ALEXANDER NEVSKY ON 'BLACK ROSE'

Alexander Nevsky is a huge star in his native Russia for his bodybuilding and acting, and is on his way to becoming an action star in the United States with films like MOSCOW HEAT (2004), TREASURE RAIDERS (2007) and his current release, BLACK ROSE, an action thriller in which he plays a Russian Police Major enlisted by the LAPD to stop a serial killer preying on women. I spoke to Nevsky about how he became a star, the influence Arnold Schwarzenegger has had on him, making BLACK ROSE, working with Walter Hill on UNDISPUTED (2002) and Sofia Coppola on SOMEWHERE (2010), and about his forthcoming projects.

Growing up, what were some of the action movies that you loved the most? 
When I was growing up in the USSR, it was perestroika, and Hollywood movies were not shown in the country. They only showed us the classic Soviet movies, stuff like Eisenstein, which I actually liked. When things changed, I started boxing because of the ROCKY franchise, and I started bodybuilding because of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I fell in love with classic action genre movies from the 70s to the 90s.
 
After watching your new film BLACK ROSE, I was wondering if you were influenced by the films of Walter Hill, who of course also worked with Arnold on RED HEAT (1988). 
The film is my tribute to directors like Walter Hill and stars like Arnold, whose films made me what I am. With BLACK ROSE, I wanted to mix genres, which can be a dangerous thing to do. I wanted it to have action, to be a mystery thriller, to have horror elements, and some fish out of water humor. It was my first film as a director, and I am proud of what we achieved. I think one of the reasons the film works is that I surrounded myself with some great people on the movie – Adrian Paul from the Highlander TV series, and two actors who worked with Arnold, Robert Davi (RAW DEAL) and Kristanna Loken (TERMINATOR 3 – RISE OF THE MACHINES). One of the executive producers was Sheldon Lettich, who has made many films with Van Damme. The film already opened in Russia and Europe a few years ago and did very well. I directed it, produced it, and acted in it, and it was a tough film to make. But it was a dream come true and an absolute joy. 

Like Arnold you also began your career as a bodybuilder, before making the move into films. Have you modelled your career on Arnold's? 
In 1993, we had the first TV documentaries in Russia on bodybuilding, and I was featured in one of them. I was a skinny kid who got big through bodybuilding. I also boxed, and I had gotten an education, so I could talk well. I woke up the next morning and I had become a big star. I absolutely studied the way Arnold had done things. He used his fame to make further steps in his career, and also to inspire other people. I created my own TV show in Russia about bodybuilding and martial arts. It played on the State Channel 1, and over 30 million people watched it every week. My message was ''If I can do it, you can do it too. '' 

How did you make the transition to starring in Hollywood films? 
I wanted to start making movies, but there was a big problem. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the government stopped supporting movies. Before then, there was a huge film industry. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1999, the total box office for Russia was 2 million dollars. Last year it was 2 billion dollars! I joined the Hollywood Press Association and started to represent Russia. I produced my first film in 2003, which was called MOSCOW HEAT and we shot it in Russia. Michael York co-starred. After that I produced a film called TREASURE RAIDERS, which had David Carradine in the cast.

All of my films are old-fashioned style action movies, and it's important to me that I always play the good guy. When I came to L.A., I started to get offers pretty fast but all I got offered were bad guy roles, which is what every Russian actor always gets offered. I couldn't do them because I didn't want to betray my ideals. The most painful role I had to turn down was playing a bad guy in the Van Damme film THE ORDER (2001), because I was a big fan of Van Damme. Actually, that film was directed by Sheldon Lettich, who was one of the producers on BLACK ROSE. 

You actually worked with Walter Hill on his film UNDISPUTED. How was the experience? 
That was my first film. I was really there to do stunts, but Walter put me in the film and you can see me. It was a great experience. I didn't speak much English at that time. I remember I wanted to take my shirt off in a fight scene with Michael Rooker so I could show off my muscles, but a stunt guy came up to me and said ''Nobody will be able to see your muscles onscreen, but if you keep your shirt on, they'll have to shoot you for a whole week to make sure the scene has continuity. '' I met Walter again later at the Producer's Guild when I started producing films, and he remembered me, and was happy for my success. I'm also happy for him. I thought BULLET TO THE HEAD (2012) and THE ASSIGNMENT (2016) were terrific. It was a dream come true to work with him. 

How was working with Sofia Coppola on SOMEWHERE, where you played a Russian journalist? 
I worked on the movie for several days and shot a few scenes, but only one scene ended up in the movie. I asked Sofia for more scenes but she said ''Don't worry. Benicio Del Toro is only in the movie for ten seconds!'' Sofia's father, Francis Ford Coppola, produced the picture and was on set all the time, and I had the chance to talk to him. Sofia is a genius as a director, but I also thought she did a great job acting in THE GODFATHER, PART III (1990). I asked her if she would ever act again and she said ''No, I just want to direct now. '' 

You also have some other films coming out – SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, MAXIMUM IMPACT and HERCULES. Can you talk about those? 
SHOWDOWN IN MANILA is being released in October. It's kind of like an EXPENDABLES with actors who haven't been in an EXPENDABLES movie yet! It's directed by Mark Dacascos, who's also in it, and it's really fun. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa makes a perfect bad guy. MAXIMUM IMPACT is an action comedy directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and written by Ross LaManna, who wrote the first RUSH HOUR movie. It's about the FSB and the CIA working together to face international terrorists. It's my first comedy, and we have a great cast – Tom Arnold, Kelly Hu, Danny Trejo, Mark Dacascos and William Baldwin. We are hoping to start shooting HERCULES very soon.

BLACK ROSE is showing in US theaters from April 28th, and on VOD and DVD from May 2nd. 

The trailer

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SAM FIRSTENBERG (PART 1 OF 2)

Sam Firstenberg is the director of such cult action favorites as REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984), AMERICAN NINJA (1985), AVENGING FORCE (1986), and AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (1987), as well as the hit musical BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), all produced by Cannon Films. With interest in the output of Cannon growing and with the forthcoming publication of the interview book Stories from the Trenches: The Official Sam Firstenberg Book (written by Marco Siedelmann, and part of a Kickstarter campaign), in the first part of our interview I spoke to Firstenberg about his early love of cinema, moving to the States to study film and become a filmmaker, his early experiences working with Menahem Golan (Cannon's co-founder) and Andrew Davis, and the whirlwind ride of directing films for Cannon.

Growing up, what were some of the most memorable movies for you? 
I was born in Poland but I grew up outside the city of Jerusalem. My neighborhood had a local theater and I used to go and see a new double-bill every week as a kid. The most memorable films for me were the Westerns, but the film I remember the most vividly was the war film THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957). The first film that I ever saw, as a kid, was BAMBI (1942). I must have been 5 or 6. I remember the fire sequence. I also liked private eye movies, musicals like THE KING AND I (1956), and Hollywood films in general. Once in a while the theater showed non-Hollywood movies like Italian or French or even Indian movies. I would come home and tell all the other kids on the block the story of the film I had just seen. I loved telling stories so much that at one point I made my own movie. I cut some pictures from a book and I glued them together in a strip with a box. I made a little window in the box and I rolled the pictures and told a story.

When did you start thinking about becoming a filmmaker? 
I grew up in the 50s and 60s and there was not a lot of information available about how to become a filmmaker. I had no idea how movies were put together. Most people thought movies were shot like a play in the theater – you start at scene number one and then you go and shoot the movie in sequence. I knew that I wanted to tell stories, and that through film was the way to do it. I loved the big screen and the moving images.

Directing BREAKIN' 2. 
It's mandatory to do military service in Israel. So after high school I did three years in the military. By the time I got out I was 21 years old. Though I had studied Electrical Engineering and received training, I knew I didn't want to pursue it as a career. At this time, anybody who wanted to learn how to become a filmmaker went to London or France to study how to do it. Very few people from Israel had studied film in the States. Menahem Golan had studied in New York, but he was one of the few. There was no film industry in Israel at that time. There were sporadic films here and there. The only person who was making movies was Menahem. It was not my goal to get involved with an industry that didn't exist, and I loved Hollywood movies. That's why I decided I was going to the States to study film.

When you arrived in the States from Israel was it much of a culture shock for you? 
Yes, definitely. America is so big, and the distances between places are unbelievable. Even today, with all the information people have about places, America is a big culture shock for foreigners. There's the amount of cars and the amount of food as well, and the prosperity. I came from a tiny place in Jerusalem. We didn't have that many products. Even our cars were really small. Most people were riding Vespas.
Directing ONE MORE CHANCE.
How long was the road to your first film, ONE MORE CHANCE? 
When I arrived in the US, it was 1972. I was in New York at first. I did a Bachelor's Degree, and then through meeting people, I became an assistant director and worked on many movies, some of them quite big. I made some short films. One of them was half an hour long and was shown on Israeli television. In 1979 I decided to do a Master's Degree because I was tired of being an AD. I was accepted in California and I was the oldest student on the course, and also the most experienced in film. As part of the thesis, students had to make a half hour movie. I was desperate to make a full-length movie and so I decided to try and turn the half-hour movie into a 90 minute movie. I teamed up with a fellow student, David Warmark, who is now a big-time producer, and I convinced the school that, with my experience, it would be a great idea to take some students and get them involved in making a movie. The school agreed and gave us the soundstage to use, and equipment. We worked on it for two or three semesters, one and a half years, shooting only on weekends, and we managed to shoot the whole script. Luckily the actors were loyal to us. We had John LaMotta as the lead, and Kirstie Alley making her first film.

How did you finance the movie?
Nowadays, it is much easier to make a movie. All you need is a video camera and a computer for editing, and this equipment is getting cheaper and cheaper. But we were shooting a movie on 16mm , and although the school was supplying the equipment, we had to buy our own film and pay to have it developed. David and I took all the money we got from student loans and used it to buy the negative. While we were developing the film I started to realise that we were not getting the bills from the lab, but we just kept developing and didn't say anything. When we had developed an hour of the film we finally got the bill. We didn't have any money because we had spent it all buying the negative and also food for the crew. At this point, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whom I had worked for as an assistant director on previous films, had bought Cannon Films and had moved operations from New York to Los Angeles, which was where I was. So I went to them and told them that if they gave us money to finish the film and pay back the lab costs they could have the film for distribution. Luckily, they said yes. It was quite an adventure!

Golan and Firstenberg. 
What kind of person was Menahem Golan? 
He was a bigger than life character. Within his heart he was a storyteller. He was directing movies, he was directing theater, he was telling stories to reporters. He was also a bit of a megalomaniac. He felt that because he was telling a story it gave him the right to do anything he needed to do. Nothing would stand in his way. He worked very hard to make sure his name was associated with everything he was involved in. Even as a kid I remember that when he was making Hebrew language movies in Israel, his name was always above the title as if he was Spielberg or someone. So when you worked with him you had to accept that you were always going to be under his shadow. The nice thing about working with him was that if he believed in your talent, he would leave you alone to do your job. Every time he assigned me a project he didn't bother me, even if I was shooting in The phillipines or somewhere. He'd say ''Go and make your movie. '' He usually got involved in the last stages of the editing. If he ever came to the set, it was only as a guest. Then, if he spotted in the editing that the story wasn't working to his standards he'd just say ''OK, go out and shoot another week. I want a better ending. '' It was fantastic. On REVENGE OF THE NINJA we spent another week shooting a new ending because the original ending didn't work. On BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO he gave me all the means I needed to finish the movie.

One of the things I quickly learned about him was that he would not allow any movie to be longer than 95 minutes. Which was eventually a good lesson. He'd say ''Keep cutting. Keep cutting. I need 95 minutes and not a minute more. '' Menahem was firstly really motivated by storytelling and making movies. And secondly by his own fame. Nothing would stop him. His nickname was 'Menahem the Bulldozer'.

Do you consider Golan to be a mentor? 
He was a mentor in that he gave me the chances. He didn't mentor me in the filmmaking sense. I was a student here in Hollywood in 1972. I met him at a party and I already knew his name because he was famous in Israel. He had just finished a movie called KAZABLAN (1973) in Israel and was shooting a gangster film in L.A. with Tony Curtis called LEPKE (1975). I asked him if I could come and work with him, and he accepted. This was my entry into the world of moviemaking. Of course at first I did the most lowly, menial jobs like moving chairs and serving coffee but I didn't care. I was next to the camera all the time. After about two or three films I asked him if I could be an assistant director, and he made me the second assistant director on a film called DIAMONDS (1975) with Robert Shaw and Richard Roundtree. I think he responded to me being enthusiastic and a hard worker, and later on he promoted me to first assistant director, where I was running the set. I would work on films that Menahem produced but didn't direct, so I also got to work with people like Boaz Davidson. Then, after taking ONE MORE CHANCE, he gave me the chance to direct my first real movie, which was REVENGE OF THE NINJA, the sequel to ENTER THE NINJA (1981). Menahem always gave chances to people who wanted to prove themselves. And he kept on giving me more and more chances.

What kind of a company was Cannon?
It was a company that was budget-conscious but there was a real enthusiasm for making movies. It was an independent company, and they didn't have unlimited resources. Especially with Menahem, it wasn't really about the money. It was about the story, the stars, the publicity. I know there are stories about people not getting paid or budgets getting cut, but I personally can't complain. I had no problems. I did well financially, to be honest. All in all, though the thing that was greatest was the fntastic working atmosphere.

Andrew Davis.
Was Andrew Davis something of a mentor for you too? 
Andrew was very influential to me in the process of becoming a director. When I worked on LEPKE, Andrew was the cinematographer. We kind of bonded. I think young people who are enthusiastic about filmmaking spot each other easily on a film set. Andrew took notice of me as the kid who was running around the set, bringing coffee but always near the camera. He was a kid himself really. He said to me ''I can see you want to direct. You have to work hard to get to the assistant director position. That is where you will really learn how to make a movie. '' Later on, Andrew was filming a very low-budget horror movie called MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976) and he called me and an electrician friend and said ''Why don't you come and work on this with me?'' I was the grip on the film, part of his crew. We stayed friends and our paths crossed again and again over the years. When I was making ONE MORE CHANCE, he was struggling to make his first film as director, STONY ISLAND (1978). When I made BREAKIN' 2, he also did a breakdancing movie. He was important because he gave me confidence right from the start, when I was only 22 years old. Sometimes I see him in the Director's Guild, and it's always great to see him. He does not live in Los Angeles. He went on to make some big, big movies like THE FUGITIVE (1993) and UNDER SIEGE (1992).

What was the downside to working with Cannon? 
Menahem was not interested in making high quality movies. They were aimed at a low common denominator. We were just told to make films with good stories, that made sense and were entertaining, and could be sold in America and around the world. We weren't expected to make highbrow, artistic movies. This was all fine but when you told people you were working for Cannon, they saw you as part of a machine that made trashy movies. It was hard to break out of this mould and move to the next level, which was Hollywood studio movies, and I didn't succeed.

Recently, interest in Cannon has resurfaced. 
After the company went bankrupt and was dismantled, there was ten or fifteen years where nobody remembered Cannon. Then suddenly in the last five years there has been a kind of resurrection of interest. It probably has to do with the two documentaries (2014's THE GO-GO BOYS: THE INSIDE STORY OF CANNON FILMS and ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS) and the fact that Menahem recently passed away. The movies are coming out on Blu-ray and now there is this sense of nostalgia for the Cannon 'look', which is really the Menahem Golan look, because everything in Cannon came under the final control of him. I was in Madrid a few years ago for a film festival that was showing two of my movies and I met with a Spanish company that had published two books about Cannon and were working on book number three! I was originally approached by Marcus Siedelmann because he too wanted to write a book on Cannon, but he changed his mind and decided to write a book about my career instead after seeing how much material he had that I could give him.

Maybe part of the attraction about Cannon is that they made their films physically. They didn't use digital effects and they shot in real locations. The movies are just fun, comic-book stories. You're not meant to take the violence seriously. The audeience always felt that the guy who just got shot with the arrow was going to get up and go home after the movie was finished! It was violence with a wink. Cannon made few serious movies. Most of them were set in this kind of euphoric world. 

Part two of the interview. 

Photos, except Andrew Davis photo and posters, courtesy of Sam Firstenberg. More material and photos can be seen on Firstenberg's website and on his Facebook page and Tales from the Movies photo album on his Facebook page. 

The Kickstarter campaign for the book Stories from the Trenches: The Official Sam Firstenberg Book ends on May 16th 2017. Please donate here. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH MICK AUDSLEY (PART 2 OF 2)

Mick Audsley is one of the UK's most accomplished, acclaimed and in-demand film editors. From his incredible work on the films of Bill Douglas and Terence Davies, to extended collaborations with Stephen Frears (seventeen films), Mike Newell (six films), Neil Jordan (two films), Terry Gilliam (three films), John Madden (four films), Audsley has traversed genres and filmmaking styles. Amongst his notable films are THE HIT (1984), MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985), DANCE WITH A STRANGER (1985), PRICK UP YOUR EARS (1987), DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988), THE GRIFTERS (1990), INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994), TWELVE MONKEYS (1995), THE AVENGERS (1998), HIGH FIDELITY (2000), CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN (2001), DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002), HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005), THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009), THE ZERO THEOREM (2013), EVEREST (2015), ALLIED (2016), and the forthcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017). Audsley won the BAFTA Award for Best Film or Video Editor - Fiction/ Entertainment for the Stephen Frears TV film THE SNAPPER (1993), and was nominated for Best Film Editing for DANGEROUS LIAISONS (also for Frears). He regularly teaches at film schools internationally, and with wife Joke Van Wijk runs Sprocket Rocket Soho, a networking organisation that brings together and shares ideas and information from filmmakers from different backgrounds and disciplines. In the final part of a two-part interview I spoke with Audsley about working with Neil Jordan, Terry Gilliam, Mike Newell, John Madden, and on the recent release ALLIED with Robert Zemeckis; working on THE AVENGERS and two Harry Potter films; working with CGI, and how he coped with the changeover to digital editing; and about his Sprocket Rocket Soho project.

Part one of the interview. 

How did you start working with Neil Jordan? 
Neil and I had mutual friends. My wife, Joke van Wijk, and I ended up getting invited to co-edit WE'RE NO ANGELS (1989) and later, because of time pressures, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, and it worked really well. Because our children were young, we were able to travel around the world and take them with us. Joke also edited THE MIRACLE (1991) for Neil on her own. 

What is it like working with Jordan? 
I enjoyed working with him very much, although I haven't worked with him for a long time now. The interesting thing about Neil is that he is a writer-director. You would be sitting with him and writing the film in terms of editing it and engaging him as a director as well as a writer. That was exciting and interesting if sometimes chaotic! He would always surprise us with his incredible resilience and ability to think out issues and problems because he knew the material from a writer's point of view. I learned this myself as it were and I now encourage younger filmmakers in the editorial business to really engage in understanding the mechanics of screenwriting and how it works on the page. To me it's been the biggest help and I have been lucky enough to work with some great writers. 

Did WE'RE NO ANGELS present any special challenges? 
Well, I don't think we got it quite right. It was a light-hearted film, and in a way I feel that it was performed too broadly. I haven't looked at it for a long time but I think our tendency as Europeans was to make a softer key film, tonally. But there were some great actors – Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Demi Moore, and all these people. It was beautifully photographed by my friend Philippe Rousselot. 

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE was a particularly beautiful editing job. 
I think everybody did a great job on that film. Everybody involved was really committed. It was beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti and beautifully photographed by Philippe. We had Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt in his early incarnation, and Kirsten Dunst, who was only 11 when we did the film. I worked with her years later on MONA LISA SMILE (2003) for Mike Newell. 

Was working with the special effects on that film a challenge? 
It was, because it was the beginning of CGI, and I didn't really understand what was happening if I am honest. You would have a scene set in a harbor and someone would say ''We are going to paint some tall ships in there. '' And then you see it, and you think ''My goodness!'' The mid-90s became very different for me after that, with digital editing and CGI effects. 

How was working on THE AVENGERS? 
Well we definitely didn't pull that one out of the bag. It was a troubled film, but I had some wonderful experiences on it. I got to hang out with the now legendary producer Jerry Weintraub, whom I adored. There are always good things that happen on a movie. I had a lot of friends on the film so in that way it was a happy film. Stuart Craig designed it and Roger Pratt photographed it. I think it was a difficult crossover from the English sensibility that the original TV series was rooted in, and the American view of that. I just don't think we got it right in terms of storytelling, although Warner Brothers were very supportive. All I really remember about the experience was that I was very busy with it for a long time! We reshot quite a bit of it, and it was just felt that we hadn't landed it quite the way we should have. It was no-one's fault. These things happen. 

Mike Newell
What is Mike Newell like to work with? 
Mike is a very dear friend, and a very expansive, warm-hearted, generous man. I did several films with him, starting with DANCE WITH A STRANGER in 1984. It helped a lot on the Harry Potter film (GOBLET OF FIRE) that I was working for someone I considered to be a close friend, because we worked on it for a long time and it certainly stretched me a lot. Again, it's unfortunate that I haven't worked with him in a while. Films can be precarious before they get going, and there have been some projects that we might have worked on together tha just haven't gotten off the ground. 

Given that Harry Potter was a national institution in England and the films and books were huge worldwide successes, did you enter the fourth film, GOBLET OF FIRE, with a sense of excitement? 
Absolutely. David Heyman, the producer, asked me to edit the second one (CHAMBER OF SECRETS), but I had been booked for DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. Luckily, I did have a gap before I was due to start on DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, so I came on CHAMBER OF SECRETS for a few months and worked on a couple of sequences before Peter Honess took over. It was a useful experience because when I came on to do the fourth film I felt that I sort of understood the world. David's mother, Norma Heyman, had been my producer on DANGEROUS LIAISONS!

The structure and the discipline of making such a visual effects-heavy film blew my mind. What could be done with effects was constantly changing. It was a very long shoot. It took 53 weeks to shoot, and post-production was 20 weeks. I was editing it from the start of production for a total of 73 weeks. Films like that are a big undertaking and a big part of your life, but it was a privilege to be involved. I was really looked after by my visual effects supervisor, Jimmy Mitchell, and by Stuart Craig, who designed the film. Everybody pulled together to make the best film that we could. My kids were very big fans, and the films were already robust successes, so there was definitely that pressure of ''We better hadn't mess this up!'' 

How was working with Terry Gilliam on TWELVE MONKEYS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS and THE ZERO THEOREM? 
He's a wonderfully exciting person to be with. He's so stimulating as a creative force, and he brings the best out of all the people around him. I was desperate to work on TWELVE MONKEYS because I knew the writers, David and Janet Peoples, and they would send me stuff they had written, and I had read the script even before Terry came on. It was fate that the movie came my way because I knew Terry a little bit. I'm very proud to have been involved in making it. I think it stands the test of time really well. Everyone did great work on it and Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt did such great work on it that changed how people looked at them. The film was a wonderful challenge in terms of narrative and how to tell a labyrinthine story and not push the audience away and piss them off. The documentary, THE HAMSTER FACTOR (1996), did a brilliant job of capturing what it was like to make that film. It feels like I am watching a home movie whenever I watch it. It was the last film I edited on a Moviola, using film. 

How did you cope with the changeover to digital editing? 
I remember that I wanted to do TWELVE MONKEYS in a non-linear way on Lightworks but the studio wouldn't support us. Universal said it wasn't stable enough, and to be honest, they were probably right. We ended up doing it on film. Within the year that we did the film I realised that digital was the way it was going and that if I was going to survive just to make a living I was going to have to crossover and learn new skills in that way. And that is what happened. I went off and did movies on Lightworks, which of course is no longer the dominant software.

I love editing digitally. I wouldn't go back. The idea that you can respond very quickly to the materal that you are being given is liberating. You can have multiple soundtracks and so on. I think I'm lucky in that I belonged to that generation that carved slabs out of celluloid and mined the film and stuck things together with their hands. It made a discipline in the way you thought. You had to think coherently before you did the physical work. It was too time-consuming to undo it. I bring all that twenty years-plus of experience to any job I do. It's very helpful. I still have a very traditional approach to the material that I am given. Needless to say though, with digital you can be much more playful and free. It's extraordinary. It's like handwriting vs word processing. 

I guess editors can impact upon the way a film is shot nowadays because of how quickly directors can see edited work. 
Exactly. On MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, the sound work, and the presentations that I could make, were more sophisticated than I could ever do before, when the colors were changing between shots and the sound would be banging in and out. I could play different tracks and run them against each other. The digital software is extraordinarily versatile and wonderful. I remember that the day I realised all the things you could do with digital software I was skipping home thinking ''This is fantastic!'' Technically it's possible to do things quicker, but digital has made our ambitions bigger and now we have visual effects and other things to deal with. But the sophistication of each level that you get to is much quicker to achieve. In the end, it's still all about making decisions. And nowadays multi-financing can slow down editing because there are a lot of voices to listen to. 

Were you involved on the previous incarnations of Gilliam's THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE? 
Yes, we had been set to go a few times. I had been in touch regularly about the film with Terry. Terry's DP, Nicola Pecorini, used to call me up and start with ''The mother of all troubles is always pregnant. '' This meant it wasn't going to happen again. Terry is finally shooting it now but it didn't work out for me schedule wise because I was already booked for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS when the film finally got the go ahead.

Was the editing focus on Gilliam's films to make them as coherent and tonally consistent as possible, as well as convey their themes well? 
Yes, and the great thing is that Terry is able to do all the jobs in the filmmaking process better than anybody around him. That sounds very intimidating but it's actually very gratifying, certainly from my point of view as an editor. He gets a great kick out of seeing what you've done. He's very supportive because he understands it at that level himself. He will guide you if you need guidance but also leave you to run with what you're doing. 

You've also collaborated with John Madden on multiple films. 
I met John through my friend, the editor David Gamble. He was working on SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and became very ill, so I completed it for him. After that, John and I did PROOF (2005), CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN and KILLSHOT (2008) together. KILLSHOT wasn't a terribly happy experience because the film was substantially reinvented about halfway through the process by Harvey Weinstein, and they went off about six months later and did a lot of reshoots. I never actually finished the film. A friend and colleague of mine, Lisa Gunning, finished it. I think they wanted to skewer it more towards a thriller than a film noir, and they changed the nature of the couple, which I personally felt wasn't the way to go. I thought that if there was an unease in what we had then then it was a better idea to try and realise it on its own terms. 

How was working on ALLIED with Robert Zemeckis? 
That was a lovely experience. It was a co-editing job with somebody who has become a close friend, Jeremiah O'Driscoll. Jeremiah has had a long-term partnership with Bob Zemeckis. There was a narrow window before the film was to be released and it was being done here in Britain, so I was called in to edit in parallel with him and it worked terribly well. We did different sections independently, and Bob would direct us. 

Do you think films can suffer when they are under the gun to be edited? 
They definitely can do, but in the case of ALLIED I'd like to say it didn't. Bob is so disciplined and hard-working, and the whole thing was a beautifully oiled machine. Bob would spend all week shooting and then spend the weekends cutting. I was amazed by his devotion and energy. 

Can you talk about Sprocket Rocket Soho? 
I felt that the new digital world had cut people from different disciplines off from each other. We are all working in isolation. Nowadays people are not getting together as a unit and sharing the pleasures and the horrors of the work that we do. So a number of years ago, through friends who supply my equipment, Joke and I decided we would get everybody in a room once or twice a year, from different disciplines and different countries. I could get a bunch of film students to hang out with Terry Gilliam for an hour or so, for example. Or filmmakers who were in town could meet up, or whatever. That's how it started. The name Sprocket Rocket Soho comes from the notion of moving forward from the old into the new, and the location being in Soho.

Joke, as well as being an editor, was involved in film education for many years, and we decided to start with small networking events and panels, where people could show and discuss their work. It's not a moneymaking thing but people like Bob Zemeckis and Terry have been enormously generous with their time. It's a romantic idea, to bring the young and the experienced together, and it seems to be enormously popular. We all need each other to learn from each other and to continue to be stimulated. And let's be honest, to help us all get jobs. The apprenticeship element had been lost nowadays. I mean, those two days in the cutting room with Sandy Mackendrick changed my life, as did the mentoring by many of the directors I have worked with. If I can connect people like Skip Lievesay or Walter Murch with young sound editors and have them have their lives get changed like mine was, then I can feel like I have given something back. 

Audsley's website.  

The website for Sprocket Rocket Soho.

AN INTERVIEW WITH EDITOR MICK AUDSLEY (PART 1 OF 2)

Mick Audsley is one of the UK's most accomplished, acclaimed and in-demand film editors. From his incredible work on the films of Bill Douglas and Terence Davies, to extended collaborations with Stephen Frears (seventeen films), Mike Newell (six films), Neil Jordan (two films), Terry Gilliam (three films), John Madden (four films), Audsley has traversed genres and filmmaking styles. Amongst his notable films are THE HIT (1984), MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985), DANCE WITH A STRANGER (1985), PRICK UP YOUR EARS (1987), DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988), THE GRIFTERS (1990), INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994), TWELVE MONKEYS (1995), THE AVENGERS (1998), HIGH FIDELITY (2000), CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN (2001), DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002), HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005), THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009), THE ZERO THEOREM (2013), EVEREST (2015), ALLIED (2016), and the forthcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017). Audsley won the BAFTA Award for Best Film or Video Editor - Fiction/ Entertainment for the Stephen Frears TV film THE SNAPPER (1993), and was nominated for Best Film Editing for DANGEROUS LIAISONS (also for Frears). He regularly teaches at film schools internationally, and with wife Joke Van Wijk runs Sprocket Rocket Soho, a networking organisation that brings together and shares ideas and information from filmmakers from different backgrounds and disciplines. In the first part of a two-part interview I spoke with Audsley about the early years, and the early collaborations with Bill Douglas, Terence Davies and Stephen Frears. 
Audsley with the pre-digital Avid
Growing up, what were some of the most formative films for you? I think I was more into European cinema initially - early Truffaut and Godard, and also the Czech filmmakers, and films like Juri Menzel's CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS (1966). Then I saw stuff like THE CONVERSATION (1974) and the first two GODFATHER films (1972-74) and my head started to spin in a good way. I also loved Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967).

When did you start to think about film as a career? 
Pretty early on. I started making films when I was at school. I was first interested in animation and I went to art school and then to film school at the Royal College of Art on the basis of animation. It was there that I saw I wanted to develop into feature-length filmmaking and live-action filmmaking. I found that animation was rather a lonely business. You're on your own for days on end. The one thing that I had never done is any cutting. I had worked in the cutting room as an assistant but I had not done any editing myself. I did a lot of sound work and sound editing but not any picture work. It wasn't until I left the Royal College of Art that, desperate for a job, I fell into the British Film Institute through some friends and one thing led to another and I ended up cutting some small films. That's how I got started.

How did you get into the orbit of Bill Douglas? 
I met Bill through friends and I worked on the last part of his autobiographical trilogy, MY WAY HOME (1978) and went to Egypt with him. When we came back, we talked about the film and he invited me to start cutting it with him. I think he saw me as a sympathetic mind. Years later we went on and did COMRADES (1986) together.

Why do you think you and Douglas made good collaborators? 
I was very taken with Bill's stripped down, very pure poetry of filmmaking and his attitude towards a purely visual style of storytelling, which wasn't reliant on dialogue and words but was montage and the building of images. His scripts would read as the images you would see, and the accumulative montage was what gave you the meaning. I really admired his approach and I found it very pure.

Do you think the experience of working with him was a life-changer for you? 
It had an enormous impact on me, and I think that for example when I first worked with Stephen Frears, he picked up that I had been knocking around in that sort of world. I also fell in with other filmmakers who had championed him and who educated me through the kind of language that Bill was endeavoring to get on the screen. It was an interesting time.

What was it like working with Terence Davies on the final part of his TRILOGY (1983)? 
I think Terence came to me because he was a devotee of Bill's. He adopted a similar language and took it further himself. I started working with him when he was a student at the National School of Film and Television in 1979. The first two films in particular were startlingly powerful, but the resolution of the story in the final part was a different form of storytelling, and less based on conflict. I was relatively inexperienced so I aspired to the standards set by the other editors who had worked on the first two parts, people like Peter West. We had limited resources because Terence was still a film student and this was only a little 16mm film, but there were moments of utter brilliance in the film. I was lucky enough, through Terence, to meet Alexander 'Sandy' Mackendrick, who was a film tutor at the school, and who helped me edit the film. He spent two days with me. It was as transformative an experience as ever as I have had. Terence was generous enough to allow me to do that. We showed the film to Sandy and he gave me notes and helped me understand it better – what were writing issues and couldn't be resolved by editing, for example.

How different was working with Stephen Frears? 
Well, he was much more experienced obviously. He was very much working in the industry. He had a notorious reputation already by the time we met, which was in 1981. He was an established director of made-for-TV films, most of which were brilliant. He had also directed GUMSHOE (1971), which was his first film and I admired greatly. Working with him was a step up because it was working in the industry with someone I'd very much looked up to. He saw himself as a working, jobbing director, whereas Bill and Terence considered themselves as poets I think.

Did you feel like you learned some new skills working on THE HIT with Frears? 
Yes. Very much so. I love the film and I loved working on it. Stephen would trust me with the rushes because he was away shooting in Spain. I would interpret the film off my own bat. We would talk a lot every day on the phone. We developed a language where it was me informing him of what I was experiencing with the footage I received. It was very generous of him and very gratifying for me. I learned a lot about film construction. It was a very safe little family with Jeremy Thomas as producer, who had also been an editor, and the wonderful cast. What more could you want?

The Hit.
Frears' films are very often very different from the previous one. Is that quality something you enjoy about working with him? 
Yes, definitely, and I never expected one thing to lead to another in the way that it did. It led to other things. My association with Mike Newell began because he and Stephen were friends. I was very lucky to be rubbing shoulders with people who were my seniors and were people who I could learn from and who looked after me, and collaborated with me and gave me a voice. They let me speak freely about what we were doing, which you need to, being an editor.

What was the editing process like on THE GRIFTERS? Did you accompany Stephen to L.A. to edit the picture? 
No, we edited it in London, like most of the films we did together. We would jump backwards and forwards to New York to see Marty Scorsese and Barbara De Fina, who were producing the film, and the lovely Thelma Schoonmaker. I was lucky to get to work with these wonderful people, and also Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the most magnificent score. I shall never to this day forget being in the studio in Dublin and hearing Elmer's score for the first time up against the movie. It was very thrilling indeed. I'd heard it on the piano, so I knew it was going to be great, but it wasn't until I heard it in the studio that I thought ''Wow, this is a classic!''

Did Scorsese have a lot of input into the editing of THE GRIFTERS? 
Stephen encouraged Marty to sit down with us and talk it through. Marty was shooting GOODFELLAS (1990) at the time and he said ''We're quite happy with what you've done. I think you should go home and carry on with what you're doing. We love it. '' I was in awe of him and his editor, the wonderful Thelma Schoonmaker. They were like gods to me, and still are. They were so warm and friendly and supportive of us. I felt very privileged. We obviously took their notes very seriously but there was an attitude of ''Believe in what you're doing yourself guys, and don't let us interfere. '' So their input was mainly encouragement, or in my case, like having your parents tell you to carry on. We worked very hard on that film to make it what it was, and a lot of it was Stephen directing me in the editing.

Did working with the likes of Frears, Newell and Neil Jordan, make you respect even more the art of acting, since they always manage to get remarkable performances from actors?
Oh yeah. What they were presenting to me was the work of some giants like Anjelica Huston, Johnny Cusack, Stephen Rea, Tom Cruise. It would sometimes leave you worrying overnight that you had represented these people well, but you just have to carry on and follow your own instincts. The process of my job is to learn to tap into what you want to see and is the movie you want to see from what you are given. If that isn't in tune with the people that are employing you that's difficult. There has to be a trust between the editor and the director because an editor has to make so many choices. I think the reason that I survived with these people that I looked up to was because I had great empathy for the work they were doing.

Dirty Pretty Things.
Are certain genres more difficult to edit? 
I don't think so. I'm not keen on comparmentalising genres in our side of the job because I feel like each film hasn't been made before. I just focus on making the best version of the film that is in front of me. For example, when I was working on THE GRIFTERS, I didn't think I had to apply film noir rules. I just tried to make the best version of the film within the world of that movie and how I'm being directed. I'm surprised when people say ''This is an editor with a reputation for cutting action, or for cutting dialogue. '' Editors do all these things, although of course all editors have different strengths.

Are you moved or changed by the material you are cutting? I am thinking of a film like Frears' DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. 
Yes. I felt that was a very important film and the migrant story of people living under the radar to survive and how we exploit them is probably even more relevant now. It's a story that needed to be told. What I love about what Stephen and I drew out with the film is how dependent we are upon the subculture and how it made you see things in cities that you didn't normally see. I am very proud to have been involved with it.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a good working relationship with a director? 
From an editorial point of view, you have to feel that the director trusts you and that you can trust them to provide you with what you need to articulate the movie they want. The important thing is that you're able to express your feelings and explain the decisions that you make if you have to. It's useful to be able to talk about why you have chosen certain things. Even if those choices are wrong, somebody has got to make them because you have to start somewhere. The possibilities of a film are hugely varied with the huge amount of footage that gets turned in these days. It's also important to me that a cutting room is a place you can experiment and make a fool of yourself in the endeavor of finding what's best for the film. I am cutting a film now (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) and the film is only five weeks into shooting. I don't have the overview of the finished film yet and there are bound to be mistakes and changes made. I will adjust the work I do as I understand the film more and as it grows. It's important to be able to have a good dialogue with the director. 

Part two of the interview. 

Audsley's website.  

The website for Sprocket Rocket Soho.

AN INTERVIEW WITH TED KOTCHEFF (PART 2 OF 2)

Ted Kotcheff is best known as the director of FIRST BLOOD (1982), the first (and best) film to feature Sylvester Stallone as Rambo; comedy drama THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (1974), based on the Moredecai Richler novel and providing Richard Dreyfuss with his breakout role; comedy hit WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S (1989); and the recently re-discovered masterpiece WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971), a drama-thriller set in the  Australian Outback. Kotcheff is also a veteran of sixty years of television, theatre and film work, and his films have traversed many different genres, whilst remaining true to his preoccupations and the themes that attract him. His other work includes the comedy FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (1977) with George Segal and Jane Fonda; the thought-provoking football comedy drama NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979) with Nick Nolte; Vietnam thriller UNCOMMON VALOR (1983) with Gene Hackman, and twelve years as a producer on the acclaimed TV series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-2011). Kotcheff recently published his memoir Director's Cut: My Life in Film, which also details his incredible life and career outside of his films. In the second part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Kotcheff about what drew him to write his autobiography; the roles chance and seizing opportunities took in his success; working with Liverpool playwright Alun Owen on stage and TV plays; the importance of finding the right locations and the role they play in his films; his opinion on the Rambo sequels; working with Richard Dreyfuss on THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ; turning down a Timothy Dalton James Bond movie; and the project that he is most excited to bring to the screen.  

Part one of the interview.  

How did writing your autobiography, Director's Cut, come about? 
After I finished on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where I produced 289 shows and directed 7 episodes over thirteen years, I decided I wanted to go back to films. I had some time on my hands and I got invited to all kinds of festivals. They honored me at the Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany and then I went to the Lumiere Film Festival in Lyon, France. I also got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Director's Guild. All of this time I was meeting young filmmakers and people in the film business and I was telling them stories from my life. Some of them would tell me ''Ted, these stories are wonderful. You ought to write a book about your life. ''

My wife finally prevailed on me to write a book. Writing it forced me to look at the things that have shaped me, and how I got into the film business. I thought it would be of interest, especially to young filmmakers. I was lucky enough to have my mentor in Sydney Newman, who let me direct for television. I guess I am a good storyteller because the essence of filmmaking is telling good stories. I've had a long career and I have had a gypsy existence, which is one of the things that attracted me to filmmaking. I have made films all over Europe, and I've made films in Israel (BILLY TWO HATS), Thailand (UNCOMMON VALOR), Australia (WAKE IN FRIGHT) and a lot of other places. I've had a very colorful career from many points of view. I've always had a good sense of humor, which comes in handy when you've have problems, which sometimes I've had.

What I also got out of the book was how important luck, and seizing opportunities, is in a film career. For example, you might not have made one of your best films, WAKE IN FRIGHT, had you been allowed to make films in the US. 
If I had not been banned from America for 17 years, how different would my creative and professional life have been? Thinking about such things is a waste of time. Whatever circumstances life hands out to you, you have to take it and make the best of it that you can.

WAKE IN FRIGHT was a great script. It knocked me out. It was given to me by its writer, Evan Jones. I think I am always attracted to characters who don't know themselves, which is something I discovered as I started working on the book. I'm interested in the mystery of human behavior. The schoolteacher in WAKE IN FRIGHT and Duddy Kravitz don't know what drives them or what motivates them. I also don't know what sometimes drives me or motivates to do certain things.

I found the sections on your TV career fascinating, especially working with Alun Owen, who wrote A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964). 
When I came to England one of my first big successes was a television play by Alun Owen called No Trams to Lime Street. I also did a stage play of his, Progress of the Park, which was a love story about a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy, and a very successful stage musical that he wrote called Maggie May. When we were first paired together by Sydney Newman, I called Alun up and said ''Can I read your script?'' He said ''You know Ted, I think it's better if you let me read it to you because I can do it in the right accent. The Liverpool accent is very important. '' So he read it to me and he said ''Well, what do you think?'' I said ''This play is wonderful, but I'm not going to direct it. '' He said ''What? Why?'' I said ''I'm a Canadian. What the hell do I know about Liverpool working class people? You can't direct a play about people if you don't know the details of their lives. '' He said ''Ted, you don't understand. This is England. By the virtue of you having listened to my play being read to you for the last hour you know more about Liverpool than 99% of this country! Most people don't know anything about anything that happens outside of the London suburbs!'' I said ''OK, but I want to spend some time in Liverpool. '' I remember that I loved the women there. They were so spunky. I was in a pub once having a beer and I saw an attractive girl sitting near me. She looked at me and said in her Liverpudlian accent ''Had a good look? You'll know me next time, won't you?''

How important are getting the specific locations right when you make your films? They always seem to be a huge, central part to your films, whether it be the Outback in WAKE IN FRIGHT, or Canada in FIRST BLOOD, or Israel in BILLY TWO HATS. 
In DUDDY KRAVITZ, getting the perfect lake is of utmost importance in the film. Because if the lake is not extraordinarily beautiful and it's a puddle, you'd hate Duddy for some of the nasty things he does to get that lake. My location manager on the film saw 450 lakes and she showed me a hundred, and I told her ''I'm not interested in that one'' each time. The producer said to me ''Ted, we start shooting in two weeks. We need to choose a lake. What's the problem? One lake is as good as another. '' I told him ''One lake is not as good as another. This has to be the ultimate lake, the Platonic lake. It has to be the lake of lakes. '' He said ''You're crazy, Ted. '' I told him ''I'm crazy, but not stupid. I'm not going to compromise on this location. '' Finally, about a week before shooting, my location manager called me and said ''Ted, I think I found the location, and if it's not the one, I'm committing suicide!'' Luckily it was the one!

It was the same thing with FIRST BLOOD. There was some talk of shooting it in Oregon, but that location didn't have that threatening quality or openness. Finally someone said ''How about British Columbia?'' It was a wonderful location. It had canyons and chasms and tunnels and rapids and rivers. It was really wild. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the one. The producer said to me ''What is it with you and locations?'' I said to him ''What is your idea of a movie?'' He said ''What do you mean?'' I said ''What is your idea of a movie?'' He said ''It's telling a story. '' I told him ''No, it's locations. And your stars are in front of them. The essence of movies are two things – the people and the world. There can't be anything more obvious than that. You don't want to compromise on the locations because if you do, you're compromising pictorially on the film. ''
In FIRST BLOOD the audience understands the geographical space and also the psychology of the characters in relation to their environment. A lot of the film is shot in wet conditions too, which is unusual for an action thriller. 
Yes, it was always wet. I had to change my clothes three times a day. Whatever you put on, the wind would blow the water up and down inside your clothing. As uncomfortable as it was, it was good for the audience to feel the wetness and discomfort of the location. 

Were you disappointed with the sequels to FIRST BLOOD? 
First of all, I am not that fond of sequels. I didn't do WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II (1993).  They wanted me to make RAMBO, but my whole point was that this character was full of the violence from Vietnam. His friends were killed around him. He saw Vietnamese women and children get shot as they got caught up in the fighting. Rambo had had his fill of violence. In his soul there was deep revulsion at what he had had to do in Vietnam. The last thing he was going to do was go back to America and start shooting people. If you notice in FIRST BLOOD, he doesn't actually kill anyone. In the script we originally had him shooting and killing two or three of the National Guard but Sylvester said ''Ted, he's a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, a soldier, and these guys are weekend warriors, working in drugstores. And he's popping them off. The audience is going to hate Rambo. '' I said ''You're right. There's no way that he would go to any kind of violence. '' In the sequel, Rambo suddenly turned into a killing machine and killed 74 people. After I read the script I said ''No, I'm not going to do the film. You're betraying the character that we created. '' I could have been a rich man had I done it!
How was Richard Dreyfuss to work with on THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ? Why do you think he had misgivings about his performance? 
I love Richard and he was spectacular in the film. Let's just say that the last time I met Richard he said ''Ted, that was the best performance I ever gave, and I owe it all to you. You're a fabulous director. I wish we had made ten more films together. '' I told him ''You did it all yourself. I just shaped it. ''

What do you remember about the Timothy Dalton James Bond movie that you turned down?
It was the only time that I turned down a movie over money. I thought ''If I'm going to do a Bond movie, I want to get paid. '' Nobody is going to look at a Bond film and say ''Oh, what a great directorial job. '' On a Bond film what you need is a good stunt co-ordinator. It's too bad. I do like the series, and I love Sean Connery in particular.

Has there been a special project that you have never managed to get made that you still want to make? 
I'm turning 86 soon but there's one project that I have wanted to make for many years. It's the true story of King Boris of Bulgaria, who saved every single Bulgarian Jew during WW2. He spent a lot of time with Hitler, but he was a cunning, wily fox and managed to pull the wool over his eyes. It's a very dramatic story, obviously kind of like SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993). Because of King Boris, the Bulgarian Jewish community was the only Jewish community in the whole of Europe to increase during WW2. 

Director's Cut: My Life in Film can be ordered in the US from the publisher and from Amazon.