Michael Baumgarten Interview

Paying Mr. McGetty is a new action comedy starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and R. Marcos Taylor. The story takes place after a night of drinking and gambling with Tyrell (R. Marcos Taylor) 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.

The movie is directed by Michael Baumgarten (The Martial Arts Kid) and he stopped by The Action Elite to chat about the movie.

You co-wrote and directed the upcoming action comedy Paying Mr. McGetty; I recognized a lot of faces from the Urban Action Showcase. How did it all come together?

It actually came together at the Showcase; that’s how it all fell into place because it was a chance for us to go there and basically support the martial artists and filmmakers that go to the Showcase. So it was an opportunity to pair Don up with someone that was cool and fun and we had a great time working with Marcus on The Martial Arts Kid. We just knew that Marcus would be fun to work with because when I was at the Showcase and The Last Dragon was on screen; he was sitting a couple of rows behind me. I mean, he’s got every line down just from that film and saying it with passion (laughs). He’s not just an action star; Marcus is really a film fan at heart. I thought I need to pair him up with Don and make a fun film, chasing around a city which was originally going to be New York.

By the time we completed the funding it was hitting November which meant we wouldn’t film until December and it just didn’t feel like it was something that I was willing to do because it’s an action movie.

When it’s that cold and you’ve got people who have to run and it might be wet, snowy or icy (which can affect the continuity as this movie takes place in one day) we can’t go to having no snow and then by day 5 it snows so it was just one of those things where we just had to change the locale. We moved it to Tampa, St. Petersburg where the film office was extremely aggressive to try and bring us down there. There was a gentleman called Tony Armer and he’s the film office rep for St. Petersburg; he was just fantastic and brought so much to the table in terms of the locations that we just could not have gotten without his help. It was extremely helpful; I mean we got a stadium at nighttime with the lights on which we could never afford in Los Angeles. It was thanks to the cooperation of the film office that we were able to pull that off.

When me, Don and James make movies (as we’ve been friends for 30 years) we like to make movies with other friends.  We want to make movies with people we like and want to work with; if they’re friends and martial artists and good actors we would find parts for everyone we can. We still haven’t gotten to include everyone we’d like to yet but we’ve had a really good time putting people in it and of course we want to make more movies so we can include more friends.

There are just too many interesting people in the action, stunt and martial arts side that we try to include as many of them as we can in every film because we have such huge respect and appreciation for every one of them.

I love the character names like Shoto Kabu; where did you come up with them?

Thank you! My process is I go online and I look at Japan for popular names; I might find a small town and I kind of blend it. I try to find something that’s kind of a hybrid. It might be a town with a name and then try to find something that works so it’s not so common. Google search is great (laughs). I try to create a full name that I can’t find on the internet so I find two words that work out so it’s not just John Smith. That’s when I know I may have created something that’s interesting. It takes a bit of time but luckily Don liked it from the start and never asked me to change it so that was really, really nice of him.

What made you want to direct as well as write?

Well I wrote and produced a movie called Smitty a few years ago which was a boy and his dog film; I had planned to direct it but I had only raised partial funds at that time.  It was a case where I brought in a director of note who was kind enough to come in and direct a script he didn’t write. He did his pass on it as most directors do but it wasn’t something that originated from him and that was the director of The Sandlot which is a really popular film and one that everybody likes. He stepped in as the director of that film so at the end of the day if it’s my script I would prefer to direct it myself, if possible, unless whatever occurs doesn’t allow me to. I’ve got a bunch of scripts and I can’t direct them all but I like to try (laughs).

Marcos Taylor plays our put-upon hero Tyrell who is not having the best day and is someone we can all relate to. Why was Taylor the right fit for the character?

When he was in town for the premiere of Straight Outta Compton he stayed at my house and then we began to talk about what the move could be. We talked about it a lot and I found him to be very sensitive, funny and very mellow. So I said “you know what? Seth Rogan’s got that certain everyman thing that Marcus has in his own way too. If Rogan can be an action guy, romantic lead and all that stuff then why can’t Marcus?” That’s when I started to put it together so I’m like “sure, he played Suge and that’s great” but what I wanted to do was have him play a role where he could get to really show off who he was and what he could do.  I wanted to put him in a role where you’ve got this six foot three intimidating guy who himself wears glasses just so he doesn’t intimidate people. He puts them on just to put them at ease because of his size.  I wanted to show that you’ve got this big guy but he’s also a hell of a martial artist but despite that this is somebody you believe can get beaten up and is vulnerable. This is someone where you’ll think at the end of the day “Man, I hope you don’t get hurt!” (laughs)

The fact that we were able to pull it off; even when that lady pops him in the street when that drinking game is going on, you just feel bad for him because he’s just getting beat up by everybody! So what we wanted to do was make him vulnerable and I think we achieved that.

Yeah, I liked that fact that he felt real and not an invincible badass…

Exactly, yes!

Did you encourage the cast to improvise at all?

Absolutely, because I’m much more of a director who doesn’t sit in video village. I’m usually right next to the camera so I want to have a direct link looking at the actors. I don’t want someone interpreting what I‘m telling them and then told to the actors. I want the actors to know I’m there for them so I don’t do video village unless it’s for short amounts of time for action. For the most part I am right next to the camera; I also like to do the Judd Apatow method which is “here is what’s on the page so let’s try that” then “what else can we do with this and what do you want to do with this? Let’s try and do something different and see what comes about!” so I don’t want them to be too restricted on the dialogue where it has to be 100% what’s on the page. Basically, I want to make sure that the performance is right; as long as it’s not a continuity error in terms of anything that they say (and I’m keeping tack in my head of what they can and can’t say). This is a luxury I have because I wrote the script along with a friend of mine named Adam Marsh. I know what they can and can’t say so as long as they can stay within the guidelines and the scene is better for it and they feel more connected to the whole scene as a result of it then I’m all for it. It just makes them and the whole process and film look better.

There are some scenes however, that can’t be veered away from because these are the foundations of the story and certain story points must be hit or it just completely makes the house crumble. So that’s the way I kind of approach it.

What do you want audience to take away from the film?

Have a good time, enjoy the action and hopefully you find love. At the end of the day that’s what the film is; it’s a romantic action comedy where the audience have a good time and they see somebody who is (hopefully) having a worse day than their own and at the end of the day despite everything the man goes through he makes it right with his Queen. That’s what every day is about; paying the rent, making the money, keeping the job, hopefully looking for something else beyond this job and making her happy.

Paying Mr. McGetty and The Martial Arts Kid both contain positive messages about overcoming adversity; is that important to you?

Yeah! I just feel like there’s so much negativity that made me think we need more positivity. That’s the one thing I was out for was just to find ways to tell people to find others who support you and are good with you because there are a lot of people that aren’t. Basically, you hear stories about these kids because of bullies and it’s terrible. The one thing I like about the whole martial arts thing that needs to be focused on more is the comradery of going to a martial arts school where they should have a sign on the door that says “This is a no bullying zone!” or something to that effect. If you see someone who is getting bullied and they go into a school and in a couple of months they’ve got friends, in a few more they’ve got skills and in a couple more months they don’t even think about the fact that they were bullied then that’s what’s needed. For me it’s important to give people options and to show them those options because killing yourself is never the option. That’s why I think if we put The Martial Arts Kid out there and somebody turns to their mom or dad and says they really need this and they’d like to go to a martial arts school with the right instructor/sensei, then it can be an amazing experience there that could not only change their life but also save their life. The rest of it is entertainment but that’s what’s most important to me.

Are you coming back to direct The Martial Arts Kid 2?

I’ve been asked to write it but I don’t know if I’m directing it; I haven’t been asked to do that yet. Obviously if there are funding opportunities for Don and James that brings the money and a director then we’ll see. I’d like to but if it’s a thing where that’s what it takes to get funding then I don’t want to stand in the ay of everyone else making the film.

Thanks very much for chatting and all the best with the film.

Paying Mr. McGetty will be out in 2017.