Dominik Starck is an actor, writer, producer and director whose latest venture is THE HITMAN AGENCY (2018), a low-budget action thriller that features Don 'Dragon' Wilson in the cast. What it lacks in expense it gains in passion and inventiveness. Starck also wrote, produced and acted in the action movie ATOMIC EDEN (2015), which featured Fred Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas. In the first part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Starck about THE HITMAN AGENCY, working with Don 'Dragon' Wilson, his approach to directing, his experiences working in the independent sector, what action movies he has recently enjoyed, and what projects he has coming up. 

Part one of the interview.  

How would you describe the movie? 
THE HITMAN AGENCY is an intimate thriller about people in the business of betrayal, lies, corruption and purchasable death. These men and women don't stop at lying to their enemies or collaborators - they also lie to themselves because they can't avoid facing the truth any longer. The movie's very micro-budget, but I hope audiences will enjoy some of the many twists and turns within the story, the effort everybody put into the movie and the dash of action that we put on top as a flavor. We might be missing out on budget but not passion. That's the single most important thing to me. I know the movie can't compete with high budget movies or even the production value of a fairly financed American independent movie. But a lot of thought went into the films structure and if people see something compelling or unique in the storytelling, that - this is like the biggest compliment there is. I never want to be boring or indifferent.

What was it like working with Don 'The Dragon' Wilson? 
That was simply a pleasure. Don is the nicest guy you can imagine, very supportive and if you ask me he's grown as an actor a lot in the last years. He has a sense of humor and self-deprecation, whilst also being able to kick ass. That's a great combo, and I hope he can bring all that to a fistful of leading roles in the years coming. We only worked briefly together on this movie but those were some long night shoot hours and he was such a sport. We met again months later and spent a couple of hours on a road trip, and while we started talking movies it ended up with us talking quantum physics in the rain.

How do you like to approach action when you're directing? How do you try to make your approach unique in the crowded world of action movies? 
To me action is a part of storytelling, just like dialogue. So the tone of the action has to fit the tone of the movie. Generally speaking I prefer action grounded in reality. I want to believe the physics of an action scene, I want to believe that those men or women were able to do the things they do. If you find that sweet spot between making action look good and at the same time still realistic you're in a good place. But of course the reality of filmmaking sets some limits to that goal. On THE HITMAN AGENCY we had to settle with bullet holes as visual effects even though I would've loved to shoot with practical effects. But time and money are the enemies of that. You need clothing duplicates, time to wire the actors, even more effects crew… In the end it's a thriller and the action has to complement the story. But even on a straight action movie – like the one I'm pitching these days- that's true to me. If you don't care about the characters the action isn't worth anything even if it's top level.

What are some of the biggest problems you've encountered in the independent arena? 
I know it sounds like a cliché, but it's always about time and money. Technology made it possible within the last 10, 15 years so that everybody can make a movie. At the same time not everybody has proper funding, or takes the time to find original stories to tell, so movies sometimes lack a certain quality. And then there are the good films - creative, original visions - and you never get to see them. Not because they're not available but because it's really hard for audiences to cut through the digital noise. There are thousands of new movies all the time, on dozens of platforms and to find the audience for your specific movie is really hard work that nobody does for you. So in a way indie film makers are turned into salesmen and that's not always a pleasant thing.

Another main issue is to how to make a living as an artist. Usually outside the studio world you have to hustle all the time. When your movie's done and available, most of the time there's nobody with a briefcase filled with money. Making your budget back and earning some change is a big challenge 'cause there's no big money in digital distribution except if you manage to have a small hit thanks to word of mouth. Here we come full circle 'cause for that you have to find your audience among millions of potential viewers that have no idea your movie even exists.

What are some of the positive aspects of working in the indie sector? 
The flipside to what I was talking about is that it has never easier to shoot a movie and to make it available to the public. Everybody with a story in mind is able to bring a story to life and share it with the world. And that's a fantastic thing. Interesting filmmakers and stories from all over the world are available to you with a few clicks. 20 years ago that was unheard of.

What are some of the more recent action movies you have enjoyed? 
The JOHN WICK movies for sure, they did a great job for the genre. I also liked Jeremy Rush's indie film on Netflix; WHEELMAN (2017) with Frank Grillo, a real man's man, and one of cinema's last. Another indie film that could count as an action movie is MAYHEM (2017) by Joe Lynch and obviously there's MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), one of the best films of the last decade.

In mainstream cinema, the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise delivers the goods for sure and I can't wait to see what Christopher McQuarrie does on the next installment this summer. And to end things on an even more straight action film note; as soon as there's a new film by Dutch filmmaker Roel Reine available I'll watch that one for sure. His two DEATH RACE movies are among the best direct to DVD action films of the last ten years. His other movies lack better scripts sometimes but Roel knows how to shoot action in the most stunning, beautiful way.

What other projects do you have coming up? 
I've a few projects in various stages of development and production, so hopefully it's only a matter of time until things work out and the next movie is ready to go. Recently I helped produce a new action movie with my pal, German martial arts legend Mike Möller. The movie's called JACK WALKER and just wait till you see his new fight sequences. I'm developing a unique, atmospheric horror film and an action film that hopefully I'll shoot next year , in development for next year and I'm working on a TV series as well.

And most importantly, I have a new movie lined up that I'm really excited about but can't tell you much about yet. It's a female driven, stylized dark thriller with a genre-mix twist. I have been waiting for a bigger project to come together for some time now and while I'm still waiting for that I realized I have to make this new movie in-between 'cause I'm simply tired of waiting. I'm not the most patient guy around so I go with a "Let's do this" attitude. Even if that means to hustle and fight time and budget again. In the end; what's the alternative? Not making a movie? That's not an alternative.

 The trailer to THE HITMAN AGENCY.  

THE HITMAN AGENCY is playing in select theaters and can be purchased or rented on streaming platforms including Amazon.

No comments: