Dennis Gansel is a German film director who makes his Hollywood debut with Mechanic: Resurrection, the sequel to the 2011 Jason Statham film The Mechanic.
This time around, when the deceitful actions of a cunning but beautiful woman [Jessica Alba] force Arthur Bishop [Jason Statham] to return to the life he left behind, Bishop’s life is once again in danger as he has to complete an impossible list of assassinations of the most dangerous men in the world.
We recently caught up with Dennis to discuss the film.
The assassin genre has been popular for many years and it never seems to go out of style. What do you think the appeal is for audiences to see Mechanic: Resurrection?
I think the appeal will be to see Jason Statham in a James Bond/Jason Bourne kind of way. So my take when I came onto the project was to make sort of a ‘dirty James Bond’. We have seen him as a driver, as a cold blooded assassin, as an iconic action hero but I think there is so much Bond in Statham, it’s going to be fun to tease these genre bits of these big franchises into this action thriller. Plus viewers get to see the very fun assassins, and to also see him falling in love. In a lot of Jason’s movies we do not see him romantically involved with emotions and feelings and this time it’s very different – he falls in love and is doing something just to save the love of his life. It is a new way to see Jason.
Does directing a sequel bring different challenges as a director, as the look and tone has already been established in the first film, is it harder to put your own stamp on an existing property?
Hmmmm no I don’t think so. For me, it was even more fun because I knew I had a movie that was working and I was a fan of – I loved the first Mechanic – and I have been a fan of Jason, Jessica Alba and Tommy Lee Jones from the get go. The producers wanted to have this journey around the world, to make a bigger movie than the first one, so it was a very easy and fun position for me to be in.
As you said, you shot all over the world and in quite a few locations including Brazil, Australia, Bulgaria, and Thailand. Which of those locations proved to be the most interesting to you?
Thailand; definitely. I have loved Thailand since I first traveled there 13 years ago. I love Thai food, love Thai culture and I just love being there at least once a year and coming back as a director and really looking for locations and having the ability to work with these people was just an incredible experience. The locations are so exotic and fantastic – in the huge cities and lonely beaches, the diversity is really good which you do not see that much in movies because it is really a country that people have just begun to film in and every angle felt fresh, so it was fun.
Did you work with a local crew there?
Yes, there was a lot of local crew. My American producers came over and the Thai line producer was already there and I brought in my production designer and my DP and editor from Germany who I have worked with before so it was a nice mix of people which I think is good. If you shoot a movie in Germany everybody says ‘oh wow! It’s fun to work with a German crew!’, Tatantino said that after shooting in Berlin and for me, if you shoot in Australia or Brazil etc., it is fun to work with a local crew because film-making can get very dull after a while. Because it is just about the movie the entire time, there are no weekends off. I spent 8 months in Thailand and now I know a little about the culture, food and religion, so I came home a bit richer and this is something you can only get if you hang out and work with local crews.
Hailing from Germany, this is just your second English language feature film. Your English is very good but does this provide any additional challenges? For example, it is tougher to find the tone of an English movie than if you were to make the same film in German?
Not from a visual standpoint but working with actors, definitely. If you are not living in the culture and English is not your native language, you just don’t get certain tones. Working within the Hollywood system, the actors are so good, they help out all the time. The offer different variations [of their scenes] and that is something that is very very helpful. For example ‘People always laugh when I do this so maybe try this take’ and often these takes make it into the movie because it moves them out of their comfort zone and pushes barriers and vice versa.
So you are happy to collaborate if someone wants to try a take a different way…
Oh yeah absolutely. I started making movies when I was 22 and did so many movies in Germany, you just don’t have the time usually so it is very much just the director who decides ‘that’s it – move on’, so no one else is looking at the video monitor whereas with this film you get opinions. You have the time, the resources, the talent in front of the camera and very good producers.
With Mechanic: Resurrection being a Hollywood film, did that mean you had more input from the studio as far as the editing and they wanted it a different way than perhaps you might have envisioned originally?
Yeah, that’s definitely the way, but you know that’s the way it works so therefore you have your director’s cut and then you just go for the best mix of everyone’s ideas. In this case actually I was very happy to have the other input, because this is my first action movie and they (the producers) have been making action movies for the last 30 years, so it is wise to listen to people who have the experience. It may be different if it was my script – harder to share ideas, but when you are working on a franchise in the Hollywood system it’s good to work as a team.
You touched on the writing. You have written most of the previous films you have directed. If you write and direct a film, it is your project and you know exactly how you envisioned it to be. When you are directing someone else’s story, do you find that limiting or is that better in a way that it could keep you more focused?
Interesting question. It is hard to give a definite answer to that one. Sometimes working to another’s script needs more preparation but it is always about finding your own voice and way of doing it. If I direct something that someone else wrote, I need to spend time with the writer and adapt the script to the way that I see things, which happened with this film. I had 9 months to work with the writers so that was fantastic and very helpful. Then it becomes about budget and location and what you can or can’t do and it is an ongoing process. Of course, it is easier to work to a story you wrote yourself because then you don’t need to spend time with a storyboard because it is all in your head.
And no arguments with the writer either….
Very true! (laughs)
As you mentioned, this is your first action film. Apart from the obvious stunts, and blocking and choreography required, how do you approach shooting an action movie versus a drama or adventure films?
I was always a big fan of action movies and in my previous films, to a European standard, lots of action in there but I do not consider them ‘action films’ so when I was reading the script I was like ‘fantastic – this could be Statham’s Bond’. Plus I got to work with some great stunt choreographers and 2nd unit directors who have worked on action movies before, which was a huge asset. At that point, it comes down to preparation and is very important to work with storyboards because if you work with different teams, you need to have a plan to bounce off the stunt people and the actors. In this case Jason was able to tell me what he could do and how it would look on camera. It is all a fun process.
What was the toughest scene to film in this movie? Was it the shot of Statham underneath the extended pool?
No, the hardest scene was the last scene when they make love. (laughs) With good preparation it is not hard to shoot the other scenes. You have a lot of help, lots of knowledge on the set, great crew and actors, so if you have the money and the prep time it is not so hard. The tough part is coming up with the ideas but we had really good writers. But the last scene, I was so nervous and the actors were nervous. How many kisses… should he hold her here or here… etc. All fun, but that was the hardest one.
Ok, as far as action scenes go which was the toughest one to shoot?
The shoot-out on the boat. There are 2 huge sequences on the boat which include a lot of shooting, a lot of fighting, jumping from one deck to the other, a huge explosion and several people getting thrown into the sea. This was really hard because we had very limited time on the boat, it was a huge ice breaker, the weather was hot as hell and it was a 90 person film crew. You always have to be concerned with safety measures, there were sharks in the water that people were falling into, we were creating waves, plus just to fill the gas tanks of this huge boat was $250,000. All these circumstances made it hard for us and the 2nd unit director, the great Vic Armstrong, to stay on schedule.
Mechanic: Resurrection is in theaters August 26, 2016