David Barrett has made his feature-film directorial debut with Fire With Fire, which brought together a cast list that included Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis.
We caught up with the director to chat about the film, the challenges that he faced during the shoot and what lies ahead.
- Fire With Fire is about to be released on DVD here in the UK so for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet can you tell me a bit about it?
It is about a fireman, played by Josh Duhamel, who witnesses a murder, and he end up being put into witness protection. In witness protection, he ends up meeting someone whom he cares about.
The movie becomes a big revenge adventure for Josh. So our villain is Vincent D’Onofrio. So it does become a revenge movie, really.
- You are in the director's chair for the film so what was it about Tom O'Connor's script that really appealed to you? And how close to finished when the script when you got it?
It wasn’t too close to the finished script. Normal movies you shoot fifty to sixty days - but this movie I shot in just twenty days; when you see the film, you really can’t believe it. We had virtually no budget because we spent it on Bruce Willis.
But to do a movie like this for twenty days with a crew that you quickly put together is tough. We had two and a half weeks to prep it - from the time we started - and so a lot of the locations and a lot of the sequences aren’t anything like the script, at all.
I am executive producing a show called Blue Bloods, and we will shoot that in nine days, and we have all standing sets and crew that work extremely efficiently. So we shoot in nine days, and that would be only forty two pages.
This script would be ninety four pages, and we are doing it in twenty days. So, that is the same amount of time, with bigger personalities, a less efficient crew and with bigger set pieces. The fact that we even got this film put together is a small miracle (laughs).
Everyone looks at it as if it is a fifty or sixty thousand dollar movie, and it is not. Production wide it is well below the line of the TV show that I shoot. Like I said, it was a small miracle that we were able to do this movie. The script changed immensely.
I worked hard with Vincent D’Onofrio, and we would change a lot of that on the fly. Bruce Willis was truncated into four days of the movie. I shot twenty five more minutes that was even there. I would shoot sixty or seventy set ups a day, and we would shoot eight pages a day; it was a really tough shoot.
- That does lead me into my next question. The movie marks your feature-film directorial debut so how have you found the whole experience? It does sound like you were dropped in at the deep end.
That is exactly it. It was supposed to be a forty days shoot. I have directed second units on big movies; I did Final Destination 2; my episodes of TV have won Emmy’s and I have worked as a stunt man on Jurassic Park and The Matrix. So I have grown up in the business.
So it may have been my first feature film, but I have worked extensively in the industry, and I have a lot of experience. This just happened to be an experience where I was promised a forty-day schedule, and then suddenly I am prepping a shoot in two and a half weeks, and it is down to twenty days.
- One of the best sequences within the film was the sniper attack from one motel to another, so how difficult was that to film given the fact that you have got not time? You managed to capture some really great visuals in those scenes.
I appreciate you pointing that out as that was one of the toughest parts of the whole movie. The producer said ‘we are selling this movie on action’ and I said ‘then I need the time and the resources to do the action’.
I told them that this wasn’t really an action movie as it is a love story that turns into a revenge movie; this is about two who fall in love. Josh Duhamel’s character is a bit of a player and, for the first time, he finds a woman who is worth dying for.
And they were like ‘no, this is an action movie’ and I said ‘there is no action in this movie, there really isn’t’.
On the page that scene reads ‘Jeremy gets out of a car and gets shot by a sniper’. For me to layer that and to really try and give the audience a reaction, that is what I came up with. I then pitched it to the producers and told that I wanted to get a cable cam - but I was told that we couldn’t afford that.
They didn’t understand what I was trying to say visually, and so they weren’t behind it. I had one producer, who was a co-producer, who believed in the shot, and he brought in a remote control helicopter.
Myself, the DP and Grant Kramer, he was one of the producers who got flown out to help, came in three hours early, took this remote control helicopter and ran it across the field.
So we took this helicopter, and we bridged the shot with a steady cam, and we pieced it together; it is one of the biggest jumps and surprises, as you say, in the movie.
So it was me, the DP, a producer and a cameraman, and we did it before anyone else got there. So these are the types of things that we had to do to get this movie on film (laughs).
- A great cast has been assembled for the movie, including Josh Duhamel, Bruce Willis, and Rosario Dawson so can you tell me a bit about the casting process and what you were looking for?
I was looking for someone who believed in the character and believed in the vision. I would sit down with them, and I talked about character and the history of that character up until the point of the movie; I would map from the time that character was seven years old.
I would just convince them of who this character was and got them excited enough to want to do it.
Vincent D’Onofrio did not want to do this movie. But I talked about this character so specifically that he said ’I have to do this movie’. It was the same with Rosario and with Josh. Josh is fantastic; you haven’t really seen Josh in this type of role.
It was really important for me to find somebody who felt that they had something to prove, and he really did have something to prove, and he pulled it off. We had the big stages but it was a hundred and ten degrees because we didn’t have any air conditioning.
So Josh would get in there, and he would start sweating before he could even rehearse; same with Rosario. Rosario was incredible as she was in the fire. We had six flame bars; we didn’t have much, and we would turn them up as high as they would go.
I was in a fire suit operating the camera, and she would run through the flames with nothing on trying to get his movie done. These actors were incredible; they even tried to give their own money to buy a couple of extra days of filming.
The ending was shot in two nights and about eleven hours; that ending would normally take about a week and a half. But we achieved that because the actors were so driven.
Because I assembled the cast in a way where I said ‘here is your character’ and got them excited about the character and the movie that we were going to do, no necessarily the one on the page, everybody gave a hundred and ten per cent.
- As you said earlier you kicked off your career in stunt work, so what made you want to make the move into the director’s chair?
I wanted to be a director from the time I was a little kid, and my dad was doing stunts with Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman. I would be on set and sat right next to the director asking him questions, before I had to go back and do homework (laughs).
So I knew that was where I wanted to go. The example I had was Hal Needham; he was a famous stunt man who went on to write Canonball Run and Smokey and the Bandits.
I thought the best way to do this was to go and become a well know stuntman, then a stunt co-ordinator and then try to work on a second unit, so I could prove that I could work with actors. I just happen to do a lot of TV as well.
- Finally, what is next for you?
I have a movie called Sanctuary; we are starting to cast that now. I am the executive producer on Blue Bloods, and I direct a few of the shows a year.
Fire With Fire is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now.