The writer/director of Extraction, Tony Giglio stops by to chat with The Action Elite about working on the project as well as a potential new Death Race movie.
You wrote, produced and directed Extraction; the first ever, made for New Media Feature Film for Sony’s Crackle. How did the project come together and how did you get involved?
I was actively looking to return to the directing chair. It has been several years since my last directing job. I have been plenty busy with screenwriting jobs (namely the Death Race franchise), but really wanted to be behind the camera again.
I first became aware of Crackle through Mike Callaghan. He previously worked for MPCA. They bought my script for ARENA. He, Justin Bursch, & Reuben Liber all worked there and recently left to form a new company (Ranger 7).
Mike took me out to lunch last summer (August 2012) and asked me what I was working on. I pitched him a very loose idea that would become EXTRACTION. He thought it was a great idea for Crackle. I honestly didn’t know what Crackle was. I was aware of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, but not Crackle.
I developed the idea more and we went in to pitch the Crackle executives in Sept 2012. I figured at the very least I would find out what Crackle is.
They bought the idea in the room. That’s the first time this has ever happened to me. The pitch meeting (Sept 12 2012) and release date of the film (Sept 5, 2013) were less than a calendar year. That NEVER happens. At least not to me.
As this was the first New Media Feature Film, how was the process different on Extraction compared to other movies you’ve worked on?
I had never directed main unit for a studio before. 2nd unit for Screen Gems RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE, but everything I had directed as main unit director, had been independently financed.
The pros with working for a studio: You know they HAVE the money. Believe me, this is a BIG problem in the independent world. The other main pro was that for the first time I knew BEFORE FILMING where, when and how my film would be distributed.
More departments had to weigh in. Answers didn’t come as rapidly as you may like. More paperwork needed to be filed, but mostly working with Sony was great. Our executive, John Orlando, was both my boss and my shrink. Sony completely embraced my vision. Even allowing me to cast relatively unknowns in leading parts.
One HUGE difference was a hard release date. I never had this before. It added a ton of chaos to the post schedule. But it was also very exciting. I ended up personally delivering the finished film to Sony, on Sept 3 for a sept 5 release. Crazy!
You shot the entire film in 18 days; was that the shortest time you’ve had to make a film and did it add a lot more pressure?
Yes and yes. CHAOS was 24 days, plus 7 days of 2nd unit. TIMBER FALLS was 26 days. IN ENEMY HANDS was 23 days.
Several times I questioned whether it was possible to deliver my vision under these terms. If I was directing MY DINNER WITH ANDRE Part 2, no problem. But we had so much action scripted, and action takes much longer to film. For example, the guys that did THE RAID: REDEMPTION had over 70 days to film their movie. And even though we had similar budgets, RAID was shot in Indonesia where it’s ten cents on the dollar.
I loved THE RAID. My pitch to Sony Crackle was “RAID meets 24 with some DIE HARD humor”. I’m not trying to slight RAID in any way. That was my competition. I tried to mirror that film’s action and excitement.
Audiences don’t care how much money or time you had. They just want it to be good. They want a story that makes sense, characters they can care about who have depth, exciting action and, most importantly, to have fun.
I will be honest: I had my reservations if it could be done. It all came down to casting and our stunt coordinator. Every department was important, don’t get me wrong. But if our cast wouldn’t do the stunts and our coordinator couldn’t do his job, we were sunk.
What kind of challenges did you face while shooting?
What challenges did we NOT face?
The first challenge was Sony insisted we shoot the film in Los Angeles. We have a film that mainly takes place in Chechnya. Most films to stretch the dollar, double Eastern Europe for LA. Here, we’re doubling LA for there. It was backwards.
We were able to find a prison that met all the creative demands of the film. 10 of the 18 days were at the prison. Sybil Brand Female Prison in downtown Los Angeles. It’s now closed. Unlike a lot of prisons, it had character. Not just bars and cells. This made our Prod. Designer’s (Jeff O’Brien) job easier. Not easy. He still had to build a hospital, Amsterdam, a Black Site and a realistic looking War Room where the operation was staged.
Second was casting. My vision was NO STUNT DOUBLES. I was inspired by THE RAID, DISTRICT 13 ULTIMATUM, DISTRICT B13. The way the world seems to make action movies is better than how we are doing it in the U.S. Too much rapid edits and whip pans. You can barely see what’s going on. I also thought – we won’t have the production value to compete with the BIG SUMMER ACTION TENTPOLES, so we HAVE to do something different.
The studio at first wanted us to explore some “names” for MERCY. I was wary of this. I have worked with some great actors who can do their own stunts (Staham, Snipes, Phillippe), but this was different. We weren’t offering a ton of money and we needed someone who could do all the fights in the first half of the day – and do them quickly without injury and be awesome – and then still have the energy to perform all the acting scenes after lunch. And then do it all over again the next day.
An actress I worked with on CHAOS (Natassia Malthe), introduced me to Jon Foo. I was not a fan of Tekken, but I immediately responded to Jon. He’s good looking, very confident, he can act and he can FLY. He was – in my opinion – the ONLY choice for Mercy.
Falk Henschel is repped by my mgmt company. They arranged a meeting. He’s slowly exploding onto the scene (after EXTRACTION he got a coveted role in Wally Pfister’s ‘Transcendence’). He came in to meet for one role, but only wanted to play RUDOLPH MARTIN. Some directors might be turned off by this. But I wasn’t. I loved his confidence. My producers weren’t sure when they first saw him. But after his audition, there was no doubt.
It took a little convincing. I won’t lie. But Sony Crackle finally agreed. This was their first feature film and they were concerned it had no stars. But they understood the film we wanted to make could not be done any other way. So we figured out a plan that worked best for everyone. We cast Falk and Foo in the leads and then surrounded them with some great actors and stars (Vinnie Jones, Danny Glover, Sean Astin, & Joanne Kelly).
Our great 1st A.D., Christian Clarke, also had the challenge of scheduling a film in 18 days. You can’t just put fight scenes back-to-back-to-back days. You’ll kill your guys. And because we’re on such a tight budget, sets aren’t available to crew the entire time. So he has to work with each department head to find out how much time they need to get the set ready to shoot. Some times, I walked into sets with the paint still wet on the walls. I had to sacrifice a few pairs of pants for my art.
The one BIG challenge, not to be overlooked, was working under the New Media contract. We were a studio movie and had to be Union. Each Union has a New Media deal with the studios. But these rates are very low. Union crews are used to making very good money on features that shoot 3 or 4 times longer with a lot more prep. So we were asking these crew members to work harder than they usually do, in a shorter amount of time for a lot less money.
Not easy. And there were days where everyone would scream and yell at each other. But in the end, it all came together. Our DP, Jesse Brunt, should’ve also gotten a Stunt Performer credit the way he was able to get in the middle of all the fights without injury (or damaging the camera).
The fight scenes in the movie were pretty spectacular; do you have a particular idea of how a sequence should look before filming or do you leave that to the choreographers/actors?
In preproduction, I meet with James Lew, our Stunt Coordinator/Fight Choreographer. We discuss EVERY fight in the film. We were not only limited in time, but the locations were mostly practical. Meaning, we couldn’t just move a wall, or build a safety net or anything in order to set up the shot. He was limited by time and location.
It was not important – to me – the number of punches or kicks or where they landed. I told him 4 things, (1) Each actor must do all fights and all fights will be shot WIDE. No hiding punches in close-ups. (2) The fight must feel “real”. I did not want Matrix or House of Flying Daggers. As “realistic” as a movie fight can be. (3) I wanted LONG takes. I did not want cut-cut-cut. So he had to make certain he not only came up with fights that were long, but also factored in the camera for a long time. And finally (4) the fight must move the story forward. The best example of this was the handcuff fight. We start the fight with Falk & Foo handcuffed. It’s messy and then halfway thru the fight, a light dawns and they start working together. These beats we discussed.
But the finished fights did not resemble the scripted fights exactly. But they met all my requirements, which was more important.
I pretty much let James, Falk, Foo and the Fighters work the details out for themselves. They know what looks good. They know their bodies. What they can do. Where to put the camera to best sell the kick or punch. I just wanted our audience to be invested in our characters.
Extraction is very much open for a sequel and potential franchise; do you have ideas about where you would take the story next and can we expect a follow up any time soon?
I do have some ideas. I really love Mercy. Jon created a very likable character who is also a bad ass. I loved working with him. Anything for the shot. A director’s dream. Also, Falk is an amazing talent. He comes in very late in the film, and I think we can explore much more of him.
Sony Crackle determines success differently than Box Office or TV ratings. Crackle is a free service. The initial numbers were very strong. I think if audiences watch, we might get to see what happens next. Maybe we can build some word of mouth through the Action Elite?
But of course! Would you be interested in working on another New Media Feature film again in the future?
To say “no” would be short-sighted. I knew working on a New Media project would be a challenge. But it’s the future. Streaming is here and it is not going away. There will always be the cinema, but I think streaming will eventually replace TV as we know it.
I loved being “the first” feature film produced by a studio for New Media. Am I in Guinness Book of Records I wonder?
Seriously, I was excited to be part of something so new. Sure we had growing pains, but I am very happy with the finished product and I think the number of projects will only increase every year. And budgets will too.
And that just means more entertainment options for everyone.
We’re huge fans of the Death Race series at The Action Elite; are there any plans for a fourth entry?
Yes. We are in very, very early stages of development. I was working on EXTRACTION and Paul Anderson was working on POMPEII, so we have only recently begun working on the new story. I can tell you, DEATH RACE 4 (no real title yet) will take place AFTER the events of DEATH RACE (2008). A sequel. No more prequels. We feel it is time to introduce new characters.
When I am allowed to say more, I will. Deal?
Deal! What else do you have in the pipeline?
Along with DEATH RACE 4, I sold a thriller entitled FOLLOWER, in the vein of THE GAME meets REAR WINDOW to Millenium Films. Dennis Gansel (THE WAVE) will direct. I also co-wrote HEART OF DARKNESS, a re-imagination of Joseph Conrad’s novel set in the year 2300. Arclight Films (The Bank Job) and Radar Pictures (Riddick) are producing.
Thanks very much for taking the time to chat with us and all the best with your future projects.