Ross Boyask Interview on I Am Vengeance: Retaliation
Ross Boyask is the writer/director of the I am Vengeance movies starring Stu Bennett as John Gold. This week sees the release of I am Vengeance: Retaliation so Ross stopped by to chat about the movie and if we can expect a part 3.
This week sees the release of I Am Vengeance: Retaliation; how did you find working with such an impressive ensemble cast?
Wow! Okay that will take ages to answer (laughs). No, it was genuinely a pleasure; without getting into too much detail what I loved about our cast was, you’re right it was an ensemble cast unlike the first movie, although there was the bad guy team obviously. What was great is that we had our two teams this time around; we had our hero team and our bad guys team. Everybody brought their own flavour to their roles. I was really helped out by the fact that a lot of people had already worked together in some way before. So there was already a familiarity which helped and I think for the most part the majority of the cast had done a fair bit of work already. They’re not all trying to learn the game so to speak. That was great and everybody asked lots of questions before the shoot which is always very helpful and as things came up on the shoot we worked better as a team. I was grateful for that and it was genuinely a collaboration.
How did you end up meeting Stu Bennett initially?
Ah this is becoming a somewhat classic story now (laughs). I initially met him on the set of Eliminators (with Scott Adkins). It was being shot by WWE in East London which is where Evolutionary Films (my company) is based. I was overjoyed when I found out Scott was going to be there so it was nice to catch up with him. I knew a lot of people on the shoot so that was lovely too. I was obviously aware of Stu and we wanted to say hello but it was such a busy shoot that it was hard. Then one day I was actually going to show a friend of a friend around the studios. What I wasn’t expecting was he brought another friend, a guy called Jason Beeston who was actually in the first Vengeance film. A few minutes after they arrived Stu turned up with one of the production assistants; Jason kind of jumped on him as he had been doubling him briefly in Eliminators. He introduced Stu to me which was great; I explained what we were doing with this Vengeance film and he asked to read the script. I dashed to get the script and then everything sort of fell into place from there. So the timing of it was perfect as I later found out that it was Stu’s last day in the studio. That timing… you can’t write it (laughs).
You also wrote as well as directed; what is your writing process and generally how long did it take to put it together?
Wow! That’s a really good question (laughs). In terms of keeping it simple I tend to do an outline first and flesh it out into what I call a scriptment. I kind of break it into scenes and so forth and then try and get the basic dialogue in there. Then I explore what’s the most economical way of getting through theses scenes and characters. Then of course you’ve got to flesh it out further and further. It was quite different for the second movie as you’ve already got characters who were in the first film. It’s still a very similar process but it always comes down to if somebody is saying something then why are they saying it? What is there intention if you like. My favourite part really is when you start casting and the actor’s are asking questions that really helps. Then we start to do a read through, and you start to feel it so then you execute notes based on that. Then of course you’re still rewriting on the set while you’re shooting. To me the writing process continues to the editing really. You can move scenes and change things with a little ADR or voiceover. Basically the writing continues throughout the whole process.
I thought Katrina Durden nearly stole the show; why was she perfect for Jen?
She was great and funnily enough what it came down to was Phoebe and Katrina and for a little while I was genuinely trying to decide which one of them would play which role. The reason behind that was we had some really great people coming into audition; there was not a weak link actually. It really was quite difficult particularly as there’s a relatively restricted selection of talent that’s available in the UK for action. It’s not the easiest balance to maintain. What I loved about Phoebe and Katrina’s auditions was that for each character they make very specific decisions. They really did play each character with a different approach so that really fascinated me. If I have to break it down to one thing it was when Katrina was auditioning for Jen; there was just a bit more vulnerability under her toughness that really spoke to me. I think they both portray the characters perfectly. Phoebe especially when she’s doing something heartfelt, I really feel her. Katrina with her focus and determination who then softens towards the end of the movie she becomes more likeable rather than just being the focused killing machine. There was a moment right back at the start where I was genuinely thinking “which one should we go for?” but I think they both did a terrific job with either character and I hope people believe we made the right choice.
The action was put together by Tim Man; what was his process like for putting the fight scenes together?
Yeah, he is superb! I remember when I first spoke to Tim we had a phonecall and he said something along the lines of “you know there are 19 fights in this film, right?” and I went “… yeah (laughs)”, “That’s a lot…” and I was like “Yeah…” so we had a really good chat and he pre-vized with his team very quickly. He didn’t do every fight but he did most of them. I think he stole rehearsal time any time he could during the shoot. He’s so creative and his body of work speaks for itself. I found him an absolute pleasure to work with; it was a good laugh actually. He’s very funny and there were a few moments where we connected on a humour level as well. I should also mention that Dominic Kinnaird and Dan Styles did a great job on stunt coordinating as well.
How challenging is it to keep action scenes fresh looking?
That’s a good question (laughs). I think for myself I wouldn’t say I find that a challenge per se although I think we’re always looking for ways to tell the story in the most appropriate way possible. You certainly do want to innovate when you can. I’ll give you an example; I’m actually not a fan of what we call the long take fight scene. I think they did it brilliantly in Creed and I thought that was incredible as it was all story. I find a lot of the time when it’s a long take in fights I find it doesn’t work for me because of the angles required to show off techniques that are best. I know it can be interesting and it can be a dance routine (I love dance routines) but I find when you have a long take fight scene it takes away the power and the dynamic sensation of watching a fight. I think most action films here and there do these long fights and that’s perfectly fine. So when we’re talking about the challenge of it for me it’s the challenge of telling the story through the action. For me fighting should come from the characters; if we’re talking about fight scenes the techniques should be almost like a conversation. If someone’s throwing a punch it’s the equivalent of a verbal assault if you like; depending on the character they would have different training and different backgrounds. I’ll use the example of Stu as John Gold if he’s attacked by 10 different people; those 10 different people should attack him differently as far as is possible. Give them all kinds of different training and then how he responds to that should equally be different. I always think you should throw in a cool move just for the sake of it here and there of course as it is entertainment after all (laughs). So for me the challenge really is using the fight to propel the story, the fighting should come from the characters and should be different depending on the characters. There should be story beats within it.
Is it true that the villain character names are all taken from characters that Vinnie Jones has played in other films?
Yes! (laughs) It wasn’t just the villain characters and it was part of the writing process where you start to do things like if you’ve got 4 henchmen the temptation is to call them Ringo, Paul, John and so on but I try to avoid that as much as possible. Actually in the first Vengeance film all of the villain names are taken from Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme characters (laughs).
How involved were you with composer Thomas Andrew Gallegos when he is putting the music score together? Did you sit with him and go over what you were looking for?
I would have but he is based in L.A. (laughs) but we had a good number of conversations online with some video calls and everything. My brief to him was basically think John Wick and Expendables because that’s kind of what we’re aiming at, I guess. I think he gave us much more than that actually and I think he came up with a nice blend of high-level action movie score. The first movie had a very different kind of score which I love but given the changes we’ve made to the film in the end we needed a score that kind of matched those changes. I think he delivered something special.
Can we expect a part 3? I feel we need it.
There are currently two scripts for part 3 (laughs) and they are completely different scripts. The idea once again is that you don’t have to have seen the previous films to understand what’s going on but if you have then you’ll still get it. There are two very different stories which are very mission oriented.
I feel like Teague and Gold should have to join forces in the next one against a greater foe…
It’s funny you say that because that’s exactly what Vinnie pitched on the last day of filming (laughs). The idea is sort of like that Jeff Wincott movie Open Fire where the lead villain isn’t killed at the end. They never did a sequel but you could tell there was one in the offing.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
I’m hoping they’ll have a rollicking good time; I know that might sound cliche but we did want this to be a fun unapologetically entertaining action movie. Let’s be honest, there are bullets everywhere in this film (laughs) and arguably not enough people get killed by them depending on your desires for action films. So we want people to not take it too seriously and enjoy it. Hopefully people will say “you’ve got to see this as it’s got some crazy action and fun characters”. I sort of want them to take away an enjoyable action movie that during these current times you can watch again and again. I don’t know about you but as a film fan myself there are so many films I’ve seen about 50 times and no one would necessarily call them “high art” but they are rewatchable and very engaging and always will be for me. So my hope is that there are some people out there who feel the same.
Oh I think there will be; my whole website is dedicated to those movies…
(laughs) Brilliant! What I should have said actually is I want world peace, that’s what I want people to take from this (laughs).
I Am Vengeance: Retaliation hits VOD in North America on June 19th.