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APPLEHEAD TEAM INTERVIEW with Pedro Josť Tena

 

You was born in 1950 in Poland, but shortly after you moved to Israel. Why this change of country was due?

 

When I was 4 month old my parents decided that they don’t want to live under Communism in Poland. At that time there was an opportunity to immigrate out of the country and they toke advantage of it and like many other Jews moved to Israel where we had family to help. As an infant I was not asked if I want to move or not, by the age of 6 month I was a baby growing up in Jerusalem.


What are your earliest memories related to the movies as a spectator?

 

When I was five years old my father toke me to see the Disney animated movie Bambi. It was the first moving picture I ever saw, at that time (1955) there was no television in Israel. I remember the event vividly especially the action sequins of the fire in the forest.

 

What were your favorite movies as a kid? Do you keep these likes or now you are interested in more other genres?

 

            When I was a kid I lived near a movie theater in Jerusalem, the theater showed two movies for the price of one, double bill. Every week they changed the movies and once a week I went to see them. It was mainly American made Hollywood films: Westerns, crime dramas, war movies, Tarzan, action flicks, or musicals, these were the type of movies I grow up with, there was no other choice. Nowadays at me age I prefer to view movies with human aspect to the stories, but any well made film gives me pleasure.

 

If we’re not mistaken, you served three years in the Israeli army. Do you think that somehow this experience prepared you to make action scenes in the future?

 

            It is true that I served three years in the Israeli army but I was never involved in any type of military operation or hostile action, but general life observation, movie watching, and the imagination prepared my to create action scenes in my professional career.

 

 

When did you decide to leave the United States? Did you go there with the purpose of studying cinema?

 

            At the age of 21 after my military service I decided to go to Hollywood to study cinema and film making it was my dream for many years. When I arrived in Los Angeles in 1972 some friends took me to the Universal studios tour, right there and then I decided to stay and get in the movie industry of Hollywood.

 

What do you remember from your days at Loyola Marymount University?

 

            Attending film school was very exciting for me, the main thing is that as a student I was surrounded by cinema lovers like myself, teachers and students and then it was a time of discovery of knowledge in all fields of cinema from history, to theory, to esthetics, and the technical sides of movie making as well.

 

 

What was your first job behind the cameras?

           

My first paid job was as a video camera operator in a local television station, big old television camera on the studio floor. Most of the time we did news so the work was boring and I did not like it, but the salary was god and I was a student and needed the money so I did not quit.

 

Is it true that you worked as a technician in a film called "The Amorous Adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza", reportedly filmed in Spain in 1976?

 

            Yes, it is true that I worked in this movie, I was a grip, but the filming was not done in Spain but rather in various locations in Hollywood and in built movie sets. Here is a photo from the production set.

 

 

What can you tell us about your work in "Mansion of the Doomed" (1976) with Charles Band as a producer? What is your opinion of Band as an emblem of B series cinema?

 

            “Lepke” with Tony Curtis was the first real movie I worked on, it was directed by Menahem Golan and I was the assistant to the assistant of the assistant, basically bringing coffee to the director and moving around his cahier. The cinematographer was Andrew Davis (years later the director of The Fugitive) and we become friends, his next job was to photograph “Mansion of Doomed” and he invited me to be the camera grip, not because I was good but because I was cheap. It was the first movie Charlie Band produced together with his father Albert Band, a very low budget production. Later on Charlie become the king of low budget movies but I never worked for him as a director. Here is a photo from the set of Doomed with an underwater camera!

 

What was your first contact with Cannon Films? How did you start working with them?

 

The association between me and Menahem Golan had started in 1973. I was a twenty-three year old film student in Los Angeles when I met Golan at a New Year's Eve party, I learned that he was about to embark on the production of Lepke. I expressed my desire to be part of it, or more exactly, just to be around. Learning that I was willing to work even without a salary, I was invited to join the production the next day. After that production for the next few years I worked for Golan and Globus off and on as an office runner, second assistant director, and finally my first AD job. In 1979 while at Loyola university I directed my first full length feature film. It started as a student project and grew to become One More Chance starring Kirstie Alley and John LaMotta. Earlier that year Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had purchased the New York based ailing production company Cannon with its considerable library of sexploitation movies. They moved the operation to Hollywood and started producing low budget horror flicks. I set up a meeting with them and to my surprise they expressed a willingness to finance the completion of the movie and thereafter to take it for distribution. Later on they offered me a job to direct the movie “Revenge of the Ninja” and this was the beginning of a long cooperation with Cannon.

 

Have you had a hard time finding financing for your first feature film, "One More Chance"?

 

            One More Chance started in 1980 as a twenty-five minute student project, I wrote the script for a writing class first as a short, and then expanded it into a full length feature. It is a social drama about an ex con just released from prison, trying to mend the broken relationship with his son whom he has not seen for six years. The producer was David Womark (Life of Pi), a fellow student, and the entire crew consisted of inexperienced students caught up in the fever of my enthusiasm. They showed up every weekend for the year and a half it took to shoot the movie.

There was of course no digital video in those days; we used 16mm film and edited on a flat bed. After one and a half years most of the script was shot, but not all of it and we ran out of money. We had used every penny we had; all the grant, loans, and private funds had run out. We couldn’t buy any more film and we owed the lab several thousand dollars.

With about an hour of edited work print and a trailer, David and I started shopping around Hollywood’s production and distribution companies seeking completion funds, but in very place we went to we encountered a brick wall – no one was interested in a small project with not even one recognizable name actor and with no action, horror, or sex. We faced the business side of movie making and it was harsh and bleak. The turning point came when we walked into a meeting with Menahem Golan in the offices of Cannon Films; he expressed a willingness to finance completion of the production and thereafter to take it for distribution.

In 1981, and the heads of Cannon decided to premier the movie at the Cannes Film Festival. I found myself in Cannes that year doing screenings and interviews and from there I was invited to bring the movie to the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. In the Chicago International Film Festival that year, One More Chance won the silver plaque.

 

Did you collaborate on many projects with Golan before making "One More Chance"?

 

            After working on his film “Lepke” (1973) Golan was pleased with my enthusiasm and dedication, and kept me on to work in his company on future productions and office chores. For the next few years I worked for Golan and Globus off and on in Hollywood and in Israel as general office runner, second assistant director, and finally as first assistant director. In 1979 I had enough of it and I went back to school for master degree.

 

What did you think when you were told to do a movie about ninjas? Did you know what a ninja was? Did you have some knowledge of martial arts or at least the martial arts movies?

 

While I was busy editing One More Chance Golan got involved as a producer and director in the first of a new breed of action movies. It was Enter the Ninja the first martial arts movie to introduce the Ninja phenomena to western viewers. The movie stared Franco Nero and the newcomer Japanese champion Sho Kosugi as the bad ninja. The completed movie enjoyed a moderate success in the international and US markets so Golan decided to produce a sequel entitled Revenge of the Ninja this time with the impressive fighter Sho Kosugi as the star. Just at this time I had finished One More Chance, and I was done with the festivals and with school. I received the Masters degree in film and did not know what would happen next. When Cannon oferd me to direct Revenge of the Ninja I was ecstatic, after all the years of school and working as an AD, I finally had a real directing job in a fully fledged Hollywood production. A long time dream had come true. Not only was I going to do what I love, someone was going to pay me to do it.

 

Japanese Sho Kosugi is, for us, the best ninja of all time. He made several films with you. What kind of man was Kosugi behind the camera?

 

            At the same time that I was handed the script I was also introduced to Sho Kosugi, the tallest Japanese person I had ever met. Although I was familiar with Japanese samurai movies - I love the films of Akira Kurosawa, I knew very little of the Hong Kong Kung Fu genre and nothing about Ninjitsu. Sho was gracious enough to become my teacher and introduced me to both martial arts and Ninjitsu. We bought a few books and together watched many Chinese martial arts movies. A master of the art Sho was surrounded during the production period by some of his real life students and together they conducted strict discipline schedule of training every day. Sho was dedicated, committed, to the success of the movie and a very hard working actor on the set.

 

 

Besides the Kosugi connection, why didn’t any film of the trilogy had a related plot between them?

 

            During production and filming on the set I was totally free in terms of creative ideas and control, neither the company nor the producer Menahem Golan ever bothered me with any demands. But when it came to decision regarding company policy like what kind of movies to make I was not asked to express my opinion or to contribute an idea, Menahem Golan usually decided what to produce and only then informed me of his decision, so I don’t have a logical answer to this question.

 

The final fight of "Revenge of ninja" is well remembered by fans. Was it very difficult to shoot that scene?

           

It toke us a full week on the roof to complete this scene, some of it was Sho’s Choreography and some of it was Steve’s Coordination. Some parts of it I was just directing the actors and crew to get it right on camera but some parts were mechanically and technically challenging and required creative solution to achieve the affect I envisioned. We used a lot of weapon duplicates, special rigging and the use of professional acrobats. There were many safety considerations to cover the sword fighting choreography, elaborate camera positioning, including hanging 20 stories high outside the building, and even shots from a helicopter, to create the excitement and tension that resulted in the final shot of the movie.

 

 

Is it true that you had to cut the bloodiest scenes of the film to be able to release it on the big screen?

 

            This is correct, In order to receive R rating and not X (in the American theatrical rating system) we had to cut out one decapitation and few more graphically violent moments.

 

How did the idea of giving the role of "Ninja III: The Domination" to Lucinda Dickey appeared?

 

For a low budget movie Revenge of the Ninja distributed by MGM was quite a success in the box office. After the release Menahem Golan head of Canon Film wanted to produce a third sequel to the Ninja franchise but this time, for some reason that I did not figure out until today, he wanted a story with a female heroin at the lead and not Sho, it was probably a box office gamble. To fine the actress that will portray the female Ninja we held auditions and many actresses with Martial Arts or dancing background came to read for the part. As usual we videotape the 5 finalists that we like the best testing them for acting and ability to do the physical moves. Eventually we all, producers and myself, liked Lucinda the best and she got the part

 

Wasn’t Sho Kosugi bothered to see that this time he would have a smaller role?

 

            From the beginning Sho Kosugi did not like the idea that he will not have the lead roll and as I remember it he really hated the idea of a female Ninja. He only agreed to participate in the movie after we decide that Lucinda will not be a real Ninja but only possessed by a spirit of a bad Ninja and his character will come at some point to resolve the complication and eventually save the day at the end.

 

We were lucky enough to watch the film with your presence at CutreCon. Today it has almost become a cult movie but not necessarily for its quality. Or at least, that’s what the ones who consider the film a "guilty pleasure" thinks (a term, incidentally, we do not like at all, because we do not feel any guilt for enjoying such a fun movie). What do you think of the current perception of the film?

 

            Ninja III the domination was not successful financially when it came out and not very popular but strangely enough, around the world there is a cur group of loyal fans the love it. It is definitely not for everyone but the ones that are open to embrace this kind of hybrid mix of different cinematic element in a silly way still enjoy it nowadays. In the documentary “Electric Boogaloo: the story of Cannon” it is mentioned that Quentin Tarantino director of Kill Bill keeps a 35mm copy of Ninja III in his privet film collection at home, so if it is good enough "guilty pleasure" for Tarantino it is definitely a compliment for me.

 

Then you repeated with Lucinda Dickey in "Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo." Taking into account the great success that was the first part; did you felt a lot of pressure to direct this sequel?

 

            You are right the first Breakin’ was a huge success it was distributed by MGM and did very well in the box office. Cannon wanted the sequel to be even bigger box office success and right from the beginning there was a big music company, PolyGram Records, involved in producing the songs so there was a great expectation regarding the sequel. In addition after one week of shooting a famous distribution company, TriStar Pictures a division of Columbia Pictures bought the movie for theatrical distribution in North America. So yes there was a lot of pressure by everyone to see that the final product will be good but when they saw the material of the dance numbers after the first two week they all trusted me from that point on. All of this commotion did not bother me I just had great time directing this movie.

 

Do you think you directing action scenes prepared you in any way to direct choreographed dance scenes for this film?

 

            Absolutely, there is not much different between directing action, especially when it is Martial Arts choreography, and dance choreography. The esthetics might be different but the principals are the same, most important to make the sequence visually exciting.

 

What can you tell us about the cast, about the three leading roles?

 

            When I joined the team of Electric Boogaloo I was the newcomer, I know Lucinda from Ninja III the Domination and I was introduced to Adolfo Shabba-Doo and Michael Boogaloo Shrimp. The three of them already work together before and by now they were famous, nonetheless they accepted me as one of them right away. Shabba-Doo as the most experienced and veteran dancer was kind of the leader of the trio but as far as working on the set our relationship were professional and according to the hierarchy of directors and actors, I listened to them and they followed me directions. It was hard work but smooth and fun production.

 

 

Why do you think the box office of this film was not as spectacular as that of the first part?

 

            I don’t know much about films marketing and distribution but MGM that released Breakin’ was a much bigger distribution company then Tri-Star that distributed Electric Boogaloo. The other element was that the first Breakin’ was released in the summer and the second in Christmas weekend and I guess that this subject is more summer movie then Winter movie. Subsequently when counting all the home video seals and rents worldwide I believe that Electric Boogaloo was eventual more popular than its predecessor.

 

Although the impact was lesser in the box office, "Breakin’ 2" did somehow managed to permeate popular culture, since "Electric Boogaloo" became a term used by some viewers and critics as a sequel that was referred less serious or less successful than its predecessor. What do you think about this?

 

            With the years Electric Boogaloo become one of the iconic symbols of the 80s and as you mentioned the term Electric Boogaloo become a associated with that period and synonym to the word sequel. Regarding that there is not much I can say except that I am amused by the fact that my name is associated with such an historical cultural phenomenon, it is an amazing turn of events.

 

Was it your idea to make this second part a more brighter and colorful than the previous film?

 

            The fact that this movie was much brighter and colorful cannot be contributed to one man or woman only; it was the result of accumulation of creative suggestions of several heads of departments; art, wardrobe, choreography, cinematography but of course it is the director’s responsibility to solidify all the ideas into one coherent concept that will end up on the screen.

 

After "Breakin’ 2" came the movie that probably made you more famous, "American Ninja". What do you remember about the shooting in the Philippines?

 

            The most memorable facts I remember about shooting in the Philippine are first of all that it was extremely hot all the time day and night and therefore doing the action was not easy, it was rather very sweaty. The second thing I remember is that the crew working on the film was large more than 300 people and tens of trucks. It was like moving around with a small army. The third thing I will never forget is that one weekend Michael and I jumped into the pool of the hotel at the same time when we both realized that a little girl is drowning in it. The lifeguard on duty did not notice and we saved her life. This I consider even more sagnificat then the success of the movie itself.

 

Were you surprised that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus asked you again to make a ninja film?

 

            No, not at all, the Ninja series was a money maker and we knew that Cannon will come back to it.

 

How was your relationship with Michael Dudikoff and Steve James?

 

            The working and social relationship with Michael and Steve were excellent right away from the beginning. Our friendship transcended the usual actor director relationship and we became friends for life. I made few more movies with both of them several times later and I keep in touch with Michael Dudikoff until today. Unfortunately Steve James passed away few years ago at a very young age.

 

What about the relationship between the two actors? Is it true that at first there was some rivalry due to the ignorance of Dudikoff about martial arts?

 

            Few weeks before we start filming Michael Dudikoff started to work on his martial arts moves with Mike Stone and by the time we started filming he was 100 percent ready. Michael was in top shape and very serious about his preparedness. I don’t believe that there was any tension between Michael and Steve regarding any martial arts issue, if there was one I was not aware of it.

 

Did you imagine while filming the movie would be so successful?

 

            While filming any movie there is no way to predict its success or failure, moviemakers always hope for success and believe that the movie they are making is a great one. But I must admit that there was a unique atmosphere on the set of American Ninja, when we saw the early dailies and some first edited scenes I had a feeling that this film will be better than the others. The charisma of the actors and the chemistry between them was strongly evident on the screen.

 

After "American Ninja", you did which is for many ones your best film, or one of the bests, “Avenging Force". What can you tell us about the making of this film? We imagine that filming in the swamps of Louisiana should not be easy...

 

            Directing Avenging force was challenging, interesting, rewording and satisfactory all at the same time. The script by James Both was excellent in term of story structure, drama, characters and dialogue. We had good actors in almost all the parts; location was exotic and the action sequences superb. In one scene we recreated a Mardi Gras procession with thousands of extras, in another scene we recreated imaginary Cajon village in the swamps, and then for the fight scene in the Bayous we created a nonstop rain storm plus a n action scene in a burning house. These challenges called for imaginative directorial solutions that I love to confront and solve. We had good budget and excellent crow and cast of professionals to work with so every day of filming brought more creative pleasure and satisfaction and the end results are self evident.

 

Does the idea of ​​putting back together a Dudikoff and James was yours or was it a purely commercial strategy to repeat the success of their previous collaboration?

 

            The script was actually written for Chuck Norris but when he did not want to do it, it was given to me by Menahem Golan for Michael and Steve it was actually pure coincident that they were right for the already written story.

 

Despite having lots of action, the film also dealt with more serious issues such as racism. It was suggested by Steve James or this was already in the script of James Booth?

 

            The script of James Both was totally completed when it was presented to me; it was so perfect that we did not change one word in it during production. The racial controversy overtone was the brainchild of the writer and no one else.

 

The original script emerged as a sequel to "Invasion U.S.A."; hence the character of Michael Dudikoff has the same name as that of Chuck Norris on this film. Why the idea of ​​shooting it with Norris was discarded?

 

            I know that Chuck did not want to star in a movie based on this script, but I don’t know why.

 

Did the script undergo by many changes to adapt to the new cast?

 

            There was only one change, in the original script the young girl was Matt Hunter’s daughter but because Michael was so young we had to change it to be his younger sister, that’s all.

 

Almost inexplicably, the film was not received with the same fervor that "American Ninja", however today is highly regarded within your films in particular and the catalog of Cannon in general. Could you say it was your more undervalued movie at the time of its release? What do you think this lukewarm reception was due?

 

            Looking back on my carrier I consider Avenging Force to be the best action movie I directed. Unfortunately it was not as successful in the box office as American Ninja fart of the reason was that American Ninja was distributed by the powerful MGM and at the time that Avenging Force was ready for distribution Cannon Films have decided not to use MGM for distribution anymore and instead try to distribute the movie themselves. Naturally Cannon did not have the organizational skills and marketing mechanism of MGM and therefore could not duplicate the success of American Ninja. At the time Avenging Force got good reviews in the press but it did not translate to box office success.

 

 

Is it true that in some countries was released under the title of "American Ninja 2"?

 

             Yes it is correct that in some countries the local distributors call Avenging Force; American Ninja No. 2, it was surly an attempt to ride the success of the Dudikoff, James combination in American Ninja

 

Speaking of "American Ninja II", we must say that some of us prefer this second part to the first, as we believe it has better action scenes, best soundtrack and a demented plot with fewer touches of seriousness. Was it a conscious act to make a lighter film?

 

            No it was not but in the second American Ninja I worked with a different writer and different producers and then there was the special atmosphere of the location of Cape Town in South African. All these elements together contributed to the different tone of the movie there is a sense of Joe Armstrong and Curtis Jackson going on a vacation to solve a problem and be involved in some fun action.

 

According to IMDb, this sequel had a third of the budget of the original film. Having been a successful first movie, what this reduction was due? Did it have anything to do with the disappointing box office of “Avenging Force"? Or was it simply because Cannon was experiencing financial problems in 1987?

 

            I don’t think that IMDB is always accurate about the budget of small independent movies, in making a Hollywood movie in remote country there is always the American portion of the budget and the location part of the budget. Production companies do not publish the true budget of this kind of productions it is usually a company secret, so I am not sure that the budget of American Ninja II was smaller than that of the original American Ninja. What I know for sure is that the schedule was similar 48 shooting days with two units and big crew of action team and special effects.

 

 

Although you have probably answered this question so many times before, we want to record your explanation first hand in this book. There is a scene in “American Ninja II” where you can see for a few seconds, very clearly, the face of a Michael Dudikoff double across the screen. Why did it happen?

 

            Yes you are right this question comes out in almost every interview regarding American Ninja, here is what happened. When we were shooting the scene in the Capitan’s office Michael Dudikoff did not fill well, so after finishing to shoot all the different shoots involving this scene including all the close-ups I released Michal to go and rest in his room knowing that we can finish the final long shot with his body double, it was supposed to be a shot only from the back so nobody will realize the switch. Unfortunately during the editing we worked with a Moviola editing machine that notoriously has a very small screen to view the material, the editor did not know about the switch and without noticing it used the turnaround of the characters and I did not catch the mistake so it ended up in the finished movie and only when we saw it on the big screen we realized too late what happened.

 

Although you made more movies with Michael Dudikoff, you did not come back to sit in the director's chair in any another sequel in the series "American Ninja". Why did this happen?

 

            After American Ninja No. 2 Cannon film teamed up with the local company in South Africa NuWorld (preceded of NuImage) and they decided to produce more American Ninjas together for much smaller budget. I have a reputation of not agreeing to do a very low budget action movies so I was out and they hired local director with local crew that were given much lower salaries that we did and shot only 30 days. They spent considerably less but it showed and the results are a cheap looking movie.

 

What did you think of replacing Michael Dudikoff by David Bradley as the protagonist of the third part?

 

            At the time I didn’t know they replaced Michael with David but in my opinion it was a big mistake and it actually killed the franchise.

 

You returned to work once again with Steve James in "Riverbend", a film that had limited distribution in Spain and that remains unknown to many. What can you tell us about it?

 

            Riverbend is a very special film, and for many reasons got a very small and limited distribution in the US and over the world. One of the reasons is its controversial subject matter that is not easy to digest and did not appall to distribution companies. Racial injustice of minorities in the US is a hard topic to sale to the general moviegoers.

 

Unlike the previous ones, "Riverbend" was not produced by Cannon, but by Prism. Was there any attempt to sell it to Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus?

 

            Riverbend was not produced by Prism but be a rich independent producer from Texas, he then sold it to Prism for distribution. After we finished the editing he was not in contact with me any more so I don’t know whom else he approached for distribution.

 

If "Riverbend" already marked a change from your immediate work, with "The Day We Met" you went further and you made a dramatic comedy spoken in Hebrew and set Israel. How did this project come about? Did you have intentions to move back to Israel?

 

            Yehuda Barkan the star and the producer of the movie was at the time one of the top comedian in Israel, years back when I was assisted director in Israel (1978) I wrote a script together with him for him to star in but it was never produced none the less we stayed friendly through the years. At this point in time he was producing and staring in a popular string of sentimental comedies, at a paste of one every year, enormously successful in Israel. One day he just called and asked me to come and direct his next movie in Israel, I was free of any other obligations and I agreed. We have a small place in Tel-Aviv and I was happy to go back to Israel and work again with my friends from my days as assistant director there. I also jumped at the opportunity to direct a comedy in my native language, Hebrew.

 

In this film you used your real name, Shmulik Firstenberg. Did you do that because it was a more personal project?

 

            Yes, to this point only very few people in Israel knew that Sam Firstenberg director of the enormously popular American Ninja is actually a local boy named Shmulik, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus asked me to convert my name to Sam when I joined Cannon in 1980. Years back I directed in Israel a short television movie under my name Shmulik so why not use again my real name for an Israeli movie.

 

 

You returned to work for Cannon in "Delta Force 3" when Menahem Golan had already left the company and in front of it were Christopher Pearce and Yoram Globus. How did you get involved in this film?

 

            While I was in Israel editing "The Day We Met“ the new Cannon that you mentioned decided to shot in Israel Delta Force 3’ there was a director and pre production was going on. On evening I got a telephone call at my apartment in Tel-Aviv, Chris Pearce was on the line asking me to tack over the director position because they lost the director that was preparing the movie. The challenging thing was that it was Friday night and the shooting started in Sunday morning so I had only one day to prepare myself. The script was delivered the same night and on Sunday morning, first day of shooting, to the surprise of the crew and cast a new director appeared on the set. I had to control the situation and gain the trust of the cast and crew right away so without a moment of hesitation I moved on to set up the first shot of the day and within a short time the adjusting to a new director was over and I was in full control of the set.

 

Why Chuck Norris did not return after "Delta Force 2"?

 

            I don’t know but I think that at that point he was already involved with his television series Walker, Texas Ranger.

 

The cast of "Delta Force 3" is really curious, full of "children" or "siblings." Does the casting was so thoroughly or was it a fluke?

 

            As I told you I was not involved in the casting but I am sure it was some sort of a gimmick to enhance commercial potential of the movie.

 

 

With "Sweating Bullets" you worked in an action series for television, directing six chapters. Was that the only time you worked for television?

 

            Yes it was my only experience it television.

 

Finally in "American Samurai" you met David Bradley, whom we consider an excellent martial artist and an actor with enough charisma to have been more successful. You also introduced Mark Dacascos as the lead villain. Are you proud of this movie?

 

            America Samurai was re edited in a drastic way after I finished my cut, two scenes were added without my knowledge and so the structure of the original story was changed. In my version there was a lot of mystery and secrets regarding the character of the hero and his origin, the way martial art movie suppose to be. In the published version the story line is linear and in my opinion boring, the producers also added a sex scene that was done with body doubles only and is totally unnecessary for this type of a movie. But everything we have done in the arena was left the way I intended it to be, raw, brutal, and spectacular, and this is good.

 

Did you find it interesting to return to martial arts film?

 

            I did not abounded martial arts movies I was just offered different kind of films and I was happy to tackle the challenge. Every new project is interesting to me the question is can I as a director tell a compelling story.

 

Somehow, the plot kept some similarities to "Bloodsport", don’t you think? Do you think that the success of the first films of Van Damme was instrumental in relaunching movies about martial arts tournaments?

 

            I don’t know if you know that few years earlier I was offered to direct Bloodsport but I rejected it because I did not like the idea of a whole movie taking place in one location, I guess  I was wrong since it was a huge success when it came out. In any case I believe that the idea of a movie in one arena just followed me until I had to direct one.

 

After the disappearance of Cannon Films, you were one of the main directors of Avi Lerner’s and Danny Limbort’s Nu Image. Would you say that this production company was the spiritual heir to Cannon Films?

 

            No questions about it, remember that both of them Avi and Danny at some point worked with or for Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, and Cannon Films. Like many of us they also grow up from within the spirit of Cannon so they created a new film company that was a copy of the old one.

 

What can you tell us about the diptych "Cyborg Cop"?

 

            Diptych ???     

 

Except for the fanny, David Bradley’s attire in these films is almost a carbon copy of Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 2". Is this the case or is merely our impression?

 

            If it is the case then it is an unintended coincident that I was not aware of.

 

 

You also went through the Indonesian company Rapi Films with "Blood Warriors", again with David Bradley. How did you get that chance?

 

            One day I got a telephone call from Sam Samtani of Rapi, he was in Los Angeles for the American film market and he just asked to meet with me. In the meeting he offered me to direct an action movie of my choice with Frank Zagarino in Indonesia. The offer was too good to reject and I agreed to write a script, direct it and to try and bring David Bradley into the mix. At that time I was supposed to start Cyborg Cop 2 (Cyberg Soldier) with David right away in South Africa for Nu Image but they agreed to postpone the production until after we finished Blood Warriors.

 

What do you remember "Operation Delta Force”?

 

            Operation Delta Force was initiated by Nu Image and the story was written by company principals Danny Lerner and Trevor Short, the main idea behind the production was to utilize the facilities they had in South Africa. The most interesting part about this movie was the cast; Ernie Hudson, Jeff Fahey and a chance to work with the legendary Hal Holbrook. Other than that it was a standard military movie with some interesting and challenging action sequences.

 

 

From here, some of your movies did not reach Spain (unless we are wrong). It’s the case of "Blue Motel", "McCinsey's Island" and "Criss Cross". What can you tell us about them?

 

            “Motel Blue” is a little low budget erotic thriller with Sean Young from Blade Runner and No Way Out, she is a great actress and it was fun to direct her. “McCinsey’s Island” is a low budget comedy with Hulk Hogan, Grace Jones, and Robert Vaughn, I had good time directing it but as I see it today the story is too silly and the comedy doesn’t work. Criss Cross is a feature film combined in editing from two consecutive episodes I directed for the television series “Tropical Heat” (also known as Sweating Bullets) for DVD distribution only. I was not involved in the editing of it since the practice in the television industry is that the director is busy directing the episodes all the time and therefore never visits the editing room.

 

 

“The Alternate” was released on DVD here. Did you find it interesting to make a film following the “Die Hard” pattern and that, somehow, went ahead to later titles such as "Olympus Has Fallen" and "White House Down"?

 

            The script for The Alternate was written by the actor Bryan Genesse, following a well known formula of an entire movie in one location. It was done many times in Hollywood and as you mentioned sometimes with action, for the producer it is a sure way to save money, for the director it is a challenge to make sure it is not claustrophobic and not boring. The best fart of directing this movie was working with the intense actors Eric Roberts and Michael Madsen and keeping up the tension in this one location.

 

 

Coming from artisanal practical action and special effects, was it very difficult to work with digital effects in "Spiders 2: Breeding Ground”?

 

            No it was not difficult to work with optical effects at all, I have a good knowledge of cinematic tricks and technical background. The only problem with optical, computer generated effects is that it is expensive and time consuming process to generate good ones. So the challenge I faced in resolving the problems of creating the various mechanical and optical effects was actually great fun for me.

 

After many years without working together, you came back to work with Michael Dudikoff in "Quicksand", also unreleased in Spain. During all those years without working together, did you keep your friendship?

 

            During all the years between American Ninja II and Quicksand both of us Michael and myself were very busy working on various movies so our contact was accordingly light, but since then our friendship grew stronger and we are in constant contact.

 

 

What could you tell us about "Quicksand"?

 

            Directing Quicksand was an experience of a life time; the film was produced by an Indian production company and shot in an Indian studio in Hyderabad with an Indian crew. The Ballywood way of producing movies is totally different and opposite from the Hollywood way, so amidst a lot of frustration I and my small group of American crew member had to adapt to the local customs and methods. At the same time we tried to show the local crew the way we proceed making movies in Hollywood.

 

Then you directed the also unreleased here "The Interplanetary Surplus Male and Amazon Women of Outer Space". Without having seen the movie, we must recognize that at least the title is the most striking. What would we find in this film?

 

            "The Interplanetary Surplus Male” is an affectionate spoof or a parody based on the old silly sciences fiction of the 40s and the 50s like Queen of Outer Space or Cat-Women of the Moon a very low budget movie I directed for two friends, a writer and a producer that shear a great deal of fondness to this type of films. At first they wanted to make it a series movie but the only way I agreed to participate was if we turn it into comedy, and they agreed. Of course this film is intended for a specific audience that is familiar with those old movies and will appreciate the inside jocks.

 

After this strange film, you have not directed any other, even though your website talks about several projects: "Marshall's Law", "Boy Soldiers," "Johnny Blade" and "Jersey". Why none of them has been carried out? Do you intend to direct again soon?

 

            In a sense I am a very lucky director, throughout the years I was always invited to direct one movie after the other and none of them except “One More Chance” was my initiative to produce. Producing calls for completely different set of skills that I do not posses and therefore some of the project that you mentioned which I like very much will not be made unless a producer steps in. I do not have the knowledge or the energy to run around in order to raise the money that it takes to produce a movie, and in the other hand some action movies I am asked to direct now days are so low budget that I rather not get involved.

 

Is it true that you used unreleased footage from an unfinished film directed by Ed Wood? How did you get that footage? Or was that just a joke?

 

            Eventually it become a joke, my friend the writer Sam Oldham saw some footage of an old sci-fi movie that looks like it cloud have been from an Ed Wood movie, so he based his script on this footage with the intend that we might use in the film he is writing, but at the end of the day we did not need it at all, we shoat enough footage to cut the movie with our own material.

 

 

Many of us wonder what Sam Firstenberg is doing since 2003?

 

            I have so many hobbies, so many fields of interest and other activities like gardening, building furniture, photography, traveling around the world, and family that I don’t know how to fit them all into me daily schedule. If you follow my website, my Facebook posting and my Picasa photo album, you will understand what I mean.

 

We love all your work with Cannon Films. In retrospect, which ones are you prouder of?

 

            The best movie I directed for Cannon was in my opinion Avenging Force, The must lively and fun was Electric Boogaloo, and the most famous and popular is definitely American Ninja.

 

We know Cannon Films left a lot of projects unproduced. Was there any of them that you were supposed to direct?

 

            No, not really but I continued with the incarnation of Cannon and directed Delta Force III that was one of the project left behind by the original Cannon.

 

And any frustrated project out of Cannon Films?

 

            The one wacky movie that I directed for Cannon Films was “Ninja III: the Domination” today it is a cult movie with its own funs but we must admit that there are few strange directorial decisions in that movie.

 

What do you remember about Menahem Golan?

 

            A lot was written about Menahem Golan in books, magazines, and news papers, Television show and documentaries were mad about him. He was definitely a bigger than life character, that his passion, and enthusiasm to movies making was probably unparallel. From his point of view, from his perspective nothing could or should stand on his way in achieving his cinematic (and theatrical) goals. So at times he was laud and forceful beyond “normal” standards but in the other hand he was an avid story teller that was open to listen to ideas and cultivate young talents.

 

 

Recently there has been news about the relaunch of Cannon Films by a young man named Richard Albiston who claims to have been a close associate of Menahem Golan in his last years of life. Do you know anything about this?

 

            No I don’t.

 

What do you think of the current action films?

 

            Today the business model of action movies is different from the one that was in place in the 80s and 90s. In order to make a good action film there is a need for a dissent budget or investment and reasonable shooting period. At those times there was enough resources to make the big and the low budget action movies to meet the satisfaction of the audience but now days things have drastically changed, the big budget movie became mega budget with huge investment and spectacular action in them but the medium budget action movie I directed in the Cannon time disappeared all together and instead today’s action directors are asked to deliver action on the screen with tiny budget only a fraction of what we got back then and to be honest we must admit that there is no action in the low budget action movies of today. The other aspect of current action movies is that the makers relay to heavily on all kind of optical computer generated effects and fast pace editing to achieve the action thrill, back in our low budget action movies there was no cables for the characters to jump high and fly in the air and there was no CGI and blue screen for high speed chases, everything had to be done physically for real with stunt doubles and with the actors themselves to create the magic of cinematic action and I believe that there is more realistic filling to what we put then on the screen.

 

In your recent visit to Madrid you have seen how Spanish fans love you. What did you feel when you were offered the honorary award of CutreCon?

 

            My visit to Madrid in January 2016 was an amazing thrilling experience. The fact that I was invited to be an honorary guest at the CutreCon Film Festival and participate in its events was exciting enough, and the fact that the APPEL TEAN grope presented me with a lifetime achievement award was overwhelming recognition I appreciate deeply. But the confluence with so many Spanish fans, reporters, and movie lovers was the real reword and highlight of my visit to Madrid. I want to

 

Before ending the interview, anything to add regarding your relationship with Cannon Films?

 

            The Years I spent in Cannon were very productive and creative; I directed for the company some of my best movies thanks to the free hand they gave me in doing my work. In Cannon we had dissent budgets to make films and the money ended up on the screen. During the years I was compensated very well for the work I did so all in all those were very good and successful years.

 

Thank you very much for your time and kindness.

 

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