Don Wilson & James Wilson Interview

Martial arts stars Don “The Dragon” Wilson and his brother James  have a new film coming out in 2017 called Paying Mr. McGetty. It’s an action comedy which tells the tale of Tyrell (R. Marcos Taylor) who after a night of drinking and gambling, is awakened by an angry call from his girlfriend, Meena (Anita Clay) and finds himself in bed with a strange woman, Cecelia (Alissa Schneider) — a local mob boss’ daughter. Once the local mob boss finds out, he hires Shota (Wilson) — a relentless hitman. To make matters worse, the reward on Tyrell’s head has dozens of others looking for him, too. Adding to Tyrell’s troubles, the worst thing of all… Meena, the love of his life, is put in harm’s way. Tyrell must make a stand by taking on the mob, taking on Shota, and finding the money to pay their landlord — Mr. McGetty — before the day ends.

Don & James stop by The Action Elite to chat about the movie.

You’ve known director Michael Baumgarten for around 30 years; how would you describe his directorial style?

Don: Very relaxed and he’s someone who doesn’t waste words; basically, if he says something then it’s something important. So, if he has direction it’s not because he’s trying to micro manage me with every look or every line that I say. If you were an actor working with Michael Baumgarten then I think he would be what they call an actor’s director where they allow a certain amount of interpretation of the character and their performance but if he sees something he doesn’t like then believe me he has no qualms about stepping in and saying we’re going to do another take because he didn’t think the look was right or you were coming on too strong or not strong enough in the scene. I enjoy working with him and he’s a very creative person; he wrote both scripts so nobody can tell him the story. He knows the story better than anybody. There are many times when an actor can grab the script and read it then the director can look at the script and they can see two different movies.

That actually happened with Kevin Costner and Waterworld; he ended up getting rid of the director and directing it himself because they saw it as two different movies. Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld’s director) was a very good friend of his as well and from what I understand Kevin Costner thought the basic film was about the Mariner (Costner) and Reynolds thought it was about the hunt for dry land. I read a story about it so I don’t know how true it was but that was apparently the conflict they had and I guess the director left the project and Costner ended up directing, so he got his version made.

As far as Michael Baumgarten; he is a pleasure to work with and I look forward to working with him again.

I was saying to Michael that I love the character name Shota. Although he’s a killer we also totally root for him due to his code of ethics; can you tell us a little about that?

Don: I’m glad you saw that as I tried to incorporate that; I had two characters from film I used as reference points. Unfortunately, I don’t know any real-life hitmen so I couldn’t do any research there. I watched Leon: The Professional and he had a code: No Women. No Children. He was also a very likeable character and he had a kind look about him until it was time to kill somebody. The other character I looked at was Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) from No Country for Old Men. He was very scary but he did very little; you don’t have to look and sound mean if what you do is mean. For me, I pull the rug out on someone to make it look like an accident and the guy hits his head and gets killed in the bathroom. I don’t think I acted mean in that scene; I just gave the guy a look and let him tell all his lies. Then I kill him, letting him know and the audience that I knew he was lying. It showed a lot of character traits as it showed that I would do the deadly kill for money if the guy deserves it. In the film, I find out Marcus is not guilty of doing anything with the guy’s daughter and he does not deserve this beatdown that he’s supposed to get. I think this makes Shota kind of redeemable and in the end, he stands up with him. He’s a multi-dimensional character; he’s not all bad but not all good.

The Martial Arts Kid was partially funded through crowdfunding on Kickstarter; how was Paying Mr. McGetty different?

James: Well, we funded $173,500 on Kickstarter but the rest was through investors; we decided we were going to film on location if we could but we didn’t have the budget for that so we did the Kickstarter to get the money to be able to take the actors and the crew to Cocoa  Beach, Florida. So, that’s why we decided to do that on Kickstarter to make it more realistic. Half of the movie was filmed in Cocoa  Beach and the other half was filmed in LA.

Michael was saying how Paying Mr. McGetty was initially going to be set in New York. How important was the location to the story?

James: Yeah, we were going to shoot it in New York then we got a little delayed and we checked the weather so we decided to switch it to Florida but I think it ended up working out because so many movies are filmed in LA so that’s something we try not to do because everyone has seen every location here. We always want things to look a little more interesting which is why we chose Cocoa Beach; we’re from Florida Don and I so for us it’s like going home and we have a lot of friends there who are martial artists. For us it’s easier to go to Florida; we made The Martial Arts Kid there so when the weather became a problem in New York we made the easy decision of moving it to Tampa, St. Petersburg because the film commission there was a huge help. They got us that stadium that no independent film could have afforded to use. That’s the reason we went there and I think it worked out better for us. It’s another area that you don’t see too much in film and we got to show real places like that beauty shop. That’s a real beauty shop and those people genuinely worked there and those were real customers. When we got the place, they didn’t even change their schedule; they used the real workers, the real customers and a real place.

Don: The hair they were cutting was the real hair of the customers so there were no special effects and no extras were hired.

That’s what made the film more unique and realistic; Tyrell feels like a normal guy you would bump into on the street and even Shoto doesn’t stand out as an obvious badass.

James: Originally, we were going to make a film with R. Marco Taylor who is super athletic; he can do standing backflips, jump off walls, do parkour and all that. He’s a heavy guy and yet freakishly naturally athletic; our initial idea was to make him more like the big black Jackie Chan and it would be more comedic with more action and running scenes with Don chasing him and stuff but on the very first day of shooting Marcos injured his knee. That’s when we got together and we changed everything; what we decided was we were going to make this unusual and quirky movie. We changed things and we increased Don’s role and I think we got lucky. Marcos has said repeatedly to me that his injury was the best thing that could happen to him and that the movie actually got better because it’s unusual and it’s different. The acting and story became more important as well as the uniqueness of things. We had come up with this fast on the fly and make sure nobody had done any of it before; luckily with Don and Baumgarten and all the people involved there was a lot of experience and it seems to have worked out. We’ve played in front of 3 big audiences in 3 different parts of the country with the same reaction which is they laughed and clapped at the right times. They all told us how much they liked it; I keep hearing from people that they wish they could watch it again right now.

Don: It reminds me kind of like a rollercoaster ride as far as the script and the story because it goes up and down and around; bad thinks happen to Marcus, good things happen, dangerous things happen, funny things happen so he is on a rollercoaster ride. The happy ending is reminiscent of the final scene of Jerry Maguire in the living room with the girl where he talks about how he had a great thing happen with his company but it didn’t mean anything because he didn’t have Renee Zellweger. In this case Marcos goes up with the ring and he says he can’t live without Nina his girlfriend. It reminded me of that scene which is kind of Michael Baumgarten’s style which is kind of like Cameron Crowe’s. Coincidentally I worked with Cameron Crowe on Say Anything which was the first movie he directed.  He’s a great guy but he takes serious topics and does them in a comedic way. I think Michael does that; emotional, genuine drama and real relationships with real characters in a kind of comedic way that he portrays them. To me that’s one of the stand out parts of the script which ended up being in the movie I that he takes serious subjects but shows them in a comedic way.

Can you talk a little about how you got such a diverse cast?

James: Yeah there were two people that were actually met at the Action Showcase; one is Demetrius Angelo. I had a conversation with him and I saw some of his reels; he is very much the martial artist and a respectful guy. He’s easygoing and easy to work with; the original idea was that we were going to do a real quick scene where he was going to get beat up by Don. But as we changed things and we saw him in action we saw that he was much more talented than we expected. Those guys in the garage scene are all SAG stuntmen and Demetrius was better than all of them. So, we increased his role and made the scene a little more than we original intended to with Don.

The other person we met at that time was Anita Clay who was also very interesting; we saw her reel and we were looking for the right person to match up with Marcus. If you saw that scene on the porch, then you know we made the right call. Her and Marcos just had great chemistry together.

Don: It was just one scene they had together but it was phenomenal.

James: So, we met both of them at the Urban Action Showcase and now Anita Clay is out here in LA and working with us and Traditionz now.

John Kreng coordinated the fights; how did you meet him and how did he get involved?

James: I met John Kreng at a party in James Lew’s house years ago; he’s a long-time martial artist so we know a lot of the same people. He’s an easygoing great guy and he’s got the credentials. James did The Martial Arts Kid but he was tied up with Luke Cage in New York at the time we needed somebody else and there were only a handful of guys that I would consider. John was at the top of that list so I held a meeting with John and talked with him about his interests and of course he was very interested. He said working with Don would be something he’d be able to take of his bucket list (laughs). We came to an agreement really quick and early and I liked that because John is a good guy and good at what he does. I let James Lew know that I was considering John and he said “Yeah! John’s great!” and it went from there. He did a terrific job and gave us the kind of look we wanted; we still are trying to make our fight scenes look a little more realistic. In these movies, we don’t want to see people flying through the air and getting hit 20 times and then getting back up because now they’re mad and then beating their ass.

Don: One of the things about this is the shortness of the fights is more realistic. They’re not going to be these ten-minute fight scenes like the old Bloodfist days. In reality it’s two or three punches or kicks and the fight goes one way or the other. If I’m getting hit then I’m gonna be on the floor; if they’re getting hit then they’re gonna be on the floor. I liked this new style; we’re still doing the flashy jump kicks and spin kicks for the audience but it is more realistic in terms of the time we spend fighting.

James: We purposefully did that in The Martial Arts Kid with James and John in this movie as well. Having overly flashy fight scenes are impractical because we’re all martial artists.

What I like about the action in this movie and The Martial Arts Kid is that you can see all the moves and you know the people fighting are trained whereas in many bigger budget films the camera moves around so much you can never see what’s happening.

Don: Bruce Lee didn’t like to do a lot of angles or a lot of editing; his philosophy was if you get enough coverage and you edit you can make anyone look like they can fight in a scene. If you pull back and shoot a master, then you can see it’s me doing the fight and not a stuntman. I think in these last two movies there is some choreography that is meant to get some coverage but generally it’s being left in one or two takes and with wider shots and more master shots rather than bunch of really fast cut close-ups. You can make anybody look good doing that; when me and TJ storm fought at the end of The Martial Arts Kid they didn’t have to get a lot of coverage; they just shot me and TJ fighting.

What they do with so many of these bigger movies is they get the camera and they get so close that you can’t see what’s going on and then that’s kind of like a technique where you’re covering up that somebody has lost their footing or threw the wrong punch or trying to cover some kind of problem with the choreography.

I’m not against going back and doing some wirework and stuff like that if it’s the story; but what we’re doing with Traditionz are reality based. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing a Jet Li 30-foot flying jump kick in these movies because they’re more realistic and believable.

I find as soon as fight scenes become less believable I immediately lose interest if there’s no sense of threat.

Don: It reminds me of the era of musicals where you’ve got two people in a scene acting and then all of a sudden one of them will start singing then before you know it they are both singing and dancing to music and I’m out of the movie. That just totally takes me out of it and if we have a fight scene where I jump 30 feet in the air then it’s no longer a realistic movie and it becomes some kind of Matrix-style fantasy movie, which is fine in the right movie but not in these ones. In these movies with reality based fight scenes I like it more realistic.

How difficult is it to finance a movie like this today?

James: It is difficult because all movies are gambles but luckily, it’s a product that people are attracted to. For us we did The Martial Arts Kid and we had some investors from that in Paying Mr. McGetty; we anticipate always going back to our original investors because we treat them right and fare. As you can see we don’t leave the baby alone even after it’s done and out. We keep working on it and protecting the investment and the investors money and the product to increase its name and value. Most independents make a movie and then they have to move on to the next project because they need to get paid. For us we’re not going to be that way and stay with that baby the whole time as we continue to make more movies. We want to repay our investors, make them a profit, keep working, come back with the same people and maybe meet some new ones along the way if we’re doing bigger projects.

We want to break the mold of the independents in multiple ways. The typical P&A system is you’ve got an investor who’s got the connections and I can tell you we were offered 50 screens for The Martial Arts Kid with a $500,000 investment from a big P&A company and they would get us in Wal-Mart, etc. So, they would tell us that it’s going to cost $10,000 a screen which I found out is the standard price.

You would lose money on those screens in a single night and quite a bit of money so you come out in debt. Plus, the P&A investor gets his 20% and the guy in-between him and the theatres that gets a cut, then the theatres themselves gets a cut. I just saw this particular system as a way to dig a deep hole.

So just like we did with the Kickstarter where had like $450,000 to make the movie and then we decided that the movie would be much better if we shot it on location in Cocoa Beach so we did the Kickstarter where we raised another $173,500 so we could shoo half the movie there and shoot the rest in LA. The Kickstarter helped us to do that but also allowed us to make a bigger budget looking movie. The DP’s we had were great and they weren’t cheap; the city of Cocoa Beach and the police worked for free. The pier was given to us free, that big building where they work out was also given to use free and meals were free. The hotel even gave us a discount and they let us shoot around the port and we got help with that too for nothing.

For independents, you’ve got to look for all these angles; we did the Kickstarter then instead of doing the usual P&A route we used a platform called Trug that will get you in any theatre you want in the country. So now we’re not just playing in little theatres that you’ve got to rent out for the night; we’re playing at AMC Theatres at Universal Studios, Orlando. We’re playing in Times Square and everything on this Trug platform and getting a straight split from the theatres so we’re not paying out any money. I see everything changing in the future and for independents and we’re just trying to break the mold all the way around most importantly that mold of trying to find that new investor every time. You’ve not cared as much about making a profit on that movie as much as getting your next gig. A lot of independents get a wide distribution with somebody but no minimum guarantee and you’ve heard all the horror stories that the independent finds out that they don’t get any money later because they make sure everything is eaten up in expenses and they move on. We want to do something new and build up our own loyal fanbase too.

How has martial arts improved or changed your lives?

James: For me when I first started martial arts I used to like to fight and I thought it was fun and thought I was a badass and though I would learn to be much more of badass.  So, when I joined the class I kind of got tricked; I got fooled because at first, I learned that a blackbelt could whip my ass easy but as I studied all that wanting to fight just disappeared. Then one day I’m a blackbelt and I don’t feel there’s a need to fight anybody because I know I can handle myself. I learned respect and discipline along the way especially in that time when the schools were really onto the discipline. Everybody who got a blackbelt in those days was a tough guy too so I was a tough guy but I was disciplined; I’d learned respect and I learned all about honour and the kind of things you need. I think it helped me from being an asshole kid who might have turned into a bully himself.

Don: I started out in sports where I was the MVP in my High school football and basketball team; I ran track, I wrestled and I played football/basketball at the Collegiate level for the Coastguard Academy so for me I was already an athlete. So, martial arts were just another sport; what I didn’t realise was that when you’re a martial artist you use every part of your body. Upper body, lower body, cardio vascular, strength and coordination were all used. I was a professional fighter for 28 years; I had my first pro-fight in 1974 and retired in 2002. That’s 28 years of full contact kickboxing and you don’t last for something for that long unless you love it. It was a sport to me at first but now that I’m retired I realised I learned a lot of life lessons through the martial arts probably the least of which is that I can defend myself. Self defence is what everybody talks about but martial arts is so much more than that. It ultimately improves the human being; Mas Oyama (one of the famous martial artists) actually has a quote where he says the ultimate purpose of the martial arts is not to be able to fight but to improve the person in all areas. When I was 18 I was thinking much like my brother where I just wanted to kick someone’s rear end with martial arts but al those kinds of thoughts were superseded with the truths along the way that I didn’t expect.

I remember once me, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris did a TV show together and at that time Arnold had already done Terminator 2 and was the highest paid actor in the world, Chuck had Walker: Texas Ranger and was becoming the biggest action show on TV and I had my picture in Time Magazine as one of the top 4 direct to video stars in the world. We had risen to the top of our businesses and none of us were given a single chance to be successful in Hollywood. Arnold couldn’t even speak English for his first movie and had to be dubbed; Chuck was considered too old and not a good enough actor to carry a TV show or to become the superstar he became because of Walker and I was a 6-foot-tall Asian with a Southern accent who knew nothing about acting but I ended up becoming one of the top direct to video stars because we all succeeded because of the lessons we learned along the way.

For Arnold, it was bodybuilding, for Chuck it was martial arts and for me it was also martial arts. Those life lessons made us improve our humanity; Arnold is more than a guy with just muscles, Chuck is more than a guy who can throw a kick and I hope I’m more than just a kickboxer.

Going back to Paying Mr. McGetty, what do you want audiences to take away from it?

Don: For me it’s a love story and his scene at the end where he talks about when times were at their roughest all he could think about was her and he loves her and doesn’t want to live without her. It all boils down to the two of them getting together at the end. I hope the audience gets that; yes, it’s got some action with punches and kicks but at its heart it’s a love story. “Love Conquers All” as they say.

James: For me I would like the audience to be open to the idea of something unique and different. But at the same time has the feel of realness to it. For instance, with the character of Tyrell, we’ve all had bad days were things go wrong and it’s never just one thing but usually several at once. His starts out after his drunken night of gambling but I want people to see that he’s a guy who is working hard, under stress and trying to pay for his place he can’t afford and trying to start a business so he can get ahead. He faced Don twice and got his butt beat twice but at the end he doesn’t back up because of his love for his girl. It’s a story of a guy who has to stand up and at the end of the day he’s a good guy. When he comes home to his girl at the end and she opens the door and he runs back down the stairs it adds that realness to it. Even though we’re throwing some strange stuff at the audience we are also throwing some real stuff at them. It was risky but I think we made the right choice and I’m proud of it.

Paying Mr. McGetty will be released in 2017.