Independent Filmmaker's Guide
August 18, 2020
Vinnie Jones: "Snatch" to Indie Producer
Starring in movies like Snatch, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, X-Men, and a hundred other movies can’t prevent the trials of independent filmmaking – as actor Vinnie Jones has recently learned on his first producing venture with the film The Big Ugly. Teamed up with writer/director and friend Scott Wiper of The Condemned, these two very established artists overcame countless hurdles to make what they believe is one of their best films. In this episode we sit with them both to delve into the experience on the ground level.
Vinnie Jones: Scott and I, we worked on the Condemned many years ago, and basically you start with an idea or a dream, and we kind of wanted to make a point. We wanted to show people that I had more than just killing people and getting killed at the end of the movie, and Scott wanted to show me what a brilliant director he is. So that was our mission, really. But obviously, like a lot of people, it’s all right having a dream, but you got to find the beginning and the end of the rainbow. That’s the hardest part is a lot of moving parts in between.
Steven Pierce: So what do you think is the biggest takeaway for you as being an actor before and then now producing? Are there things that you like better about each of those?
Vinnie Jones: Yeah. I think every actor should be a producer. They’ll know how difficult it is. There’s quite a lot of actors that need the discipline of what goes on behind the scenes, I think. It would make them better actors
Steven Pierce: There are a lot of stunts. There’s a lot of action in this movie. For an independent film, that’s quite an undertaking. What was that whole sequence like? How did you guys approach all those stunts?
Vinnie Jones: Go on Scott.
Scott Wiper: I think when we filmed The Condemned, I think there was a total of 17 fight scenes. So, working with VJ, we got that down. And something like the Condemned, we had 63 days of shooting. On this we had 25. So, I think with a lot of the, call it the visual, or the action days, days of violence, we kind of knocked those out, and really tried to always make a priority, if there was a time crunch, our priority was going to be performances. So, when it came to the action, we moved fast. We weren’t trying to show that this was a … I think the overall theme was we’re not out to compete with a $100 million dollar studio film. And I think with $25 million, that’s what we were doing with The Condemned. Like, we have $25, we’re trying to look like $100. On this, we kind of embraced we’re a film noir. We are an independent film.
Steven Pierce: Yeah. You got independent financing and you made the movie outside of the system entirely. So, did that open any doors creatively for both of you? Did that make you feel like you could do a role, Vinnie, that you weren’t allowed to do before?
Vinnie Jones: 100%. Scott and I became very close on The Condemned, out in Australia we filmed that. Became very good friends, brothers, and it was our baby. It’s like anything, you have these ideas, and then it’s like, Okay, we went through the Hollywood route, which didn’t really work. There’s so many people at it. We had a slice of luck. A friend of mine in Detroit put us in contact with somebody. One of the money guys fell out, another guy came in. I think the turning point for us, and it might be something for independent film makers going forward. I think the turning point was Scott and his boys did a sizzler reel. And if you go to investors … Same with executive producers and stuff like that. If you go at them with a script and stuff, it’s very hard for them to visualize and everything else. Scott done a reel with over 20 of my movies, and other movies, and just said, “Look, this is the kind of movie. This is how it’s going to look.” And I think that was the master stroke with the investors.
Steven Pierce: Was having something to actually demonstrate. So, talk about how you assembled that, Scott. What was the sizzle reel?
Scott Wiper: Yeah. And this is for those that are looking to get movies made. The sizzle reel was something I started to work on because you go in … It’s an ADD world. You got to convince someone in three minutes that it’s something to be excited about. And this actually was I think it was 85 seconds. Vinnie recorded. We wrote a voiceover like a movie trailer, and he recorded somewhere. I think he was in England at the time.
Vinnie Jones: No, I was in New York.
Scott Wiper: That’s right.
Vinnie Jones: I was at a golf tournament in New York. Remember Scott. And I was staying at a guys house and you said, “This has got to be done tonight. It’s got to be done.” And I sat on the guy’s porch with a cup of tea, and he sent me all the notes, and I put them all into my phone and sent them all to him that night. And we ended up a couple of nights doing that, and that’s how we got a lot of the voiceover stuff. That came from New York on my mates porch.
Scott Wiper: I think the first take, yeah. I could hear dogs in the background. At one point I said, “Go find a jacket where there’s a lot of jackets.” I don’t know if he did this or not, but whatever he did, it worked. It was crisp sound on his iPhone. And then we cut it with, it used to be called a Ripomatic. But over the years we kind of perfected them where you’re pulling shots of VJ from various movies, but making sure it’s a shot that’s not so … you don’t know what movie it’s from so it kind of looks original.
Vinnie Jones: Very quick. It’s very bang, bang, bang. It’s like a very quick trailer. We used some of the stuff from Hell or High Water. I think there was a bit of James Bond in there as well Scott, wasn’t there?
Scott Wiper: Yes. There was a ton of stuff. But I found in ripomatics, if you have one shot that’s iconic from a famous movie, people go, “Oh, well it’s a ripomatic.” So, even if it’d been a shot of Vinnie and you saw him standing with somebody in Snatch, they’d be like, “Oh, that’s Snatch.” So, we tried to find … So, that you actually think the movie’s been shot.
Steven Pierce: Right, so you can kind of give it-
Vinnie Jones: Yeah, I was showing it to independent people for like a bit of feedback. And they were saying, “Oh, is that the trailer? Is it done? When can I see the movie?” And I’d say, “No …” And that was kind of a, not a decoy, but it was kind of a learning curve for us to see what people thought of it. And they actually went, “ah, this is great. This looks great, this movie.” And that was the first 85 second thing we ever did.
Steven Pierce: Yeah. I mean, and I think that’s what you need. You need to create excitement.
Scott Wiper: In the first one … I’ve done one for another project, and it’s two and a half minutes. And this time I was like, “This has to …” Knowing our audience, you’ve got to be able to watch this at the urinal. That was actually what I said to the editor. I’m like, “This has got to be something on your iPhone,” because unfortunately that’s the world we’re in, right? Someone’s taking a leak, they could watch this. This thing was like 75 seconds, and it told you the whole movie. And all of the shots in it, actually we tried to make it look a little noir.
Steven Pierce: Makes sense.
Scott Wiper: And the other, I think an important thing. We had that and when you do meet with the VJ magic. I always felt that when Vinnie’s passionate about something, he’ll kick in doors and get it done. And he did. The other part that a lot of film makers overlook is you’ve got to have your ducks in a row. When that moment comes, you have to have … And someone’s willing to hand you a check. You’ve got to have that account in LLC ready. And I think we were both organized, where when the moment came we had the wire.
Steven Pierce: Here’s the bank account. Plug these numbers in.
Vinnie Jones: Yeah, but a bank account was set up. Scott sat on the doorstep of the bank waiting for it to open. You never know, we might just get a check, and low and behold, one of the investors reached into his top pocket afterwords. He said, “Well, I’m in.” He gave us a crumpled kind of a check and he said, “There’s $775,000. You’ll have the rest tomorrow. I’m in.” And me and Scott looked at each other, and said, “Is this really happening?” We had in two days, we had about $3 million. And I told him then, let’s just cut it and run, but Scott wanted to make the movie.
Steven Pierce: That’s a very Mel Brooks idea. So, in the movie itself, I want to talk about how you got Ron Pearlman and Malcolm McDowell involved. But before we go there, Scott, there was a scene in the end of it where they’re, without giving too much of it out. But there’s a scene at the table that’s a very intense scene between those two very powerful, I mean, just actors. It was such a fun scene to watch. What was it like developing those characters and shooting that particular “showdown” between them.
Scott Wiper: That one?
Steven Pierce: Yeah, the 50/50 scene.
Scott Wiper: That scene was … When I took the script around Hollywood and got … The script had been around. Vinnie and I, I first showed it to Vinnie in 2007, right after we made The Condemned. But people said, “Oh, a revenge movie.” As soon as Vinnie does what he does to the antagonist, let’s call him, in a revenge movie you think it’s over, right. In a Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal way, you break the guy’s neck. It’s a revenge movie. It’s over.
Steven Pierce: Yeah. Cue the helicopter shot and the success music.
Scott Wiper: And there was a lot of, in the classic Hollywood notes, well boom, you break his neck, roll the credits. It’s actually that, we have a whole third act. These are spoilers. That was the tricky thing in this structure, which is I wanted to do something even after the revenge is had, there’s a whole lot to be resolved. There’s Malcolm and Ron have to resolve their stuff. And Vinnie’s got to resolve a lot with Bruce McGill and the young lovers. But as far as those two guys, that … it’s funny. About them, it’s also, for me, there’s a lot of friendship in that scene. And I think it meant a lot to those two guys playing the role. But it’s also, maybe that’s me and Vinnie in 20 years.
Steven Pierce: Oh, wow. That’s great.
Vinnie Jones: But you know what? When people saw it, most of the people say, “I never saw that coming.” You know, you don’t see it coming. It’s like if you remember with Rambo. He’s his man. He said, “Well, if you’re going to go out against my men, then you’ve got to go through me.” And he says, “Well, you know you’ve come for my son, my men. You’ve got to go through me.” And it kind of shocked everybody that, how dare you. The two most expensive parts of the movie end up being shot and that’s it. And then the movie still goes on. Scott says, there’s a whole new … there’s different stories here. And then the redemption of, my character sacrifices himself for the two young lovers to get away. Neelyn is regrettable that he never had this love, and when he found it, it got taken away from him. And he says, “Forget about it. The money. We’ve got $25 million. Yeah, she was your girlfriend, but you’ll get over it.” Bruce McGill says that as well. I don’t care what happened to her, but you can’t come in the way of business. And Neeyln now is like, “No, this is the end.” And he wants to sacrifice himself for these two to get out. And he says in the end, Neelyn says in the end, “You know we’ve left a little nest egg. I hope they’ll be all right.”
Steven Pierce: Right. But like you said Scott, too. This isn’t a traditional revenge movie, in the fact that even though it does have these set pieces and this structure, there’s a lot more layering going on of character. It’s more of a film noir piece.
Vinnie Jones: Lots more.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, it’s got a lot more. The set pieces are there to punctuate what I think is the character journey.
Scott Wiper: The revenge is the device.
Steven Pierce: Yes, exactly.
Scott Wiper: Something you asked, what’s the movie about? I think you always need the hook. The Simpson book, High Concept. Like, what’s your concept. So, when we asked, both me and Vinnie what’s the movie about. Gangsters in the hills of Appalachia. Fish out of water. Beverly Hills Cop. I always felt you need that to get things started. But, what I loved about taking Vinnie and putting him in Appalachia, and that’s the first thing we did to kind of launch this is we just took a trip and went down there. Which is, there’s something about, that goes back to westerns and film noir, which you take a man, and you put him in an environment where you have alienation. And an absolute sense of …
Scott Wiper: The fish out of water is great for high concepts commercial hook. But it’s also great in character development. Because we really see a human when you throw them in a place where they feel absolutely vulnerable.
Steven Pierce: Absolutely.
Vinnie Jones: You know the great thing about it is when you read some of the reports, and some of the reporters actually get it. And they say, the layers are there. Neeyln’s layers were going downwards, and he basically said I’m done. But I’m going to save the mountain people. They saved me. They come on board with me. I done a nice gesture for one of them. But I think what’s great when you read people, you read their articles, and they get what we were talking about for two or three years going into the movie. And I think you can see in Neelyn, Scott was all over me about, “Take your time. We’re going to distress you.” And you find yourself doing that off set as well. I mean, to play that kind of character, you can’t be out partying every night, turn up off set, and then turn up for work and be this distressed guy, who’s basically … he’s wasted his life. He’s never had this love. He’s been the henchman’s killer. And when people write about it and they get it, it’s so fantastic as an actor, and a producer, and as a writer. I think that’s inspiring, isn’t it Scott? When they get it.
Scott Wiper: This is about honor. This is about … How two friends, when you bring in money, business, family, revenge, could come to that point, where that’s actually the best option. And whether it be western, film noir, or there’s also a lot of call it samurai Kurosawa. But there was also a huge part of the crowd that said, “That’s awesome.”
Vinnie Jones: It’s one of my favorite scenes. I think it’s an epic scene in the whole movie for me. Seeing these two guys. There’s $25 million on the table, they choose family. And he goes, “Well, we’re at odds then.” He goes, “Yeah. Malcolm McDowell hasn’t had a drink for 30 odd years.” He said, “What do you want to do? We’ll have a drink.” That there is a big moment.
Scott Wiper: Yeah, it’s funny. When Malcolm first got to Kentucky we were talking about … He said, “I don’t think I would take that drink.” But Malcolm’s real life is … I don’t know … Even though it’s going to be iced tea or whatever. And I said, “Well, we’ll decide when we get to that day.”
Vinnie Jones: Yeah, because Malcolm, you’d say Scott, Malcolm hasn’t had a drink for 37 or 40 years. So, the character was close to home for him as well.
Scott Wiper: Correct. And we even adjusted it so this timeline was … And when we got to that scene, because we would all talk about it. And it was interesting, because he’d ask questions both Vinnie, to me. And we’d say, well, let’s say you’re someone who’s sworn off booze, right? And you can go to your grave and say, “I never had a drink.” But then what are the pros? What are the pros and cons? That drink gets you an extra two minutes with your best friend.
Vinnie Jones: Yeah. And I say … There’s another scene as well Scott, when I say to him, “I’ve done all your dirty work through booze. I’ve got through it through the booze. And you’re sitting there giving the orders drinking bottles of Perrier, or soda and lime, you know. And so, when it comes to the crumb, he says, “Give me a drink.” The shits hit the fan here. All right, let’s have that drink then. Come on.” Iconic scene. It’s an iconic scene.
Scott Wiper: One of the reasons spending time … And it’s everywhere. It’s in Ohio, it’s all over the world. It’s in West Virginia. But you could argue, it’s been said, it’s the opioid epicenter of earth. Meaning that part of America. I don’t necessarily agree with it. But it is. There is a lot of pain. And there was a theme in the movie about numbing the brain, and that in violence. And that unless you’re a sociopath, in order to hurt people emotionally or physically, you’ve got to numb your brain a bit, because it’s just not in our DNA to hurt people. And you see that in Westerns a lot. Even William Money in Unforgiven needs the whiskey before he goes back to kill him, right?
Steven Pierce: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Wiper: So, that theme of all these characters in different forms of … It’s a study of violence. And that Junior is able to do it, whether he just had tea, Coca Cola, or whiskey. And you can see the Nicholas Braun character, Will, he can’t grasp the concept of hurting others. He’s an idealist. And thinks reason will win out. Vinnie comes into town as the gun fighter. But it’s almost like, when Nick Braun realizes he has to engage in violence, you see him search for a bottle of whiskey and some pills, because violence is not something that we are …
Steven Pierce: Wired to do natively. It’s something you have to induce yourself to do, I suppose. Or you know what I mean, talk yourself into. One thing I wanted to talk about that you mentioned, and I think this would be really interesting from both your perspectives. Scott, whenever you have an actor, especially someone of anybody in your film’s acclaim and renown and artistry that they bring. And they have … Have you encountered something where they don’t want to do something that you feel is critical for the script and how do you address that? And then Vinnie, maybe you can speak to about as an actor, if you’ve experienced something that you really don’t believe that character would do, and kind of the other side of that. Where that line is of creativity and collaboration.
Vinnie Jones: Well, you have to talk it over. I mean, it can be heated. Actors can get tantrums, and then they’ll come back, and say, “Look, okay, I’ve thought about it.” But I remember many years ago I spoke to Ray Winston one evening we were having dinner. And he done a movie called, The Bunker, I think it was, where he was molesting his son in the movie, or his daughter, young daughter. And I said, “Ray, how could you have done it?” He said, “You know, that’s the art of acting.” He said, “My friends outside know who I am.” I said, “I could never have done that. I could never have done that part.” And maybe that’s what’s made Ray such a great actor. That he took that part on. It’s a challenge. And I think, for me, this character was … People are saying to me now, “Oh, blimey. I’ve never seen you get beat up so much, this that and the other.” I said, “Yeah, well I’ll have a bit of extra pay for that. I can tell you.”
Scott Wiper: And Vinnie and I had … We had years, months, and then even the weeks before filming, opportunities to talk about all of Neelyn’s choices. Your question’s a fantastic one about with the other actors, you haven’t had that much conversation.
Steven Pierce: Right, and rapport. They may not have the same level of trust as you guys do as friends.
Scott Wiper: And as for any director, I’d say, writer, director … Whether you’re in a meeting, studio meeting about the script, or you’re talking with an actor on set, when those questions come up, if you grab a chair and sit down and say, “Let’s talk about it.” As opposed to the defensive reaction like, “That’s the way I wrote it …” That might’ve been me when I was 23. Like, “Can we just shoot it? Just shoot it.” But actually you’ll find, your body language, and you sit back and have a 10 minute conversation, it will save you seven hours.
Vinnie Jones: And we had some of those as well. I mean, there was one day I came on and I said, “What have you done?” He said, “I’ve been talking to Malcolm and I’ve been talking to Ron.” And I think that’s where … I’ve been on movies where the actors over power the director. And I’ve actually said when I’ve been close to a couple of directors, I’ve said, “You know, you’ve got to stand up to these guys.” It’s like a soccer manager. The players can’t run the dressing room. The boss has to run the dressing room, and a director has to run that set. And that is what I would say massively. You’ve got to sit down, explain to the actor … Obviously, the bigger actor, the harder the job is, because they’re going to say, “No, this is only your first or second movie. I’ve done 50 movies.” Yeah, okay, well let’s sit down and talk through it. Because I wrote this and this is the reason why. And if you sit and reason with them … You know, Scott won the day with all of them.
Scott Wiper: One technique is when the actor has a lot of questions you sit and talk, and eventually the money people come and say, “Let’s start. You guys have got to start filming.” In this scenario, Vinnie and I were responsible for every dime. So, you do the preemptive strike, which is … Vinnie would see with the other actors, I’d be off talking to them at the motel. And we both would. But you’re trying to answer as many questions the night before, or in the lead up to the-
Vinnie Jones: And they all want to know as well, there’s so many questions as well. “Oh, are we doing this? Why are we …” And that’s a big question from an actor is, “Why are we doing this? When are we doing that?” And somebody said to me once that an actor works their backside off to get the role, and the first question they ask on day one is, “When’s our day off?” And you’re like, “What? Hold on.” And we had a situation after the first week, and I wasn’t happy. I invited all the actors for dinner. Scott wasn’t there, no producers. Just me and the actors, and I basically sat them all down … Not Malcolm and Ron, they weren’t in there. But all the other actors, and I said, “Look, we put guts and sweat and heart and soul into this movie. Don’t come here and toss it off, and think you’re going to come here for a couple of weeks, Lexington, turn up on set hammered and all that. I’ve got too much invested in this.”
Steven Pierce: Wow. That’s really amazing. So, let’s talk about your production schedule a little bit. How many days were you all shooting? And with this type of budget and schedule, were there any days you didn’t all that you wanted, or a take that you didn’t want, or you had to cut your coverage down, and how did you deal with that?
Scott Wiper: They say a script has three parts of writing. There’s the script you take into production. There’s shooting, and then there’s editing. And you’re always writing. So, I think no matter how much … An incredible thing happens in the two months before shooting, where your brain suddenly sees these things. Both Vinnie’s brain, my brain, we saw things like, we don’t need it. Or that’s too cute. That was something Vinnie would always say. Because tone, tone. Vinnie would sometimes say to me, “That seems a little cute.” And so, you’re searching for the tone. But then you actually get into production, and you just start pulling stuff out, or combining things. And for me it’s the thrill of film making, because your writer brain becomes sharper, especially if you’ve made films before. Because when you cut scenes in the editing room and you … Especially in the old days of film. You look over at those reels, and you’re like, “Well, that was $250,000.” And it’s like, “I wished I’d thought of that on paper.” And so, I think going through this, to make … There’s something nice about a gun to the head to get you to think clearly.
Vinnie Jones: I think as well, Scott … I think as well, one of the hardest parts is in the edit, because you start off with a 2 hour 40 minute movie, which Scott has edited it together, and says, right, there it is. And now, we’ve got to take an hour out of it. And I phoned a good friend of mine, Matthew Vaughn. And he said, “If in doubt, cut it out.” And Scott was like, “I can’t cut this out. I can’t cut that out, but you’ve got to make the movie work.” And I remember Guy Ritchie coming to me once, and he phoned me and he said, “I’ve had to cut out …” In Snatch, he cut out that scene in the elevator. He said, “It’s my favorite scene.” He said, “But I’ve had to cut it out.” I think it’s in the director’s cut. But you have to be brave enough in the edit to say … You regret it and you have sleepless nights, but then something else will come in, and you tighten it up, and you keep tight and it’s like a big wheel nut on a big lorry, and you’re tightening, and tightening, and tightening until you can’t tighten it anymore. And that’s what the edit is, and it’s brutal for a director. To sit and watch Scott lose some of the scenes that he absolutely loved was brutal, but you have to bring it down.
Scott Wiper: Well the process, when I told you we had four months to cut this, which is what the big boys get. But they’re the big boys, meaning Scorsese, or Coppola. You always here the crazy stories. But in today’s world, I thought, “Well, it costs us nothing but two rooms at the Quality Inn. And we have a free editing facility, and the editing system’s paid for.” So, I always said to the editor, “This movie will never be longer than 105 minutes.” But the process, and it was very painful to show people the … But we figured, to find the performances, showing the long … In the politics of making movie, people want to see what’s going on. What’s going on. What’s going on. So, we showed them a long cut. And I also find in the politics of all film making, whether it’s a studio or independent, if you get everything lead perfect, and you show it to people, people are actually going to have notes. So, I liked showing, I called it the fat baby. That way people have their notes, and you’re taking them. And there was no huge cuts, but it was distilling things down, and having a chance to … There was a scene with Vinnie, and Lenora, his girlfriend in the movie in the hotel scene. At one point, we cut that because that scene was three minutes long. Now it’s in the film and it’s 65 seconds.
Scott Wiper: So, we had the luxury of-
Steven Pierce: Playing.
Scott Wiper: Take out. Yes. And we eventually got to the point where … And this is where editing is writing. We eventually got to the point in the final three weeks we were putting things back.
Steven Pierce: Wow, that’s a really interesting point to get to. Most time people are just cutting, cutting, removing, removing til the last possible second.
Scott Wiper: Yes. And it’s very painful to show people the fat baby. But if you show them something that you think is perfect … And even Vinnie’s very knowledgeable friends, even they knew. Don’t show us what you think is the director’s cut. Show us when the brain is still open for notes. And it’s hard because … But it’s like showing a rough draft of a script to somebody. But you’d rather get notes while you’re still-
Steven Pierce: In a place where you can take them and create, and it’s not locked down, and you’re like, “Ooh, we finally got it.”
Scott Wiper: Yes. So, what we did with the fat baby, because it was two and a half hours, we invited 40 people in, and we did an intermission, and in between they took a tour of the aerospace facility. So, they digested the fat piece. Then we took everyone out to dinner, and went out and had drinks, and everyone was listening. The editor, Vinnie, me, everyone was listening. And so we had seven people collecting notes from the 40 people. And when we regrouped that night, we all, was like, what’s working, what’s not working. And more importantly there was often a lot of, like a character you’d here. Like I wasn’t feeling that character’s motivation. And you’re like, “oh, well we’ve got something we can put back in.”
Steven Pierce: So, you mentioned before, we were talking here about your post process, and you started in Kentucky, right? And then you ended up moving to Detroit. Just tell us about that experience and what it was, and how that was so unique that you got to do post in a very unique scenario.
Scott Wiper: Well, we started … It’s great to be editing right there where you’re filming. Actors can go in and see cut scenes. I like that they do that. Everyone can see where we’re headed. And then, I never liked moving back to Los Angeles to edit. It just seems like you’ve got all this natural organic energy wherever you filmed, and then boom you’re back in the city of concrete.
Vinnie Jones: And we did that Scott, if you remember, we got kind of a rough cut of some scenes and put them together, and we got the actors one Sunday and showed them. And I think it inspired them. They were like, “Shit, this is good.”
Scott Wiper: Night and day.
Vinnie Jones: And it can inspire their performances.
Scott Wiper: Yes. And a lot of directors and producers can be very secretive. And I think there was a certain amount, talking with Jordan the editor, he would send me stuff … So, you know the scenes are like, okay that’s good to show. And even clean up the sound because not everyone … Or do some basic color timing. But once you have some scenes, I think it really helps a cast. Some don’t want to see it. But to know that that freedom is there, where they can see where it’s headed. Vinnie would take the cast in there. I saw a huge difference. It’s great having a producing partner like VJ on many levels. But also, he was also the captain of the cast. And that was probably one of the … That’s a fantastic thing to have. A member of the cast is your producing partner. So, he would communicate with them, but also took them over to the editing room on a … We call it a Sunday, but Sunday was always a filming day. That just means one of our days off. And I saw them come back. And even Lenora, the British actor, she said in a very British manner, she said, “We saw some scenes.” And she said, “Carry on.”
Steven Pierce: But you did end up moving out of Kentucky eventually?
Scott Wiper: Yes. This is kind of where unfortunately I had to show people a two and half hour cut, which is … Your wrap, everyone’s all excited, and not everyone has been in the film business. So, people are thinking we can watch the movie in a week. We just wrapped. And like, well there’s … So, there was a lot of positive excitement. Always see the glass as half full. There was a lot of pressure. But just to put an assembly together, you could go for four editors. We had one. Just to put together those many, many hours of film, just to get an assembly … I hadn’t even done my job as a directory, meaning put together an assembly. And people were already dying to see it.
Steven Pierce: Right.
Scott Wiper: So, that was part of the move to Detroit. I said, well it was an opportunity, but what better scenario than, one of our two investors, his office was upstairs. So, we were able to say, “Come in any time.” Like he could come into the editing room on lunch break. Because in any sort of business scenario, no news is big news, and everything is news. So, I think by being there, and showing it to the gang every two weeks, people were like, “All right, they’ve started …” And it really has helped the relationship even to this day, which is Vinnie and I really tried to make our finances part of the film family. Not just thank you very much. We’ll see you in a year. And it’s really developed into great friendships, because they’ve come to know the film making process very well.
Steven Pierce: And you guys cut it in a theater, also. Just to be clear. You cut it in an actual … You set up the edit station and were working in a theater?
Scott Wiper: Yes. They were called the … Michigan had tax incentives, they built studios that were the size of Warner Brothers in Burbank. And then the film system in Michigan collapsed, and our guy, Greg, bought that for his aerospace facility. He’s basically the Tony Stark of Detroit. Has all kind of things happening. But those hangers, that were used as movie studios now, have things in there that you need government clearance to go in there. No joke. But inside this place, there’s a movie theater that was where they’d screen dailies for Transformers, and Batman, Superman. A lot of huge movies that were filmed in this. So, you wouldn’t believe it, this aerospace facility was once a movie studio. Kind of a bizarre … That happened at … We were already down in Kentucky, and Dave said, “Any chance you guys need a, like I have an empty hanger, like a movie studio. And I have two screening rooms.” A lot of this journey was, go with it.
Steven Pierce: Right.
Scott Wiper: Go with the flow.
Steven Pierce: So Vinnie, as the captain of the actors, and a producer, were there ever any times where the schedule or circumstances cut something short that you were worried about, that you felt like you needed to do again, or you were had to change the way you were going to do a scene?
Vinnie Jones: No, I was well prepped by Scott going in. I fully understood my characters, and put these layers in there, and you can see. I think you can see the change in Neelyn and that’s why I’ve got so many good reviews. I use these layers. I lot of people think that was around the time when my wife passed, but it wasn’t. She was very inspirational in Scott and I doing this. She sent us out to Appalachia. She said, “Go on, get out there.” And we went out for four days, and we readied it and everything else. She came up with the exile song at the end. It was totally understanding of the character. And also, I understood everybody else’s character. And Robert Duvall told me once on Gone In 60 Seconds. Was having lunch in his trailer. And I said, “You know I’m knew to it.” He said, “Vin, come to work.” He said, “Know your dialogue. Know your character as well as you can. But also know the other characters you’re working with that day, and their dialogue.” And that’s what I’ve taken with me, and I really got a chance to use it. And you pass it on to … I found I had a lot of respect from the other actors, not just as the producer. That I’ve done 100 movies, and I was in a position where I could give them advice. And say, “Look, this is where we’re going. And this is what we’re trying to achieve.” And I think what happens is, when you get a couple … And Scott and I had this in The Condemned. If a couple of actors go on set on their day off or something. You know, some of them came on, they said, “Oh, we just want to watch Vinnie work.” And they’d come on and they’d go, “Wow.” And you sort of say, “That’s the bar. That’s where you’ve got to get to guys. Let’s go.” And that’s what you, as the team captain, or the leader, the lead actor, I think that’s where you’ve got to be. I’ve worked with some fantastic actors. The ones who I have respect for is the ones that are whole heartedly in.
Vinnie Jones: John Travolta came to us one day, first day of set, and we was all terrified. It was the first day of set, and he stopped everybody, and everybody was kind of kissing his ass. And he said, “I just want to say to all my actors, thank you very much for doing this project. It means a lot to me.” And that set the bar right there. And I took that in to The Big Ugly. I’m very, obviously, I’m very proud of the role I’ve done, and it’s so different. And you’ll read online all these people are saying, “Wow, it’s his best performance, and everything else.” Well, it’s the first time a director’s given me a chance … I go into casting sometimes and I say, “Look, take a chance on me. Give me something different. I’ll blow it out of the water for you. Stop having … Please take the chance.”
Vinnie Jones: And Scott and I, we did it for those two reasons, really. One for him and one for me and away we went. But you have to be a leader. I was a leader on the football pitch, on the soccer pitch, and I took that into this as well.
Scott Wiper: And Vinnie, I think it’s the commitment and intensity. And that’s what you can see from afar, even on a film set, which is not just quality, but commitment and intensity. Which you would see it in a training room in sports, and I think that is contagious.
Vinnie Jones: And you would get as well … As an actor, you would nail something. There’s a scene in the prison where I do a scene in the prison. We only done it a couple of times. And Scott would just give me a little nod or a little wink. He wanted to come out and jump on me as if we’d just won the winning goal in the world Cup final, because he knew other people watching. And it was, “That’s my boy.” You know what I mean? That part of being an actor’s great. It’s really that moment when you nail a scene for an actor, and you know you’ve really done it, and the director gives you a little nod, or they’re really pleased. Right, let’s move on. And then half an hour later, especially with TV stuff. They’ll come over to you when they get a minute, and they go, “Oh my God, Vin, that was fantastic. Thanks very much.” That kind of acting is your reward when you do something like that.
Steven Pierce: Oh, actually I wanted to ask you a technical question here Scott, because everyone’s always interested in the listeners about what cameras you shot on and what lenses, and generally any other gear that you felt was super useful.
Scott Wiper: Red Gemini with LOMO lenses from the 1970s.
Steven Pierce: I love the LOMOs. They’re the big monster rehoused ones, right? That 35s about the size of a watermelon.
Scott Wiper: Yeah. As technical … The Red Gemini allowed us to film in darker environments, and that was literally … Jeremy had to scramble to get those that month. With the new technology, often technology is your worst enemy. I go back to Thereout and Emerson. We do not ride on the train, but it rides upon us. And I feel that way with advances in film technology. A lot of times what you’re doing is you’re stripping away modern advances to make something feel like film again. So that was, when we looked at kind of the films we looked at as benchmarks of what we wanted. The LOMO lenses are, they’re Russian lenses from the ’70s. So, you have this camera from today, but you’re … And even in color time, what you’re always doing is trying to make … I learned on 35 millimeter. So, you’re now in digital. It’s how are you … Less is more, and you’re stripping away data, so it feels like film.
Steven Pierce: I think you’re definitely right about that. Especially with something with a hard look like this, because you guys have a definitely film noir, and very, I’d say unique look that you probably wouldn’t have been able to do if you were working directly with the studio. And just because you guys were independent, you were able to take those extra steps and do what you wanted to do.
Vinnie Jones: You know what I think, I think that if Taylor Sheridan directed this in the way Scott has, I think everybody would be screaming from the roof top. I honestly do. It’s right there. And as you say, it takes some balls to strip all the data like Scott says. It’s very easy to go with all the new technology, with all your sky shots, and that. And send up these airplanes, and get your shot for you as well. But I think nowadays it’s harder to go back and say, “This is real film making.” And strip the table of all the gizmos and the technology and everything and say, this is the movie we want to make. We made the movie we wanted to make. I mean I gave the producers, the money men, I went to them and I said, “Look, we’ve got a situation here of Snatch and Lock Stock.” I said, “Lock Stock was a million, Snatch was $5 million. Where do you want to be?” Because at one point, we were in it for $3 million. That’s what we went to them for, and we got the $3 million. So, then we went back to them and said, “Look, if we want to go for Ron Perlman and Malcolm McDowell, we’re going to have to up the game. Where do you want to be?” And without hesitation they said, “Snatch. Let’s up it. Let’s go for it.” And that was the fantastic part of it. They never held us back in any way like that. I think it was a genius that we all stayed in the Motel 6, or 8, whatever it was. We had a billionaire staying two rooms down from me. And he got on board, and he jumped in and said, “This is the way it’s going to be. We’re all in it together.” The blood, sweat, and tears we’ve done.
Vinnie Jones: Scott and I are still out of pocket on the movie. We knew that going in. But we feel that we’ve delivered. And the honesty, Scott will tell you, he sat there on my friends balcony, in his back yard, and I said to him, “Look, all we have to offer you is trust, and our honor.” And me and Scott, that is one thing we have. We’ve got trust and honor. And we actually got a phone call a few months in saying, “Guys, is everything all right? You haven’t touched any of the money.” And we said, “We have no reason to yet.” And again, it’s the bar of we’re going to make this movie. It’s Scott’s dream. I trusted Scott implicitly, and backed him up. And I think that’s what you’ve got to do as a producer. You’ve got to back him up.
Scott Wiper: I think for both, Vinnie and I wanted to address performances, heart and soul, themes of honor, western noir. I think now if we were to get together with our financing team, and talk about the next movies, I’d say, “all right, we had 25 days on this.” I think there’s a zone that Clint Eastwood always talks about. He likes about 30 to 36 days. And we’ve had 63 days before. I think action fans maybe could’ve used a little more action. But that wasn’t our personal goal, because we felt … There’s always two parts to making a movie. One is for the fans, and one is for your own personal journey. So, I’d say if we were, yeah, you could add four more days to production, and really do some more intricate gun battles. That was true in the 1940s with film noir, which is those movies, they were doing the big budget movies with the singing and dancing, and color. That new color film they had, they were all excited about. And the noirs were on black and white, and they had to shoot them at night, and they had to shoot them for half the budget. And from that, came a lot of interesting things. But when Junior beats the crap out of Will, or Brandon beats the crap out of Nicholas Braun, that’s one shot. And I talked about the scene in The Godfather when James Caan comes out and just beats the crap out of his brother in law, one shot. And so, the question is … And some of it I think Vinnie and I were bored with action.
Steven Pierce: Right, you want to be able to add something more to it.
Scott Wiper: Yeah, it’s tedious. So, we did the one big fight scene. And with Vinnie it’s like bam. We did so many of those on The Condemned. But when it came to that stuff, it was more of, “well, how can this …” And maybe sometimes people thought, “Oh, we’re coming into an action movie.” But it’s really not. It’s a crime drama. So, we would approach scenes, “action scenes,” or scenes of violence, and the question really was, how can this scene … What does this do to the characters?
Scott Wiper: So, when Junior beats down Will in the trailer, that is Nick Braun’s loss of innocence. Here’s cousin Greg from succession who now got his ass kicked bad, and it wasn’t really about, oh, was that an amazing fight scene. That’s when we just did one shot, and all the cameras just going down.
Steven Pierce: Yeah.
Scott Wiper: And it’s his … He believed that reason and logic wins in this world. And he learns that certain moments in life … I’ve learned something about … people said, “Oh, it’s so violent.” But yet, you barely see it. In that trailer, if you remember it.
Steven Pierce: Right.
Vinnie Jones: Well, Scott, you look at the scene Scott in Lock Stock where I smash the guy’s head in. You never see the head.
Scott Wiper: Yes. The imagination … that’s also why I do like dark. The imagination always is more intense than what you actually see.
Steven Pierce: Is there any last thoughts you have, especially for young film makers, or people making their first movie? Any advice that you would give. Just if you can distill down to any essential things you all have learned throughout your careers.
Vinnie Jones: I would say it takes a long time. Don’t give up on your dream. And I honestly think the harder you work at it, the luckier you’ll get. Some of the things that fell in place for us, we’ve had a lot of tragedy through this movie with the lost of my wife, and Scott’s mom and dad. We took that on our shoulders and kind of came out with a movie we’re very proud of. I think I can sit through it time and time again. We were honest with ourselves. We were honest with our investors. Every dollar and more went into what you see, and I think my closing thing is we are very proud of it. And it’s created some fantastic relationships.
Scott Wiper: I want to add, just because it’s important talking to young people. And sometimes young people are old. But people that are pursuing … What I always say to film makers, there are no white knights. You are your own white knight. Or it’s your best pal. And there’s a myth in Hollywood, in the Hollywood community that, yes once in a while someone might shoot an incredible short film, and Jerry Bruckheimer will just be like, “You’re my next guy. You’re my next woman directing this movie.”
Scott Wiper: But for 95%, there is no white knight. And the myth of Hollywood, people can lose a decade of their life waiting. And I think that’s what, if film makers can take a lesson from this is, myself as a director and Vinnie as an actor, and both as producers, we just said, “Nothing’s going to happen unless we do it.”
Steven Pierce: We have to make it. That is something we’ve learned again and again with all of these films. Everyone says that. You have to be the one to do it.
Scott Wiper: Go. Go, go, go. And fortunately I had a professor, Jeanine Bassinger at Western University, who the moment you wrote a script she said, “Get ready to shoot it.” She said, you’re going to keep rewriting it, but go.” And there’s so many reasons in the system and the business to wait. And so you don’t wait. 10 years goes by like that and you’re like, “What have I done?” And that doesn’t mean go out and do it, high standards. Even on a Better Way To Die, my second movie. We shot the first 10 minutes to get the other $2.5 million. But, it’s always take action.
Steven Pierce: And go. That’s fantastic advice. Well, Scott, Vinnie, it’s been wonderful talking with both of you guys. And thank you again so much for being so gracious with your thoughts and your time.
Vinnie Jones: Thank you.
Scott Wiper: Thank you very much.
IFG is created by Framework Productions. This episode was directed by James Allerdyce, produced by Matt Mundy, edited by Audrey Rae McHale, and hosted by Steven Pierce. The music is by Glass Boy. Find his music on freemusicarchive.org.