Monday, January 3, 2011

To me Cyborgs are magic - Interview with Sam Firstenberg

This interview was first published at Cinema Nocturna. This was a couple of years ago and my English was probably even shittier then, sorry for that. So, here's the interview:

To me Cyborgs are magic. Ninjas are magic. Cannon-productions are pure magic. So the only thing to do was to talk to one of the most productive directors in Hollywood, Sam Firstenberg, the creator of such classics as Revenge of the Ninja (the best Ninja-movie ever?), Cyborg Cop 1 and 2, American Ninja, Ninja III and many more.

Sam started his movie career in 1973 when he met the legendary producer Menahem Golan. He started with serving coffée, cleaning and driving. Or just being a runner. But the magic was there. Sam was on a movie set! After many hard, but funny, years as a assistant director and also director for his own short movies he finally was offered the directors chair for Revenge of the Ninja. So let?s talk with Sam about his long career in movies, and of course we begin with Ninjas!

Fred Anderson:
In 1983 you directed in one of the biggest cultmovies ever, Revenge of the Ninja starring the notorious Sho Kosugi How did you get involved in a Ninja-movie?

Sam Firstenberg:
The company that bought my student film "One More Chance", Cannon Films, had just finished a movie called Enter the Ninja. They were looking for a director for the sequel and asked if I would be willing to take on the project, to make an action movie. The truth is that I had never before heard the word "ninja" in my life, but being young and eager I did not want to pass on such an opportunity so I faked my way in by letting them think that I knew what it was all about. After watching the original movie, and two books later, I was knowledgeable enough to get started, and then I was introduced to Sho Kosugi, the star of the movie, and he took me under his wing, so to speak, and gave me an in-depth introduction into the subject. I then realized that all we had to do was make a good action movie with a ninja twist.

FA: Im not sure, but Revenge of the Ninja should be the first of your works for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Tell us about these legendary producers. Where they easy to work with?

SF: I have known Menahem and Yoram for many years, in fact many years before I directed Revenge of the Ninja - I worked as an assistant director on many of their films, even one that Menahem Golan directed (Diamonds with Robert Shaw). The way they worked was that Yoram Globus was in charge of finances, and had little input on the creative side; Menahem Golan was the creative producer, involved in all the stages of making the movies. His main interest was in the script and in the editing. During the shooting I was basically left alone. I would say that in this sense, it was very easy to work with them, as long as we did not go over budget or exceed the schedule - which I never did. They trusted me and we had a very good relationship.

FA: I?m not familiar with Breakin? 2, but was it a success? Wasn?t this at the end of the breakdancing-era?

SF: First, I think the movie was at the height of the breakdance era. The first movie to come out was Breakin' and then a movie called Beat Street, but "Breakin'2-Electric Boogaloo" topped them all and became a national and world-wide immediate hit with the young audience. It was 1985 and even today, I still get fan mail from people who say that this movie influenced them as teenagers. Incidentally, two weeks ago it came out on DVD.

I have been told that on e-bay original posters and laser discs go for about $200- $300 apiece! It became an icon of the 1980's.

FA: In Ninja 3 you worked for the second time with actress Lucinda Dickey. How was it working with her?

SF: Coming from a dance background, she easily adapted to the ninja moves. Lucinda was not a martial artist, but she quickly caught on. Ninja 3 was the first time I worked with her; Breakin2 was the second movie.

FA: Talking about Ninja 3, is this the weirdest ninja-movie ever made?

SF: Yes! And the only one with a ninja hero that is a woman.

FA: I canät say Michael Dudikoff is one of my favorite actors but I always enjoys American Ninja 1 and 2. How was it working with mr Dudikoff and what's your personal opinons on these movies?

SF: Michael was the perfect American Ninja teenage idol type, with his James Dean demeanor. The first American Ninja is definitely one of my favorites with a wholesome and reluctant hero and with an innocent love story. It has very juicy villains. The second American Ninja does not have as good a story as the first movie. It would have been better if it had continued the themes of the first movie, but unfortunately it did not.

FA: Haven?t seen Avenging force, but friends tell me that it?s one of the most solid movies in Dudikoffs career. Can you tell me more about making this movie and working with Dudikoff?

SF: Not only is it a solid movie for Dudikoff, but it is a solid action movie period. Michael is great, the action is magnificent, the visuals are terrific. The story takes place in New Orleans so the atmosphere is charged with mystery and the lead villain, John P. Ryan, is the best villain ever! When it came out the movie got some great reviews - too bad it is not as famous as American Ninja.

FA: I always love productions from Nu Image and also, of course, the Cyborg Cop-series. In the first one John Rhys-Davies played the bad guy. He's a solid actor and is now more famous than ever after appearing in the Lord of the rings-trilogy. How was it working with him and David Bradley in Cyborg Cop. Was it and it?s sequel big hits?

SF: John Ryhs-Davies is the greatest! Such a nice person to work with and extremely talented, full of creative ideas, and very accommodating to the director. He is a classically trained British actor. David Bradley is less of an actor but more of a martial artist so he brought this talent to the movie. The Cyborg movies did not reach the success of the American Ninja series in popularity.

FA: Most of your movies, at least the Ninja- and cyborg-movies have been very violent and sometimes genreated moral panic in countries with harder censorship rules. What do you think about the graphic violence in your movies and the censorship?

SF: I would like to know in which countries the movies created a moral panic. but on a more serious note, there is an audience for all types of entertainment. I always try to keep the violent action in a cartoon-like atmosphere so that we don't confuse what we see on the screen with reality. I stay away from sadistic themes, and never have violence against women or children, and always stay in the realm of "movie-land." In principle I am against censorship and the rating system should provide viewers with guidelines to the content of the movie so that the viewers can make the choice whether to see the movie.

FA: You worked as a second-unit director on Crocodile, once again for Nu Image. Was it easy to work with Tobe Hooper and what do you think of the movie?

SF: Tobe and I are good friends; I know him for many years, since we both worked at Cannon Films where he directed the movie Life Force. Tobe entrusted me with all the action-y sequences of the Crocodile movie and basically I did my best to accommodate his movie.

FA: I actually hold a dvd of Spiders 2 in my hand this weekend, but I was broke right then and couldn't afford buying it, so I haven't had the pleasure of seeing it yet. Are you happy with the final result?

SF: Spiders is a complex movie from an optical effects standpoint. It has 160 optical effects. One thing I learned is that when you work with a low budget you don't get the same quality of results that the big budget movies get. But yet, it is a considerably scary and tense horror picture.

FA: To be honest, I first thought it was something for April Fools Day, but you are nowdays co-director with Ed Wood? Appearently, after reading at your official site, the raw material for an unknown Ed Wood-movie has been found and you have directed an additional 30 minutes of scenes and now completed this movie. When can we see this movie? Will hope for a nice dvd-release with lot's of extras :) I?ve only seen pictures from the new scenes, is there any pictures from the old material and have you been able to identify the orignal actors and actresses?

SF: A lot of information concerning your question is coming soon on our website I believe you will find all the information as the updates and pictures are posted and the site develops. This is an extremely exciting project but we do not yet have a release date. It might go to sci-fi festivals first, so stay tuned.

FA: A final word to our readers?

SF: The greatest satisfaction of my work is to know that there are people all over the world who enjoy the movies that I have directed. This is the reason I make movies - to entertain audiences, and take them into a 90 minute journey of fantasy, thrill, and excitement. If all of this works, then I am grateful.

Please visit Sam Firstenbergs official site.


Luiz Alexandre said...

Very good interview, man. Sam should be doing more movies to this day, he would be very welcome in the realm of those Tapout films that aparently no one can shoot action properly. It is kind of funny how cocky he seems to be about his movies, like he is, somehow, a director like Enzo Castellari.

Ninja Dixon said...

Thank you Luiz!
I'm not sure what he's doing nowadays, but I wish he could make some kinda comeback!