9 Truths About The Movie Business by Dolph Lundgren and Mike Mendez
Film Courage: Gentlemen, for your new movie DON’T KILL IT which is out now, did your distributor have a demand for how many dead bodies were in the film? Was there a body count that you had to meet?
Mike Mendez: No. I would have to phrase it more that they indulged me on that. They were kind enough to not get in the way. That was a prerequisite for wanting to do it was how many people can we kill in a 85-minute running time. They were very kind to let me do it.
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah. I think it was…they wanted no less than 300 [bodies] wasn’t it?
Mike Mendez: I think so. Yeah. Totally. It’s one of my favorite things when someone lets me make a movie because I always feel like I’ll say something like “So then you strangle the child and you lift them” and I’m sort of waiting for someone to stop me because in my mind I’m like “I can’t believe they’re letting me do this!” [Laughs]. And that is always a good feeling that we’re on to something good.
“I think that is what people have to remember. Because that is the big thing that will derail you: failure or success can screw you up, you know? It’s the middle way, like Buddha said. The middle way. That’s where you should be most of the time. That is the healthiest way of existing I think. The big stuff is great, but it always goes away and it can lead to a lot of negatives. And the really lows, too are tough, as well. So you try to stay in the middle ground.”
Film Courage: Any other requests that the distributor asked? Certain scenes…I know…without a shirt on…were there certain things that they [requested]…I mean in all seriousness, that they wanted as part of the film?
Dolph Lundgren: No. They were very nice actually. They were very easy to work with creatively. I think one thing about this project is everybody loved the script. And Mike did a little polish on it to make it better. Just added on the bar scene in the beginning to make it better. The distributors were quite good about everything except it had to be shot in 17 days. That was the only problem. So I think you know it was more financial issues. But on the creative side, there was really nothing.
Mike Mendez: They were super supportive.
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah, they were very cool.
Mike Mendez: The challenge was budgetary. Time is always the enemy. But they were very much on board. And I was surprised because sometimes you get producers who want to impose their will. But they let us make the movie that we wanted to make, which is very rare and I really thank them for that.
Film Courage: I’m wondering who hired whom? [Dolph] I know you’re an actor/producer [on this project] and Mike I know you’re the director. And [Dolph] you were in the crowdfunding [Indiegogo campaign] video. So who hired whom?
Dolph Lundgren: I think I hired myself first? I read the script. I thought it was good. Got involved with the producers. Met with Mike. It all happened concurrently. As usual with these independent movies, it’s not a simple shot. There was a producer who was side railed. He wasn’t part of it anymore.
Mike Mendez: Right. He died, did you know that?
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah, I heard that. But it was like I met Mike and I read the script and I really thought it was great. I then I tried to support the filmmakers in their endeavor including raising funds for it.
Film Courage: It’s clear that there is passion behind it and that you [both] wanted to be involved in it, you were in the Indiegogo video, etc. But I have to take another sort of turn and that is to say that in this industry you may take a job [at some point] that you don’t want to do. How is that for either of you? And please don’t name project that you that you didn’t want to be a part of. But ones [projects] that you’ve been a part of because you feel like you have to keep the [career] engine going.
Dolph Lundgren: You mean like THE EXPENDABLES?
Film Courage: No, no, no. I just meant…
Dolph Lundgren: I’m just kidding! [Laughs]
Film Courage: No. I wasn’t going there. But everyone has to do certain jobs they don’t want to do and know that it is part of ‘The Machine.’ And how is it for the two of you knowing that it is part of being in this business and staying relevant?
Dolph Lundgren: Well…I can start then…you know, look. It’s all in your inner attitude. You say you don’t want to do it, well that’s being kind of simplistic about life because you can always find something good in any experience, even a bad experience. Something you think is bad could be a good experience. You don’t even know that until years later, perhaps. Or weeks later or days later. Sometimes the bad things in life where you are being tried are the things that make you grow. I mean I look at it that way. Say if I need to pay off my divorce, for instance and I need to do a couple of movies, I always try to find something good in each of those roles. Even if perhaps I was sitting on a pile of money and didn’t have to take that job, then maybe I would have waited around for something better. But what you think is better, a lot of actors could sit around and wait for a long time and nothing happens. So sometimes you can do something and out of that energy comes something that you can’t even imagine, you know? That’s just how life is. So I just take any role where I try to make the best of it and try to enjoy it, that’s how I look at it.
And this movie [DON’T KILL IT] wasn’t one of those pictures. This was something that I wanted to do. But I do stuff sometimes that I’m not 100% sure about. But most of the time afterwards I’m glad I did it. I always think that. Because something good always happens.
Film Courage: So even if you’re dreading when the alarm goes off you can always find some kind of gift that maybe you can learn?
Dolph Lundgren: I’m not dreading it. But you may be less excited about it. Maybe you meet somebody on that set or you learn something as an actor or there is some revelation you come to by going through the hardship…it’s part of life. It’s part of the experience of this life.
Mike Mendez: And I guess fortunately for me or unfortunately, I don’t find myself in that position too often. Because it’s not like people offer me large sums of money to do anything [laughs] so I have to kind of find a project, you know? Because these are low-budget films and you kind of want to find the best thing that suits you.
The best is when something is not particularly a great script, they are not offering you a lot of money and there are very few perks, it’s quite easy to say “No, thank you. Perhaps another time.” So you’re kind of just trying to find the best project that excites you, that you can find something good about it and try to put your best foot forward and try to make the most out of the situation. So kind of like Dolph is saying, trying to find the silver lining and if there is a thing, seriously consider that and try to make the best thing out of it.
Film Courage: Mike according to your IMDB, you have 24 credits as an editor, 10 as a director and only 6 as a writer. It’s surprising to see that you haven’t spent more time writing scripts. I’m just curious what the reason is?
Mike Mendez: It’s a long-winded answer. So why don’t I write scripts? So when I had my first film in Sundance I had a lot of writing opportunities. They all got rejected, you know. I sort of almost have this reaction that directing is always rewarded and good. Writing I always feel rejected. And I almost always feel like it’s too much on you if you write and direct. And so at least…and I don’t know (maybe this will change one day), I like collaborating with people. My role as a director (I feel) kind of also goes with working with a screenwriter. The same way I’d work with an actor or a cinematographer or something like that, it’s about collaboration. So I think that part of the key to being a director is knowing that people can do the job better than you. And so I feel that there are a lot of people that are better writers than me, so why not collaborate with them? And I still put my stamp on it and what I like to do by putting my polish and working with them without having all the pressure of like “It’s all on me if people hate the script or the movie. It’s all on me!” So I just found that it works better for me, working with writers.
“Most of my friends are filmmakers and I see it in them. A lot of them get a big opportunity and are nervous, even though they might have had a lot of success before, they’re nervous. And what we always kind of say is “That’s good!” If you’re not nervous I don’t think you’re in the right place. You should be nervous. You should be questioning if you can do it and if it’s the right thing because I think you only progress if you put yourself in that uncomfortable space.”
Film Courage: Dolph we have a lot of actors that watch our [Film Courage Youtube] channel and I know you have a fascinating story of how you got into acting. But in terms of today 2017, what would you recommend to someone who is back home in Sweden or somewhere in the United States that wants to come to Los Angeles to be an actor? What would you say to them?
Dolph Lundgren: Well I would say follow your dreams, follow your instincts. What is it Stella Adler said “In order to be in this business you need the soul of a rose and the hide of a rhinoceros.” So that kind of sums it all up. You are trying to protect that creative part of you by dealing with a lot of B.S. every day. And sometimes you get to express that which is the reason you get into this business in the first place. So I think people should follow their dreams and not be afraid of failing and trying again. I mean great actors…look at Morgan Freeman for instance. I ran into him not long ago. Great guy. Nobody knew who he was until he was about 50-55 years old. He’d done all these movies and suddenly he was in DRIVING MISS DAISY. So there’s a guy who probably had to deal with a lot of rejection and failure and now he’s one of the greatest actors in the country and the world. So don’t give up. That’s the thing – don’t give up!
Film Courage: So if you were going to give them a pep talk before they came here…because I think a lot of people come out here with the idea, especially if they’re told that they are great looking back home or whatever. And then you come here [to Los Angeles] and there are so many great looking people that it’s like…it’s almost overwhelming because you felt special, maybe?
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah. It’s true. It’s true. I mean, Los Angeles is the place that everybody comes to from around the whole world. And I guess you just have to believe in yourself and work on your craft. It basically comes down to your ability to entertain people on screen, if you’re in the film business or TV business. When you get your shot, you’ve got to be ready to take it and then you’ve got to really go for it at that point. Like I said, there is all that time in between that is tough. What is it, Michael Caine who said “They pay me to wait. Acting I do for free.” So there you go. There is a lot of waiting around. So you just have to stay at it and work out and stay healthy and focus on your craft and go for it when you get your shot.
Film Courage: I find that interesting in terms of being ready when something is presented (and I’ve heard this before to) that most people aren’t ready. They think they are. Were there ever times for the two of you (maybe we’ll go back to you Mike first) where you weren’t sure “Am I actually ready?” when something came your way and you had to check yourself and say “This is happening and ….”
Mike Mendez: Well I think that could be said for every project or every film, you know? Everything you hope is a new challenge to yourself and you’re trying something that is a little different that it’s never…at least for me I can never just walk through a movie or just phone it in because there is always a new challenge and there is always a new thing. I’ve never worked with a legendary action hero [gesturing to Dolph]. So that was like “Okay, how is this going to go?” I had never worked with a giant CGI spider before! And so you’re constantly trying to find new challenges for yourself and you always question it. I feel it’s healthy. Most of my friends are filmmakers and I see it in them. A lot of them get a big opportunity and are nervous, even though they might have had a lot of success before, they’re nervous. And what we always kind of say is “That’s good!” If you’re not nervous I don’t think you’re in the right place. You should be nervous. You should be questioning if you can do it and if it’s the right thing because I think you only progress if you put yourself in that uncomfortable space. Sort of like “No, I kind of just like doing this and I’m just going to do this” I think you become complacent and I don’t think you do interesting and exciting work. So I think it is always important to be kind of out of your comfort zone.
Dolph Lundgren: And also I want to add that it’s life that matters, not only what you do on film or on television, because it’s your personal growth. Ultimately that is why we are all here. I mean you can do great work and then you get fat and kill yourself. After a few years, commit suicide or become a drug addict. And you can still do great work but it was not such a great life, maybe? For you or for your children or for your family or your friends. So you have to kind of stay close to yourself and your personal growth while you’re trying to get this other stuff done in the business. And that balance is quite hard to hit. You know I work on that every day. And I think that is one of my strengths (perhaps) is that I’ve stayed close to who I am and who I was before I got in here in this crazy town, you know? I think that is what people have to remember. Because that is the big thing that will derail you: failure or success can screw you up, you know? It’s the middle way, like Buddha said. The middle way. That’s where you should be most of the time. That is the healthiest way of existing I think. The big stuff is great, but it always goes away and it can lead to a lot of negatives. And the really lows, too are tough, as well. So you try to stay in the middle ground.
Film Courage: How was that for you to do your (2015) Ted Talk because you showed yourself as being human and for most people around the world they see you as superhuman? How was this for you? Because when people do see you they call out your name as your [various] character(s) “Oh, Gunner!” But you’re actually a human being and you revealed a lot of human things. How was that?
Dolph Lundgren: The Ted Talk I did was mostly about my Dad and my upbringing and the abuse and things like that and also about trying to help other people. If you help yourself, the next step is for you help other people. Yeah, it was cool. It was very emotional and it was difficult to prepare and it was difficult to get up on stage and stand still and reveal those things. But it felt really good, you know. And afterwards you really feel like a personal accomplishment. For me, it was one of the most important moments in my career. I mean movies are great and that’s what the fans see. But for me as a person, that was a great moment. I’m glad you liked it.
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