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?
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?
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
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.
not mistaken, you served three years in the Israeli army. Do
you think that somehow this experience prepared you to make action scenes in
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?
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
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"?
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
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
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
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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
Sho Kosugi bothered to see that this time he would have a smaller
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
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
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.
2" came the movie that probably made you more
famous, "American Ninja". What do you remember about the shooting in
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?
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
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.
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...
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
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.
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.
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,
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"?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Unlike the previous
ones, "Riverbend" was not produced by
Cannon, but by Prism. Was there any attempt to sell it to Menahem Golan and
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.
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.
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,
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.
Bullets" you worked in an action series for
television, directing six chapters. Was that the only time you worked for
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
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.
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"?
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.
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
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
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?
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,
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
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
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
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.