Director Ilya Naishuller Talks Sci-fi/Action Movie HARDCORE, Shooting the Entire Film POV from the Hero’s Perspective, the Stunts, and More

     November 3, 2014

Hardcore-Ilya-Naishuller-Sharlto-Copley-slice

Hardcore is a highly ambitious sci-fi/action movie, starring actor Sharlto Copley and written/directed by Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller.  After the Biting Elbows “Bad Motherfucker” award-winning short film attracted 40 million views, the POV style that it was shot in was used to shoot Hardcore from the hero’s perspective.  And now that they’ve wrapped principal photography, Ilya Naishuller is inviting fans to help crowd-fund and complete the CG effects, sound design and mix for the genre-defining movie experience, through Indiegogo at www.iwanthardcore.com.

During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Ilya Naishuller talked about how big of a surprise the huge success of “Bad Motherfucker” was, getting comparisons to Quentin Tarantino, how his POV style of shooting came about, the key to finding a successful idea for a gimmicky concept that doesn’t totally rely on the gimmick, getting around the limits of working from one camera perspective, deciding to hire an international cast and shoot the film in English, the stunt he’s most proud of, what he needs from the crowd funding campaign, ensuring that audiences can tolerate watching the film in POV without getting motion sickness, and whether Hollywood might tackle this style.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

Before going any further, watch some footage from Hardcore here.

Hardcore-Ilya-Naishuller-Sharlto-CopleyCollider:  When you made the video for “Bad Motherfucker,” could you ever have imagined that it would get the response that it did, all over the world?

ILYA NAISHULLER:  Absolutely not.  I was thinking, “It would be nice if we get a million views.”  We had the previous small video that came out a few years before “Bat Motherfucker,” that was all POV, and we got a million or two, or maybe three at the most, and that was a huge deal to us.  So, I said, “As long as we get somewhere around that number, I’ll feel pretty good.”  And then, when it got as big as it did, I was like, “Okay, we must be doing something right.”  That was a big surprise.

Is it hard to even wrap your head around that many people watching it?

NAISHULLER:  I didn’t quite get it until I was sitting in a Starbucks, at home in Moscow, and I was talking to a journalist friend of mine.  He said, “I’m pretty sure at least 20% of the people in this café have seen it.”  I was like, “No, 40 million views doesn’t make people in one café.  That’s way too much.”  So, he actually did a test.  We went around with an iPad, showing the cover photo.  And about 15% of that pretty big Starbucks had actually seen it, and I was like, “Wow!  Okay.  That’s what the numbers are.”  It’s hard to comprehend what 40 million people look like, or even 20 million people who watched it twice.  That was when I realized that quite a few people had seen it.

You’ve also gotten comparisons to Quentin Tarantino.  How do you feel about that? 

Hardcore-movie-imageNAISHULLER:  Of course, it’s super exciting, but my thought on that was always that the biggest reason they thought it was like Tarantino was because it had violence and guys in suits.  Considering that Tarantino’s forte is dialogue, and the video had zero dialogue, I thought, “If people want to compare it, sure.”  I know they sent Quentin Tarantino a link, and I felt really embarrassed.  If I was him, I’d watch it and be like, “What are these people talking about?!”  But he’s probably used to that, with things coming his way, all the time.  It was exciting ‘cause I love Tarantino a lot.  I’ve been a huge fan of his since Reservoir Dogs.  When I was very small, I had to read the script because I couldn’t get into British cinema to watch it.  It was a big deal.

How did you originally get the idea to use this POV style?

NAISHULLER:  I bought one of the early GoPro cameras for when I went snowboarding.  I’m a very terrible snowboarder, but I wanted to film myself and see how bad it looks.  It looked terrible.  So, I brought the camera home and said, “I have no use for this.  This is embarrassing.”  I gave it to a friend of mine, and he shot some stuff, running around his backyard.  He brought the material back and said, “I just put it in my mouth and walked around.”  I was like, “We have to get a rig and we have to shoot a music video.”  The first time we shot, we had it wrapped around his head, and that’s how it was shot.  We didn’t have a proper rig.  We actually went into a sex shop and bought a bondage mask, and that was our first rig.  It was embarrassing.  There were seven of us from the crew, going around a sex shop looking for the perfect bondage mask, and they were looking at us funny.  Everybody puts the camera on the front of their helmet, and it doesn’t feel like a human, most of the time.  But when you move it down to the mouth, it’s as close as you can get to the human eye level.  As soon as we saw that, we decided to shoot.  And then, it was just a matter of quickly starting.  That’s it.

What was the key to finding a successful idea for a gimmicky concept, so that you could incorporate it into the film and not have the focus be solely on the gimmick?

Hardcore-movie-imageNAISHULLER:  When I started, I wrote down 10 rules for how I thought this film could work.  And then, while writing the script, I got rid of two of those rules.  And then, while we were shooting, I got rid of another three.  So, I kept five that were spot on for what I had to do.  The reason why I didn’t want to do it, in the very beginning, was because it’s a gimmicky concept.  I hate 3D films.  But I thought, “Someone is going to do it, and it better be me.  I’ll think of a great way to do it.”  Ultimately, I wanted to sit in the theater and watch a POV film that’s great.  The film was created on set.  We had a film and everybody knew what they were doing, but every day had a huge amount of improvisation to feel like we got it, in the end.  We would come to set every day and we’d start shooting 20 minutes later.  We would just go out there and shoot a crappy take, realize a thousand things that were wrong with it, and then fix them.  It was a huge amount of trial and error.  The whole film was by trial and error, which was incredibly difficult.  But at the same time, every time we nailed something and got a good take in, the whole crew would clap.  It was a superb team experience, I have to say.  I was really lucky with the guys.

Did it feel limiting to work from one camera perspective?  Did you find yourself having to get really creative in the ways that you could shoot each scene?

NAISHULLER:  Absolutely.  What’s great is that having one camera that doesn’t allow you to just jump-cut to a close-up for more dramatic effect, you are in this great creative cage.  As soon as you’re in that cage, your mind is on overdrive, trying to make the best of it.  That way, you come up with a lot of brand new and interesting things that you wouldn’t have thought of.  We had a few days where we shot a few scenes where our hero watching a TV and he sees a little bit of backstory play on it, and we had to shoot with a RED camera.  We had a bunch of them, and those were the only days that nobody had to worry about anything.  We put a bunch of cameras up and went and shot, and it was done.  Otherwise, it was super challenging, but in a good way.  We always knew that what we were doing was worth it, even before it was looking good enough to actually be worth it.

What is the story you’re telling with Hardcore?

Hardcore-movie-imageNAISHULLER:  It tells the story of a guy called Henry, who the audience is supposed to be.  If we did the job right, then the audience does become Henry.  I think we did, so they will.  Right in the beginning, he’s brought back from the dead by his wife.  He has a clean slate for his memory.  Before she can put a voice box in him – because one of the rules I wrote was that the character had to be mute, or it won’t work – our villain appears and takes the wife away.  And then, it’s up to Henry to get her back.

Can you talk about hiring an international cast and deciding to make an English-speaking film?

NAISHULLER:  I didn’t want to do an 80-minute music video.  That would have been super boring.  We had to have a story, so as soon as I realized that, I told Timur [Bekmambetov] that it would be great if people all over the world could watch without subtitles.  As much as I don’t mind subtitles, it won’t be fun to read subtitles in an action-packed film.  It’s very counter-intuitive.  So, we realized that we needed some interesting people for the cast.  Sharlto [Copley] was my first choice.  I was lucky that Timur knew him before.  I just knew he would be up for an adventure like this.  I have no idea why I thought that, but I wanted to give it a shot.  I just talked to him on Skype.  Our first call was about three hours.  I sent him the roughest draft possible, which was a huge departure from the shooting script, and I told him what it was about and how we were going to do it and how crazy of an endeavor it would be.  We really had no idea what we were doing.  After those three hours, he didn’t say yes, but I knew it was going to be yes.  I called my D.P. and said, “I think we’re going to get Sharlto, as crazy as that sounds.”  So, I wrote the part specifically for him, which was a lot of fun to do.  The teaser only has a small bit with him, but it’s a very fun performance.  I was trying to think of who else it could have been, in hindsight, and I couldn’t think of a name.  Once you see this film, I think you’ll realize why.  The teaser doesn’t reveal too much.

Are there challenges that are unique to shooting a film in Russia?

Hardcore-movie-imageNAISHULLER:  Sure.  The thing is, I’ve never shot a film outside of Russia.  I’ve been working half of my life on film sets, just doing all sorts of odd jobs in TV and film, and there’s some great stuff about Russian crews, and there’s some stuff that isn’t that great.  It has mostly to do with experience and the way things are done.  This couldn’t have been done like a typical Russian movie because we had Sharlto, so the standard of how the actors were treated and the planning had to be a little bit different.  The first two weeks when he was in Russia was a great learning experience for everybody involved.  It was great.  We brought him out the gun – and we actually used real guns with blanks – and in Russia, you keep the barrel of the gun up in the air, above everybody’s head.  But Sharlto was like, “No, you’re supposed to have it down.  That’s how we do it in South Africa.  We’re crazy as well, so trust me on this one.”  Our technicians had to relearn what they’d been doing for 20 years, to always bring the gun over your head, for safety reasons.  For Sharlto, we switched it around, and it made sense.  There were always little nuances that were fun.  For about 70% of our crew, it was their first film, which actually made it possible because nobody knew it wasn’t supposed to work.  I was thinking, in the beginning, that that might be a bad idea.  We were just like, “Yeah, let’s go do this,” and we did.

When you’re attempting to do something that’s never been done before and you have no reference or guide to follow, how many times during the shoot did you wonder whether you’d actually get through the shoot and finish the film?

NAISHULLER:  The first two weeks were the most nerve-wracking.  The first stuff that we were shooting just didn’t feel as good as it should.  We made the mistake of starting with some pretty complicated scenes, which in hindsight was a big mistake.  On the first week, I was thinking, “Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”  Then I remembered that a month before the shoot, Timur told me, “In the first two weeks, you’re going to think it’s all shit, that it’s a waste of time and a waste of money, you’re going to kill everybody, and it’s worthless.  What you do is you don’t pay attention.  You have to get it done, so just keep shooting.”  That was my mantra.  When things were going wrong, I just said, “Keep shooting and we’ll come back.”  After about two or three weeks, I realized that the proposed number of shooting days wasn’t going to work, at all.  It was impossible.  I don’t think anybody in the world, no matter how great the crew was, could have done this much quicker than us.  So, after a couple of weeks, we sat down and re-thought the whole shooting process.  Instead of getting it all done in 2013, we spread it out into the summer of 2014.  We had three shooting blocks divided by a couple of months, and the last shooting block was five months after the previous one, so we had a lot of time to examine and rethink.  We had a little bit of reshoots.  We reshot maybe two or three scenes.  It was a great back-and-forth.  It wasn’t like we went in there and got it shot and here it is.  There was a lot of thinking.

Out of all of the stunts that you did for this, is there one that you’re most proud of having pulled off?

Hardcore-movie-imageNAISHULLER:  Yes, there’s a great bike chase in the center of the film.  Some of the stuff we did in there hasn’t been done on regular cameras, which is a lot easier.  The stunt guys had to relearn their trade because you can’t hide all of the punches the way you usually do.  We had three different stunt coordinators, and each shooting block had a different one, and each guy that came was better than the guy before.  In the last shooting block, we had one of the most complicated scenes.  We had to move it to the end because we had to figure out how to do it.  It’s a three-minute sequence at high speeds on the highway, and it features bikes and cars.  We were jumping from car to car with stuff blowing up.  I still don’t know how we did it.  We only had five days to shoot it.  We thought we weren’t going to do it, but we actually did it in four and a half.  When you see some of the stunts we did, it’s not only that every second stunt is a death-defying stunt that could have ended very dangerously, but it just went off without a hitch.  Out of all of our shooting days, 80% of our shooting featured some sort of stunts, and a lot of them were really, really dangerous and totally death-defying.  My plan originally was that, if we have no more than someone breaking an arm or leg, we’re good.  Our tally, at the end of the shoot, was two guys who had five stitches each on their heads, with no concussions, and we had a stunt girl who had blood go from her wrist when she fell in an elevator on her hands.  I think we did incredibly well.  I have no idea how we did it, but we did.

What do you need to get from the crowd funding campaign to help with the post-production?

NAISHULLER:  This shoot went for quite a bit longer than expected and we did go over budget.  Our original plan was to have a campaign last year, right before the shoot.  We shot the video and it was a fun three minutes, all shot with POV, and we released that to say, “This is the film we’re making.  If you can help us out, please help us out.  That would be awesome.”  At that point, I was so unsure of how it was going to turn out that I didn’t want to go out in the world and ask for something and stake my reputation.  I was very nervous, so I told everybody, “Let’s wait and shoot the film.  If we really need the money, we’ll see where we are when we’re done shooting and I’ll do this.”  I didn’t want to do it until I saw that the film was good enough.  We were editing on the go, as we were doing it, and I realized that, as a cinema goer, I would gladly pay to see this film.  That was the point that I said, “We need the money.”  We had a lot more CG, by the end of it, then we had planned.  It’s about five or six times more, and I really want to get it looking and sounding as fantastic as possible.  We went to sound studios in L.A., and every sound mixer and designer who saw it wanted to do it because it opens up a crazy amount of opportunities.  Hopefully, we’ll raise the money, and then we can go to these people and be able to pay them.  People are willing to give us discounts, but you can’t discount an actual studio or the man hours.  So, as much as everybody wants to be a part of this, and everybody does want to be a part of it, the only way we can get the best people and have the time with them, is to have the money.  That’s where the campaign comes in.  We’re going to be able to finish it to the highest standard possible, which is what we need to do.  I want this to be out in cinemas, and I want people to sit there and be blown away, not just by how great it looks, but I want the sound and the CG to be fantastic, as well.  And with the CG, itself, every studio we talked to and everyone who had a look said that, because it’s GoPro, it’s two and a half times more difficult to deal with the camera and the way that it works, so the man hours needed to clean it up, do the wire removal, add blood and do the set extensions, takes a lot more time.  That was something that we weren’t aware of, in the beginning.  We did tests, but we were not as thorough as we should have been.

Did you do test screenings, as far as seeing whether or not people could tolerate this POV style?

Hardcore-Ilya-NaishullerNAISHULLER:  I have always very easily gotten motion sickness.  In the passenger side of the car, I cannot text because I’ll feel dizzy.  So, before we started shooting, we did hours and hours of texts.  We rented cinemas and we’d watch two hours of testing.  We’d fight, jump, run, drive, talk, and everything that was to be in the film, and what I realized was that, even for someone like me who has difficulty with motion sickness, it’s fine.  We watched a scene and, at the beginning, I’d feel a little bit queasy and think that we shouldn’t do it.  But then, after the reel restarted on the projector, I realized that I was watching the same scene, but at this point, it felt great.  The body gets used to it.  So, the idea is that we have to start off gently.  The beginning of the film does not have a crazy action scene.  As much as that would have been fun to do, we start very deliberately slow.  You get used to the POV style, and then we slowly but surely take you quicker and quicker, and it gets crazier and crazier.  By the end, it goes full out.  If you show people the final scene first in the theater, it would be a little bit difficult.  But if you get there after 90 minutes, you’re like, “Bring it on!”  Now, after a year and a half of doing this film, I can now text in the car in the passenger seat, and I feel great.  I feel like one of those scam doctors, but it actually cured me.  And once the film was complete, we did test it.  I think 50 people have seen the film, in the rough form that it’s in now, and there is yet to be a single person who’s said, “No, I can’t watch this.”  We’ve had people age 15 and up, and there were girls and boys, but it didn’t matter.  I feel pretty safe about that.

Once this film is finished and people get to see it, do you think it’s really only a matter of time before a director attempts this for a Hollywood action movie?

Hardcore-movie-imageNAISHULLER:  I know that they already have because I was offered a few projects where they wanted me to direct POV.  So next year, we’re going to be seeing bits and pieces, here and there, for sure.  I don’t think it will become a trend because it’s just too difficult.  Obviously, we have to see how this does.  You can’t set a trend by being great.  You have to set a trend by making money.  That’s how it works, sadly.  It would be interesting to see what a very experienced director would do.  On the set, when we had trouble or we had questions about what we should do, I would just imagine, “What would James Cameron do with this scene?”  That was an interesting tactic that I got from the music world.  When you write a song and think you can do better, you just think about what your favorite musicians would do with that particular thing.  That was a person that I looked at, in a few scenes, and it did help.

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