The “Never Back Down” series first kicked off in 2008, and true to its title, it always returns for another beatdown in the Octagon! Continuing with “Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown” in 2011, and later with “Never Back Down: No Surrender” in 2016, the franchise is set to jump into its fourth chapter with the upcoming “Never Back Down 4: Revolt”, with filmmaker Kellie Madison stepping into the director’s chair.
Having worked both in front of, and behind the camera, Kellie first came to the attention of action fans with her 2016 action short “The Gate”. For “Revolt”, Kellie and her cast dealt with all of the usual bumps and bruises inherent in action filmmaking, with the added challenge of having to work around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, with everyone’s determined spirit, Kellie’s leadership, and the lighthearted presence of MMA great, Michael “The Count” Bisping, “Revolt” made it to the finish line, with fans of the series now eager to see it drop.
Today, Kellie sits down with KFK to share a look behind-the-scenes at the making of “Never Back Down 4: Revolt”, from the demanding martial-arts action infused into it, to the challenges of making an MMA movie under the filmmaking safety protocols of the pandemic. She also gives us insights into other projects she has coming up, including a possible “Never Back Down 5”!
Hi Kellie, welcome back to Kung Fu Kingdom! Great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well during the pandemic?
Hi Brad, I’m doing well, thanks. And the apocalypse has been pretty good for me!
How Kellie got Involved in “Never Back Down 4: Revolt”
We’re all doing what we can to survive it! Well let’s dive right into “Never Back Down 4: Revolt”. How did you become involved in it?
Well, the producers Craig Baumgarten and David Zelon came to me with the offer, they knew about my work. The “Never Back Down” series had been with Sony previously with 2 and 3, and they were gearing up to do the fourth. The script for “Revolt” is completely female-empowered, and they were looking for a female writer, so they hired Audrey Arkins, and they were also looking for a female director, so they reached out to me. I was pretty much one of the first on their list that they thought about because they had seen “The Gate” and were familiar with some of my other work.
Yes, I was about to ask if “The Gate” played a role.
Yes, absolutely, and I had tried to get “The Gate” feature set up with Craig and David at one point, so it was nice that I had established a relationship already with two producers.
“Revolt” & Previous NBD Movies Compared
So, the movie seems to involve quite a different premise from the other “Never Back Down” movies. How does “Revolt” compare to the earlier franchise entries?
It’ll feel 100 percent different! (Both laugh) It’ll be a completely different movie. I was a big fan of “Never Back Down”, I thought it was really well done, and then Michael Jai White had done the other movies and they had some great scenes, and were really exciting. But this particular “Never Back Down” is going to feel nothing like the other films in the series. There are no characters that are similar, there are no storylines that are similar.
The setting is kind of an “Eyes Wide Shut” fighting arena, where they kidnap these girls who are really talented fighters, from all over the world and they make them fight brutally, sometimes to the death. Our lead gets kidnapped and put into that scenario and it’s about her revolting her way out.
The premise sounds like “Mad Max: Fury Road” with MMA.
Only not with the budget of “Mad Max”, which I wish I had! (Both laugh)
Introducing the Main Protagonist, Olivia Popica
So, what can you share about Olivia Popica’s role as the movie’s protagonist?
I’ll take credit for bringing Olivia in! We were talking about putting names in the movie, and that’s where Michael Bisping came up, and everyone was like, “Okay, if we make him one of our main villains, do we need a name for our female lead?”, and the answer was no, so we didn’t have to go out and hire a big, expensive talent.
So we just auditioned in London, and that’s where we found Olivia. She’s actually a Romanian-born actress living in Paris, and she put herself on tape, I did a couple of auditions with her, and she just by far stood out. She had a quality that reminded me of a young Franka Potente in “Run Lola Run”. So far, from people who have seen the movie, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Olivia, so I think you guys are all going to be pleasantly surprised. She’s lovely, and like the rest of the cast, she’s absolutely fantastic in the film.
Bollywood’s Neetu Chandra & Colombian Star, Diana Hoyos
We’ve also got one of the biggest stars in India, Neetu Chandra, and she’s great in it, along with Diana Hoyos, who’s a major star in Colombia. I think what Sony was excited about is that our project ended up being so international and so diverse. Pretty much throw a dart on the map and we’ve got someone from there. They’re really lovely actors and they all did phenomenal, so where we lack in budget, our cast makes up for, and hopefully you guys will like the fight scenes too!
Down for “The Count” — MMA Champion: Michael Bisping
Okay, so as mentioned, the movie also features former UFC champ Michael Bisping as one of the main villains. How did he become involved with “Revolt”?
He came up early on our list, and Craig has worked with all of these guys before, so he just knows them super well and he’s real dialed in to the fight scenes. He suggested Bisping, we said, “Love it, love it” made a call, and he’s in.
And I’ve got to tell you, what a joy that guy was to work with. He was literally always in a good mood, he came with his game face on, and he brought a lot of levity to the set where all the other actors were laser focused on what they had to do. He nailed the fight scenes, and his character is just turning out in the edit as a very likeable villain.
100 percent, if you’re a big Bisping fan, you’re going to LOVE him in this movie!
Working with Action Veteran, Tim Man
Sounds great! So, what can you share about working alongside fight choreographer Tim Man and his process of designing the action for “Revolt”?
Tim’s lovely, he’s great and committed, and he was really instrumental in helping the actors that were not trained fighters get up to par for the fight scenes. He came in early and got them prepped; they only had three weeks and they came a long way. I also brought Cecep Arif Rahman on board, and he put together two fight scenes for us from Indonesia.
Really? That’s surprising that they’re not putting Cecep’s name out there more prominently!
Input from The Raid’s Cecep Rahman
Yeah, they should. If it were up to me, I would have flown Cecep in and Tim would’ve been happy to work with him as well. But we couldn’t because of the pandemic; we couldn’t turn over the visa in time to fly him in. But he did previz for two fight scenes with his sons, and all of his guys in Indonesia and we just did everything online. One of those scenes was with two of our stuntwomen, Chloe Bruce and Phoebe Robinson-Galvin.
Chloe Bruce gets to Show off Her Kicks
Speaking of Chloe, what can you share about working with her on “Revolt”?
She really gets to show off her kicks in the movie. I remember seeing the Guinness Book of World Records where she just does that kick over and over again, and I wanted more and more, but we were just on such a tight production schedule.
The “Revolt” against COVID
I see. Looking at the making of “Revolt” now, what can you share about making the movie under the effects and production guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic?
All of our stunt team wore masks the whole time. We all wore masks all day every day, and the only time we took the masks off was when we were rolling the camera. We wore them in training, and in rehearsals, we were pretty safe, and we didn’t get shut down.
I would say the biggest COVID challenge for us, which KILLED me as the director, was there was a rule that we could only shoot a 10-hour day. So already, my days and my time were limited to get footage and coverage, and it was tough.
After the first day, I said to David, “We need to shoot 12-hour days”, and he agreed, but the supervisor said 10-hour days were the rule. I don’t know how we did it, but the only enemy we had on the whole movie was time. Everyone got along so well, the script was great, we had great actors, great fight scenes, and our only enemy was time.
Did you have to do daily COVID testing?
We were tested every two to three days. We’d be getting started and someone would say “Hey Kellie, come and get your COVID test, and you go for two seconds, and they did the nasal and the throat test. It wasn’t until the last day of shooting that someone tested positive for COVID, but we never got shut down.
Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” in particular really got slammed by the effects of COVID, glad you dodged the bullet.
Yeah, we were very lucky there.
The Most Physically-Demanding, Fight-Centric Scenes in NBD 4
So, what would you say are the most physically-demanding, martial arts-centric scenes in “Revolt”?
I would say the ending which is so massive. I watched like 10,000 fight scenes going into “Revolt” to draw ideas from. Fight scenes like the Tom Cruise bathroom fight in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” – they did those over two to three weeks, where we had just five hours! I think we did a really excellent job in the time we were allotted, but what I’m looking forward to in the future is more time and money to do justice to the fight scenes.
As another example, the kitchen fight in “The Raid 2” they did over 10 days, and Cecep told me that, for that, they did one minute per day over 10 days. You need that time when you’ve got blood rigs and make-up, so, not to sound like a broken record, but we were really working against time.
Michael Bisping’s Shower Fight Scene
So what are some of your favourite action scenes in “Revolt”?
Well, the revolt is a big one, and also, I’m maybe too close to the movie, but from what I hear, the shower fight scene with Bisping. Everyone who has seen the movie keeps saying “Wow, we love the shower fight scene.” So I think that’s going to be the seminal piece of the movie, along with the revolt.
There’s also some comedic moments. Once you get to know some of the characters that go to these underground fights, I try to give you a sneak peek in the time allotted, as to who these people are that would pay money to see these girls fight. The fight club is in the middle of Rome, and it’s like “Who are these a**hole motherf****rs that are part of this fight world?” Then, when you see them, you’ll feel like they’re despicable enough that you’re happy for them to get killed off. (Both laugh)
So, when can viewers expect “Revolt” to be released?
We don’t know yet. As we speak, Sony Marketing is cutting a trailer and making sure we have everything we need to picture lock. As soon as we get that green light that we’re picture locking, we can finish sound, music, color.
I’ll just put this out there – I want to premiere the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, because it feels like it’s something that fits tonally and it’s about women’s empowerment. I don’t think Sony’s ever thought about it, but I think it would give the film some nice prestige. Then, it’s just where Sony wants to put it in their release schedule.
“Never Back Down 5” could Take an Exotic Turn…
Great idea! Would you be interested in returning for “Never Back Down 5”?
Funny you should say that. There’s some little talks about maybe doing another revolt with women, and maybe going to India with one of our characters – going to get revenge on one of the trainers who sold her out, or maybe going to Colombia. I’d love to take it to an exotic place – maybe even take it to Indonesia.
I’m actually writing another movie right now that we’re shooting, probably this summer, and I want to put all my Indonesian friends in it. Think of “Kill Bill”, but instead of her going to Japan and getting the Hattori Hanzō sword, it’s with an Indonesian angle – hey any time I can add my Indos anywhere…because it’s so great working with them!
“Never Back Down 5” sure sounds a thrill, and of course, it’s great to see more of the bigger martial-arts stars from Indonesia like Cecep and Yayan Ruhian keep blowing up with “Beyond Skyline” and “John Wick 3”.
Yes, Yayan with those alien claws!
Yeah, and the composer of that movie is also composing “Revolt”.
Bring on more Indonesian Fighters & Silat!
I also really love highlighting the culture of Indonesia, the culture is just so gorgeous. My goal with “The Gate” and with my next movie is really to bridge the gap between the American and Indonesian fighters, having them fighting together, and there being a mix of cultures. And anytime I can use Silat, I love to.
Kellie’s Top 3 Favorite Martial-Arts Movies
Nice. What are Kellie Madison’s all-time favourite martial-arts movies?
Got to be “The Raid” and “The Raid 2”! I also love the old-school classics like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and I’d love to have a budget where I can have people flying while fighting. I also really liked the French movie “Sentinelle” on Netflix recently, the fight scenes are just killer!
Kellie’s Top 3 Favorite Martial-Arts Movie Fights
What are your top 3 favourite movie fights that inspire you to this day?
There are so many! Cecep’s kitchen fight in “The Raid 2”, and I also love the fight scenes in “The Matrix” and the bathroom fight with Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”. I also really enjoyed the bathroom fight in “The Bourne Ultimatum”, too, it was really gritty and raw. And Jackie Chan’s fight in “The Foreigner” in the apartment where they go up and down the stairs, and he falls off the roof, and the ending fight. I’m obsessed with “The Foreigner”, it’s my type of tone!
Solid choices. Going back to “The Gate”, was there ever talk of Amy Johnston appearing in “Revolt”?
Yes, we all love Amy, and Craig worked with her on “Accident Man”, but unfortunately, we couldn’t fly any American actors in. We had to hire everyone from London except for Neetu and Diana.
Well, maybe for “Never Back Down 5”. I’ve had the pleasure to interview both Amy and Tony Jaa, and it’s a nice bit of trivia that we all share the same birthday!
I begged Craig to put Tony in “Revolt”, but maybe for the next one…
Fun & Leisure
So Kellie, what’s one geeky or interesting thing that people don’t know about you?
I mean, I’m a chick who loves action movies! (Both laugh)
I’m also really big on horror, I have a horror movie I’m also trying to get off the ground. I grew up on nothing but horror and action, and sometimes, my agents get frustrated because they think “you’re just supposed to be in the action box” or “you’re just supposed to be in the horror box.” And I’m like “Well James Wan’s had a career in action and horror”. So I just love anything in those genres.
Well said. So, if you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?
Flying, and/or teleportation, because I really don’t like flying in airplanes. That flight to London was about 9 hours there and 10 hours back, and it’s really rough on your body, so if I could teleport, that would be genius!
Kellie’s Next Projects…
Definitely. Well, as we prepare to sign off, what other dreams, goals and ambitions are you keen to accomplish?
I’ve got so many juicy projects. One is a horror movie called “The Wall”, which is kind of like “Babadook” meets “Jacob’s Ladder”. It’s been my baby for a long time, and I’ve developed, and fleshed it out for a couple of years, and hopefully we’ll shoot that this year.
The other is a true crime project, and another I have is called “Kecksburg”, which is based off of a real-life UFO crash in 1965 in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. 200 people saw it and then the U.S. Government came in and swept it up, and we’re doing a revisionist history of what happened after that UFO crash where a black program is set up to monitor the release of alien-human hybrids into society.
Also, hopefully in May or June, we’re going to be shooting this vampire martial-arts movie. So all of that is what I have in my space at the moment.
Intriguing stuff. Well, we wish you all the best of luck with those. Thank you Kellie, it’s been a real pleasure and we’re looking forward to seeing “Never Back Down 4: Revolt” when it drops!
Thank you Brad, pleasure to share everything with you guys and Kung Fu Kingdom today!