Writer / Director Michael Davis Talks Shoot 'Em Up

Michael Davis, director of what he calls a "live-action Looney Tune" -- the relentlessly over-the-top Clive Owen-starrer Shoot 'Em Up -- is a supremely enthusiastic dude. Recently, I got the chance to talk with him in Austin about his first studio film, how he almost quit movies forever, and Monica Bellucci's healthy body image (among other topics). Read on for all the details!

How are you doing?

Michael Davis: I'm having a great time. There's nothing better than talking about your action movie. Harry Knowles wrote an article about, "I saw the Shoot 'Em Up animation and I just think it's going to be fantastic." And in the article, he says, You know who would be great in this, is Clive Owen. CAA, Clive's agency, sent the Harry Knowles article with the script and the animation, and I think, you know, there's the tipping point, that every little thing can make a difference? I'm wondering whether or not the fact that the masses, through Harry Knowles, you know, saying Clive Owen would be bad-ass in this, sort of tipped the balance to him doing it. So I feel like they've been supportive, and now I'm going to have a promotional screening with them tonight.

How long has this kind of been bouncing around in your head?

Davis: Well, you could tell, you could answer that in two ways. You know, I wrote these James Bond novels when I was in sixth grade. I was a huge James Bond nut, been dreaming about doing an action movie since I was a kid. When I was at art school, I had a final senior project where I ended up doing an animatic of an Indiana Jones scene, where Indiana Jones uses his bullwhip on this airplane that's getting away, and he whips the whip around, and instead of being dragged by a truck, he's being dragged by the biplane. So I've been having these action scenes in my head for a long while. Um, I saw Hardboiled, obviously, the Chow Yun-Fat-and-the-baby scene, and I had this idea in my head of a guy delivering a baby in the middle of a gunfight, and then I thought the image of a guy with the [most] innocent thing in the world, when he's the most hardboiled guy was a great contrast -- what a great image for the whole movie.

So I wrote the script seven years ago, and I was doing these super-low-budget movies to sort of stay alive, and couldn't, nobody was going to let me make the big action movie. I mean, I was the guy who did the million-dollar Slamdance movie. My Eight Days a Week movie cost $200,000, and had not been able to make the Kevin Smith thing happen, because, you know what? Loved all those guys that broke out, their films are fantastic, but there's an element of luck. There are a lot of great filmmakers that it just doesn't happen for. And there's just not enough room in the marketplace. And those movies, when I started doing my independent movies, the whole Sundance indie craze was coming down, and people realized you couldn't make money off it. Anyway. I had done all these indie movies. I was actually gonna, I was getting out of the business.

Really?

Davis: 'Cause every time I made one of these low-budget movies, what they paid me to make it didn't cover my bills, and I [was going] into debt with my credit cards. The summer before Shoot 'Em Up was optioned, we were $70,000 in debt, my wife and I, we refinanced the house one more time, were taking equity out of our lives, and I actually, literally had told her, you know, I was the angriest guy in the world. All those little things that Clive gets pissed off at is me --

I was going to ask you, sure --

Davis: -- but also, you know how Clive is angry at a bigger thing that happened in his life? Those are those are just the tip of the iceberg, of a bigger fracture in his life. And I was angry about how my life had turned out. I thought I was talented, I could write, I'd directed, I made these movies that people really had loved and wrote about fondly on Amazon.com: "When is Eight Days a Week gonne come out on DVD? Because my VHS is broken." And I was angry. And I told my wife, "I'm tired of being angry. I really am. And we need to think." I was, I got my resume, I got my transcript, I got letters of recommendation -- only thing you're qualified to do as a filmmmaker, after making films, is teach. So I was looking for a teaching job. And I told her, "Look, if we move" -- and I was thinking, like, South Carolina, a friend of a friend was teaching in a school down there. And I had optioned the script to these producers who had made all my low-budget movies, and they couldn't get it off the ground, because they're not going to get a star. So I didn't option to 'em, and I said, I'm going to start sending it to a few people -- Don Murphy, who did Transformers. And I said, "Look, if Don likes it, but we moved away, we'll keep a cell phone with an L.A. area code, and nobody will know that they're calling me in South Carolina, or whatever."

Oh, my gosh.

Davis: But I knew, once I moved, that that really was gonna be the end, but this was a rationale. But I was actually glad that I'd gotten past being angry. I'd written this script about Alfred Kinsey, the famous --

Yeah, right, right, right, right.

Davis: -- And the other Kinsey script got made. And I was angry at myself for not taking this great idea. I knew someone was going to be nominated for an Oscar for the Kinsey story, and I guess Laura Linney was. And I was angry at myself for blowing my trump card. And I remember going to see the Kinsey movie with my friend and partner who helped me finance Eight Days a Week, and he was much more angry about the film getting made, and, you know, "That movie wasn't very good," and I was like, actually liked the movie. I was glad that the movie was made, because I thought that Kinsey was such a profound, interesting character, well, glad that they got it out into the world and more people knew about him. But I found myself [saying to myself], "This is a landmark: I'm not angry. I'm okay. I'm okay with this." And then Shoot 'Em Up got optioned, and it was like, it came at a time when I had made peace with not making it in the business. So, I'm very excited.

Wow.

Davis: So then, I got healed, somehow, by having my "baby" optioned ...

Ha! Exactly.

Davis:... and Clive Owen gets healed by having a real baby.

Right, right.

Davis: But I like the fact that I did all these indie movies, because I got to, I felt like I had this definitive, I have this voice. Having written the Kinsey script, it made my other scripts very sexually informed. Eight Days a Week, 100 Girls -- there's a girl that likes to have Ben Wa balls while she eats Cap'n Crunch. You know? It's funny. And I was doing this way before American Pie. And, but that sexually informed [perspective] made it into Shoot 'Em Up. As much as it's a hardcore, action-genre thing and delivers on all the things you want to see, you've got these sort of offbeat things, you know, uh, the character of Monica Bellucci --

Which I'd never heard of, a lactating hooker --

Davis: It's very, it's not that uncommon, the mommy fetish. But that came from Kinsey.

Read Part Two Here!