Interview: Robert Kurtzman

No fooling, Gavin Schmitt got in contact with director Robert Kurtzman and David Greathouse on April 1 to discuss their newest project, “Deadly Impact”, a serial killer thriller coming soon from MGM. Gavin has seen the screener and can tell you right now: this is a killer that easily falls in the “evil genius” category of Jigsaw or John Doe (“Seven”).

The brief discussion covers the new film, but also gets into where a director’s vision comes from, how to write a realistic script about serial bombing… and, you guessed it, David Hasselhoff rears his ugly Teutonic head once again.

GS: Robert, although you have directed before (including the noteworthy “Wishmaster”), you are known primarily as a special effects wizard. When switching between these roles, do you see it as putting on distinctly different hats or as two different jobs that are complements of each other?

RLK: Depending on the type of project, it’s two different jobs that complement each other. The fact that I have a background in FX helps me interact with the various departments more efficiently. I’ve worked side by side with all the departments with my FX work and understand the time and manpower it takes to achieve certain things, so I’m able to work with those departments and find economical ways to do things without delaying our schedule or causing extra burden on the budget. On this film I did not have any heavy creature FX but we did have prosthetics, CGI and pyrotechnics and a very short 24 day shooting schedule, so I had to plan shots carefully and work around certain issues to make the days and still get what was scripted on the screen.

GS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but as a director, MGM is the largest company you’ve had to work with yet. Does this affect the kind of control you have over a film? (i.e., does MGM or any other company “crack down” on a director’s vision?)

RLK: It is my first real studio project. I had a great relationship working through the process with everyone at MGM. Ultimately, the studio controls the film and as director you want to preserve your vision as much as possible and there is always give and take but we all want to make the best film we can. “Wishmaster”, although an independent film, still had a mini studio (Artisan/Live) behind it and the process was very similar.

GS: Why is the film called “Deadly Impact”? This calls to mind such films as “Deep Impact”, which is obviously very different.

RLK: The original script which Alex Vesha wrote was called “Anglemaker”; then it was changed to the working title of “To Live and Die” and finally “Deadly Impact”. Title changes have a lot to do with marketing and how the studio wants to position a film, but to me it’s called “Deadly Impact” because every decision our hero Tom Armstrong makes as a law officer while hunting down a master criminal / assassin has a “deadly impact” on his life.

DG: Kaplow, the killer, definitely has a “deadly impact” on Tom’s life as well.

GS: Was it hard to create a distinct mastermind killer?

RLK: First of all, it comes down to the script, and Alex Vesha really did a great job fleshing out the characters. But ultimately, the actors bring that little extra mojo and we were lucky enough to have the talented Joe Pantoliano [known for everything from “The Goonies” to “The Matrix” to “The Sopranos”] in the role of the Lion. He brought his own quirks and nuances to the character that really made Kaplow special: sinister with a sense of humor. His character really likes to play the game and fuck with people and Joe really ran with that. If you were to meet Kaplow at a ball game he’d seem like an average guy, probably come off like your neighbor next door but in reality he’s an entirely different person, cold and calculated and really doesn’t care about anyone but himself, which makes him really scary as a villain.

DG: Vesha did a great job. The actors brought their own slant to what was written and Robert helped mesh the two together to make complete characters.

GS: Kelly Armstrong, the bound wife and hostage victim, is played by Michelle Greathouse… did Dave offer his family as a sacrifice?

RLK: Michelle Greathouse is a very talented actress and it was pivotal to find someone who could make the emotional connection with Sean Patrick Flanery (Tom Armstrong) to set up his character and his emotional state of mind for the rest of the film.

DG: I merely made it possible for her to audition. I told Robert to hire the best person for the job and Michelle came in and rocked the audition. Even the studio signed off on the selection. She is great in the role and got it on her ability.

GS: Dave, thank you for “Saint John of Las Vegas”.

DG: You’re welcome. Thanks for watching and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

GS: Was the FBI or police consulted on making bombs?

DG – Vesha did a lot of research in the beginning and we had a swat officer from Albuquerque serve as a consultant. The APD has one of the best bomb squads in the country. Those guys know their stuff.

GS: Who came up with the Lion urination scene? (I won’t be more specific to keep it from being ruined)

RLK: Alex Vesha the screenwriter came up with that. He always wanted Kaplow to be a sick bastard.

GS: You’ve repeatedly praised Alex Vesha. What was the process by which Vesha’s script came to be put in your possession? Did you know him prior? Did the studio connect you all?

DG: Vesha’s manager, Bob Sobahani, and I have been friends for a long time. Bob introduced me to Alex shortly after they began working together and Alex and I got along very well so when he finished the script they sent it to me, I loved it and told them I wanted to produce it and we all agreed to work together.

GS: How should the visuals drive a story (this one or any one)? I ask because I noticed the use of angled shots and many clearly handheld scenes, presumably intentional for creating an atmosphere, which would change the mood regardless of what actors said or did.

RLK: We did a lot of hand held but also quite a bit of steady-cam as well. We had a very short 24 day shooting schedule and I really wanted to keep the energy level up so we primarily shot the action handheld; we were really running and gunning.

I tend to use slightly off kilter shots (angled) at certain moments in the film when it comes to the villain, “The Lion” (Joe Pantoliano), as his character is a bit off center.

GS: Do either of you have any dirt you can share on David Hasselhoff?

RLK: No, but I wish I did.

DG: That guy is a really fast swimmer.

GS: Finally, what projects are coming up on the horizon that fans should be keeping an eye on?

RLK: Creature Corps Team is currently busy creating FX for the upcoming Bollywood superhero film “RA. One” starring India’s superstar Shahrukh Khan, as well as the horror projects “Jinn” from director Ajmal Ahmad and “Sucker” with director Michael Mansasseri (“Babysitter Wanted”). We also have the release of Ed (“Midnight Syndicate”) Douglas’s ”The Dead Matter” coming out this summer [with Tom Savini and Andrew Divoff] which [Kurtzman’s special effects company] Precinct 13 produced, and we just launched a new line of merchandise for the Halloween Haunt industry which is keeping us very busy.

DG: I’m doing “The Peak” for Film Department which starts this summer. Based on an original idea that Neal Marshall Stevens (“Head of the Family”, “Thirteen Ghosts”) and I came up with, the script is currently being polished by Chat Taylor. We begin prepping the film early summer for a early fall start. All I can say about the story is it’s a nail biting high mountain rescue. I also have four other films, three thrillers and a comedy with MGM.

Most recently, I produced “Isolation” directed by Stephen Kay (“Get Carter”), starring David Harbour (“Brokeback Mountain”) and Eva Amurri (“Saved!”). It is a great suspense thriller that we shot using the new Canon 7D camera. We were the first feature film to shoot and entire film on these cameras and it turned out to be a great experience.

GS: Thank you both, gentlemen. It has been an honor to talk with you… and I greatly encourage people to check out “Deadly Impact”, as well as the other upcoming flicks mentioned. Robert, you are a legend of the horror and thriller genre, and we all look forward to each of your projects. And Dave, it was a pleasure to meet you – keep producing quality pictures!

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