CS Interview: Director Eric Appel on Quibi’s Die Hart
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Eric Appel (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) to discuss Quibi’s action-packed comedy Die Hart starring Kevin Hart (Jumanji: The Next Level) and John Travolta (Gotti), which is now available to stream in its entirety on the fresh platform!
When it came to wanting to be a part of the series, Appel cited the obvious as wanting to work with its iconic star, calling him “hilarious,” but found the biggest draw was when he got his hands on the script from John Wick creator Derek Kolstad and Stuber scribe Tripper Clancy.
“When I read the script, the script came to me and the first time I gave it a read, it was just so weird and fun and meta and like, poked fun at Hollywood and actors,” Appel described. “It had great action. It had great comedy. I mean, yeah, as soon as I read it, I wanted to come on board.”
With Quibi as the project’s home, it meant the whole story would be chopped up into 10-minute segments but rather than see this as a major challenge or trying to shoot it as such, Appel noted he and the team “always talked about it like it was a feature film and we shot it like a feature,” something which he hadn’t done before as his background in television sees him take on “an episode of someone else’s series.”
“The biggest difference is the length and telling a complete story, and really, the biggest challenge with like, shooting a feature that is going to break up into 10 chapters and that each of the chapters is going to be engaging and you’re going to use those 10 minutes to build toward the next chapter and end on a cliffhanger and keep people wanting to come back for more,” Appel explained. “It’s something that once they’re all out on Quibi, it’s a great thing to binge. And you can cast it to your TV and watch them all straight through like a feature. But for those who are tuning in every day, I think the biggest challenge was to like, shoot a movie in a way where every 10 minutes you’re going to get this jolt that’s going to like, make you want to stick around for the next 10 minutes. But the way that we structured the whole “season” was like a feature film. So that’s sort of how the action was approached. I’ve done a lot of TV comedies and trying to like, budget out your time like, ‘Oh, we have five days to shoot this episode. We have this action sequence. How much time can you give it?'”
Appel credits a lot of the success in pulling off the action in production to the project’s stunt coordinator Walter Garcia, who has worked as various positions on major blockbuster action pics including Ant-Man, Captain Marvel and The New Mutants, citing his work as “amazing” and saying it was “an absolute blast getting to work with him and his team and do these action sequences.” Some of the challenge in bringing the story and the action to life also came in the form of Quibi’s vertical presentation on mobile platforms, though Appel notes he “always thought of the horizontal 16×9 aspect ratio” as his priority.
“That was always the first shot that I wanted to make sure worked, but I also had to go in and figure out how to make each of those shots work for vertical,” Appel stated. “So I have like a little tool that like the grips built me that was a little window that I could hold up to the monitor to make sure with each shot that I could align this vertical view, like that I could cut a workable vertical shot out of it. If for whatever reason that didn’t work, I would have to like, throw up a second camera that was specifically getting a shot that worked for the vertical at the same time that I was getting the horizontal shot. My approach was I never had to compromise the horizontal shots for anything. But sometimes, I would have to just do a little extra work to make sure that the vertical was as good for people that are going to watch it that way. And it’s definitely a different experience. You know, since they’ve come out, obviously I’ve watched it a million times when we edited it. I was mostly looking at this horizontal version. But since it’s premiered on Quibi, I’ve been, myself, watching the episodes in horizontal view, and it’s definitely a different experience. I can’t say if it’s better or worse, but you focus on the actor’s faces a little bit more in the vertical view, because you’re not seeing so much of the background. It’s definitely an interesting experience.”
While having Hart as the leading man was already an major draw for helming the project, Appel found it “extremely exciting” when the rest of the stars’ names began rolling in, namely co-stars Travolta and Jean Reno (Da 5 Bloods).
“You know, Pulp Fiction came out when I was a teenager. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, it was like, so exciting,” Appel warmly opined. “I think he was the first name to sign on. I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, so excited that Nathalie came on board. And then, like Josh Hartnett, I’ve always loved Josh Hartnett. I love him in The Virgin Suicides and The Faculty. And Jean Reno. Like I was a huge fan of The Professional, too, when I was a teenager. That was one of the action movies that came out in my formative years of watching movies. So yeah, it was so exciting to get to work with all these people that I mean, every single one of them, I was a fan of prior to getting to work with them. And they brought it. Some of these people you don’t really think of for comedy movies. But in the discussions that I had with all of them like prior to coming in and filming, I could tell that everyone was like, down with doing improv and down with just like, having a good time.”
With Hart as the lead, it was no surprise that there was a lot of improvisation on the set of the project, with Appel noting he himself has an improv background with years of performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and it was this element that helped him connect with his Emmy-nominated star.
“He does a lot of improv in everything that he films, I’m totally down with doing improv, let’s make sure all of the actors are,” Appel explained. “That was very important to us. I mean, I would say the script by Tripper Clancy was so strong. It was so funny, it’s what drew me to it in the first place. But in every single scene, I mean, I can’t think of a day where we weren’t doing improv and adding things and exploring these scenes and coming up with new beats. And I love leaving things open for discovery and I’m also totally open if the actors have any ideas, and anything new they want to bring to a scene. I’ll always say like, let’s try it out. Of course. And a lot of that did end up in the final product. In the scene when they’re going to do gun training and Travolta’s handing the gun to Kevin backwards and he’s slapping his hand and he’s like, ‘No, you have to take the gun from the other way around,’ like that was a completely improvised moment, which was hilarious for all of us, when Travolta just started slapping Kevin’s hand. I mean, there’s little things. It’s not like there’s a scene or something improvised. There are little lines here and there.”
Hartnett, well-known for being a leading action star in the late ’90s and early ’00s, was on a list of stars who the creative team were considering when it came to landing a cameo from an alum of Ron Wilcox’s Action School and was chosen for his lack of appearances in the comedic genre.
“Hartnett did like, around like the early 2000s, Hartnett just had this string of like, major action movies from like Pearl Harbor, Lucky Number Slevin, Hollywood Homicide, like all these movies came out and we thought it would be hilarious to think that Josh Hartnett had been trained by Ron Wilcox,” Appel expressed. “You know, there’s people that you could expect, I think he was just an unexpected choice. It’s just funny to see Josh Hartnett randomly show up in this comedy movie.”
Inspired by the opening sequence from Hart’s 2016 concert film, Die Hart will follow Hart (Jumanji: The Next Level) as a meta version of himself who’s tired of always getting cast as a comedic sidekick. He gets his wish when a famous director offers him his dream – to be a leading man action star – but there’s a catch: Kevin must first train at the world’s greatest action star school, run by a lunatic (John Travolta). Pushed to his limits by this action school coach and a tough-minded rival student, Kevin must survive a series of hilarious, over-the-top action sequences and face his fears if he wants to achieve his dream and land the role of a lifetime.
Alongside Hart, the cast for the action comedy includes John Travolta (In a Valley of Violence), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones), Jean Reno (Da 5 Bloods) and Josh Hartnett (Inherit the Viper).
The series is directed by Eric Appel (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) from a script written by Tripper Clancy (Stuber) and Derek Kolstad (John Wick franchise). It is be executive produced by Hart through his Laugh Out Loud Network banner with Candice Wilson, Bryan Smiley and Jeff Clanagan serving as producers.
Die Hart is available to stream in its entirety on Quibi!