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A Ninja Réunion, Steven Lambert, Judie Aronson, Sam Firstenberg, Michael Dudikoff

by Thomas Révay

Q. Do you have any memories of the first film you've seen?


A. I remember vividly the first movie I saw, it was the animated Disney film “Bambi” I especially remember the sequence with the fire in the forest. My father toke me to see it when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I have never seen it again since.


Q. Why did you fly back to Tel Aviv? Do you believe that Hollywood has nothing more to offer to B-movies directors?


A. I do believe that the era of low budget B action movies in Hollywood is over. In the 80s and 90s we made the so called low budget action flicks with a decent budget of 2.5 to 4.5 million dollars and a shooting schedule of 50 days and more, this is equivalent to $10 million in today’s money. Nowadays the economy of the business dictates that such a movie cannot be produced for more than one and a half million in less than 36 days, so basically this field of film making is dead.


Q. If you had to choose one of your movies and reshoot it entirely, which one would it be? Why?


A. I have no desire in reshoot one of my old movies. I am always interested in new ideas and new stories. In the other hand there are some movies I have directed that now in retrospect I wish can be erased from existence.


Q. What was it like to work with Menahem Golan as a producer? Did you have total freedom to shoot the movie the way you wanted to?


A. Menahem Golan gave me totally free hand in all creative matters during the shooting period of the production, he usually got involved only in the editing stage with editorial suggestions and story points. One of his demands was always not to exceed 95 minutes in length for every movie. The efforts to squeeze the story into 95 minutes actually enhanced the past of the movies


Q. Which one of the movies you've shot is your favorite?


A. Although “American Ninja” is the most successful and popular of all the movies I have directed, ”Avenging Force”, also with Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, is a much better movie over all and my favorite.


Q. Which one makes you the proudest?


A. The movie “Riverbend” with Steve James and Margaret Avery is by far the most interesting to all the movies I have directed it deals with racial tension during the 60s in the south.


Q. Is there one action star you did not direct you would have loved to work with? Who and why?


A. Yes! Jackie Chan


Q. Brian Trenchard Smith said about today's action movies that "The bar has been lifted even higher with THE RAID: REDEMPTION (…) the actual fights in the corridors and the rooms, these guys are really fighting and receiving contact. Obviously light contact but one man’s light contact is another’s knock-out. It’s extraordinary. How can anyone out stage that?". What is your opinion on action-martial art films today? Do you agree with Brian Trenchard Smith?


A. He is definitely right in one front the action and fight sequences in the Far East movies are violent, realistic, and painful. On the other front the action and fight sequences I the Hollywood films are magnificent, breathtaking and with all the new computerized technology very exciting but they all come with a hefty price tag. It is not cheap to produce this kind of action it is rather very expansive.



Q. You launched the career of Michael Dudikoff. How was it to work with him? Are you still in touch with him?


A. It was great working with Dudikoff, he is a dedicated, disciplined, hard working actor, always prepared and ready to go. Yes we are still in touch, we live not far from each other and we meet frequwently. I am attaching a photo from a lunch meeting we had recently with him and me and also Judie Aronson from American Ninja and Steve Lambert the stunt coordinator.


Q. Is there a director you feel close to? Why?


A. I always loved the movies of the Japanese master of cinema Akira Kurosawa. When I am watching his movies, let say “Yojimbo” “Seven Samurai” or “High and Low” I am totally transfixed and transformed to another reality, and that what movies supposed to do. Riveting story, strong characters, visual beauty, and cinematic magic. Another master that I fill close to, for the same reason, is John Ford


Q. Do you believe making a low budget movie makes you more creative?


A. Making low budget “big” movies forces the director to be resourceful, creative, innovative, and a great problems solver. In the big budget production every wish of the director is fulfilled by furring in more money. Money resolves all, but in the world of low budget, because of the lack of funds, the director and his crow must come up with creative solutions to achieve the desired vision within the limited budget.


Q. Not knowing anything about martial arts, how much did you get involved in the fighting sequences of your movies?


A. I am not a martial artist, and before directing “revenge of the Ninja” did not know anything about martial arts, therefore when it comes to choreographing and staging the fight sequences I listen to the experts and learn from them. I was lucky to work with some great masters like: Sho kosugi, Michael Stone, Tadashi Yamashita, Steve Lambert, Richard Norton and others. Once I see the fight sequence staged I take over and direct it for film: break it down to segments, place the cameras for most effective angels and figure out the editing possibilities for the most effective and exciting cinematic effect. My job is to transform the staged fight to the visual language of cinema, to interpret it to the screen in such a way that the audience watching it will get emotionally involved.


Q. It is known that shooting a horror film is generally a lot of fun. What about martial art movies?


A. Shooting any kind of film is a lot of fun; it is hard work, sometimes tens and frustrating but in general terms for a movies lover and a story teller it is rewording and great fun.


Q. Is there one particular sequence in one of your films that made you think after shooting it "wow, I'm one hell of a director"?


A. In some of the movies I have directed there are few scenes and sequences that are very impressive very well directed, but the truth is that you don’t realize who good they are until they are fully edited with sound effects and music added. Only then you can judge the creation and think “wow, I am a director that knows how to create excitement and manipulate audients emotions with cinematic means”. The ending scene of “Electric Boogaloo”, the final fight in “Revenge of the Ninja”, Michael Dudikoff arriving in the Cajon village at night in “Avenging Force” the fight sequence in the bayous in heavy rain in the same movie, or the ending of “Rivrbend” just to name few.


Q. You said that "in the beginning you saw yourself as "a director who would make social dramas, serious type movies" now that you've earned a great deal of experience in B-movies and if you had the opportunity to start all over again, from scratch, would you choose to reshoot the movies you've done or would you try to shoot the dramas, serious type movies?


A. I still don’t know what dictates the path that a movie maker carrier will take once it is lunched. I was destined to tell stories through cinematic means all kind of stories. I have directed more than 20 movies of all types and genres: martial arts, action, musical, drama, comedy, war, sci fe and social drama as well. The only thing I did not have a chance to do is to direct a major big budget studio movie it was probably not in the cards.


Q. If you want to say something personal to your fans, please go for it.


A. From feedback I am getting through the years vie mail, articles, interviews, comments, film festivals and conversations with fans young and old, I have learned that some of the movies I have directed had touched, excited, brought joy, and influenced various viewers all around the globe. All I want to say to all the fans and followers is that I am proud and happy to know that my creations had served their purpose namely entertain the crowds in memorable way
Michael Dudikoff and Sam Firstenberg in American Ninja

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