insane it’s going to be, and Harry’s not lapsing into hyperbole with his hard core, enthusiastic endorsement. You’ll see the film ten times and pre-order the DVD.

Which brings us to the topic at hand, Michael Davis’ SHOOT ‘EM UP. Now, I’m sure you’re all aware of Michael Davis, and a fan of most of his movies. Moonbeam Entertainment, the premiere specialty house of quality family films, put out a few of his direct to video films during the mid ‘90s. I first noticed the name, purely by accident, when I watched 100 GIRLS in college. One day, while a little drunk and stoned most likely, I walked into a friend’s dorm as the movie was starting. He had no idea what the movie was, and he was just looking for a typical college/teen sex comedy. What we found didn’t cure cancer, and it wasn’t as great as CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, the closest thing our generation got to John Hughes, but it was a really FUN movie. He clearly had a voice, and it wasn’t hampered by the low budget origins or the trappings of the dreaded “direct to DVD” nature of it all.

Fast forward to 2005, and suddenly Davis is the hot man around town. He wrote a kickass script, and came up with a truly kickass way to gain the attention of the powers that be. His hard work paid off, and he’s on the verge of being a really huge director, a class act more than willing to fuck shit up.

For those not “in the know” what is SHOOT ‘EM UP, and how did the project come together?

DAVIS: SHOOT ‘EM UP starts literally in the middle of a gun battle where the hero, Mr. Smith, is delivering a baby in the middle of a gunfight. The mom dies but the infant lives. He thinks the assassins were after the mother, but he soon discovers the baby is the target. Mr. Smith must uncover the reason why this newborn is the target to save the kid's life and his own. Mr. Smith is the angriest man in the world and is the worst person in the world to take care of the kid. He is near homeless. He takes the baby to a prostitute that services men with a lactation/mommy fetish. He calls her DQ, short for Dairy Queen. She’s the perfect heroine to help him.

The three form a makeshift family while on the run ands under fire. Every possible cool thing you can do with a shoot out is explore in this relentless- RUN-LOLA-RUN with a gun-like story. It also has a strong anti-establishment angle that I like. It combines influences of the Hollywood action film and American indie films, along with a big dose of world cinema, mainly the Hong Kong action films.

How did it come to be? Most people know my work from the romantic comedies I wrote and directed, EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, 100 GIRLS, and 100 WOMEN....and most recently MONSTER MAN which at least takes me closer to the action genre. I've been dying to make a movie like this my whole life...ever since I saw Jonny Quest and then in sixth grade, I read all of the James Bond novels in six months. In seventh and eight grade, I wrote my own 007 novels entitled MASQUERADE OF DEATH and SPEARHEAD -- each 100 pages typed. Then RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK showed me something that could be better than Bond.

The film business is hard and fickle. I wanted to write and direct. After BEANSTALK, I got fed up with the studio shuffle and rounded up 200k to make EIGHT DAYS A WEEK. It turned out great...but in this town, people like to pigeonhole you, and it's easier to get movies made in a genre you've had success in...hence 100 GIRLS and 100 WOMEN.

Prior to EIGHT DAYS, I had been a storyboard artist for John McTiernan, Ron Underwood, Les Mayfield. I worked on Ninja Turtles and Pee Wee's playhouse...I got to explore lots of visual cleverness on paper....much didn't end up on screen, but it helped , helped focus my desire to do clever action. I saw John Woo's HARDBOILED and THE KILLER and flipped out. It had this non-stop insane dance of violence. I don't remember the moment, but I thought the image of Chow-Yun Fat with a baby could be an idea for a whole movie.

It took me awhile to come up with a plot that revolved around the baby being the target. I also was embittered by some experiences in Hollywood that had literally made me the angriest man in the world. I infused this feeling into the Mr. Smith character. In 1989, I wrote a script about Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher, this liberated my writing into becoming more sexually frank. I would never have written the lactating whore heroine for this script if I hadn't been influenced by my research on Kinsey.

I tried setting the film up as a big indie film with no luck. Finally, I gave it to Don Murphy of Angry Films. Don and I knew each other from USC Film School. We had kept up. I thought Don would get it since he had done NATURAL BORN KILLERS and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. Don has become my personal messiah. He's changed my life. He flipped for the script. He saw the animation and knew it would be a great sales tool to sell the project. He got it to Jeff Katz at New Line. Jeff is this amazing guy who will run a studio or be a huge producer one day...Jeff kept the project alive when a senior executive passed and took it to Cale Boyter...Cale shared Jeff's vision. They both loved it and waited for the right to time to bring it to Toby Emmerich. Whatever they did, along with Don, they got Toby excited. Toby is also a screenwriter, he wrote FREQUENCY, which I love. It's been a dream come true.

After struggling in the indie world and going broke, I finally have a shot. I feel almost embarrassed at the attention the project has received. I haven't done anything yet. I still have to make a great movie. Hopefully I will. I've got a lot of great people around me.

AICN: Again, for those out of the loop, what was the animation? What made you decide to pitch the film in this manner? How long did it take you to put it together?

DAVIS: I created 17 minutes of animation that is a shot for shot creation of how intended to shot and edit the film. It's like watching the movie but it is drawn. It is not just a great selling tool to show my vision, but it is great way to plan the shoot. Every department knows exactly what the final product should look like.

Also, since it took 17,000 drawings to complete, it also showed my passion and dedication and work ethic towards the project. I created the animation using iMovie on my Macintosh G4...I initially scanned in my drawings and saved them as pict files and then imported the picts into iMovie. I simply selected the number of frames hold for the drawing and instant animation. Later, because it takes the scanner so long to scan each drawing...I bought a Wacom tablet which allowed me to draw directly on screen. Saving the files was a matter of tedious scanning involved.

I initially didn't plan on using the animation as a selling tool. I was just hobbying around on my computer. I started animating and it was a satisfied some of my hunger to make a film in between my feature work. I had so much fun that I just kept going, maybe three hours a night for six months.

AICN: What is the pre-production process like for this movie? What does it entail? How does it differ from the other films you've worked on?

DAVIS: Well, we're not officially in pre-production, but I am working on the project any way. I am meeting with actors... working with a great line producer to get the budget done. I've done screen grabs of my animation so I have traditional drawn storyboards on paper. My friend Joe Grossberg, a visual FX producer, is helping plan the CGI elements of the picture, he even did a cool test of face replacements so I can make it look like the baby is in the middle of the gun battles.

Pre-production is the same as the other films as I like to storyboard out the entire film. Often, I'll board a scene three different ways until I am satisfied, just as you rewrite a script - this is a way to rewrite the visuals - explore all of the possibilities of imagery. Most movies, the director is so crazy, he gets someone else to board the movie - often with only marginal input from the director - and the film really isn’t the true vision in his head. Also, by drawing and drawing the movie - it is my way of rehearsing - it helps me memorize the movie in my head - so I don't need to refer to my drawings as much.

The differences are simple. I will get more help. Hopefully, on some scenes, I will get a board artist to clean up my messy sketches. The last movie I found all the locations myself because the location scout was not good. There is going to be more time to plan. My producers are even more supportive than I have ever had before. The studio and I are in total synch. The actors I want to cast are their first choices too. The studio is going after them aggressively. It's great. As I said, it’s a dream come true.

AICN: For the final question, (aside from "never give up, never surrender") what advice do you have for any aspiring filmmakers out there?

DAVIS: My advice is to write and write. Read material that is good... don't read average scripts... they'll poison your own writing. Write with your own voice. Write something that speaks to you - something you feel compelled to write - and it will speak to others and be compelling to others. This doesn't mean you have to write a "personal story." SHOOT ‘EM UP is as genre specific as it gets... but the way I gave it my voice is this: I channeled all my anger at struggling in the film business into the character of Mr. Smith. I made him the angriest man in the world - he became a mouth piece for my angers at the world and the fates. In this way, I was able to write something very commercial - but at the same time, there was part of me invested in it.

Also, aim high. Someone once said to me, "try to start out where you want to end up." I like this piece of advice better than this one, "you got to give head to get ahead."

Well that does it for the interview. In the mean time, clear your schedule for XXX2: PIMP MY RIDE. I’m really hoping they kept the scene from the shooting script where Xzybit steals a tanks and proclaims, “I just pimped your ride.” Simon Kinberg, Diet Shane Black.

You might as well call me T.I., because you don’t know me. Instead I’ll go with…

Tequila Mockingbird

Thanks, man. I hope this one gets started soon, because I’d like to see it yesterday. Sounds too cool for school.

"Moriarty" out.

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