the art of self-defense trailer

You wrote this before you made Faults?

I wrote it just after Faults. I wrote Faults in 2013 as soon as I got back from Sundance with my short The Cub. Literally the next day that I was back from Sundance, I started writing these scripts. Keith and Jess Calder who went on to make the movie, I met them two weeks after that. I wrote Faults in two weeks, they read it and then a week later they said they wanted to make it. That went to SXSW in 2014. I went through the festival circuit with Faults, then the release of Faults. It came out in 2015 and after that I realized I didn’t have a script ready to go. So I started really trying to figure out what that next thing was going to be and there was a little bit of catch-up. I finally had latched onto this idea of a Karate movie. I finished it at the end of 2015. It feels like a short amount of time in retrospect but at the time I remember being kind of scared that I didn’t have anything ready to go and I was concerned that the momentum from Faults was going to fade away and people were going to forget about it. The script for The Art of Self-Defense, to be fair, I knew going into it that it was going to be a hard movie to get made. To Andrew Kortschak’s credit, who ended up producing the film with his company End Cue, they saw something in it and they were the only ones that did. The movie would not have gotten made if they didn’t step in.

Was fight choreography a new experience for you?

It was, although me training in jiujitsu, I’m familiar with motions and body movements and what elements I wanted in the project. I’m not a stand up fighter although I’m taking [classes] now trying to learn how to stand up. We brought on Mindy Kelly who is an incredible stunt coordinator and Karate expert. Her very small team of stunt people kind of brought these fights to life, on a smaller scale than I think a larger movie would have been able to do. We had to keep it pretty small and contained with our team, especially time-wise. There were days where we had to finish a gigantic fight scene, like Imogen Poots’ fight scene with Steve Terada in night class, that was shot before lunch one day. We got in, we started shooting it and it had to be over before lunch because we had a gigantic dialogue scene after it. And there was no room for error. People had to bring it. It was a combination of the way that I wanted to direct it and to feel like Mindy’s stunt coordinating Imogen and Steve’s choreography in that scene and then my cinematographer, Michael Ragen who I’ve worked with on three projects now. All of us working in unison and harmony to get this to work the way that it did, it was stressful but in a way that I never felt like we weren’t going to be able to do it. I think that all the things worth doing are going to be a little tricky and challenging. I’m so glad that we pushed ourselves to be able to really open up and make it as good as possible.

Was fight choreography different for a comedy than it might’ve been for a straight action movie?

I guess a little bit. We do have a little bit of comedy in each fight. The only one that doesn’t have as much of that is a fight scene toward the end where there’s a head smashing into a particular metal object on the street. I watch that scene and for me it never felt particularly brutal but I think it’s just because I was there and I thought about how I was directing and shooting it and how we were rehearsing the audience, but I watch it with an audience and there are definitely no laughs in that scene. If anything, there are people who are disgusted by it. I think violence should be a bit much sometimes because I don’t like glorifying violence. I think it should be used when it’s necessary and for this movie I don’t think it was very necessary. But to be fair too, we have scenes where the “violence” was supposed to be a little comedic. The fight with Sensei and Jesse in the middle of the movie, there’s a little bit of humor. There are some kids watching the fight and that’s fun to be able to play with. Then there was also a moment in Imogen’s scene where she’s fighting on the ground and she just really wanted to kick the guy in the balls. I thought that was hilarious and for a movie about masculinity and the delicate balance of being too overt in your masculinity to the point where it’s negative, her just kicking a guy in the balls was funny to me. That was all her so I’m glad that she would throw those scenes in and improv with us. I think we were able to have fun with out fight scenes in a way that an action movie that takes itself seriously wouldn’t. But in an action movie like John Wick, I was cracking up at every fight scene they had in that film. The repetition of the horse kicking somebody to death and then a horse kicking somebody again to death, that was hysterical to me. I don’t think we’re alone in getting to have fun with our fight scenes but I think we had to serve the tone of a movie that was overtly comedic other than comedic at times. I think we maybe amped it up a little more.

My favorite fight in John Wick 3 was the knife fight where they just kept finding more knives to throw at each other.

It’s so good. It’s so over the top. It’s so funny. Even the book in the opening fight in the library, where he put the book in his mouth and breaks the guy’s job with it. It’s so violent and horrible, gory but I laughed. I think that maybe makes me a little bit of a horrible person but I also think that it’s just sometimes stuff that’s that over the top, it’s impossible not to have that visceral reaction of either disgust or laughter. 

Are you writing something new?

I’ve actually written something at the end of last year, this new script called Dual. It’s a pseudo-sci-fi. It’s very much along the tone of The Art of Self-Defense but I like to tell people that it’s maybe a little bit darker than The Art of Self-Defense but at times funnier. I don’t know what that means. There are people who argue that no, this is way darker or it’s way funnier. I’m super excited about Dual and I’m now in the process of casting it right now. As soon as this one’s out in the world I can focus my efforts solely on Dual and I’m also figuring out what the next thing after Dual is going to be. I’m excited to just keep working and keep creating. I hope I get to keep making stuff that I want to see made. I love making movies that I want to see made and I want to see on the screen, but I also want to make movies that people enjoy and want to watch. I’m definitely not making movies solely for myself. That’s something that I hear people say in the past, all they care about is that they like what they’re making. They don’t care what other people think. I think that’s a disservice to the project and to the people that are working on it. I want people to see my stuff and I want them to respond to it and relate to it, or see it and not like it and that’s fine too. I want there to be a reaction. I just want to keep on working.

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