July 30, 2012

Adamo P. Cultraro Interview

Steve Austin is an incredibly hard worker, I don’t know where he gets his work ethic from but the guy is there early, always around on set

Today’s interview is with the director of Tactical Force, Adamo P. Cultraro. Thanks for taking the time out for the interview.

Eoin: First I’d like to talk about “Tactical Force” starring Michael Jai White and Steve Austin, which just hit DVD/Blu-Ray last month. You wrote and directed the movie. How long did it take to write it? And do you have a process for writing, like do you do storyboards, pre-visualisations, etc?

Adamo: That’s a good question, Tactical Force wasn’t originally called that and I tend not to respond to that name, it was originally called Hangar 14. I wrote that about 2 years ago and I wrote it right after I finished Corrado. In fact, I got the idea after visiting an abandoned hangar facility on a military base where a race car event was being held. There were all sorts of spent shell casings, we asked “what is going on here?” and they told us that a local SWAT team comes and trains there. So I thought, that sounds like a great idea.

The actual script itself took about 3 weeks, it doesn’t take me long to write them. I think about them for a while, and then I get down to writing them. It takes a lot of momentum to get any project going. We originally had Cuba Gooding Jr. signed on to play Tate but when I got on the phone with him, we really had a fundamental disagreement about the direction of the script. It got its final form about 90 days out from shooting, and then it changed again due to budget. I do all my own story boards and come up with the ideas in my head. Due to budget we had to cut a few scenes as well but in the end it ended up like the story boards.

Eoin: When I was talking to the director of Blitz (Elliott Lester) a few weeks ago, we were talking about how hard it is to have to cut a lot of great material from a film.

Adamo: There was no way with the money we had ($3 million) that we could film all the ideas we had. The producer also had a fundamental problem with the direction of the movie. The original movie was an action comedy. We wanted to make the film an almost Hot Fuzz-esque movie. The whole opening scene in the supermarket was out and out comedy, but the music that was added was more serious and the whole tone wasn’t quite as whimsical as I wanted it to be. The movie did change and it did alright in the end.

Eoin: The film has some great one-liners. I especially love the shouting police chief and his “How about a nice warm cup of shut the fuck up?” line. It was a refreshingly old school 80’s style action movie. Did you set out from the start to create the classic style of action movie?

Adamo: I interviewed about 30 police chiefs but Peter Brian came in and he just blew me away with his audition. He took it and he ran with it, the funny thing about Peter is, most of his scenes in the movie were OK but in that monologue he really nailed it. I said “if you can improvise something better than what I’ve written in the script then great, otherwise stick to my material” and what he read is what I wrote verbatim in the script.

Eoin: How difficult was it to get the film made?

Adamo: It was actually real hard, like every movie now. The days of making movies easily are gone. Hangar 14 took about 18 months to get made, it always had the budget of $3 million but it takes a lot of time to get the critical mass of cast and then there was the falling out with Cuba Gooding Jr., because he wanted it to be a real serious movie and that’s not what I was trying to make. So, it took a while to make, a long time.

Eoin: Can you tell us a bit about what was it like working with Steve and Michael??

Adamo: It was great, Steve Austin is an incredibly hard worker, I don’t know where he gets his work ethic from but the guy is there early, always around on set. Whenever you ask him to do something, he’ll reply “10-4”. He’s just really easy to work with. Michael is a little more distracted as he’s got this radical sense of humour and from his trailer to the set he’s constantly cracking jokes. They were two fighting professionals so, I said to them that I would let them do what they wanted with the fight scenes and they conferred with the stunt coordinators. Every fight scene you see has been approved by me but really come up with by Michael Jai and Steve because I figured they’d have a hell of a lot more fighting experience than I did.

Eoin: Michael Jai White is amazing on screen, he’s a great fighter and moves so fast, and you almost have to put him in slow motion.

Adamo: Yeah, Undisputed and Blood & Bone are two of my favourite movies of his. The trouble with Michael was the producer brought him on board for the role of Hunt and we underutilized him. I didn’t realize how proficient he was until he was on set, otherwise I would have made his role a lot bigger. Time constraints with his contract only gave us a limited time to be with him but I would’ve loved to have Michael Jai fighting as much as Steve did, he’s that good.

Eoin: OK, What is in the briefcase????

Adamo: You know what? I actually don’t know, it was kind of homage to Ronin and Pulp Fiction. I’d tell you if I did know. Whatever it is, it’s the kind of thing that when you see it, you go “HOLY SHIT.” So, my guess is, it would be something like a dirty bomb or a chemical weapon or something along those lines rather than like Pulp Fiction where it’s somebody’s soul or a huge amount of money.

Eoin: What is your favourite part of the film making process?

Adamo: My favourite part is basically shooting a movie because pre-production is one thing and post is another. But the feeling you get when you’re on-set and the magic is there, it’s hard to replicate that in any other area. There are very few things in my life that give me that level of euphoria. You feel like anything is possible, you have a first class crew, in my case Bruce Chun the cinematographer and the rest of the crew who I’d go to the gates of Hell with. They all work together to bring together your stupid idea you had one day at a track event and bring it to life.

Eoin: You have a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. When did you begin training and do you still do it regularly?

Adamo: I started training in about 2002 and I stopped in 2009 cos I got too busy. I don’t do it anymore. What’s interesting is, when we hired Michael Jai, whose resume is so much more impressive than mine. I mean he’s got 7 different black belts in several different martial arts so I would leave a lot of that to him. The good thing about the Tai Kwon Do and the guns is that you generate and map out action movies. You have an idea of what you want to do. Although you aren’t actually going in and exchanging blows with them, you at least have the knowledge to go in and ask for what you want. That I think is really lacking today in modern action movies, they leave it all up the stunt coordinators or an armory guy. Like I know what noise an Uzi makes and it isn’t the noise that you hear in the movie.

My hero in filmmaking is Ridley Scott, now he may not be in armour or the military police but, whenever he makes a film about a particular subject, he’s got to know every single thing about that topic. My favourite Ridley movie is Black Hawk Down which had Tom Sizemore (who was in my first movie). The stuff he did in that movie, I couldn’t find fault with it. I was like “WOW!”, if you can even fool a guy who does that for a living then you’re like “damn, that guy’s good!”

Eoin: You are a licensed Class 7 Federal Firearms Licensee. Do you find that this helps give you a better knowledge and authenticity when shooting action scenes?

Adamo: Absolutely. I was the first director that the weapons house in Vancouver had ever seen walk through the door. Normally people bring samples of weapons to the directors’ office and they say “I want the black one”, or “I want the long one”, that type of thing. I went through the armory and I said “the good guys will be shooting this, the bad guys will be shooting that, and this guy will be shooting this.” I taught them how to do all of their movements. I’m also a military reservist or military police as a matter of fact, so it was easy to do all the SWAT stuff. It just came naturally; it’s what I do at the weekends just for fun. So, when Steve and Michael Jai had to do it, it was very easy.

Eoin: Not only are you a director but you’re also an artist, drawer, draftsman and wood carver. You also started writing short stories at age six. Is there a dream project you would love to work on, not just in directing but in any of your crafts?

Adamo: Well, not really. All of my life’s goals revolved around directing because my grandfather taught me woodcarving, drawing, and writing since my youth. So, it comes in useful when I want to put certain things on screen. A lot of people think directors who make straight-to-DVD action movies just want to make action movies and I guess it’s true, but I want to get to a point where I can take my movies to where Ridley takes his movies. Like Gladiator, which has plenty of action but there’s also a very, very strong story.

At this level, the studios won’t let you put a whole hell of a lot of story into it because it’s all about what we put in the trailer. I’ve got a ton of films that have some great action but also extremely strong story-lines and a lot of character development.

There are few directors these days who can make great tent pole movies with story and characters like the Scott brothers, Christopher Nolan, et-al. If you look at Inception,although it may not have heart exactly, look at the story he was able to develop in something which was meant to be a blockbuster movie. Eventually I’d really love to emulate that. I was surprised how many people watched Inception and were like “I don’t get it!” I’m like “What do you mean you don’t get it?”

It’s one of those clever movies that only comes out every once in a while, like The Matrix where you just think that was such a great idea, really original. Frankly it fills me with a load of envy because we cannot pull that off at the level we are at down here. People are like, well we’re wasting time with that story, can we just cut right to the explosions? That’s why I was trying to make an action comedy that had a lot of different pieces to it. A lot of humour, one-liners and a lot of strange stuff, like Kenny where you go, “that is more like Guy Ritchie-ish than anything I’ve seen Steve Austin in before”.

Eoin: Can you tell us about any future projects? Any sequels planned for Tactical Force/Hangar 14, could be a nice little franchise??

Adamo: I personally had plans but now the producer owns the rights. I don’t want to say it was always meant to be a trilogy but there was a Hangar 15. It picked up where the bad guys are being transported to prison in a bunch of armored vehicles and they were busted out and the whole thing happened all over again. Then they would try and get the item out of the police evidence locker at the Hollywood Precinct which is actually number 15. It tied in perfectly; it was kinda like Assault on Precinct 13. My favourite kind of action movies are the ones where the action is contained in the one location (Die Hard, Under Siege, etc). It just raises the whole energy level.

Eoin: I like to ask people this so, what is the best action movie of all time and why?

Adamo: I would have to say the best action movie (except all of Ridley’s movies) is probably Die Hard. I’ve drawn so much inspiration from the movie, and McClane, not so much from McTiernen where his direction was OK but I don’t think it was overly exceptional. McClane was the archetype for the characters I like to write, full of one-liners, cheeky when you shouldn’t be and the location inside that tower, I’ve drawn so much inspiration from it. That’s back when Alan Rickman was actually making movies and not playing Professor Snape all day long.

Eoin: I recently wrote an article about Bruce Willis actually asking why he has been so serious over the past 10 years, he always seems so bored now and isn’t the guy we all loved from Die Hard.

Adamo: Well he plays Bruce Willis now; he’s highly, highly paid so he just shows up. We were actually going to get him for another movie after this one, but the deal fell apart because the distributor ultimately changed their mind. We’re talking about 3 million bucks for like 4 days, so he’s gonna come and play himself for 4 days and then disappear. I also bemoan his lack of hair anymore cos I know he can grow it, but yeah, it’s just the same, bald Bruce Willis guy. It’s like they’re guest appearances. Bruce Willis was really the inspiration for Tate though, with the wise cracking and the smirk he used to have.

Eoin: Yeah I really hated Die Hard 4, it was just so watered down.

Adamo: With Die Hard 4 they took out the character in the one location and removed the struggles he had to go through, like I said, some of the best action movies ever take place in the one location, like Alien. It just makes it more intense. Like the dark, murky corridors in space, where you feel like you’re with the characters and desperately want to escape.

Eoin: Your nickname is grasshopper. Care to elaborate?

Adamo: Grasshopper, well, back in the day I used to be a mega-yacht broker and I kinda came into this office. I’ve always been real cocky and I came into this office as a real junior member of the team. I immediately identified with who the highest selling person in the office was and I took to them. I was like, this is the smartest guy, and he’s making the most money so I’m sticking to him. I modeled every behaviour after this one guy and he started calling me Grasshopper cos I was kinda like his protege. It was like the old Karate kid things; eventually I even out did him. That’s been my thing, where I find the best people and try to even outdo them so, that’s where that comes from.

It was like Glengarry Glen Ross, there was a bunch of losers in there and one or two good guys and the one guy was like “Hey Grasshopper, come here and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Eoin: That about wraps it up, thanks once again for taking the time for the interview and all the best with your future projects.

About the Author

Eoin Friel
Eoin Friel
I grew up watching JCVD, Sly and Arnold destroy bad guys, blow things up and spew one-liners like it's a fashion statement. Action is everything I go to the movies for and the reason I came up with this site is to share my love for the genre with everyone.



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