Seven years ago, indie director Michael Davis wrote the kick ass action flick Shoot ‘Em Up and wanted to helm the project as well, but considering he had never directed a studio film, he took an unconventional approach and animated 15 minutes of the film–all action scenes–and used it as his pitch. New Line loved the alternative tactic and today he’s almost finished editing the edgy story he’s been aspiring to tell for quite some time now, but not without some struggles from executives over the harsh content of the film.
ComingSoon.net: Do you think it takes something crazy, like an animation, for a filmmaker to pitch yourself to executives?
Michael Davis: Well, yeah, in this case, I kind of feel like I’m on the other end of it and being send scripts. And a lot of the scripts are sort of not that great, and even the ones that are great, I would like to think that I can read through my mind’s eye. But I think with “Shoot ‘Em Up,” I really wanted to have this action dance, this action ballet, that it wasn’t just the cool action with the editorial flow and the motion and I think you can’t put that on paper. You can say a sentence – a bullet ballet, but until they actually see Clive twirling and jumping and diving and tumbling in this choreographed mayhem, that they went, “Oh, this could be something.” Because on the page, I had a rule of thumb I didn’t want to have all these explosions and everything that we had seen, all these cars tumbling over the freeway. I was more interested in what the hero was doing, like when I was a kid growing up, I was a huge James Bond fanatic. And the example of what sort of in my mind of what a kid crystallizes what action should be was that scene in “Goldfinger” when he’s; James Bond is fighting Odd Job. And Odd Job throws the hat and Bond gets it, throws it back and misses, and the hat goes into the metal bars, and Odd Job’s going to get it and he’s going to snap Bond’s neck with the hat. And Bond sees the electrical cords on the ground, and he ends up diving and remember he grabs the electrical cords, puts them in the bars. And just as Odd Job grabs his hat, he gets electrified – I like that ’cause, there’s a moment when you see the light bulb go off in Bond’s head, he has an idea and he implements it but it’s not staticy, he has to fly, he slides on his belly which is really acrobatic and fun and motion and all that. And so, in my head, that’s what I wanted to do with Clive Owen; when he wants to get the gun, he can’t just have it there, he has to dive, he has to flip. So, I’m kind of getting off your question, but having been in the business for so long, 35 screenplays and so many specs, I’ve directed 5 movies. I remember I did this movie “Beanstalk,” which was like a modern day Jack and the Beanstalk; I had 25 visual effects in it. We sent it to Disney, they were going to do “Honey I Shrunk the Kids 3”, but because my movie was made for $700,000 and didn’t have the big visual effects, only my little, little effects, they go, “Well, this guy can’t do ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids,’ he has a few effect shots.” But they can’t see beyond the guy not having money. So I think you have to do something to plant the flag and get people excited about you.
CS: Have references to “Children of Men” come up?
Davis: You know, what’s funny I knew when he was doing “Children of Men,” there was a slight comparison of him being with the baby, and then later on relieved that I got him even though he could have said, “I don’t want to do two movies with a baby.” The movies are so different; there’s such a sober feeling in “Children of Men,” I loved the movie. But this is so comic booky and over the top and just fun, that I really don’t think he was ever bothered by it, I’m not bothered by it. The one thing I do think we did talk about at New Line was the movie originally opened with the baby, delivering the baby start out really, “Common, push, push,” and he starts shooting everybody. And it was crazy, and everyone loved being thrown right into the action, but we felt it was important to say, this is more John Woo-ian and people were cluing into the drama of the baby and the mom, and all that and they weren’t they laughed, but they should have laughed louder initially at these ponytail being blown off. So we ended up adding this acrobatic opening with the oil slide and going through the paint-glass windows, telling people before the birthing that this is not “Children of Men,”that this is an out and out Shoot ‘Em Up. And I actually think it helped the movie by adding this sort of action in front of the birthing scene. So, it really never came up; maybe audiences out there might, but I think it’s a completely different movie, which is balls-out action.
CS: You write what you know, so how do you know so much about lactating hookers?
Davis: I don’t know if people know this, but when I got out of film school, I wrote this script about Alfred Kinsey, the famous sex therapist researcher. And I had optioned a biography by Wardell Pomeroy, who was Kinsey’s assistant, and since ’89, I tried to get this script off the ground. It was fun for me because I learned about Kinsey and about all his crazy sex stuff, which I found fascinating and funny; and kind of having done Kinsey, it sort of liberated my writing to be more sexually frank. And I wouldn’t have written “Eight Days a Week” or “100 Girls “or whatever; and in “Eight Days a Week” I don’t know if anyone knows the movie, but my kid who’s trying to win over Keri Russell, part of the time, he’s reading the Kinsey reports. In “100 Girls,” I had a character who liked eating Cap’n Crunch while she has her bed wall balls in. And maybe it’s not what I know, but it’s what I researched and found fascinating. And unfortunately, I got beaten to the punch with the Kinsey thing; but I feel like if I would have never written Kinsey, I wouldn’t have written my lactating hooker character. So it’s sort of part of my life; and what I’ve said before is I’ve become this angry guy because I had written all these scripts and tried to make all these little movies and felt like I could never break through. And so I became this guy who every little thing I would hate; I hate guys with ponytails, people who drive badly on the road. I would get this inner-anger of my lack of finding a way to break through, manifested itself into me being irritated with these little things in life, which then ended up being the Smith (Owen) character throughout the movie. He’s always saying, “I hate guys with ponytails,” he hates guys who sip their coffee and then do “oooohhhh” at the end of it. And that actually I don’t know if you drink your coffee that way. But he has a nasty remark about luxury car drivers. But it was kind of a way to take my own personality and put it into writing into a genre piece, so there is some stuff personal to me in here. The little limerick that Giamatti says about “this was a woman who might be gat?” My dad used to tell me that limerick, so I like the fact that my dad is in the movie. So kind of write what you know, but tailor it to the genre.
CS: As a fan of the genre, do you want to address that conceit?
Davis: I felt like we had to; I also tried to, with Paul – he’s always philosophizing about how he should do his job. He ends up saying something, “Sure, do you want to go in there, it’s kind of dangerous, Smith might be in there.” He says, “The leader that sits in the rear takes it in the rear.” And then he ends up walking and he looks up at the stairwell and says, “Besides, violence is one of the most fun things to watch.” And I think he is acknowledging the movie is fun to watch, the violence. So yeah, we did it in a couple other places.
CS: Do you have a total count of deaths in the film?
Davis: I don’t, but it’s pretty high. I was wondering if we should do the jelly beans in the jar kind of thing and have a contest. But then there’d be some “who’s wounded and who’s actually dead;” I guess it’d be the hits. To me, I’d rather have the hero have some clever way to get out of something than gigantic explosions or whatever. I just like when the guy gets a light bulb that goes off in his head and he executes it and that there’s clarity to the storyline. Even at the very beginning of this car chase, Clive buckles his seat belt. I’ve had people say, “Why is he buckling his seat belt? They never do that when they jump into the car.” I needed him to buckle the seatbelt to help tell the story that he’s up to something. When he unbuckles the seatbelt. “Oh he’s going to go through the windshield.” I just like the sort of setups and payoffs within an action scene that help tell the story and helps the audience understand what’s going to happen so it’s not just this blur of mayhem, but it’s very clear what the guy did.
CS: How much of the stunt work does Clive actually do?
Davis: He did a lot of it. Did you see in the crib the fight when he was going down the stairwell? That was all him. Absolutely all him. He just loved it. He was a real joy to work with. He was calling me “boss” all the time. “You have me eating out of the palm of your hand boss. What more do you want?” I was like, “Oh you’re calling me boss? Alright.” Totally easy to work with. Same with Monica [Bellucci]. Same with Paul. We really got fortunate. These three actors were just total pros. There were a couple scenes were Clive read, loved the scene, but said, “I think it can be better. Can I go back and change the lines? Rewrite them.” I said, “Yeah.” He came back and there was this one scene that he just made more specific and I was really thankful. It was a great collaboration. Clive was always respectful and he wasn’t like, “Oh I don’t want to do this.” It was always, “What do you think about this?” He would come in and have it hand written out. He’s a really great collaborator. Totally professional, totally into it. A couple of times, I remember him going up to the line producer and saying, “Stop leaning on Michael. Michael is doing great. Don’t pressure him.” So he kind of protected me as well.
CS: Were you nervous at all when he wanted to do his own stunts?
Davis: I was only nervous when the line producer started [saying] “Well you know we’re so close to the end of production and we haven’t had anything bad happen.” He starting talking about that’s when bad thing happen. Like the shot in the crib where he goes over the cabinets in slow motion and he shoots the guy with the Oozie before he shoots out the door. I always wanted that sort of iconic shot. We ended up doing it as a green screen. It was basically Clive jumping off a platform into a pad against green screen. The line producer, who did a great job and totally supported me, but was nervous and he said, “You shouldn’t have Clive jump.” Clive was like, “What is it? I just need to jump from here to here on the pads? I can do it.” But then every single time he had to fall. Really he had to be horizontal and sometimes we’d do it and he wasn’t quite horizontal enough and it looked cooler. I had him do it like 9 times. I was running a lot of film through the camera because it was in slow mo. Each time I’d say, “You got it, you got it.” “No, it could be better.” And sometimes I’d pull Clive over and say, “Look do you think this is good enough.” “No, no let’s do one more.” He did get hurt once. But it was like he sorta fell and the gun clipped his wrist or his thumb and it was bleeding a little bit. Nothing too bad. Clive wanted to drive the BMW a little bit more. In the BMW movies, he got to do all of his driving, or a lot of it. We didn’t let him do too much driving in this one. We sort of cheated a bit. But, for the most part, he was the one diving and hitting the floor, landing on pads and was totally into it.
CS: So is that a doll he’s carrying around with him?
Davis: No. We got very lucky. There’s a few doll shots. There are a few or a number of digital face replacements where we videoed the baby’s head. But, we got really lucky. If we would have shot here in LA, the rule of shooting with an infant is that they can only be in front of the camera for a half hour a day. I didn’t know that. But, when we went up to Canada, the babies could work for eight hours a day. They can work 15 minutes in front of the camera and then they need a 20 minute break. But, we had twins so virtually we could have a baby whenever we wanted. It eased it up a lot. A lot of the time, whenever possible, I had the live baby. We just couldn’t cheat it. It was a great call on our part. We were really nervous about working with babies and action and all of that.
CS: So when you were shooting off the guns, the babies weren’t around?
Davis: The babies were not around when we fired live loads, but obviously now you could do the digital muzzle flashes. We could have the baby around. We just cheated it. It was a combination of about how tight we were and what the action was. The mom that we got was a total sport. She was there all the time and let us do whatever we wanted with the babies within reason. There was one day on the set though and it was actually April Fool’s Day. I didn’t realize it was April 1st. Clive kept saying, “Oh I’m going to get you on a trick one day.” There’s a scene in the script where Clive lives in this abandoned building and instead of having a key for the lock, he uses this rat to go through a tunnel and pull these pullies and undo the door. There’s this scene where he has to pick up the rat from this basket. This was his trick, right. I’m sitting behind the monitor and he picks up the rat and goes, “Oh my God, the rat bit me.” Monica screams and drops the baby. “Oh my God, the baby.” I could see the rat was over there. The baby was over here. It was not the real baby. So I got up. Everybody was clustering around and you’d figure there’s nothing you can do, even if this disaster did happen. I told Clive that somebody yelled, “That’s it. It’s over. It’s over.” And I was like, “Oh is the day over?” We still had five hours of shooting left. I was like, “I’m so tired I could go back to bed.” He was like, “We got you. We got you.” I wasn’t worried that something silly like that could happen. The funny thing was the reason why I wasn’t fooled, Clive never gets bit. He made this big deal, “Oh my God, I’ve been bit.” It was so un-Clive like to go big. I said, “This can’t be real.” He should have sold it better. He still thinks he got me, but he didn’t. Then he goes, “You were a jerk to want to go home and take a nap. ‘I’m tired.'”
CS: This seems to be the year where people who love a certain genre have made movies in the genre like “Hot Fuzz” and “Grindhouse.” What do you think it is about this time in film that people have done that?
Davis: First of all, I love both of those movies. “Hot Fuzz” I thought was fantastic. You can say it all kinda happened at the same time, but I can’t control that they actually bought my script and gave me a shot. I wrote this script like seven years ago and tried to get it off the ground several times. But, maybe if you want to read into it, maybe it’s a reaction to all of these fantasy films. They have great action in them, but maybe they’re played out seeing these big CGI backdrops and fantasy worlds. I don’t know. Maybe they figure, “Well we need to do something different.” I think some of it is just the luck of the draw. I gotta believe that Edgar Wright when he was working on “Hot Fuzz” and when he was doing on “Shaun of the Dead” and was more of his from heat from that that got the movie made. I’m sure they were conspiring about “Grindhouse” before “Sin City,” but I don’t know.
CS: Both of those movies didn’t do as well as some of us lovers of the genre would have hoped. Do you think to some extent it could be too contained within the genre and that’s something you can broaden out with “Shoot ‘Em Up”?
Davis: Well there’s two things. I think that “Grindhouse” was an ensemble movie, both the two movies and I tend as an action fan to like to lock into the one hero. Whether it’s Indiana Jones or John McClane or James Bond because it’s hard enough in this over the top genre to feel emotionally invested in the hero. If you’re switching off between characters, it’s hard to start caring about them because by the time you start liking them, you’re going to someone else. Going back to Giamatti, Clive who is in every scene and I want to be that guy. I feel like my movie is a little bit different than that because it’s got one guy to invest in. I also think that probably the “Hot Fuzz” thing was that it was released right before “Spider-Man.” Again, I think maybe it’s because it’s kinda an import movie that the people who did go see the movie, loved it and flipped out. Some of it’s marketing. Some of it’s timing. I kinda feel like my movie has some of those things, but it’s also different. I know as a fan of action that I just want to see the guys go balls out. My movie has like 12 action scenes sprinkled all the way though and as much as I love “Hot Fuzz,” you have to wait until the end for this explosion of violence. I’m hoping people will finally want to see Clive Owen go nuts. That hopefully will help. I think part of it is luck and timing, you know.
CS: How do you market this film?
Davis: Well, we’ve tried with the trailer to say it’s got this outrageous action, but also has this sort of sense of humor, it’s a little bit fresher, a little bit darker. That’s what people seem to be saying when they see the trailer. The trick is, is that with the MPAA, you can only show so much violence in your trailer. I tended to, when I was doing the movie, when Clive’s running in the crowd, he shoots all like this [around the room]. You cannot have a muzzle go right at the lens so throughout the trailer, every time he starts sweeping, you have to cut out of it. And you can’t actually show lots of people getting shot. You can get things being shot. I’m hoping that the trailer indicates that and it’s called “Shoot ‘Em Up.”
CS: Any thoughts on doing a red band trailer?
Davis: We’re thinking about it. We’re thinking about it. It’s not cut yet. I think there were some rejected trailer ideas but there has been some talk about putting a piece of the movie out, that actually the MPAA is going to be okay with. If we put it in a Gate Check kind of thing, rather than doing a red band trailer, but a red band piece of the movie. We may be doing that.
CS: Will you go to Comic-Con?
Davis: We are going to Comic-Con. Clive is coming. We’re very excited about that and our plan. [His publicist stops him] I can say we’re going to show the movie. Yeah, I can say that, right? Thursday at 10PM. The whole movie.
CS: You’re finished editing?
Davis: We’re just about done. We love it and we’re going to show you.
CS: Have you been to Comic-Con before?
Davis: I’ve been there just as a fan for the day, before it really exploded and showing movies and studios showing up. I just went there because of being an illustrator, I just love looking at the different drawing styles and meeting the artists.
CS: Could we see a graphic novel version of this?
Davis: There’s been talk of it, yes. There’s talk of it but it’s a question of timing. But I know that there is a desire at New Line to do a graphic novel of it.
CS: Any plans for the DVD yet?
Davis: The DVD is going to have all my animation on it which I’m excited about. There was also some things, I did these home tests like I was this struggling filmmaker and I said, “What if I end up making ‘Shoot ‘Em Up’ as a super low budget movie? Maybe I can animate all the blood squibs, right?” So I did these animated blood squibs. My wife would be in the other room and I’d set up my camera and I’d go, “Arghhhh.” And then I’d frame by frame animate the blood coming out of my chest. I’m going to put that on the DVD. There are a few little action snippets that we’re going to put in there. There is one Giamatti scene that we thought was funny on its own, or two of them, but we wanted to keep getting back to the action.
CS: What about an unrated cut?
Davis: You know, there’s been some talk of it. We’ll see. I have to tell you, the cut that I have here, and it’s my first studio movie and everybody complains about how the studio made me do this or that. This is what I wanted the movie to be. Maybe there would be one percent thing that maybe I would change but I had a great experience with the studio. Even recently, Toby Emmerich said, “You know, why don’t you just have a little bit more money for music.” Like the opening sequence with the oil slick, we had a band called Spider Baby in there and now we’re going to end up putting a Nirvana song, Breed, under there. That cost us more money but the studio said, “Hey, here’s some more money. Spend it.” Which was awesome. Throughout the process, what happened was, we got Clive to say yes and we had wanted to shoot the movie during the summer. At one point, was he going to do “Inside Man” or was he going to do “Shoot ‘Em Up”? It looked like he was leaning towards doing “Shoot ‘Em Up.” Then Toby Emmerich said, “Well, Michael Davis is a first time studio director. Maybe we should give him six months to prep. Let’s do it later.” But what happened was then Universal made a two picture deal with him on “Inside Man” and “Children of Men,” and his rate went up and up and up so by the time it was us, we had to beat that rate. And Cale Boyter my executive said, “Well, I don’t know if they’re going to step to the plate. That’s too rich for us. We’re not going to do that.” And Toby said, “All right, we’ll do it. This is his price, we’re going to pay.” It was great. Then Jeff Katz was the one who suggested Paul Giamatti. Great idea for the movie but Paul was just doing “Lady in the Water” and his rate has gone up and we were scratching our heads, is Toby going to spring for the Giamatti money? We ended up coming up with a different cast list and not even talking about Giamatti because we didn’t want to piss him off going after this super expensive guy for the bad guy part. And Toby said, “What happened to the Giamatti idea?” And then we said, “Well, this is his quote.” “Okay, let’s do it.” So I have to say, the experience with the studio, making a movie with a heroine who’s a lactating hooker and a baby in jeopardy and violence and blood splattering, they’ve been pretty darn super. And I know that sounds a little kiss ass or whatever but it’s actually the truth. I’ve had a dream experience. I’d love to be the maverick guy, the Terry Gilliam arm wrestling, “I wanted my cut of Brazil and those bastards ” Probably makes me seem cooler and tougher but they’ve been really good.
CS: All the great one-liners, is that missing from modern action movies? Are they trying to be too clever?
Davis: It’s funny, the original script had less one-liners. The original one that was always in there was, “So much for wearing your seat belt.” But we decided later on when we were going through making the movie, could we make it a little bit funnier? And I didn’t want to make it too quippy but we found that yeah, the movie needed those buttons at the end of the scene. But I do have to say, the last version, the last cut that we had, we ended up cutting out one of the one-liners because we didn’t want the rhythm to be “big action scene, one liner” every single time. It just seemed because as over the top as the movie is, I kind of was influenced by “Bourne Supremacy”. I kind of liked that documentary, hand held kind of style and not make it too much like a movie, crane jobs and all that. So not overloading it with funny quips sort of still felt within the milieu so we have them, but we didn’t want to overdo it.
CS: Wasn’t that something you liked from the Bond movies?
Davis: Yeah, I did but I just want to be careful because I didn’t want to overdo it, because if you overdo it, then there’s already this over the top action but I didn’t want the audience to be so far back watching it as an audience member. I like them to be sucked in.
CS: You put your spin on it.
Davis: Maybe. I think the spin on the movie is I like the fact that Clive Owen is a homeless hero. He is a hero who has to ride the bus. You see in all these action movies where the hero is an alcoholic or some other problem like that. I like the fact that his quirk is carrots which is actually healthy, the opposite of the drunk hero. So I feel like that all sort of naturally happened, but there is a bit of my spin to it I guess.
CS: How did the idea of the carrots come up?
Davis: The idea came from, I always like in movies when they give a quirk, but they always give it to the secondary character, the character actor. I always think if you have a great idea that’s going to translate, give it to the main hero so he doesn’t seem like just a handsome hero. It seemed to make sense that he needed his eyes to be sharp for shooting. In the movie, they actually say carrots are good for the eyes. It plays into it. But I do have to say, as the movie progressed, as I was boarding it, I kind of used it as… Bond has all these gadgets and stuff. Well, he’s sort of the anti-Bond, the blue collar Bond. Things like when he scoops up the gun out of the backseat with the carrot wasn’t originally in the script but as I was boarding it, I was going, “Where can the carrot show up again and kind of help him out?” It’s kind of absurd but it still kind of makes you smile, so the character grew as a character in the movie.
CS: How many carrots does he have in his jacket?
Davis: Well, there was one scene where he’s at a Korean grocer and he ends up snatching a few while he was on the phone, but it kind of slowed down the scene so I cut it, but he grows some in his own place under these grow-lights, you’ll see. So he’s constantly restocking but we never really see it.
CS: The early teaser trailer spoofed 007 with the release date?
Davis: That was the marketing department. And then Sony ended up calling and saying we couldn’t… they took it off the Cannes version when it went to Cannes, but it got leaked on the internet before so they couldn’t do anything about it, but that was the marketing people. I thought it would be a really fun idea. I wish we could have kept it but Sony kind of got mad.
CS: Did Clive like that idea?
Davis: He loved it. He was really into it. He tells me that the Bond people never approached him. Everybody thinks that they were in talks or they had him on the list. I’m sure he was on the fans’ list. He paid me the ultimate compliment. I said, “So, how do you feel about the Bond thing?” He goes, “What do I care? I’ve got my own thing and it’s better.” I’m like okay, good answer. I think everybody’s talking about, I loved “Casino Royale.” I love Daniel Craig but I think actually the Bond movie elevated Daniel Craig’s profile. It was good for his career, for the world to see him. But I think Clive ultimately likes to do lots of different roles and I don’t know whether, even if they approached him, he ultimately would have wanted to do the Bond thing. So I think it ended up being good for both actors that it came out that way.
CS: What’s the running time?
Davis: It’s about 85, 86 minutes. Really lean and mean.
CS: Can this character be revisited again?
Davis: I would love to revisit it, yeah. I’d love to do it again. As I said, I’m writing something new that could be “Shoot ‘Em Up 2” but certainly the character does have kind of these qualities, I kind of like “A Fistful of Dollars,” “The Good the Bad and The Ugly,” you know how “The Man with No Name” keeps recurring but they’re kind of standalone movies. I thought it would be a smart thing to get busy on something, another balls out action thing. It could be its own franchise or with some tweaking, it could be “Shoot ‘Em Up 2,” so it gives me a lot more choices but I definitely would love to stay in this kind of crazy, R-rated action movie for a while.
CS: The Michael Davis action trilogy?
Davis: Well, that’d be great. That’d be great. I do think the R rating gives you freedom to do things that if you’re doing PG-13 and that four quadrant thing that you can’t do. I wouldn’t have had the lactating hooker, I wouldn’t have had the scene with Giamatti in the car. Unfortunately, that’s where my mind goes.
CS: Any other genres you’d like to try?
Davis: I’d like to do sci-fi action. I wouldn’t mind doing fantasy action.
CS: But all variations on action?
Davis: Well, I’ve done three romantic comedies, “Eight Days a Week,” “100 Girls,” “100 Women.” So I kind of feel like I’ve explored that a little bit. I did the one horror movie for $700,000, “Monster Man” which to me, for me doing a horror film was almost an extension of doing an action movie. It probably has the rules of fantasy but it ultimately has heroes and good versus evil and lots of kinetic cinema, but I kind of feel like horror to me is the same, for me, in terms of filmmaking, the same fun. But for a while, I’d like to stay really in the action arena. But action is sort of a loose term.
CS: Are you worried about Child Protective Services coming out against this film?
Davis: You know, historically, any time there’s a controversy, it helps the box office. I do think the movie is so over the top right from the beginning, it says that this is larger than life. I think if it were something more realistic, I think they would have more of a case. Clive always is protecting it. It’s never really in too much danger. It’s very interesting that like when I made all my R-rated romantic comedies, at the end of them, I’d talk to these girls and they’d go, “That was so sweet, that was so great.” And I go, “What about this joke, this joke, this d**k joke, whatever?” “No, it’s so sweet.” And when people end up reading “Shoot ‘Em Up,” they go, “Oh, it could be really hardcore and really nasty and da da da da da.” Ultimately, it’s got all that but somehow it’s really kind of sweet. Somehow I write these things that seem really edgy and they have the edgy elements but they end up playing really sweet. The lactating thing is a fetish but actually it’s quite practical. After “Shoot ‘Em Up” sold, I had the great chance of meeting all of these agents in town. All the agents say, “Well, you can’t be Michael Davis. You don’t look like the guy who would write this. You look too nice.” I’m like, you know. But I think somehow the movies end up at the core, because I think I’m partially a sweet guy and partially a twisted guy, that the movie ends up reflecting who I am which is what I like in filmmaking.
CS: With Jeff Katz at DC now, does he have to do with the comic book feel of the movie?
Davis: Jeff Katz, first thing, the movie wouldn’t have happened without Jeff. Jeff, one of the coolest contributions was the Paul Giamatti idea. He also kind of pushed the Looney Tunes aspect. It was his idea with the ringtone. So I guess those were the specific areas but he was the one who always got it. He was the first one, unlike most studio executives, when you walk into a room, they’re very poker faced. They don’t want to show their hand in case they actually are going to negotiate with you and you know how much they love it. He goes, “We need something like this! This is just perfect for us! A reasonably priced action movie, and this meeting really is about whether or not you should direct the movie but in terms of the script, we’re there.” He showed his hand. First second I met him. So I knew that they wanted the script and they didn’t even care about what the negotiation would be. He just was expressing his passion. He totally got it. And as I said, he did the end around his boss and took it to another VP over there to get the movie made. But he was constantly coming up to the set, he was constantly “Can we tweak this line of dialogue? Could it be funnier, could it be edgier, could you add one more action beat? Do you think there’s more time in your day to shoot one more bit with Clive?” I have to tell you, I’m very, very happy because of his promotion or going over to Fox because you have all heard this story about Jeff when he was 15, he wrote a letter to Bob Shaye, right? You’ve all heard this, he said, “I want to work for you one day” and he ends up working for Bob Shaye. But they were always going to see him as the young kid and he really needed to leave for him to get his jump up the ladder. It turned out well for everybody involved.
CS: What are the staples of fantasy and sci-fi that you’d have to get into a movie?
Davis: You know, I’ve always loved trying to do clever things with sword fighting. I think that’s really kind of cool and acrobatic. I loved Errol Flynn’s stuff. Obviously the “Robin Hood,” that but I also like what they’ve done with the “Pirates” movies where they added a fantasy element into something that normally wasn’t fantasy. I wouldn’t mind seeing that enter a lot of other action genres.
CS: And sci-fi?
Davis: In terms of the subgenres of it, I have to tell you, there’s a side of me that would like to do a sort of four quadrant PG-13 “Star Wars” one, and then as I keep thinking about it, all my ideas are a little bit more twisted that would take it into the R rated range, more like “Aliens” or whatever. And I haven’t decided. I think I would like to do both. I think my agents would prefer to see me do something PG-13, so it all depends. Your career, everybody asks you about your choices. A lot of it depends on how your movie performs, how you’re perceived. I’m not yet at the point where I can say, “This is what I want to do with my next picture.” I’m hoping I’ll be able to do that but a lot of it is just luck and timing, but I’m trying to continue on as a writer-director. That would be my ultimate goal, to write what I direct. Direct what I write. But I’m still reading stuff that’s submitted to me. I wouldn’t turn down another script if it was awesome. Does that make sense.
CS: Would Clive be involved in a sequel?
Davis: I absolutely would love him to do it. I can’t really say. If anything, he’s expressed interest in doing another movie with me and he’s expressed interest in doing a “Shoot ‘Em Up 2” for sure. There’s nothing on the books quite yet. There’s no second one. We’re just fantasizing about it.
Shoot ‘Em Up opens September 7th.