Star Chad Michael Collins and director Claudio Fah discuss Sniper: Reloaded, working with Billy Zane, shooting in South Africa, a sequel, and more.
I have seen enough "straight-to-DVD sequels" in my day to know that most of them lack one basic element: they aren't really sequels. Sure, they may be in the same tone or genre as the original, but they are completely different characters and, most of the time, set in completely different worlds. Sniper: Reloaded has the distinction of being one of the first "straight-to-DVD sequels" I've seen in many years that actually deserves to call itself a sequel, and it's a damn good movie as well. The story centers around the son of Tom Berenger's character, from the original 1993 movie Sniper, and also features a fantastic return performance from Billy Zane, who reprises his role of Richard Miller from the original as well.
I recently had the chance to speak with actor Chad Michael Collins, who plays Sgt. Brandon Beckett, the son of Tom Berenger's Richard Beckett, and director Claudio Fäh about Sniper: Reloaded, which hits the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD on April 26. Here's what they both had to say below.
I see a lot of these straight-to-video sequels and what I really liked about this one, is it actually ties into the original, unlike most of the others. Can you talk about the origins of getting the script together?
Claudio Fäh: I know that Sony had been trying to revive the franchise for quite awhile. There had been a previous attempt, also with Chad, with the intent of continuing the series with Tom Berenger's son. After a previous attempt that fell apart late in the game, they tried it again, although this time with a story that's placed in Africa. That's where I came in, because I had worked in South Africa before with Sony and they asked me if I wanted to try and make the numbers work in Africa. I said yes, before I knew I could make the numbers work because it was such an appealing project. Africa added, I found, a breath of fresh air into these movies, because you rarely see these kinds of movies take place in Africa. In regards to linking it with the first movie, I'm a big fan of the first movie. I think it's a very strong movie, a very good movie. It was also inspiring in where it came from in Carlos Hathcock from the Vietnam War. It's something that we really looked at very closely and tried our best to tie it to the first movie. Of course, being able to bring Billy Zane for this, was a treat. It was fantastic and I was very happy about it. He's the right man to bring it back and link it to the first movie.
Chad, can you talk about some of the differences between this movie and that first incarnation that fell apart? Was that set in Africa also?
Chad Michael Collins: Sure. Like Claudio, I had worked with Sony before too, on a film called Lake Placid 2. One of the producers there, who I guess was the person trying to get a new Sniper project off the ground at Sony, Peter Nelson, he cast me in that and saw me work in that, maybe three or four years ago. He called my manager right after he saw the footage from Lake Placid 2 and he tore up and down and he thought I was a dead ringer for Tom Berenger. He said they had been trying to bring Sniper back, but they wanted to do it as an origin story. I was set to play a young Tom Berenger in 'Nam, learning how to shoot and be a soldier. We had a contract all signed, sealed, and delivered and I was going to go for six weeks to the Philippines and do this flash forward/flash back origin story with Tom Berenger. He had to drop out and it kind of got shelved. It wasn't until three years later when they started talks with my manager and Claudio came in.
I think the story works really well. It does tie back to the original, but it also works just fine on its own. It's a real treat for fans of the original, but it's not an absolute must that you have to see the original.
Chad Michael Collins: It totally stands alone. You're right.
Can you about the experience of shooting in South Africa? What kinds of locations did you use?
Claudio Fäh: We shot this with Film Africa, which is a company I've worked with before, and they're located in Cape Town. This one, given that it plays out with the conflict in the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's much more further up. That made us decide to go to Johannesburg. This was shot in and around Johannesburg, and that was an amazing experience, I have to say. We not only had an incredibly enthusiastic crew, like you always get in South Africa, I might add, but also shooting in these locations, be it the poorest parts of town and these really poor townships, but they were incredibly hospitable to us and very friendly. Then we were shooting on a game farm alongside elephants and zebras and giraffes, it was something I had not experienced before and, I have to say, was wild. It certainly helped us get a sense of immersion and a sense of the country. Of course, it was South Africa trying to double for the Congo, and that's hard because South Africa is much less arid and lush. Of course, you can tell it's not the Congo, but we were lucky that it was a very wet winter, just before we went there to shoot, so things were a bit more green and a bit more lush than they usually were. That helped us a great deal.
Chad Michael Collins: There were several days when we were on location where a giraffe, a famous giraffe of this game farm, Emily, would literally just come over and be curious and knock over the lighting, just waltzing through the set. Towards the end, there was a scene we'd be shooting and these giraffes would just poke out of the trees. Claudio would be yelling at the DP, 'Get that! Get that!' It was so lucky to have these random animals strolling through. It was just unique and authentic.
One of the things that struck me was that elephant shot, where a few elephants just run through there. Was that one of those impromptu moments?
Chad Michael Collins: That was not (Laughs).
Claudio Fäh: That was planned, but yes and no. It was the third take which was just miraculous and worked out great. The first take, Chad and Patrick Lyster almost literally got ran over. The baby elephants, which are still the size of a little car, decided to not read the script (Laughs) and they just made a bee line toward us. We didn't know if they were going to stop or not. It was really hairy, but really fun.
Chad Michael Collins: They charged right at us and, literally, stopped two feet in front of my face. It's a good thing he did too, cause he is a good solid 500 pounds. I'm going to lose that battle.
That was one of my favorite shots, because it sums up that whole environment. In a lot of movies, that shot would have been faked, but you could tell that was definitely real.
Claudio Fäh: That was the big advantage of going to South Africa because this is all about immersion. It's an adventure movie and it's about being in a different place, finding your feet in a different place that you don't understand. The themes are in there and shooting in the authentic places, or close, was a huge benefit. And, I might also point out, at the beginning of the movie, with the ant, that's a real ant, biting a real actor.
Chad Michael Collins: On top of what Claudio said, these are American soldiers in a U.N. peacekeeping mission. They're displaced. It parallels Brandon's story where he's an infantry grunt who also feels out of place because he's forced to embrace a way of soldiering that he's largely scoffed at, the sniper, becoming one with the land.
Chad, can you talk a bit about the people you talked to, so you could get in the mindset of a sniper or an infantry grunt? Did you have consultants on the set?
Chad Michael Collins: We had a really great technical advisor. He was a former Russian sniper named Vadim. He was fantastic, and incredibly knowledgeable and had legit, modern war experience. Even the armorers, the guys who brought the guns out of the gun company there, they were incredible. There was a guy named Pete Smith and his company. Between every take, I would hang out with these guys and just pick their brains to make it as authentic as possible. Just hearing stories, that more than reading the books by Carlos Hathcock helped me mentally get into that space. The nice thing is, me as an actor coming in, I have experience with guns and I grew up hunting and all that stuff, but I certainly don't have sniper training, and Brandon never did either. I was learning as we shot, and learning from these guys. Maybe it's something I have a knack for. I have certainly hunted with rifles and long-range weapons, but there is a mindset, a one-with-the-land zen quality. You see the metamorphosis of Brandon, this hot-headed infantry grunt who just wants to mow things down with a semi-automatic weapon, to a guy who is literally stalking through high grass at the end, to come face to face with the guy who took out his squad. Those guys were a great resource.
Claudio Fäh: I have to commend Chad for exactly what he just said. He was amazing and he really inspired everyone else on the crew. He went to the armorers and to Vadim every frigging minute on the set to ask for criticism in the way he was holding his weapon, or how he would stalk up to the enemy. If you look at the movie, our goal was to make it as authentic as possible, in terms of military warfare. If you look at it, there's an evolution of how Brandon uses his rifle. The way he shoots at the beginning of the movie is very different from the way he uses it at the end. He's becoming a sniper as he comes along, and every set piece we wanted to make different. These Congolese rebels, they would just shoot from the hip without any knowledge or technique. Brandon, at the end, he has really become a sniper. He knows you have to make one shot count and he knows how to do that, which is something our advisors were great for, in telling us how to do that.
I really loved watching Billy Zane in this. Can you talk about the experience of having him on the set?
Claudio Fäh: I felt really blessed to have him, not only for the fact that he revived his character from the first movie, but he also evolved it. He plays the same character by name, but he has gone through quite a different process and he has become the mentor now, whereas he learned about sniping in the first movie. There are also references in the weapons that he brings, for those who look really closely. All the guns he brings along, have the very same strap that Tom Berenger used in the first movie. Of course, there's the Magnum style handgun that he uses, which is the very same weapon that they both used to save each other's lives. There is a lot of linkage going on, but Billy Zane as an actor, what he brought to the picture was amazing. He not only knew the subject matter like nobody else, but he really made an effort and embraced our goals to make it as realistic and authentic and as character-driven as possible. It's really something he knows how to do, and he can create a back story that links up with who he is. I have to say, working with Chad and Billy in the scenes with them together, was just pure joy. It was fantastic, and I miss it.
Chad Michael Collins: It was a lot of fun. One of the great qualities that Billy brought, aside from his experience, one of the things that really comes through in the movie is that his character is a bit off the books. He may be a sniper, but he's a bit anti-establishment and a bit of a hippie inside, whereas Brandon is very much a by-the-book, hot-headed, get-in-line sort of Marine. He's totally gung-ho. That dynamic is really fun, especially at the end, it's almost like a Butch and Sundance thing. He obviously gets the better of the one-liners and the zingers, but it works coming from him. We played with things and he opened it up, like the odds are against you, why not laugh about it and open it up that way. The chances of us getting shot up are pretty good, so have a little bit of fun with it and poke fun at it, even if it's a little bit morbid.
I liked the ending, which leaves it open for another sequel, although I was also curious that there seems to be this underlying organization where these snipers kind of go. Is that something that might be explored in a possible follow-up?
Claudio Fäh: I sure hope so. It's SOCOM, special operations command. It's a unit that exists. They do sort of bridge... they're part of the Marines, but they're not a part of the Marines. They do get these black-ops, covert-style operations and they do work across the board. That's why Billy doesn't have rank, doesn't have to be saluted. He walks around the U.N. base in civilian clothes, so you can't really pinpoint it, but he does belong to it. That's the idea, that Sony hopefully tacks onto that and enough fans see the movie and demand another one, so we can pick it up there and send Billy and Chad on more adventures.
Chad Michael Collins: Let's go to Costa Rica next.
Yeah. It would be cool to see both of them as these fully-trained snipers teaming up together. That would be fun to see.
Aside from a possible sequel, is there anything else you're both working on now that you can talk about?
Chad Michael Collins: I've got some stuff lined up, nothing solid, but I just started on CSI: Miami, playing a champion mixed martial arts fighter. It just aired the other weekend, but you can catch it on CBS and Hulu for another month or two online. That was pretty fun. I got to do three days of fight choreography with a former UFC fighter, getting kicked around the ring a bit (Laughs). I just wrapped a mockumentary about an oblivious, narcissistic, self-help guru called Rock Barnes: The Emperor in You. It was very improv-heavy and a lot of fun. I think they're going to try to take that to Sundance next year.
Claudio Fäh: I have a horror-thriller that is supposed to be shooting this summer called Old MacDonald. That should go forward and then there's a true story from the Bosnian War, that I'm working on myself, with the script.
Chad Michael Collins: What I'm surprised about, with how it was written and how it turned out, is you're going to see a bit of everything. There are lots of guns. I probably shot four or five different types of guns. We certainly light things up, for sure. You've got your explosions, sniper rifles and semi-automatics, so there's no shortage of action, as far as that goes. Then there's the beautiful countryside and the scenery, there's a love interest that I have, with a bit of a romantic story and my steamy scene in there. If a gun guy wants to bring his girlfriend, there are those moments. It's a good guys vs. the bad guys, shoot-em-up sort of movie.
Cool. That's about all I have for you guys. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the DVD and perhaps we can get a sequel.
Claudio Fäh: Thank you very much.
Chad Michael Collins: Thanks a lot for your time, Brian.