‘Shoot ‘Em Up’ Diary: Production Hell And Heaven

As you may be aware, we’ve been running exclusive columns from Michael Davis, the writer/director of the upcoming action flick, “Shoot ’Em Up.” Last time, Davis introduced us to his behind-the-scenes players; today the filmmaker describes how he navigated the production’s many challenges.

Time is a director’s nemesis. There’s never enough of it. In “Shoot ’Em Up,” there are eleven action set pieces or more. A skydiving shoot out. Clive shoots down forty hoods while on the run. He rappels down a stairwell with an Uzi. Delivers a baby while picking off guys. A car chase gunfight. What saved my ass was having the brilliant Peter Pau on hand as the cinematographer.

Peter won an Academy Award for cinematography for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and long list of other impressive credits. Our film needed that kind of cinematic choreography, but it also needed to kick ass. Peter did photography on John Woo’s “The Killer.” Our movie was John Woo-inspired. This immediately put Peter on my short list, but what put him over the top was “Bride of Chucky.” With that, I knew he could shoot fast. An Oscar winning DP who had also recently shot a B horror-comedy, I thought. Perfect.

Peter prelit 80% of our locations. Which meant for me, we could walk in and shoot. The script has sexual references throughout. One of our sets was irreverently named after a sex act. After Peter and I had scouted this location together, the crew teased us. I made a joke that when we were in the alley, “Peter was Crouching Tiger, and I was Hidden Dragon.” And there was constant joking like this on the set. I think the crew worked faster because they were having fun.

Doug Curtis and Robert Lee, my line producer and A.D., bought me more time with scheduling. They also picked the right city to film in – Toronto. In the film, a baby is the target of assassins. We needed real babies for many of the scenes. If we shot the film in L.A, it would mean our babies could work a half hour a day. In Toronto, we could have the baby for eight hours a day with breaks.

Back to all the action — We were able to get all of the action because of Eddie Perez, my stunt coordinator and second unit director. Eddie is nicked named “Curious George” because he’s small, compact, and well, looked like Curious George. But make no mistake, he’s tough. He was known to hang out with the local Hells Angels corps.

I was also supported by master design pro Gary Frutkoff, production designer, and dear “Uncle Pete,” my editor, my friend and great filmmaker. My VFX guru, Ed Irastorza, was a huge help and has gone on to work on “Watchmen.”

I have an odd technique that I have never seen any other director use. I like my storyboards near me, but in the midst of laying down on the ground to line up a low angle shot, I’m afraid I’ll set my boards aside and lose them. So, I tie them to my hip by a shoelace so they dangle by my leg.

Directing is stressful. The final hour of every day feels like a two minute offense at the end of a football game. The crew moves faster and you spend less time huddling making decisions. I feel like I’ve won the Super Bowl after I finish a day on time with everything I need. My favorite part of the day is snipping off the storyboards dangling by a string at my hip. It’s like I am unburdened of one of my Herculean tasks.