The director of this new film gives us the lowdown on some of the crazy stories of production.
While many a first-time director has seen some bumps in the road on their first production, Brad Furman has seen more than his fair share of craziness on the set of his first film, The Take, which hits the DVD shelves on May 27. I had the chance to speak with the director over the phone and here is what he had to say about his unique experience on his first feature film production.
How did you first come across this script from the Pate Brothers (Josh and Jonas) and what made you want to take this on?
Brad Furman: This is a big-time hustle and you continually have to not take your eyes off the prize and, if you do, it's going to pass you by very quickly. I had been attached to one or two studio movies that were, you know, pretty terrible scripts, as far as material. Some indie financiers had come to me with some genre horror stuff, with the writer Justin Marks. Now, Justin is a really big comic book and cartoon screenwriter. I mentored Justin when he was at Columbia and I was working for Julia Roberts back in New York. We had some projects together, he had written a horror film but he had also written some great, gritty material. We were struggling to get things made and, low and behold, I was playing basketball at UCLA and I met this guy who was a producer and, simultaneous to that, I met this guy who was a financier, who played in the NFL for 10 years, named Matthew Hatchette. Matthew also starred in The Take as Baxter, opposite Perelli, Bobby Canavale's character. Matthew wanted to finance this horror stuff, but after the producers on that film were pretty corrupt, not good people and the whole deal fell apart, I approached him and said, 'Look, I know you believe in me as a filmmaker, you want to do horror, but let's go out and do a really great film.' He said, 'What do you have in mind?' Soon after, I had introduced Matthew to the producer I had met at UCLA, Braxton Pope, and he had worked with the Pate Brothers and he brought us this script, The Take. It was an ideal candidate for a movie because this character Felix (John Leguizamo) I found very inspiring, his emotional journey. It was a movie I felt that I could flip on its head for the genre, and really personalize this revenge story and, at the same time, make a movie that was much bigger for the budget we would have. It was quite a journey and that's how I found the script and Matthew also wanted to star in the movie as well, so I had to find a movie too that fit that. So that's the long story, but eventually that's how we got there.
Yeah, I'm from Minnesota and I used to watch him play for the Vikings awhile ago.
Brad Furman: Yeah. I know a lot of athletes. I used to play college basketball. A handful of guys I played with from Philadelphia like Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace who are on the Detroit Pistons now. I played with all of those guys from Philly. Kobe Bryant's dad was my summer league coach for two summers, Kobe was a little teenager in the ninth grade. So, I grew up with all these athletes but the one thing I can say about Matthew is, not discounting any of the guys I named, but he is the nicest guy. He's just a really really good guy and, having played basketball with him, and not football, he's quite a tremendous athlete. He's just a good guy and we had a lot in common and we hit it off and it worked out quite nicely. He really dedicated himself to the acting. I would urge him to tell people that he wasn't the producer or the financier on the movie, because I wanted people to think that we just cast him for him, more than anything. Obviously, in the end he did what he thought was best for business, but he did give a strong performance.
It doesn't look at all that this was made on an $800,000 budget. What were the challenges in making it bigger than the budget allowed?
Brad Furman: I had, fortunately for me, tremendous experiences from working on shoestring budgets, so I definitely felt confident in taking the script and elevating the material. First and foremost, you have to pick the right people to work with, people who you know, like my cinematographer, Lukas Ettlin, a guy who's just a shooter. He's the kind of guy you could give him zero lights, one light or a hundred lights and he's gonna come up with great-looking stuff and collaboratively work with you to find the right moments and really pre-plan and be ready. Secondly, if you look at a movie like The French Connection, or even Rocky for that matter, those are two films that were incredibly under-budgeted at the time. The filmmakers, with their crew, found ways within locations to get what they needed, and that's what we really did.
As far as obstacles, we were constantly shooting without permits and constantly taking our actors and putting them in real environments, we were constantly shooting on the fly. We shot about 30 percent of the film with, literally, a four-person crew, where it would be me, my cinematographer, an assistant camera and some kid from college who I hired as my assistant for purely no money and Leguizamo. Anything and everything with John, Leguizamo on the bus, Leguizamo on the streets drunk, running after Marco's death, all those things we shot with a four-person crew. We even went back and picked stuff up. We had, just so you know, typical indie productions run into various and many typical indie problems. Leguizamo shot over 50 films and he said in his lifetime he's never seen a film cursed with so many problems. Just to give you an indication, because you asked about the hurdles in trying to make this a bigger movie, we were shut down by the police multiple times, due to gang violence. There was a shooting on set where a guy from a gang pulled a gun and shot it in the air. There was a strangling between a caterer and a gang member. To no fault of the gangs in East L.A., I think I would blame some of the really foolish crew people on the movie. (Laughs)
Wow. That's just amazing.
Brad Furman: I know. We were chased by the police, literally, Tyrese (Gibson) and John (Leguizamo). We shot the whole scene at the produce mart and we were un-permitted. My crew was maced by security and the police chased us and we literally got away in cars, like we robbed the place. It was pretty wild. We shot at a train station and, as we were shooting, a train came barrelling in around 100 miles per hour, unbeknownced to us. It was wild stuff. All that stuff with everyone on top of the train, even the scene with the pool, where the stunt guy jumps in. We were so under budget and we didn't have a really great stunt coordinator, he didn't care about his job or was just there for a paycheck. The stunt guy didn't show up and that sent panic and fear throughout the crew. He was saying the stunt was unsafe, that I had planned for three months. A lot of bickering and fighting, my whole AD team walked, my key grips walked, basically my whole crew walked except for the few good people that I knew really well. Literally, during the final arguement, I ran off the roof and performed the stunt, jumping into the pool and basically said, 'OK, are we gonna shoot this now? It's obviously safe.' That gave the actor, Jake Muxworthy, enough confidence to make the jump. We were riddled with problems and, just to give you a funny idea, the two days my parents came to the set, the first day there was the shooting in the air and police helicopters flew all over us, so all the police helicopters you see in the movie, we just grabbed those shots at that time. My parents were there that day, the police shut us down and we snuck in with Rosie (Perez) and John (Leguizamo) and got the shot of John with the cop car. We just grabbed that way after the police shut us down. That was the first time my parents came and the second time my parents came, was the day I jumped in the pool. I think at that point my parents were like, 'I don't think we'll come back anymore.'
(Laughs) That's insane.
Brad Furman: Yeah, that's the truth. We premiered at Toronto, we were selected by the Toronto Film Festival, and we were hours away from our movie at the first press screening and we were really pleased that it caught a wonderful buzz. In catching that buzz, I had called the box office and said that for the premiere, I asked how many seats were sold. They said about 200 or 250, for an 850-person theater. That first press screening came on a Tuesday, I believe, and the premiere was on a Wednesday. The press really embraced the movie and, the next thing we knew, it was sold out, over-sold, actually. There was 900 people, standing-room-only for the movie. We were an hour in, the movie was doing really well, we could feel it in the air, and the film cuts out (Laughs). This movie, nothing has gone well when we needed it to, but at the end of the day, we found a way to rise above it all and make a movie. So, when you ask me about obstacles, you know, there's just so many. I'll give you one final anecdote. The original little boy that we hired for the movie, we shot a week with him, on an 18-day shoot. It turns out that he forged his grades, because he had gotten a D and you're not supposed to get anything below a C, as a child to act. We had to remove him from the movie and re-shoot all the scenes we had shot with him. Honestly, I could sit here for four hours and tell you stories.
I don't even know how to follow all that up, to tell you the truth. How did the casting process go? You've got some pretty big names here like Leguizamo, Rosie Perez, Bobby Canavale and Tyrese Gibson. How was it like getting them into the fold? I'm huge fans of Bobby and Tyrese.
Brad Furman: I've known Tyrese, actually, for about 10 years now. When he was on MTV, doing the veejay thing, I was in Manhattan at the time, working for Julia Roberts. He was tight with this guy who did all the hiring for MTV and they had reccomended me to leave my current profession and do on-air hosting. I felt like that wasn't what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a filmmaker, then as I started to think about it, I thought that maybe I could be the guy that was on TV that also directs videos. That would be a cool tie-in. I took the meeting and pitched the idea and they were going for it. What typically happens is you get assigned a mentor and I ended up going to the Mystery, Alaska, and I ended up getting introduced to Tyrese that evening. I never ended up doing the veejay thing, which was definitely the best for me, but we became quick friends. I knew that if he was willing to put some weight on for the movie, and really go in a different direction, it seemed this would be an interesting role for him. For the most part, other than Tyrese, I tried to cast actors that I truly loved, that truly inspired me. Canavale, the minute I saw him in The Station Agent, I was hooked.
Oh yeah. I love that movie.
Brad Furman: The guy is just a phenomenal talent. Rosie Perez, I mean in Do the Right Thing, as a young woman, that movie made me want to become a filmmaker, so to work with her was a true honor. There's nothing that Leguizamo hasn't done that doesn't just blow me away, so when I read this movie, I wrote right next to Felix, on the first page, John Leguizamo. It's a dream, you know. I didn't ever think it would be true, but I just made that note and I still have that script, actually.
Besides all that insanity on the set, when you're not getting shut down, was it a pretty light-hearted kind of set?
Brad Furman: Unfortunately, it just wasn't for me and for the crew. I think, at the end of the day, you've got different levels of filmmaking out here in Hollywood and a lot of the B-movie work is done by groups of people who - I don't mean to discredit the crew - but in some ways, I thought, as a guy who was this kid who had a dream to become a filmmaker, I was very glossed over in thinking that everyone and anyone loves films and wants to do films. For the most part, there are people like that and the great movies comes from those groups of people making them. Most of my crew were hired by a particular gentleman, you can figure out who it is if you look at the IMDB, but they were there for a paycheck. They dropped dime on us for the union and we were below union wages anyway but because we had such big stars, the union thought we were hiding money, thought we were lying. We got unionized and suddenly part of our money went away because of the union fringes. They totally called the union on us and striked in the middle of our day and we lost about 10 hours during the day. Money is time and time is money, so when you're on a set and nobody had ever heard of me as a filmmaker, so I thought of every day as sink or swim. I had to go out there and make a great movie. I had just seen The Departed, a few months earlier in the theaters and I thought Martin Scorcese had made Mean Streets at the beginning of his career and I thought this has to be my Mean Streets, this has to be as good as The Departed. If it's not, then I can't go to every theater and say, 'I just wanted to let you all know that Martin Scorcese had this amount of million dollars and I only had under a million.' There's no opportunity to preface it. Plus, if your movie is not good enough, it doesn't get bought and we didn't have distribution. I felt the pressure that we needed to make a good film. The pressure didn't bother me. The hard part was, because time is money and money is time, we didn't have the time or the money to make the movie that I wanted to make. We constantly had another pressure on us to go out and execute under these extreme circumstances and, obviously, from all the stories and obstacles I told you, there's a consistent added duress. What made the movie possible was the handful of people who were so committed to the work, who, after we shot a 12-hour day, if we missed anything they would stay with a few people and pick it up. If there were things in the script we knew we couldn't schedule or afford, we'd go out and pick them up early in the morning when the sun just came up or at night. We were just constantly finding ways to make this movie and, as we went, I was just piecing it together in my head and it was a bizarre experience, but one of the best of my life.
Is it one of those things where, if you had more money or more time, it would've been a different movie. But would it have been a better movie if you had the budget you wanted or the shooting schedule you wanted?
Brad Furman: Well, that's funny. I had recently watched a documentary on Michael Mann and some of the behind-the-scenes footage he had done for Miami Vice and some of his other films. One of the things he does is he likes to shoot in real time so, as far as stylistically, and incorporating to the environments, I think that's something that's been easy for me for quite some time. I love how we made the movie and shot it. I felt like, I read the script, and it was a Michael Bay action-revenge movie, and I was like, 'No no no. Let's personalize this thing. Let's go in a different direction. Let's make the movie that the studio would never make, where you care about the characters so much, you live vicariously through the journey.' Consistently, I'm going to movies these days and I'm very acutely aware of the wall that exists between me and the screen, whereas great films, you just get so wrapped up in the picture and you live so deeply and vicariously through the characters, that you forget about that wall. It's such a blessing that we weren't completely embraced by the studio. The studio hadn't seen our movie when they made the offer to buy it. It was like, 'Oh my god, this is Sony. This is amazing,' but the fact that they hadn't seen our film, was disconcerting to me. They knew the script and they knew the actors, but they also knew with those actors and that script on DVD, this would really perform. I was a bit concerned. I really wanted to go for the big theatrical release. We went for that and my bigger point was this was a movie, from the get-go, that had everything against us.
So now that this will be seen by a wide audience on DVD, what do you think people will take away from it? There have been a few of these revenge/vigilante type of movies lately. What do you think sets this apart and will draw in the audience?
Brad Furman: Well, I hope that it's the character stuff I spoke about. I kind of got off on a tangent there a moment ago, but, yeah. One of the things we've really been blessed with the movie is that, from a critical standpoint, it's been embraced. There are a lot of movies out there that don't have a big theatrical run. I love it for what we accomplished and what we didn't, but I'm a filmmaker that feels I can definitely make a movie much better than The Take. In Hollywood, you're only as good as your last movie, but deep down in my heart, what keeps me alive and keeps me ticking is I know I'm more than that. In terms of this movie, I've seen this movie now at the premieres and we've screened it at the festivals and we've had some private screenings and the feedback has just been wonderful. The critics have all really embraced the film, and thank God for the press. Typically everyone is complaining about the press and they don't want to read the reviews and I thought people have really come to support this movie. I really hope that on DVD, my dream would be for it to catch fire and for people to really give it life. People have been saying to me, there was a DVD release party last week, how great this is and how exciting the movie is on DVD and part of my mindset was, yeah, we've already done the theatrical thing, but I'm beginning to realize now that theatrical was so limited with the New York and L.A. release, with such little promotion, was that now I think you're right. This IS its wide release. I think I overlooked that, stubbornly, because I was so focused on the theatrical. I wanted to sell it to a studio who had seen it and loved it and knew what to do with this movie, and we went in a different direction. There's no better place than to release your DVD than through Sony. I mean, they're kings, so I'm excited to go to the Blockbuster. My friend was saying to me that he already has it on his queue on Netflix and people have pre-ordered it on the Internet, I see you can get it on Amazon. I just hope people see that we were trying to make a movie and raise the level of filmmaking. If they enjoy it, they'll come back so I can make future movies.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have. Thanks so much for your time today, Brad.
Brad Furman: Yeah, no problem. I'm sorry for the long-winded answers, but I appreciate anybody taking time to talk about the film. It's really a labor of love.
No problem. Thanks again, Brad.
Brad Furman: Thank you so much.
You can find The Take on the DVD shelves on May 27.