February 10, 2013

Jesse V. Johnson Interview

Jesse Johnson, the director of The Package starring Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin stops by to discuss the movie.

Eoin: First of all, congratulations on the movie, I had a blast with it and it’s great to see old-school action alive and well. What was your favourite part of making the film?

Jesse: Thank you very much, that means a great deal to me, I enjoy your reviews, so I feel privileged.

I love almost every aspect of making a movie, it’s when I feel most alive, so it’s tough to focus on any particular highlights.

This picture was a challenge, it was shot during the winter in Vancouver BC, so in any twenty four hour period you could expect rain, sunshine, sleet, or snow to cycle through at least once.

The schedule was unusually short  (16 days) which presents definite logistical challenges, but the Canadian crew was just outstanding and had worked together before, so it felt like a well oiled machine, but I did really enjoy working with them, they really made me feel that they were 100% invested in making the film the best it could be.

That said; Steve Austin must be the single element that made the shoot memorable for me, he is a force of nature and a just a genuinely honest human.

Treat him well and explain what it is you want and why he will go to the ends of the Earth to deliver.

I saw him suffering through the frigid cold, a knee and foot injury and general scrapes and bruises to deliver the best he could – you can’t ask for much more than that.

I also truly enjoyed working with Dolph Lundgren –












Eoin: What was it that appealed to you about the movie and how did you get involved?

Jesse: Honestly for me it was Steve that got me excited about the project – I had watched his work for sometime and felt he had far greater potential that he was able to show, a rangey charm coupled with this incredible physical presence.

My terrific manager, Kailey Marsh, had been pushing to get me together with Steve Austin for some time, our first chat about this script was by Skype as I was in the UK at the time.


Eoin: Is there anything especially different in the final film that was in the original script?

Jesse: The script was set in Miami when I received it – that would have been something of a hard sell in Vancouver BC, during Winter.


Eoin: I’ve heard that Steve Austin is great to work with and has an excellent work ethic, did you find that?

Jesse: Steve is a powerhouse, if you’re there, in the moment, he will be there, too – you could literally ask anything of him, and if he felt you were being sincere and had the interest of the movie at heart, he would go for it.

We had a scene where he mends some stab wounds in a dirty restroom somewhere, and as he worked through the scene, I mentioned that it looked like he had done this before, he had.

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The thing is with Steve, his was not an overnight success, he wrestled in every tiny cow-town and flea-bitten venue across the South, playing for lunch money and drinks, just beating himself to a bloody pulp for the crowd’s amusement.  A brutal, cruel life, his rise was anything but meteoric, and more importantly he now really appreciates what he has.  And is careful with it, you have to admire those qualities.

However you judge his skill as an actor, this is a man who has lived life.  And in an era of worshipping false idols, reality twits and vacant bimbos, a guy like Steve actually warrants your attention – so yes, my apologies for the long answer, he has an excellent work ethic and is great to work with.





Eoin: Did Dolph and Steve improvise any scenes like dialogue or action?

Jesse: Steve improvised a little, but only if I gave him the thumbs up, I would approach and say something along the lines of, I think we can come up with something a little more in line with your character here, and he’d agree and say, “I was just thinking that”, or “Yeah, I’ve been working on something…”.

You have to remember the character in the script was not written for Steve, and he is a unique individual with a very distinct way of talking and dealing with problems, he knows this better than anyone – I think it worked but stayed true to the integrity of the original material.










Eoin: There are several great action scenes especially hand to hand combat, which is my favourite type of action. Were there any other action scenes that had to be cut due to budget restrictions?

Jesse: Yes – some car-action and motorcycle action sequences, that stuff is time consuming and expensive, I love it, but it is a major budget sink on a small movie.

Each set up requires so much preparation and technical coordination, it’s very slow going.

A huge shoot-out fist fight in a saw-mill – we found a great one with epic sheets of ice crunching and cracking down the river in the background, it was just going to be too much for the budget, though.  You ask yourself, do you want four watered down action scenes or three solid ones?

I wanted the last fight we shot in the rain, and I had rain towers set up, it was a fight between Jerry Trimble and Steve in an alleyway.  Paul Lazenby (Steve’s double) and Paul Wu did a stellar job of choreographing it, but when we shot it the temperature just dropped alarmingly low, snow fell and then turned to icy hail, the crew were wrapped in fleece parkas and face masks, and my two actors were in T-shirts and sports coats.

I was about to have the effects guys turn on the rain towers, when Justin Bursh, the producer drew the line, he said we’d probably kill them both, hypothermia or something else was mentioned, I was momentarily disappointed, but eventually saw the wisdom in not killing your lead actors.

Steve and Jerry did a good job pretending they were disappointed, too.

As I am sure you noticed, I had two outstanding supporting actors who are also great friends, Jerry Trimble and Darren Shahlavi on the show.  So I was able to work with them on their roles in a way that is sometimes difficult to achieve expeditiously without a prior relationship.  They also brought an incredible level of fight expertise to the table – so we were able to deliver a little more than this budget would usually be able to.


Eoin: I was a big fan of Sean Murray’s score to the film; did you work closely with him in getting the right sound for the film?

Jesse: Sean’s score is sensational, I am so thrilled that you mention it – I think it is a character in the movie.  When I heard “Tommy’s” theme I was thrilled, he added a great underlying sense of burden and humanity to the character – you run a risk with a small action film like this one of derailing yourself into a world of cliches and approximations, his music is not the norm for this kind of movie – I like that.  People are most familiar with Sean’s work on the “Call of Duty” games, and this was the motivator in my begging him to score this movie, but, interestingly, it is where Sean’s music is tender and thoughtful, that it really takes the film to a different place.

I do love sitting with him and listening to his work come together, it is masterful and wonderful, and although I understand it in theory, it is still a magical mystery to me how music can be so powerful a motivator.


Eoin: Technology is constantly advancing and changing the way films are made including 48 FPS, 3D and IMAX; Would you like to work with any of these formats in the future?

Jesse: I am going to disappoint you here – I leave the choice of camera to my DP, if I trust him, I talk at great length with him so that he knows what I want to shoot, and how I want to shoot it, what my influences are, what tricks I want to incorporate, I trust him to bring in the right tools for the job, whether it’s low light, run and gun, or hi-speed slow motion 3D photography, it’s all discussed ahead of time.

I don’t like mistakes or technical errors, we lost a half day of footage of Dolph on The Package, and had to reshoot it – it was a heartbreaking set-back on such a short schedule, but you advance and try to add something extra.

I love technology, and enjoy the ease that it brings to certain things – I shot my first films on short ends (ends of film unused by other productions that I bought from a raw-stock dealer), which was an incredible pain – so I love the freedom HD offers in this respect, but I have an instant distrust of people of feel they need the latest technology to compete.

The greatest scripts were written with an ink dipped feather and parchment – what software you use should’t be a determining factor.

Eoin: What else have got in the works? Any more action movies?

Jesse: I have Irish blood and am superstitious about discussing such things.

I am however very busy and my children are mad at me for being away so often.


Eoin: Thanks so much for talking with us and good luck with your next projects.

Jesse: Thank you, very much!

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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