Writer / Director Michael Davis Talks Shoot 'Em Up Part Two

Well, is it -- is it a prostitute who has a baby, and then becomes ... does ... or is there some way that she ... ?

Davis: No, you can only lactate if you've had a baby. But it is interesting ... I like the fact that she's a broken person, too, he's a broken person, they heal each other. At the core, even though it's a wild action movie, there's a little bit of character stuff going on.

There's a little bit of, kind of like a Taxi Driver vibe with him --

Davis: Yeah. I like that. Because everybody sees, you know, the Leone ... but there's some other stuff going on.

How many of these specific action scenes, like the conveyor belt, all this stuff, how much of that did you have, and how much, once you decided you were making this over-the-top thing, did you --

Davis: See, the Bond things I wrote as a kid were just a love of the action. And I'd seen Goldfinger, and I love how clever it is when Bond electrocutes Oddjob, that he uses his environment, but it's also acrobatic. The one thing I love about the John Woo movies, and the Hong Kong movies, the characters are always leaping and tumbling, and it's like an action dance -- it's like the Peking circus, with guns. And I think it's really important, to me, that Clive's like a human bullet flying around ... I love, like, Run Lola Run. The movie's just basically her on the run. I think sort of limiting your palette, limiting your thesis -- I decided, Okay, I'm not going to have any explosions, I'm not going to have any building tumble down. All the action has to be gun-centric. And ... the sort of sentiment has always been about sex and violence and action, and gunfight is almost the purest form of action and violence, and so I go, Let's just make everything the cool thing you can do with a gunfight. So then I came up with the skydiving gunfight. Okay, well, that's its own theme. Then, making love to Monica Bellucci while in a gunfight.

But also, once you get one idea, and a good idea, and then, you know, there's the puppeting of the strings idea. People kept saying, "Well, how can you do gunfights? How can there be that many variations?" And in fact, each one had their distinct theme, which I think also helps, because all of these action movies, there'll be an action set piece, but the next action set piece will be kind of the same, and a little bit different, and I like the fact that each one of them [in Shoot 'Em Up] has a specific identity; It almost adds to the humor, and maybe makes it more of a live-action Looney Tunes. But I think it's part of the fun that you go, "Oh -- we're going to do it in this situation." And so, I first forced myself to come up with what I thought were the distinct actions, but then, because of being a storyboard artist, I would just do these little visual sketches as I was writing it, and then when I was animating it I was going, "Oh, I've got the character here, but it's missing something -- oh, he should do a flip here, he should shoot upside-down, or maybe he could shoot a bunch of bodies so they become a step for him so he can get over something." So, you're constantly, it's a back-and-forth, is it on the typewriter, or is it me sketching? And the old Disney movies, and Pixar's great at this, is they have these storyboard artists, but they're specifically called "gag men." They have board artists that board out the story as scripted, but then they have these guys come up with funny visual ideas that actually is what makes the Pixar movie or the Disney movie fun ... It's the Rube Goldberg-ian [sensibility].

Well, yeah, let me -- yeah, exactly. Rube Goldberg. So, you mentioned the skydiving, and then the sex, is that the order in which you invented them?

Davis: I felt like, obviously, the skydiving was probably the largest, and you could also make the case that, well, wouldn't you want the final one to be the largest one? But there's some gunfights afterwards, and I tried to rationalize ... like, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the truck scene is the best action scene in the movie, but then you still have another 20 minutes. ... I wanted to focus on him saving something personal ... and instead of having the final big gunfight be like in a Bond thing, where there's a hundred soldiers, I've already done that. Let's make the whole ending be about the mano-a-mano, and make it more personal, and more intimate.

You always see people talking about how tricky it is to film an action scene, and then they talk about how tricky it is to film a sex scene; when you put them together, is it just ridiculous?

Davis: You know, first of all, I was very lucky, because Monica Bellucci is very comfortable with her body. There was also no mystery about it, because I showed them the animation, and so then they trusted me, because they knew exactly what I wanted, and it was more about the idea of it than making it exploitative. And it becomes, starts being very technical. The harder thing was how to get 'em off the bed and hitting the floor safely.

Right, right.

Davis: But every time we did a shot, you know, a lot of directors don't like to show actors their takes ... I didn't care, these guys were so giving to me. After every take I would show them what they looked like onscreen, 'cause they wanted to make sure they looked good. Like there was that Seinfeld episode -- there's "good naked" and "bad naked"? Remember? They wanted to make sure it was all "good naked." And Monica kept going, "Oh, it's beautiful, it's beautiful."

Like she can look bad.

Davis: Yeah. And so, it was very, the hardest thing about all the action sequences, this one and all of them, is I had previsualized it, and I loved what I saw, and I was so nervous on the set that I had to get every piece right. I didn't want to compromise, because I'm like, if I hadn't done the animation, I wouldn't know how the scene was supposed to turn out, and I'd say, "Oh, I got the shot. I got it. We got from A to B to C." I wouldn't know I was missing the shot that would make it more kinetic, or editorially more interesting, rhythmically. But here, with the animation, I knew, and so I was constantly fighting ... "I need to get that shot," I was always churned up. But if you're just guessing at how it's gonna go, you can be more relaxed.

And it seems like you have to plan it so much more because it seems, the appeal of a character like this, you know, like the character in any action movie, like in Die Hard or something, is that he's kind of off-the-cuff, improvising constantly, but performing all these complicated things that have to look like they come off the top of his head, it seems like there's so much more planning involved that way.

Davis: And I like movies where you feel that there was a design by the filmmaker.

Absolutely.

Davis: I mean, even in the Star Wars movies, George Lucas cut together these old World War II dogfight scenes --

Right!

Davis: -- to get the rhythm of the Death Star sequence. And I like design. And I think there's a great pleasure to having a predesign, and then, when you actually execute it, rather than saying, "Oh, we actually didn't know how it was going to turn out, and it turned out great."

I agree, and it helps you, as an audience member, trust the director much more.

Davis: I think, I don't know that everyone's gonna get it, but I do think some audience members are going to feel that there's a design, and a care, and therefore, I think they like the movie, if they feel like the filmmakers were workin' hard.

Read the third and final portion of the interview Here!