His love for film started at a very early age when his father began taking him to genre films such as Stephen King’s Silver Bullet, The Lost Boys and Big Trouble in Little China. After receiving their own video camera for Christmas, Chad and his brother Evan set forth to shoot over 75 homemade movies while growing up, most of which he “starred” in and “directed.”
Although he had always loved creating stories it wasn’t until he had almost finished college and after he had just seen “the latest vampire movie” that he actually sat down to write his first screenplay (Night Class) simply because he wanted to try and do better.
Although it was never produced and Chad never developed the script further it did trigger him to write more. Chad’s next screenplay, an action horror project entitled “Daylight’s End”, went on to place fairly high in the Project Greenlight competition just a few short days after a rough draft was completed. His first produced film, the crime-drama “Hero Wanted”, with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ray Liotta, Norman Reedus, Kim Coates, and Jean Smart, went into production in April 2007 for Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films. His next, The Hit List, with Cole Hauser and Cuba Gooding, Jr., went into production in February 2010 for Sony Pictures’ Stage 6 Films.
Chad stops by The Action Elite to talk about his latest feature Drive Hard.
Drive Hard stars John Cusack and Thomas Jane; when writing the script, did you have them in mind as your leads?
No, not at all but I’m of course glad they’re there. I’ve been a huge fan of both for years. High Fidelity with Cusack, as many of my friends know, is one of my all time favorites. But no, it was, many years ago, conceived as a vehicle for Jason Statham and The Rock to team up if you can believe it. I’ve heard Brian, the director, mention that it was written for Jean Claude Van Damme, but that’s not actually true. Not entirely. It was, initially, written for Statham and The Rock. And this was several years ago. Then what happened was, after that kind of fizzled away as things do, it got set up with Van Damme and Ving Rhames and Russell Mulcahy, who did Highlander , was gonna direct. Russell and I met with Van Damme, he officially came on board, the whole nine. I’m not sure what happened really after that but it ultimately just fell apart too. The movie then kind of went away for me until I was out in Missouri for another movie and got a call out of the blue that Thom and John were gonna do it and that Brian was gonna direct and that we were shooting in like two weeks or something like that. It just kind of came back to life with those three out of nowhere really. From my end anyway at least. I was out of the loop but I couldn’t have been more happy about it obviously.
Can you tell us about their characters?
Yeah, John plays Simon Keller, who’s essentially a thief looking for revenge of sorts against these crooked bank baddies who set him up and landed him in prison for a long stretch. He has a very “fuck fair, the game is rigged” kind of attitude. About everything. He’s almost exactly the opposite from Thom’s character Peter Roberts, of course, who is just kind of this shitheel that gets no respect at home or from anywhere else really. He used to be a successful race car driver but gave that up for, as John’s character says, “a menial nine to five and a selfish skirt”. He’s now just a driving instructor, his wife doesn’t have sex with him, doesn’t respect him, his daughter’s embarrassed to be seen with him, he’s behind on all his bills. So when they meet, John’s character kind of brings this fire back into Thom’s life I guess you could say and things get pretty…weird.
How did the idea of Drive Hard come about?
Well, I had always loved the movie Midnight Run and wanted to try something at least a little in that vein. So that’s where it started at least. As sort of a buddy action movie with two guys on the run as they butt heads the whole time. Then the idea of a race car driver who’s now stuck behind the wheel of a training car teaching people how to drive – sort of like going from one of the most reckless things you can do in a car to the slowest and safest – came to mind and it all just pretty much sprang from there.
I’m a big fan of car movies like Vanishing Point and Driver; were there any movies that inspired you for this?
As I said, Midnight Run was a sort of inspiration. At least at the start. Midnight Run and Nothing To Lose oddly enough, this action comedy with Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, that I’ve always liked. I think it’s hilarious. John C. McGinley is so great in that. I mean I’ve always been a fan of the “road movie” in general. People on the run or whatever. Driver and Vanishing Point, I’m of course a fan of those too.
Did the final film turn out the way you expected?
That’s always a trickier question than it seems when you’re a writer because you can do anything you want on the page but then when the movie is actually being made it sort of takes on a life of its own, there are obstacles, things are tangible, things change. Things always turn out differently and I’ve learned, as a writer at least, just not to have too many expectations one way or another for something you work on. It’s good I think to go into things that way and then just try the best you can to simply watch the movie as a viewer. But the original script was set in the U.S. and in the desert and the movie is set in Australia, which looks great on screen. The original script had a ninja too and the movie does not. So things changed obviously, lots of things when Brian came on, so it’s hard to really have expectations in a way.I was excited about the cast and Brian directing it but I basically had zero expectations otherwise. I knew I liked everything I had seen going in, before I watched the movie, but that was about as much expectation as I had. Expectation is the key to disappointment, you know? If you never have any, you’re never disappointed. And I think the movie turned out good and entertaining.
Any scenes you wrote that didn’t make the final cut?
Oh yeah, lots. I mean, once Brian came on board and the script changed to an Australian setting from the U.S. a lot of things didn’t make it. Brian worked on it and a lot of things changed. Like I said, at one point there was a ninja. And a midget. But I’m getting ready to work on another movie in Boston this fall and I think that ninja that was initially in Drive Hard might be paying us a little visit there instead.
The movie has some great chase scenes; how much detail do you go into when writing an action scene? Do you write “a huge car chase ensues…” or go into more detail?
I go into as much detail as possible always. As much as makes sense. I do it for the document’s sake as much as anything. I want the script to be a good read for the reader. Just like an author wants a book to be a good read. If it just says something like “a huge car chase ensues” that doesn’t really paint any kind of picture for me or anybody else and I feel like it’s incomplete or that I haven’t done my job. My mind won’t even allow me to do that or work that way. Sometimes I wish it would though.
What kind of research do you do before putting a script together? Also talk us through your writing process; how do you begin a script?
I do whatever research the story requires. Whatever is necessary for the characters and story. It really just depends. For Drive Hard there wasn’t a lot of research involved at all really other than just maybe figuring out what I didn’t know about racing a little since I’m not a race car driver. But it wasn’t much. These days it’s really mostly all just a little Google search anyway, right? But I was hired to do a movie about Carlos Lehder, this Columbian drug dealer who basically took over an island called Norman’s Cay in the Bahamas back in the 80’s, and for that I did a lot of research. I had to. I went to the actual island, saw the places, read a lot, met some of the people involved or who knew him. It was really interesting actually. Everybody had a story to tell.
And as far as writing process, I’m not sure I’m aware of what mine is or if I even have one. I think it really just depends on the story and parameters whatever they might be, I guess, I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer. But I guess I usually just start with a pretty generalized idea of what the story is and where I want it to go and then just kind of let the characters take me there themselves as I go. I don’t know. I really just start with an idea. What actually is the story and what is my intent?
Do any of your own life experiences or personality go into your scripts?
Definitely. I think it’s impossible not to have that happen really. A least a little bit. I’ll find aspects of my life or thoughts or opinions or things that have happened to me even accidentally slipping into the characters and scenarios. Thomas Jane’s character in Drive Hard, for example, I can still see exaggerated elements of me in him. But personality seeps in a lot of times, the names of people I know or I base characters off people I know or have met. I mean look at a Tarantino movie. I love him of course and think his personality can be seen in nearly everything he’s done to an extent. In True Romance, the lead character Clarence worked at a comic book store and Quentin worked at a video store then I believe. “Write what you know”, like Mark Twain said, right? At least a little bit, I guess. It seems like Mark Twain said everything. Have you ever noticed that?
What is the key to creating memorable characters?
I wish I knew. I just try to make characters that I understand and can get behind, good, bad or otherwise. I usually try to make sure most of my characters aren’t strictly “good” or “bad” per se. I like them to all at least usually have some sort of grey. Flaws, you know? Because that’s real life. Nobody is perfect and few, in my opinion, are really straight evil either. I mean, there’s some bad people out there but there still might be at least something good about them or someone who loves them or whatever. On the flip side, you can be a good person and do some really questionable things or make some really questionable choices here and there. It happens all the time. I think, for me, that’s the thing. Just understanding character motivation. I think it’s also important to feel that characters weren’t just “born” at the start of your movie or script but that they actually existed before we met them . They should hopefully feel like they could have had a whole life before the story began.
What else are you working on?
Well, we’re just finishing up on Daylight’s End, as you know, with Johnny Strong and director William Kaufman. We’ve been working on that for the past year or so down in Texas. It’s a post-apocalyptic action sci fi movie and I’m really excited about it. It’s been a blast and it’s gonna be a really hardcore cool action movie. I’m planning to shoot an action thriller called Isolation in a few weeks too I think on an island in the Bahamas. That’s with Dominic Purcell and Sharni Vinson from You’re Next. Then I’m off to Boston in October to shoot an action comedy called Run n’ Gun. That’s got quite a cast coming together it seems but I can’t really talk about it yet. And then, as I mentioned the other day, director Isaac Florentine, Scott Adkins and I are finally gonna shoot Close Range on December 1, right before Christmas. It’ll take us right up through the holidays. That’s a really fun script, straight up old school action, and I know Scott and Isaac are really excited about it, so I’m really looking forward to that as well.
Thanks very much for chatting with us and best of luck with the film!
Thanks so much, man. Always good to chat with you.