Interview: Director Simon West Talks GUN SHY, CON AIR & Action Cinema

Few directors know their way around an action movie like Simon West. He cut his teeth making music videos before graduating to the big screen with the 1997 action classic Con Air. He has also helmed the likes to Tomb Raider, The General’s Daughter, The Expendables 2 – and now Gun Shy, an action-comedy starring Antonio Banderas and Olga Kurylenko. Movies In Focus spoke with him about his latest release and his career as one of Hollywood’s go-to action directors. I kicked things off by thanking West for sending me a Con Air ‘Goodie Box’ celebrating the 20th anniversary of the cult Nicolas Cage actioner.

Enjoy…

I have to thank you- during the summer you sent me a Con Air Goodie Box!

Yes, they were fun.

I’m sitting in my office looking at a bright, pink bunny – so thank you for that!

We just wanted to celebrate the anniversary in some way and everyone remembers the pink bunny and the quotes. I’m glad you got it.

So, moving on to Gun Shy – how did that come about?

I was looking at some scripts in LA – quite a few scripts come along my desk and I really loved one and called the author, Mark Haskell and he said, ‘Sorry, I just sold it, but I have this book called Salty, with the same sense of humour – would you like to read it?’.

He sent it across and I loved it even more because it was about a burnt out Rock Star who is a cross between Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger and Steve Tyler. He has a super model wife and the band has broken up and he’s drinking in his LA mansion. He has to go on holiday with his wife and he doesn’t want to and then she gets kidnapped by pirates in this exotic country. He then has to rescue her even though he can’t even tie his own shoelaces because he’s a pampered Rock Star. It’s a comedic action-adventure film.

I loved the script and I wanted to do it outside the studio system, so I didn’t have a lot of development money. So, I said ’What’s your best price for the option? It’s a lot quicker and easier if I make this on a small budget independently’. He said, ‘ Why don’t you find the best bottle of tequila and I’ll give it to you for that”.

It was that easy?

It was! So I got the tequila and sent it across to him with the full intention of making the film within a year. He was going to get rewarded when it got made – but I got distracted by other films and cut to 9 years later and I just got around to making the film. It was kind of him to let me keep the option for that long. It was the best deal I ever had – one bottle of tequila.

You also funded the film through crowdfunding…

Yes – again I wanted to keep it completely independent in the film world, from the traditional studio system – even from the traditional way of raising money independently. There are a lot of strings when people lend you money to make a film so we had this idea – why don’t we crowd-fund in the UK? This meant that the contributors have a share of the movie and they’re like mini producers. It’s not like Kickstarter where they donate and get a T-shirt and a free pen – they’re real participants. We put it on a crowd-funding platform called Syndicate Room and we sat there and watched the computer screen. It was so much fun because you could watch the dial going up for the money we needed for the budget until we had enough to make the film.

What was it about this particular film which made you want to make it outside the studio system?

Just that it was a quirky comedy. I’ve made a lot of action films which people expect me to make, which are relatively easy to imagine me doing and raising money. Although there’s a lot of comedy in Con Air and The Expendables 2, I didn’t want to be forced into making a stereotypical action movie with gags here and there. It had a particular sense of humour and I wanted the creative freedom to make it how I wanted to – and the crowd-funding worked.

Is it something that you would do again?

Definitely, yes. Hopefully, as it’s counting up the downloads, it will be successful enough to reward all the investors and we’ll turn around and do things straight after. We should have proved how it works and. The first one has a lot of explaining to do because it hadn’t been done like this – but next time will be easier and quicker.

How did you get Antonio Banderas involved?

I was talking to him about another project in passing I mentioned this other project called Salty (Gun Shy‘s original title). I said, ‘It’s different from what you’’ve done before – it’s comedic with a broad character’. He read it and absolutely loved it and jumped on. We then had to find him an ex-supermodel wife and Olga Kurylenko fitted the bill perfectly. She had been a model and done dramatic roles. Once I had those two, that was the world.

Antonio Banderas is not a afraid to make a full of himself on screen…

He’s very brave and very handsome. He really tapped into his inner child on this as the over-pampered Rock Star. He lives in LA and knows quite a few of these people. I could see that he was channelling a few people that I knew. He absolutely loved it.

Well…you started your career in music video – did you draw from that?

Yeah – we shot a music sequence and recorded some songs with Antonio singing. It was fun to shoot musical sequences which I haven’t done since my music video days.
It was very nostalgic.

Speaking of which – you directed Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up video – does that follow you around?

For my sins it does. It’s a double edged sword. Everyone has seen it and everyone knows it. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve been in touch with Rick about a reunion video.

I’ve seen that you have The Blob coming up – is that next for you?

I don’t know if that’s the next one. I’ve got 3 or 4 going because you never know which one is going to bubble to the top. I’m actually working on a Pulitzer Prize winner called Thunder Run, which is about an incident in the Iraq war – similar to Black Hawk Down which I produced – but with tanks. It’s a true story of this tank battle which is incredible. It’s a brilliant book and I’m hoping get that going later this year. That’s probably a bit ahead of The Blob.

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