The Arrow interviews Philippe Martinez
25 November, 2004
Philippe Martinez has had a very interesting life. He went from being the President of the popular Odeon Theatre in Marseilles, to Producing/Writing/Directing under his Bauer Martinez Studios Company. Philippe has a new directorial effort on the horizon called WAKE OF DEATH , starring Jean Claude Van Damme. The picture is set to be released straight to video in North America on December 28 2004 and I got to admit...I truly enjoyed it. I recently had the opportunity to talk to the lad and found him to be a smart, well spoken and obviously passionate individual. Mr. Martinez! You got the floor!
As a Producer, what was it about the project that appealed to you?
The appealing thing was to work with Van Damme; we tried to work with him for many years. Now the script was completely different back then, it was more like a supernatural thriller.
Yes I heard, the little girl had to do with that...
Yes the little girl had visions and things like that. Which as a Producer, I said why not but the minute I became the Director of the film, I didn’t buy the story anymore. Its funny how you can think one way as a Producer and when you’re the Director of the film, whatever you liked, you don’t like anymore.
Well becoming the Director puts you in a full blown artistic position; it changes things.
Yes it does. For this film I wanted to have Van Damme…well... do you know those French films from the 70s? Like the old Alain Delon movies.
Yes (Le Clan des Siciliens rocked!)
Where the hero is kind of dark, he doesn’t talk too much, he doesn’t smile and he’s kind of a loner. So I wanted Van Damme to be dressed classy and in black. And I wanted him to be a bad and tough guy. Not the image of a nice young hero who has no problem you know?
So I wanted to start the movie by giving Van Damme class and sobriety, those were my main things
Well in my opinion you succeeded where the character came across as classy, grounded and old fashioned. In fact “Old Fashion” was the term that came to my mind while watching the picture. Now you’re mostly known as a Producer, you directed one other film last year, how did you wind up as a Producer saying “I’m going to direct this!’
I didn’t, Van Damme suggested it. He saw my first movie and he was interested in me doing this one and I said “fine, I’ll do it." You know, I knew that Van Damme was a great actor and I knew that nobody actually went into him. I started out as a Stage Director and the key to the film was to get a performance from Jean Claude. It wasn’t about talking about the character; it was more psychological, making him feel what’s happening. It wasn’t like he walked on set, smiling to everybody, then I said action and he was the character. It was more like prepping him to what was happening and almost making Jean Claude believe that this was happening.
Well that’s the secret of acting really…”being”.
Exactly, he was not acting; he was feeling what was happening to the character.
That's something I wanted to address. I actually watched the film with a girl and she cried her head off during the “sad scenes”. I’ve never seen anybody cry during a Van Damme movie. After the film was over, I was like...wow…either Van Damme became Brando over night or Mr. Martinez pulled a wonderful performance out of him...
It was a little bit of both. You know with Van Damme, it’s actually not that difficult to direct him. Now I don’t want to talk bad about other directors but people always try to see him just as a “Karate guy”. Now the truth is, I don’t like Karate, I don’t like Kung Fu, I don’t like all that shit. For me the challenge was; can I find what works, what’s going to touch him, what he’s going to relate too. We all have problems in our life...
And what you do when you work with an actor, it’s like a sponge full of water, we press it and the water comes out. You have to press the emotion that he had and get him to give it to you. It was not like I had to describe him the scene for hours. . It was more like me and him, being alone, holding each other and I’d say “sorry about your wife man” and almost like crying with him. We were like two friends that were crying about his wife that just died. It was a different process, something that I learned as a Stage Director and I think that the key to Van Damme, you have to make him feel so he can react. Not to tell him how to act.
Some people are practical others emotional…
YES! Van Damme is a completely emotional person and you have to go straight to his heart and press it and that’s it, he’s giving it to you and then of course you tell him, it’s a little bit too much or not enough but really I don’t understand why he hasn’t done more movies like this before.
Well people won’t give him that chance; they don’t perceive him that way. I’ve seen all of Van Damme’s movies and this was the first time I saw him break down like that. I remember this particular scene in the film where he walks in the house, scotch in hand and he just broke. I was like “wow” look at that raw and genuine emotion coming out of Van Damme…wow!
Yes he was brilliant in the film.
For you as a director, taking into account the script changes and the location change, did you have enough time for proper pre-production?
I basically had no prep.
I re-wrote the script as we were shooting and I was basically giving the pages on the day on set. Everyday I was handing over the pages to the actors. It’s crazy for an action movie to say this but even the crew got their script pages a day before we shot. I knew exactly what I wanted for the film though. I know it sounds pretentious to say that and sometimes when I produce a movie and a Director tells me that, I think its bullshit but really I knew exactly what I wanted.
It was a simple story you know, a guy, he’s a gangster, he wants out of that life, he has his own little stability and you kill it by killing his wife. The problem is that the Chinese Mafia doesn’t know that they messed with the wrong guy, so they go after them. You know it could be a Charles Bronson movie, a Clint Eastwood movie, it’s the same story. But it’s the way we treated the story that appealed to you at least.
Which is why, we put in a lot of emotion. Me, I’m not the best action director in the world. People out there do action in a way that I would never be able to do. The key to the movie for me was the emotion. If you can communicate the emotion and people feel for the character then I did my job as a Director.
In my opinion you accomplished that goal that’s for sure. Are you planning on working with Van Damme again down the road?
Sure, why not? He’s busy now prepping a movie that he’s going to direct.
If the right project comes along... .
Right, I wouldn’t just do a “Van Damme” movie; I’d do something along the lines of Wake of Death. That’s where I’d feel comfortable.
What kind of distribution is Wake of Death getting so far?
We’re being released all over Europe in the Cinema.
That will happen in January 2005. And in the US its Blockbuster handling the film at the end of December. It's going straight to video.
You’re also producing Dolph Lundgren’s directorial debut “The Defender”.
What can you tell us about the picture?
Its great! Dolph is a very nice man, very intelligent, he knows what he wants. Again it was an accident that Dolph wound up directing. The director got sick 2 weeks before the movie started and I told Dolph, do it… why not? He’s smart and he did a great job! We’re really happy with the film and we’re in negotiations right now but I think its going to come out in February in the States.
What's next for you as Director?
I have a big movie that I want to do called “Silverfish” which is along the line of Wake of Death but much more action oriented I’m doing it in June and right now I’m thinking of who I want in the movie.
So you haven’t casted yet?
No, I’ve been really busy, I just Produced Modigliani with Andy Garcia, right now I’m producing a movie with Eddie Griffin called Irish Jam and then next month I’m producing a movie with Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland so...
You’re keeping busy there man!
Yes, keeping busy!
Last question; do you have any advice to all the aspiring Producers out there trying to make it in this crazy business?
LOL! The key is to…aside from don’t do it...
LOL! Get a real job, I think the key is that we've all been thinking that what counts in a movie is having a big Star and all that. The truth is you can make a terrific movie with half a million dollars. What’s important is your story and to work with your actors the same way you’d run a Theatre Company, like a group, a group of people that want to make a good film. The one thing that sucks in the movie business is the Star System that’s what fucks it up. If people would just focus on the story, the script and the pleasure, cause making a movie is a privilege...
Then I think you’d have more good movies than what we have now.
Well thank you so much for your time Mr. Martinez!
Than you John!
BUY WAKE OF DEATH
I'd like to thank Philippe for taking the time to blab with me and would like to encourage Van Damme and non Van Damme fans to seek out WAKE OF DEATH, it hit the spot and then some!
Sourced from www.joblo.com