Interview: Charles Picerni, The Bleeding

On February 18, 2011, I called Charlie Picerni, a man who has worked in Hollywood far longer than most people. He has seen it all, he has done it all. Mostly known as a stunt man and a stunt coordinator, he has branched out to writing, directing and more. He has helmed many famous televisions shows that are now considered legendary by many viewers. Charlie professionally studied directing at The Beverly Hills Playhouse. Currently, Charlie is personally putting his own team together to produce a feature film project called “Spaghetti Park”, which he will direct. As a testament to his accomplishments within the Industry, Charlie has been a member of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for 18 years.

While I did talk briefly to Charlie about work in television — a conversation that could have gone on for days with his credits! — the focus of this was The Bleeding, a new action horror film that he directed.

GS: Before we talk about “The Bleeding”, I’m going to mention three people you’ve worked with over your long career, and just tell me about them.

CP: Alright.

GS: Tom Selleck.

CP: I did 16 episodes of Magnum, P.I., yeah. Tom Selleck is a great guy, terrific guy. It was a lot of fun, back in 1981. Tom was an athlete — we played football and volleyball. He was just a terrific guy. Very nice, very easy to work with.

GS: William Shatner.

CP: Shatner was a lot of fun, he told a lot of jokes on set. I directed four episodes of TJ Hooker. Great to be around. He was a professional, and you can see that because he’s still working. I actually met Bill Shatner back when I first got in the business, back in 1964. In New York, I doubled him in an episode of “The Reporter”. He was new, I was new. Then we met up again on “T. J. Hooker”. I was directed, and he was looking to direct. He would come over by the camera and ask questions, and he was great to work with.

GS: David Hasselhoff.

CP: David Hasselhoff… I did a little bit with David, not a lot. I did some second unit work on an episode of Knight Rider. I don’t know David that well. I did coordinate the stunts on the show, but only worked once as second unit. But I do remember David being a real nice guy.

GS: Let’s switch to “The Bleeding”.

CP: You could mention Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis.

GS: Well, I could go on all day about the people you’ve worked with.

CP: (laughs) Right.

GS: Let’s start with a general question: how did the directing gig land in your lap?

CP: That came from Mike Tadross, Jr., a producer. The father and son called me and asked how I would like to direct. I met Mike Matthias and we went from there.

GS: So, you knew them and they wanted you?

CP: Yeah, I knew Mike Tadross, Sr. I didn’t know his son, the producer, but I knew Mike Senior from Warner Brothers, and I had done some stunt work for him years before.

GS: The casting is fantastic. Was there traditional casting with casting calls, or were there actors you specifically sought?

CP: Actually, I was with Mike Tadross, and he was on a conference call with Armand Assante, Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones. He said he had those names, and I told him if he could get them that would be great. So he had them on the call and we did it that way. Do you remember the little blonde girl? She was a theater actress, a very good actress. And Rachelle Leah, she was good. Some of them were a little inexperienced, but you couldn’t tell. Michael Madsen has done big movies, Vinnie Jones has done big movies, and they’ve both done smaller films. They go back and forth — they’re professional actors and they love to work.

GS: So there were a few who were definitely chosen for the movie before there even was a movie?

CP: Yeah.

GS: The film is an unusual blend of action and horror. How do you get a good horror film, and still get explosions and fighting — things we don’t see very often in horror?

CP: Well, I’ve always liked horror movies. It’s just a matter of getting what you want. As far as working with actors, I’ve done a lot of work with actors and worked at the Beverly Hills Playhouse as an actor. I studied there for two years. Doing action is a secondary thing to me. I’m always looking to do new things, but I love the action. That’s my background, so I kind of fell right in.

GS: Was there anything from the script that you changed to add your own personal touch to?

CP: Well, the whole action sequence. I put my touch to that. The action sequences were so big, and I had to work in the time allotted. We only had 25 days, even though we originally had 32 scheduled. With only 25, I had to take some of the action out of the action! With the big sequence, we only had five nights to shoot that. The sword fights, the truck, processing it at the end. But action stuff I love to do, I consider it a challenge, and I can do it pretty fast. Other directors have to work with a stunt coordinator, but I’m out there laying out cameras and doing choreography and it comes easy for me.

GS: There’s the scene where the main character is running across the semi trailer and it turns over — do you have to catch that in one take or is it able to be shot again and again?

CP: We can reshoot that. That trailer is rigged to jackknife, and we can set it back up and do it again. The guy who does that, George Sack (the stunt driver), has the truck and there is a rig inside that turns it over, and we can do it over and over again. We have the guy on top cabled off, so it’s pretty straightforward. Turning the truck over was kind of a tricky thing, though, because we wanted to have it go over while it was moving, but ran into mechanical problems. So we ended up just pulling it over with cables while it was stationary. We edited the scene to make it look like it was still moving. Stunt work like that you can do as many times as you want as long as you’re safe and you know what you’re doing. Flipping a car over you can maybe do only once because the car will be demolished, but we could do the truck several times.

GS: Was there any risk of damaging the truck from explosions going off in the background?

CP: Not really. With a car exploding, you can only do that the one time, but the explosions we put in the background are far enough away that you can set those off again. That’s not a problem.

GS: When the film was done, what did you get that you wanted, and what did you end up not getting?

CP: Well, what I wanted was the action sequence, and I got that. What I didn’t get is probably enough days to shoot. That’s what I would have liked. I had to take some action stuff out that was too intricate, too involved. There was supposed to be a scene with Kat VonD where she’s on top of a truck and gets blown off, does a flip through the air and lands on a motorcycle. But things like that would take me a whole night to shoot. Overall, as far as the stuff I did, I was happy with what I got in the time allotted. Working with Michael Madsen and Armand Assante helped. They’re very professional. I loved working with them, blocking things out and staging scenes. They were perfect.

GS: Can you explain DMX’s character?

CP: He was terrific. DMX was great.

GS: DMX or his character?

CP: I just want to say that DMX really surprised me. He was a great actor, better than I would have thought. His character was strange but knew what he was doing. He was interesting.

GS: I hate to criticize the movie when I’m talking to the director, but DMX’s character confused me because I didn’t understand how he knew all the things that he knew.

CP: (laughs) I don’t know. I lot of things were confusing. We didn’t have a lot of time to work on the script, but you’re right. Even the whole thing with where this guy goes to find the vampires. You just sort of overlook that, and focus on the action and the vampires. A lot of movies are like that.

GS: That’s true. Alright, another plot question: what is the connection between Cain and the main character’s brother? Are they the same guy or not?

CP: You know, that’s what I kept asking the writer. I think he’s the same guy, and turned into a vampire in Afghanistan. We’ll have to wait for a sequel to clear that up.

GS: Because what struck me as odd was that within five years time, he not only becomes a vampire, but is a huge vampire clan leader and can afford to buy a night club and it just seems like he got very big very fast.

CP: He was the leader, yeah. Well, like I said, sometimes you don’t have that much time to work on the script. They only give you so many days to shoot it, so you can’t always get the time you want to work on it. You just have to make it as interesting as possible, and a lot of times things don’t make sense. I wish I had more time with the script, but we were so busy scouting for locations, it just never happened. But that was a challenge.

GS: I hate being critical, so I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be insulting.

CP: You’re not being insulting at all. You’re right. You’re exactly right.

GS: What upcoming projects will you be involved in?

CP: Nothing right now. There’s a script I wrote I’m trying to get financing for called “Spaghetti Park” that you can read more about at SpaghettiParkMovie.Com. It’s a true story, a mother-son relationship in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a coming of age movie. That’s my next goal. So look for it, Gavin. Based on Charlie Picerni’s life in New York, with his brother and his mother steering him the right way. I was going down a different road, and they set me straight. The film will have a lot of good New York characters. People seem to like New York characters on the reality shows now. Look at the website — you’ll like it!

GS: That’s all I have for questions today.

CP: Well, thanks for calling, Gavin. I appreciate it.

GS: Thank you.

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