In part 2 of my interview with stunt superstar David Leitch, he finishes talking about his movie “Confessions of an Action Star (aka Sledge) and discusses what got left out of the film, what inspired him to make it, and why the lyric “We made the movie without Ben Stiller” is in one of the songs of the movie.
AFC: Let’s talk a little bit about Confessions of an Action Star (a.k.a. Sledge): I understand that you actually wrote that. How did you come up with the idea?
David: After working with a lot of different B-movie action people over the years, I started to need a cathartic device to get over my trauma. And I always wanted to be a film maker and I’m interested in directing, I direct 2nd units and I want to shoot my own things and I love creating projects. When we were on the Matrix films, we shot a short film, which was kind of a spoof on the making of B-martial arts movies and it was called Bloodsport. That little short film is on the DVD, you can watch it. We had a couple of different celebrities in it. We had Ben Stiller in it, and Carry Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving did a little cameo. So people watched it and then we had a company come up and say, “Hey, would you like to write a feature and do the feature for half a million dollars and do like a best in show sort of thing but make it an entire feature.” So my partner, Brad Martin and I, got together and we wrote the script. Then we proceeded to get the money, compute it, and get as many cameos as we could. I wanted to have fun with it, and then it took forever to get it distributed. So now we’re here and it’s a long time later and it’s out there on the market. Basically, we used all our connections with people, with actors and actresses that we had worked with in films. It’s pretty obvious when you watch it what films we’ve worked on and the actors that we knew.
AFC: Was there a lot of the dialogue that was improvised?
David: Yeah, a huge amount of it. The script was loosely written at about 60 pages. A lot of the times the scene was just a description and there were 4 or 5 key lines that had to be said, but then the rest was improvised within the description of the scene. If I had to do that again, I would script a lot more. It wasn’t a traditional script but all the actors I had were improv actors except for some of the celebrities. Some of them performed improv too but it was just one of those things where the more scripting the better.
AFC: Well, it worked out very well. I enjoyed it.
David: Oh good. There’s actually the distributors edit, and it’s missing a quirky sort of narrator character who navigates you through Frank’s world. He got cut out. I’m kind of partial to him, I miss him. He’s a cool guy.
AFC: Was there anything else that got cut out that you wish was left in?
David: We had so much footage at the end that Brad and I had trouble coming to an edit that was an hour and 50 minutes. Everyone wanted it down to 90, which is smart. I think we needed it down to 90 because in order to get the joke you have to get going and just finish the story and have some fun along the way. But it was hard because there were a lot of different characters that were cut out. We had a special effects guy who got cut out of the film, and he was really funny. We had a stunt coordinator character that got cut out of the film. We had a stunt double character that got cut out of the film. There were all these things that were actually part of our industry that were really funny; but, there was just no time, like we had to keep to Frank’s story and that was it.
AFC: There’s the song at the end of the movie that has a line that says, “We made the movie without Ben Stiller.” Is there any reason why that was in there?
David: Yep. Wow, you really pay attention. You are probably the only person that noticed that. We didn’t get the rights to the music. We actually copied the original songs, all these 80’s classic, like “What a Feeling.” If you know the dance montage where he’s going through all the Flashdance stuff, it plays on that scene with “What a Feeling” in it, but I couldn’t put that in the movie because the rights to “What a Feeling” would cost more than the budget of the film. So we had to go back and create. You know, we had “Sister Christian”, “What a Feeling”, “Pop Goes the World”. There were a lot of these 80’s classics that we couldn’t use, that’s why we went back and wrote our own lyrics and I then sang them. I think we stole that from the whole Team America thing, Trey Parker in the film thing. That’s where we got the idea. So much respect to them for that. As far as having Ben Stiller in the lyrics, yeah, you know we didn’t get to make the movie with him because we were interested in having him sign on his footage to cut into the feature, but he never got back to us. His people said “Nah, we’re going to pass.” So it was more of a little bit of a personal jab. I didn’t think anyone would actually hear the lyric. Now they can hear the lyric and read this post too.
AFC: That is true. I’m glad I could be a part of that. So when did you have the most fun during the making of this film?
David: I don’t think I could pick a specific time. I think that was the most fun I’ve ever had in movies in general, and I’ve worked on some big films. But making Sledge in 13 days, it was a 13 day shoot, that was the most fun I‘ve ever had. It was just super fast, run and gun, being creative on the fly. Shooting our film stuff was really high quality and making it look, at the same time guerilla style. With all the improv and stuff like that, it was one of those experiences that I’ll never get back, and the most fun I’ve ever had in film. I loved it.
AFC: Well that’s pretty impressive.
David: It makes me want to direct.
AFC: So is that somewhere you might be going? Directing?
David: It definitely is. Man, it’s been like 5 years since that movie was made. Brad and I’ve both went on to direct 2nd units and action units. We’re developing our own projects and going to be soon directing a big action film for sure. You will hear our names again!
AFC: I’m sure I will. I look forward to it. There was some nudity in Confession of an Action Star (Sledge), was that actually you?
AFC: So how do you feel about nudity? I’m guessing it’s fine!
David: You know what, once again, I’m self conscious, but it was for the laughs and for the entertainment so I had to go for it. And I think when I was playing that character, because I’m not that experienced of an actor, I just had to let it all go and push my comfort zone completely; otherwise, it would be caught in the middle and not funny at all. I’m sure it wasn’t that funny, but at least I had to go for it. You only live once.
AFC: Now is it also true that you were a body double for Brad Pitt?
David: Nope, I just do stunts. I’m not that lucky.
AFC: Where do you stand on the debate of whether film violence causes any real world violence?
David: I have to at some level rationalize it, because I’m in an industry where that’s how I make my living. It’s a hard question to ask me. My parents are both retired school teachers and they would probably disagree with a lot of the films I work on. But ultimately as long as people have good families, good support groups or good support networks, people can separate the two realities and enjoy the action and still not want to kick everybody in the face. I think that we shouldn’t be showing the kids some stuff but we shouldn’t be limiting art forms because people aren’t responsible.
AFC: Yeah, just because I love action movies doesn’t mean that I’m going to be going out and trying to hurt everybody and reenact them.
David: Right, exactly.
AFC: You obviously love what you are doing, making action movies. When do you love it the least?
David: The long, long hours are sometimes really difficult because sometimes you’ll have 12-15 hour days. It’s not as glamous as people think. It’s really definitely a factory type of environment, and it’s a blue collar environment. It’s real work and there are some benefits, but it’s actually really difficult on relationships because you spend so much time on set.
AFC: Are there any behind the scene tidbits you can give us about Wolverine?
David: I can’t really. Our company, myself and Chad Stahelski we were involved in the creative process in the beginning. We helped develop some of the action sequences for the pre-visual. We did not go down and shoot in Australia. We sent another member of our extended group, J.J. Perry, and he took some really talented stunt people down there like Daniel Stevens, and they would have a lot more stories than I do. I was involved in the writing of the script.
AFC: Okay, so what other projects are you working on right now? I know you’re working on Tron, I hope that’s going well.
David: Yep. I’m just looking on getting some of our own projects out and getting 87Eleven out there to produce action movies at a smaller price. That’s what we’re doing, trying to create a label. And not really high quality action films but not at studio prices. But that’s my free time: working on those extra projects.
AFC: There’s really not a shortage of women I can interview in horror movies, but I am trying to talk to more women in the action business. Why do think there aren’t more roles for ass-kicking women?
David: I think Hollywood goes through phases. I think there was a time when that was really popular and now it’s back to where it’s male dominated again, but there is definitely a need for it. I don’t know why that is except that studio executives have a model and if it’s accessible, they want to follow it over, over, over, and over again. And to get anything original done is a huge, huge, labor of love on somebody’s part, which is why they remake everything, which is why they do sequels of everything, which is why they take one property and blow it into four other properties. It’s frustrating. It becomes boring, and I think that we could have great female action characters. There are people out there that can make that happen. It’s just getting the studios to see that there’s a market for it and then putting the money down. They need it proven to them.
AFC: In any of your professions, is there anyone you dream about getting to work with?
David: I have really been fortunate to work with some of the best film makers and work with some of my idols and …I don’t know. I’ve been really, really blessed. I don’t think there’s anyone out there right now where I’m like “Man I want to work with them.” I think every film has a new experience, and I always approach it with an open mind to learn. This movie right now, we are working with a director, and it’s his first feature film. He is a very accomplished commercial director, and I learn from him everyday. He’s incredible. As long as you approach everything with an open mind everybody’s a teacher. All these celebrities are all human anyway. You eventually get to know that. You can tell by Sledge that I don’t really have any idol worship. I am ready to make fun of everybody.
AFC: And that is so much fun. Well, that is all the questions I have for you. Thanks so much for your time.
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