Veteran stunt man turned filmmaker Jesse Johnson (nephew of stunt coordinator extraordinaire Vic Armstrong) is quickly becoming a rising star among action fans around the world. Having lent his immense expertise in stunt work to everything from “Total Recall” to “Terminator 3” to James Cameron’s “Avatar”, his leap into directing is set to give way to a deluge of ensemble films that martial arts lovers are already counting down the minutes for, beginning with the soon-to-be-released (and aptly titled) “Savage Dog”, which brings together Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Cung Le, and Juju Chan with the always cool-as-ice Keith David.
Today, Jesse sits down with KFK to share a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Savage Dog”, his experience putting the film together with his incredible cast and a peek at his next, equally anticipated upcoming martial arts adventures, “Accident Man” and “Triple Threat”!
Hi there Jesse, great to speak with you today, hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, thanks for the opportunity to speak with Kung Fu Kingdom, I’m doing great!
Awesome! Well, let’s dive right into your film nearing release now “Savage Dog”. What can you share about how you became involved with the film as its director?
“Savage Dog” was a script that I’d had written about fifteen years ago, and it was originally written as a follow-up to “Pit Fighter”, but I really wanted to have more control over it, so it spent a lot of years going back and forth before we finally had the chance to make it. The setting changed a lot during that period, from Mexico in the 1980’s but then we settled on 1950’s Indochina, which worked out really well because I had access to a lot of World War II-era machine guns and uniforms that were worn by the French at the time.
Scott Adkins really loved the script, and we both really liked that we’d be able to push the boundaries in terms of blood and gore and show how delicate the human body really is with this film. We made it for less money than we ideally would have had to make it, but we had the opportunity to make it the way we wanted to and not have to change a whole lot, and really be savage with it!
Well, we saw you certainly got to do that! So, what would you say was your favourite memory in the making of “Savage Dog”?
Well, it’s always challenging making action films, but we really relished the opportunity to hit the audience with some really shocking violence that they probably haven’t seen to such a degree in quite a few decades. We didn’t want to do what you see a lot of today where a guy, say, gets his throat cut and falls to the ground with both hands covering his neck. We really felt like that’s being dishonest with the action when you do that, so we really wanted to shock people with how intense the violence in the film was. And after seeing the film in a theater with hundreds of people and watching the reactions, from cheers to laughter to people getting up and leaving because they couldn’t handle it, I think we were able to accomplish that.
We’d definitely agree with that sentiment! On that note, you’ve also got a few more upcoming films you’ve done with Scott Adkins releasing in due course, “Accident Man” and “Triple Threat”. What can you share about these projects?
Well, the transition from “Savage Dog” has a lot to do with both of them, and I’ve been an extraordinarily lucky filmmaker. We busted our asses to make “Savage Dog” as amazing as we possibly could, and Sony saw what we had done with the film and really loved it. So, they gave us a lot more assets and more toys to make “Accident Man” than we had for “Savage Dog”, and we were able to make it a very polished film. Then, “Triple Threat” is one of the biggest gifts that a filmmaker who’s a fan of this genre can have – you’re in Thailand for twelve weeks, and you’re given the chance to make the coolest, most action-packed film you possibly can, and your cast is Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, Michael Bisping, and Jeeja Yanin! I’m very, very proud of “Savage Dog”, but after we’d finished it and shown it to people, it enabled us to raise our game so much with “Accident Man” and “Triple Threat”. And now, we’re working on “Pay Out”, which we started formulating about ten years ago, so these are films that we would want people to see in progression, because we made each under very different circumstances and we were able to raise the bar with each one.
Brilliant Jesse! Well, we’re all incredibly excited to see “Accident Man”, “Triple Threat” and “Pay Out”. Thanks again for taking the time to connect with us today!
Certainly, and thanks for having me today on Kung Fu Kingdom!
“Savage Dog” releases tomorrow August 4th so check it out!