Interview: Director Tom DeNucci Talks The Collective
Tom DeNucci is the director of the upcoming action picture The Collective starring Lucas Till, Don Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Paul Ben-Victor and Mercedes Varnado.
It tells the story of a group of righteous assassins called The Collective who take aim at a highly sophisticated human trafficking ring backed by a network of untouchable billionaires. With their backs against the wall, The Collective has no choice but to put their most important mission in the hands of rookie assassin Sam Alexander.
Tom stopped by to chat with us about the film.
What was it that appealed to you about the script for The Collective?
I love the fact that in a genre that’s often duplicated and seems formulaic, this script had a lot of uniqueness to it, where it didn’t get bogged down with too many subplots. It really just drove like a train, stayed on this main track, and just moved, and for lack of a better word, it never drags.
Definitely. Lucas Till has several impressive fight scenes for the movie; what kind of training did he have to go through to prepare?
Lucas is just a naturally athletic guy. That was always kind of one of those things when you’re working with an actor that you’ve never worked with before, and you read this script, and you’re like, wow, this guy’s got to do an awful lot of physical acts here. It was very, very pleasing. I remember the first day I had a rehearsal with Lucas and our stunt coordinator, Anthony Huang, and his team.I gotta tell you, within like 15-20 minutes of working with the stunt coordinator, I’m watching Lucas doing flips and jumping all around the room. He already had trained in a little bit of Brazilian Jujitsu; he had trained in some martial arts. So, it’s not like he came in off the street with no knowledge of how to throw a punch, or how to fall properly. He already had a lot of those skills; it was just a matter of “how do we take them and kind of attenuate them to this particular film?”
Following on that, how did you keep the fight scenes looking fresh and different?
I grew up a big fan of pro wrestling and I tell people all the time “a lot of people look down on pro wrestling” but to me, the psychology of the fight in terms of the good guy better known as the babyface and the heel, better known as the bad guy, there’s a lot of psychology there. I used a lot that I learned from being a fan and almost call myself a pro wrestling historian. I learned how that psychology works, and what can we do to make this unique, so that the good guys aren’t always in the best position, they don’t always have the upper hand; they have to fight from a place of adversity, they’re often outnumbered. They’re often in a place where they’re not getting the better of the bad guy and fighting their way up. So, there’s a lot of believe it or not what I call fight psychology that went into making these sequences special, and also just a little bit of good old-fashioned creativity and like, “hey, what haven’t I seen before?” One of my favorite scenes, and I don’t want to give it away, but Lucas does something very unique with a couple of shrimp skewers in this movie that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a movie. So, just incorporating simple elements that we’re going to be around and trying to take a common, formulaic idea of like, “what is a fight in a movie?” and just making it a little different.
I like the little nod to Miami Vice, which is my all-time favourite TV show. How was it working with Don Johnson?
Working with Don Johnson was terrific, because this was my second time working with him. I had worked with him before back in 2019, on a movie called Vault, and I was still a young filmmaker coming up. That was my first really, really big movie so, I was a little nervous, a little intimidated. Of course, it was really nice to have this second round with Don, and we had already built our rapport; all the getting to know you stuff had been done and we really just got right to work. It was all handshakes and smiles and happy times, and we just really had a lot of fun. You’ll notice, although Don has some really serious stuff in this movie he’s got a lot of humour. There’s a lot of humour in there from Don where it’s a lot of snarkiness and I think that that helped us a lot. Having that rapport with him helped a lot.
Paul Ben-Victor is a fantastic character actor. I love the scene where he’s doing the little song and dance where everyone is chained up. Was any of that improvised or was it all in the script?
Believe it or not, none of that was really in the script and that was something that I kind of came up with, because I realized that okay, Paul Ben-Victor’s character is basically a salesman who sells human beings to the most twisted, sick billionaires on the planet. Billionaires aren’t really excited by celebrity because they’ve got everything; they don’t care about people. They could afford to have Elton John show up and play at a house party if they wanted to. However, the Paul Ben-Victor character now that’s a celebrity to them, because he’s the ultimate sicko. He’s selling all of these poor unfortunate people. I said to him right off the bat, “Paul, I think that this character needs to have a lot of showmanship; I think that these billionaires come not only to purchase people but they’re also coming to watch you; they love to see you do your thing. You’re the man of the hour when you’re on that stage and I would love for you to do something like you’re almost a missing member of the Rat Pack”. The second I said “Rat Pack” and started talking Frank Sinatra, I said, “you’re old blue eyes up there” he just smiled and got it. I didn’t have to say another thing and he just understood like, “Okay, I am Frank Sinatra when I’m on this stage”.
This is Mercedes Varnado’s feature film debut and she’s wonderfully nasty as Nikita; why was she the perfect person for this role?
I loved working with Mercedes; not only is she just a wonderful person, but just really, really talented and has this look of, she’s formidable; there’s something kind of intimidating about her in the sense that she looks like she could really handle herself in these situations. I kind of love that. I think that comes from the toughness that she’s built up over the years from working in pro wrestling, which is one of the toughest businesses you could possibly make a living in. You could argue she’s arguably one of the greatest living female wrestlers on the planet right now. So, the toughness was off the charts and just her ability to take to these fight scenes, like a duck to water. I mean, a lot of this is just her natural athletic ability. A lot of this is definitely from her experience in wrestling; she would just watch the two-stunt people do the fight and within a few minutes, she knew every beat and could do it. She was almost like a mime, able to replicate from watching; it was really cool, with savant like accuracy, to just watch two people do a fight and then know every single beat, and we’re talking about fights that have 12 to 15 different little beats in them. She could just watch it and be like, “Okay, I got that”, and boom, bang it out, and not just bang it out, but make it look efficient. Here’s the thing, make it safe, right? because this is a movie; we’re not actually beating the crap out of everyone. So, her ability to keep everyone safe and yet make these fights look violent. But at the same time, nobody gets any real bumps or real bruises and to me, that’s what pro wrestling is all about.
Was there anything you had to cut from the film that you regret?
I don’t think we cut anything from this film, to be honest with you. This whole movie was shot in 15 days, which is pretty amazing, if you think in terms of efficiency. So, it was one of those things where like, yeah, there might be a line or two of dialogue that gets cut. But for the most part, we had to use every piece of footage because it was such a short shoot schedule.
Generally speaking, what do you look for in a script for you to be interested in a project?
When I read a script, I automatically get images in my head and really, it’s just about “do those images excite me?” and I remember when I first read this script, I particularly liked the clandestine black tie affair that’s happening in this dingy warehouse; there was something really intriguing to me about that. Before I knew any of the actors cast, I immediately got an image of all these sick, twisted billionaires dressed to the nines bidding on people in a warehouse and was just this really eerie image. That was the thing; once I start getting these images in my head, I have to go make them happen. I have to get them out of my head and onto a screen. I guess, to wrap it up, not every script gives me those vivid images right away but this one, I just started reading it and I almost saw the whole movie in my head.
I feel like we’re just getting to know these characters, and I would definitely like to see more of them. Do you have any plans or ideas for a sequel?
I would love to see these characters go on another adventure. I wouldn’t say that I have plans for it but I would say that if I got a call to make The Collective 2 I will say “where and when? I am there”; I’ll bring my pin too so that everyone knows I’m a member of The Collective.
Finally, what would you like audiences to take away from The Collective?
I just want them to be entertained. I think that movies like this were designed to give you a little bit of an escape and just pop this thing on and you can just have some fun with us for 85 minutes or 90 minutes or whatever it is. This isn’t a movie that’s going to preach to you; this isn’t a movie that you’re going to get some mind-blowing message at the end of the movie that’s going to change your life. Now, we’re not trying to do that, we’re just trying to entertain you and if someone’s maybe having a not so great day and they can watch this movie and go someplace else for an hour and a half then we did our job.
THE COLLECTIVE WILL BE IN THEATRES, ON DIGITAL AND ON DEMAND: AUGUST 4TH, 2023