William Kaufman Interview
I am a huge fan of the gritty action movies and my guest is very good in it. His film Sinners and Saints raised the bar with beautifully choreographed gun battles because he knows how to film stunts in almost 100% practical way without any CGI. So let’s talk to the man himself and find out how to make an action-infused film on a shrunk budget.
Budomate: Please tell how did you get involved in the movie business?
William: I first got involved in the film business in high school when I lived in Bangkok Thailand. As a young teenager I got to work on the Robin Williams film Good Morning Vietnam, then in film school, I went on to work for a special effects and movie weapons coordinator, a really super talented guy who worked on lots of big films like Robocop and The Abyss. This led me to eventually begin directing commercials and short films before eventually doing my first film The Prodigy.
Budomate: Your first movie was the Prodigy in 2005 starring Diana Lee Inosanto and her husband Ron Balicki worked and starred in your movies. How did you meet Inosanto’s family?
William: I was a huge fan of Ron’s as a martial artist so with fingers crossed I reached out to him to ask him if he’d lend his expertise to the project and luckily he said yes. This partnership lead to an opportunity to connect with Diana, she sent in a great audition and the rest is history. Ron was the stunt coordinator and fight choreographer for The Prodigy. Super proud of what we all accomplished with the film.
Budomate: It was a 5 years break after the Prodigy, have you been working on something.
William: During that time I worked a lot in video production and began developing the script for Sinners and Saints. It was a long road to get that film made but that’s not unusual if you’re going to work outside of the studio system.
Budomate: You made two movies about soldiers, how close this topic to you?
William: I come from a long line of family that served in the army and so I definitely hold the military in high regard. And I think that combined with some really amazing former spec operators that I proudly call my friends. This all has really shaped that passion and allowed to be as honoring and authentic as I can be when approaching this kind of stories.
Budomate: Cuba Gooding Jr. starred twice in your movies, how does he fit into the action roles?
William: Cuba’s a great actor, he is part of a very elite team of actors that hold the title of Oscar winner. I think that inherently that alone makes him a very unique and unorthodox choice for a leading man in an action film. He worked his tail off for me and was very collaborative. We had a blast working together.
Budomate: In 2012 you worked with Big Swede on One in The Chamber, how was to work with Dolph, I suppose you been his fan like many of us?
William: As a kid, I was definitely a fan of Dolph’s. I think The Punisher and I Come In Peace movies we’re really underrated. Dolph is one of those guys that knows exactly what he wants to do and goes and does it.
Budomate: In 2015 you worked on Marine 4. Do you think this franchise moving the same direction after the first film of 2006 with John Cena or changed its spirit?
William: The Marine franchise has been a huge moneymaker for WWE Films. It plays to that “Guys who love movies for Guys” demographic and does really well.
As far as the spirit of it, no I don’t think it has changed. The budgets have definitely shrunk dramatically but the tone and what they set out to do have been very consistent. Take my installment “MOVING TARGET” it’s basically one giant running gun battle, very straightforward storylines where the action constantly drives the plot forward, propelling from action set piece to action set piece. WWE knows exactly what they want and that’s what they deliver.
Budomate: Budget of first Marine movie was $20,000,000 and Marine 4 was made for just $1,950,000. How hard is it make action film on such a small budget?
William: I would definitely say it’s challenging especially when you consider the scope of the action required in the script for my installment. But that said, WWE is really great about surrounding directors with top-tier talent to handle that kind of production.
I can’t speak for the other directors but I definitely felt very blessed to be working with some incredibly talented guys on the crew when I found my film in Vancouver. Without that level of support it can’t be done.
Budomate: WWE studio making movies with wrestling stars, what the future holds for WWE?
William: I really don’t know where they’re headed but I imagine they will be focusing eventually on bigger and bigger films. I recently saw Scott Adkins and director James Nunns new film Eliminators and I thought it was great. James is a really talented director and I love Scott. Very cool film.
Budomate: UFC is going to start film movies too and this is just a question of time when it will happen. Who do you want to work with from UFC champs and who do you think can become the new action star?
William: I was lucky enough to get to work with two of the scariest guys to ever enter the octagon – Bas Rutten and Krzysztof Soszynski. Both absolute monsters in the cage but also two of the coolest guys anyone would ever get to work with.
I hear there’s talk of Connor MacGregor doing movies but these guys make so much money that unless it was a giant studio project I’m not sure that luring them away from that is very likely.
Budomate: Sinners and Saints is one of the best action films ever made and I can put it on the same level as Tony Scott’s Last Boyscout or John Woo‘s Killer or Hard Boiled. Really love the film spirit – gritty, tough and deadly. How did you come up with the idea?
William: Thank you, I’m super proud of that film. Definitely one of my favorites. I guess to start with I think it goes without saying I am very unapologetic about how much I love the action genre. So my writing partner Jay Moses and I knew we wanted to do something very old-school and very gritty… a kind of the throwback to the action cop films we grew up with.
The next thing to decide was where to send the story. We both wanted to place it in the South and we knew we wanted it to be very urban. So the answer for me was pretty obvious.
New Orleans is my absolute favorite city in the South and there’s absolutely nowhere else like it. There have been very few films filmed in New Orleans – Mardi Gras or Voodoo.
I really wanted to showcase the New Orleans I knew. The boroughs and neighborhoods surrounding the Quarter. The underbelly places the tourists would never even consider going, but places where the locals really live and breathe.
It’s such a cool, gritty, city full of so much energy, history and such an incredible mix of cultures… French, Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, Irish-German the ultimate melting pot.
I thought it was a city begging to be put on film. So that’s what we tried to do, combine a gritty dark cop film with a unique city on the planet.
Budomate: Gun fights are so awesome so only John Wick can keep up on the same level. Who was working on scenes and what is the secret?
William: I got really lucky on that film originally the villains of the peace were Russian mafia, so during my research, I stumbled across Sonny Puzikas, a former Soviet commando, known as one of the top tier firearms trainers in the US.
I reached out to him and as luck would have it it just so happened he also lived in Dallas where I live. We connected and I asked him to step in and be the tactical advisor for the film. Hands-down his input really took it to the next level. So I guess if I have a secret, my secret is being really honest with myself, looking at my shortcomings and then finding really talented people to fill those deficits.
Budomate: Johnny Strong played the lead, how did you meet him?
William: It’s a long story but basically I was a fan of his from Black Hawk Down and Get Carter, and a fan of his music and reached out to him under the pretext that I wanted to use a couple of his songs in my first film The Prodigy. We connected in a venue that he was performing at and hit it off, I got him the script and the rest is a history.
Budomate: You started talking about Sinners & Saints 2, can you share any ideas of what we can expect in the second part?
William: Sinners & Saints 2: Vengeance is basically the original film turned into a vengeance story cranked up on steroids. Sean Riley crosses paths with the new nemesis and that leads him on an international hunt. Think something in the vein of the original film meets Man on Fire with a LOT MORE ACTION. A very cool, gritty, brutal story that definitely won’t disappoint
Budomate: In 2016 you worked with Scott Adkins on Jarhead 3, how was it to meet one of the popular kicking stars of today?
William: I’m a huge fan of Scott and so that was a great opportunity for the two of us to connect and collaborate. Although as far as action goes I definitely didn’t get to showcase Scott potential we’ve got plans in the future to do exactly that. A couple very cool projects in the works.
Budomate: You work a lot with Chad Law, I can say you are like Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, doing a lot of great stuff together to please action fans. How did you meet each other?
William: Wow! That is an amazing compliment, thank you.
We actually met through my producer and very good friend Jay Stamper. The two of us really hit it off, we both love the genre and Chad really “get’s it “… exactly the kind of collaborative partner I needed.
I owe Chad a lot, he was really the one responsible for getting me hired on for his script for Sony’s The Hit List. We’ve basically been connected at the hip since then. Chad wrote my pride and joy Daylights End, co-wrote Sinners 2 with Jay Moses and has also penned several projects I currently have in development, lots of very cool stuff coming together in the future.
Budomate: Many great action directors such as Craig Baxley or Andrzej Bartkowiak don’t do films anymore, what do you think is the reason?
William: Man, both those guys are awesome. I love Craig Baxley’s action, his second unit work on The Predator. The attack on the rebels by Arnold and the team is still some of the best action work put on camera, and I personally think that Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Maximum Risk is one of Van Damme‘s best.
But to your point, I think it’s such a shame that theses two don’t direct more but this is a tough game and the business has changed dramatically. In my opinion, I really doubt films like I Come In Peace or Maximum Risk would be theatrical productions now. All those kind of movies go straight to video and DTV probably is not something either of those guys want to do. If they did want to do then they would be.
It’s a tough game and the industry has changed dramatically. With all the rampant piracy budgets have shrunk and studios primary interest at this level is to do sequels from their own internal vault of films. I can only assume neither one of them have found anything that they really want to do or otherwise they would be doing it.
Budomate: Action movies involve a lot of stunt work, could you please tell about the most dangerous scene you worked on?
William: Probably the most dangerous scene I had performed was in One in The Chamber. It was basically a “Highfall” repel by Cuba Gooding’s stunt double Mark Hicks. The stunt was coordinated by Diyan Hristov and what made a particularly challenging was it was a high-speed descent/repel down the center of this very small opening in the center of this old building. One false move and Mark would’ve pendulum back-and-forth smashing into the side of the building as he fell all the way to the ground. Super sketchy… I was very glad when that shot was over.
The other one would probably be the double car hit with Mike Mukatis (doubling for Johnny Strong) and Keith Davis (doubling for Kevin Phillips)… The stunt was coordinated by Jeff Galpin and again there wasn’t much room for error. Both Mike and Keith’s wardrobe didn’t give them much opportunity for wearing any protective gear and getting hit at the same time by a speeding car and not knowing where the other one would go and land on concrete was pretty ugly, was definitely holding my breath on that one.
Budomate: What can you recommend to guys who want to break into the movies and bring back the spirit of good action films?
William: The best advice I can give is to surround yourself with talented people. With people who know more than you do and then get out there and shoot. In a world where you can buy an HD camera and zoom recorder and premier editing system for under $10,000 you really have no excuse.
If you really want your opportunity, the only way you’re going to get it is to go do it. That’s exactly what we did with my first film The Prodigy. If I hadn’t fought like hell for that opportunity and along with my team pushed it across the finish line I would have never been given any of the opportunities I’ve had since then. I would still be talking about what I’m gonna do some day. In my opinion, it’s all about hard work and determination and putting it all on the line.
Budomate: What’s next for William Kaufman?
William: Right now I’m in the middle prep and Bulgaria from my latest film Lazaret Burning. A very cool, unique action film with an almost entirely European cast produced by Joe Zaroui.
As for after that as I mentioned before I’ve got a handful of very cool projects in the works. Super excited about doing Sinners & Saints 2 with Johnny Strong and my producing partner King Hollis. And I’m also knee-deep in developing a great project in Thailand called SAVAGE with producer Daniel Zirilli, and once again starring my partner in crime Johnny Strong.
Budomate: My traditional question: which three martial arts movies you can call a classic?
William: Hmm that’s a tough one, lots of great ones. Off the top of my head I would have to say, I love Above The Law, The Matrix and The Raid.
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