There is a very impressive and long list of successful actors and actresses who have become equally successful directors. Names that quickly come to mind include Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Sylvester Stallone. Many critics often accuse actors of vanity when they choose to make this transition, but the truth is often more interesting than the sometimes misinformed opinions of envious critics. Many reasons include the fact that these actors may have been interested in directing from the beginning of their careers and seen an opportunity to pursue it after establishing themselves as actors. Actors also mention that this is a method for them to extend their careers when they grow older because of the industry’s obsession with youth. Let’s not forget that there is an intoxicating thrill when you have shepherded a project through from beginning to end!
joltleft.com’s Oscar Benjamin sat down in San Francisco, California with actor and now director, Michael Biehn to discuss his incredible debut film called, “The Victim”. Michael Biehn has been an iconic actor and fan favorite for several decades now. His performances in films such as “The Terminator” as the tragic Kyle Reese and as Johnny Ringo in “Tombstone” has forever cemented him as an actor that film fans will always seek out in movies. During the span of the interview, Mr. Biehn was joined by his girlfriend, producer and actress Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, actor Denny Kirkwood and the film’s producer, Lorna Paul to discuss the genesis and the challenges of filming a low-budget film.
Michael Biehn began by addressing his reasons for becoming a director, “I worked on Grindhouse with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. I used to talk to Robert about making movies and I told him I was thinking about making a little low-budget movie. He basically said Michael just go out there and write it and shoot it! Jim Cameron once said to me one of the brilliant things about Robert is that he just doesn’t understand that he can’t do something and Jim doesn’t just throw the word brilliant around”!
During the course of our lives there are many times when we get caught up in our jobs and forget the promises we had made to ourselves. Michael Biehn never forgot his inspirational conversation he had with director Robert Rodriguez so he decided to fulfill his ambition. Biehn elaborates, “Last Spring I was shooting a movie called The Divide and I saw a guy in a coffee shop just like this and he was reading Rebel without a Crew. It is Robert Rodriguez’s book about how to make movies and how he got started”. Michael adds with a his famous smile, “It inspired me to do it!”
Making the jump from talking to actually funding and filming a motion picture requires more than just skating on an actor’s good lucks. Mr. Biehn continues, “Jennifer(Blanc-Biehn) was up there filming The Divide with me. She played the part of my wife in the movie. I said to her do you think we can raise some money! I read a script that she showed me a year earlier-it was kind of like a Novella. She wanted me to look at this guy’s script and I looked at it about a year ago. I asked her if they had money and then it turned out they didn’t have money, so I kind of forgot about it”. It was at this point that I began to notice the rather romantic give and take between Michael and Jennifer that added a fascinating element to the interview. It was an inside look at how a couple can operate successfully within the unusual demands of this unusual and very public career. Biehn continues, “She thought she could raise some money and she did raise the money. I took that script and paid myself enough money and paid Jennifer enough money and we felt it was worth it to go ahead. We immediately left Winnipeg to start pre-production on The Victim. In about three weeks, she(Jennifer)
put together the crew”! At this point, Jennifer politely interrupts Michael and states, “Lorna put together the crew and I just found Lorna“! Michael Biehn smiles and continues, “We had to hire make-up, we had to cast, do wardrobe, locations, props, stunts and that kind of stuff. During a three week period of time there was no script! In my head I knew what this story was going to be and I was trying to write it at night. We were doing pre-production during the day without a script. The day we started shooting was the day I finished the script! We shot it in twelve days-doing 35 to 40 set-ups a day”.
Michael Biehn realized the limitations of his budget, but decided to run with it instead of lamenting what he couldn’t place on the screen. Biehn explains and demonstrates his natural sense of humor, “It’s an exploitation movie! I didn’t have enough money, so I did an exploitation movie. I didn’t have enough money for vampires, zombies or any special effects and stunts! I looked at her(Jennifer) and said to myself-I have a hot girlfriend and she’s got a hot friend. I’ve got sex and more sex! I wrote a couple of dirty cops in and some drugs. I was able to do some torture. I was able to do a little action and I thought, what the hell I might as well throw in a serial killer! I kind of mixed it all up and that became The Victim“! Michael delves deeper into his explanation, “I wanted to exploit every kind of thing that I could afford. It’s a suspense thriller and not really a Grindhouse movie. I’m very proud of it! It’s fun and that is what I want the audiences to take from this movie. We don’t take it seriously and if you take a look at the poster tagline it even says, Even bad girls need protection“!
Quite often, “exploitation” films are believed to be inherently misogynistic. Both Michael and Jennifer address this issue. Michael begins, “I don’t think it exploits women. Jennifer’s character uses my character into helping her”. Jennifer picks up on his statement, “I think women can actually use their sexuality to help themselves. They do and that is nothing to be ashamed of”! Michael humorously adds, “if there is any kind of theme here, it’s that what complete fools men are when it comes to sex! Please, just look at the headlines”!
In a film market that is constantly evolving, how does one market a film like this? Producer Lorna Paul provides insight, “we’re going to test out the market with a first-run college run. The colleges usually get films at the end of a run. The films go domestic, DVD and then the colleges last and that is the usual method. It would be a different form of theatrical distribution”. It is a fascinating method to build word of mouth of which these kind of films desperately need. Michael continues with his strategy, “this is what we are going to do! There are about two thousand colleges that have got second run theaters and now I think we are going to open an opportunity for all filmmakers of independent movies to say that this a whole new way to show their films”! Lorna Paul follows up on this train of thought, “this is a marketing plan that does not cost twenty million dollars. We have put our blood, sweat, passion, heart and soul into this film and we wouldn’t have to wait till the film makes twenty million before any of us see anything”.
It was through my interview with Michael Biehn that I truly discovered him to be truly deserving of all the acclaim he has received from critics and fans alike. It is heartening to see that this actor is finally receiving acclaim in the form of awards. He was recently awarded a “Saturn Award” for lifetime achievement! He was an incredibly easy going and charismatic individual that went out of his way to talk to me about his masterpiece, “The Victim”. Mr. Biehn truly is the definition of the often misused moniker, “superstar”, but refreshingly, he quite proudly demonstrated his humanity and that is a goal similar stars of his stature should always reach for!