Last year, when The Expendables 3 was filming in Bulgaria, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. As most of you know, The Expendables 3 has Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross and his Expendables crew squaring off against Ross’ old partner Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson. Returning for the sequel are Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer and Harrison Ford joining the cast along with Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Robert Davi, MMA star Ronda Rousey, and welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz.
While on set, one of the people I really wanted to talk to was director Patrick Hughes. But as you might imagine, he was incredibly busy trying to make his day, so we were never able to get any time with him. Thankfully, last week Lionsgate set up an exclusive phone interview with him, so after the jump you can read what he had to say about landing the job, his approach to capturing the action, the experience of directing the incredible cast, what it was like working with Stallone, his take on The Raid remake and how it differs from the original, and so much more.
PATRICK HUGHES: Yeah, we’re knee deep in it. I’m currently in Bulgaria doing pick up shots for the edit and we’re getting close to doing a picture lock. Obviously with a film of this scale it’s always normal that get the edit together and cut it down and you got to go back and shoot all the bits and pieces. A lot of inserts, because when you’ve got sixteen movie stars on set you don’t waste time shooting steering wheels and foot pedals [laughs].
A hundred percent and you know something, I think most people nowadays know that just because you’re doing additional photography doesn’t mean that there’s a problem, it means that you’re trying to make the movie better and perfect.
HUGHES: Yeah, yeah, yeah- look, just a lot of little bits and pieces- so I’m just out here running around with body doubles and doing all that kind of stuff. So it’s good, we’re getting there. We’re getting it down. It’s good.
How long was your first cut when you finally got in the editing room?
HUGHES: Jeez, I think the first assembly was like three hours or something, and that’s sort of the standard. And then the process going through the editing is obviously just refining it and getting it down to it’s story bits and obviously you have to kill a lot of babies. There’s so many great moments. I was saying to someone the other day, its one thing when you’ve got a couple of movie stars on set, but when you end up with thirteen and that’s thirteen close ups you’ve got to shoot per scene [laughs]. We have a big wrap up scene, so everybody gets a little beat. That’s the struggle in the editing, you’re going to have to start to let go of some of the individual moments. It’s like they always say you shoot a film three times; one when you write it, one when you shoot it, one when you edit it.
A hundred percent. A lot of people aren’t going to know who you are, let’s just be honest about that, because this is your first big Hollywood movie, if you will. How did you end up landing with the project? I know Stallone was interested in working with you, but can you kind of talk about how it all came together for you?
HUGHES: Yeah, absolutely. I had my first film Red Hill. I shot that that, I produced it myself, raised the money privately, mortgaged the house and did all that, shot without a contributor with the hope of getting into a festival and selling it. And we did that, we were the fastest selling film at Berlin Film Festival that year and after the world premiere screening. I think we sold every territory in the world within four hours or something. Then Sony bought it and then after they bought it about two weeks later I got a call from my agent and he said, “Just so you know, this is completely left field, Sly is a huge fan of Red Hill.” Sly had seen the movie and was a huge fan, and I was like, “That’s amazing information and awesome to know,” but didn’t think much of it. Then sometime later I was shooting- what was I doing? I was shooting a lingerie commercial, there you go. Getting paid on Bombay beach to shoot a lingerie commercial, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that. Then I got a call from my agent and he said, “Just so you now Sly wants to talk to you about Expendables 3.” So I flew over that weekend and met with Sly, sat down with him, and we really hit it off. Within 30 seconds of meeting him we just clicked, we got on really well. So I jumped on board, and that’s how I got the job.
When you met with him at that meeting was he already telling you his ideas for the project? Or were you going back and forth and coming up with stuff?
HUGHES: There was a loose idea in terms of the structure of it and then we were just bouncing stuff back and forth. It was more along the thematic line, the initial idea, so that’s where I- before I went over to meet with him that’s I was thinking about. Because that was my first question to the agent, “What’s the hook?” Because with sequels there’s a tendency that they’re less and less and less of what the original was, and then I was like, “Wow, that’s a really cool hook.” So they threw something in it that was a really fresh take on it. That’s why we sat down, we sort of just threw ideas around and it was meant to be a half hour meeting and it ended up two and half hours later.
I’ve seen your movie Red Hill and you did a great job with it and one of the things, for people that haven’t seen it, was you crafted some great action sequences. With Expendables 3, lets be honest here, everybody wants to see these guys kicking ass.
So can you kind of talk about putting together action set pieces with some of the biggest action stars that have ever been?
HUGHES: Yeah, obviously I just jumped on board because I was like, “Wow, incredible franchise, incredible cast.” And we still hadn’t even cast it all at that time. We knew the sort of roles that we wanted to cast and that was one of the early discussions and the first discussions that we had, the type of actors that we’d cast in the film. With the action set pieces one thing I was saying to Sly was like, “Let’s make every single action set piece distinct and dynamic and its not just guys blazing guns the whole movie. That we really sort of mix it up and have a variety of landscapes and textures and aesthetics and really making it dynamic.” This one is, I certainly will say that. There’s a lot of big action, there’s a lot of big action set pieces, and every single action set piece is completely different from the other.
One of the things I think a lot of people are looking forward to is seeing Mel Gibson as the baddy. A lot of us have seen photos of him and he showed up pretty big, very jacked, if you will.
Can you talk about getting to work with Mel Gibson and what was your reaction when you saw how big he got for the filming?
HUGHES: I mean, he’s just completely fit. That guy is- when he came on set it was towards the end, that’s right. I always said it’s like when you’re filming – I had a similar experience on Red Hill, we were filming and we shot everything leading up until, and around, and the ramifications of the bad guy, and until you get the villain on set you’re like ,”Yeah, this still doesn’t really feel like a real movie.” I remember the first day Mel came on set we shot this scene, it’s incredible, one of my favorite scenes actually. It’s a face off between him and Stallone. When he came on set, I remember we rehearsed it quite a few times and then we went to go for a take and I remember Mel just walked up and the camera caught his gaze, his evil gaze. He was in character and I was like, “Wow, alright, we got a movie now. The villain’s here.”
Obviously working with Mel is an absolute treat. Working with all the cast. Because they all come from different backgrounds, and they come from different training and different experiences. Obviously you have people like Mel who’s trained and studied the craft, and there’s other people that come from a different background, come to acting from various other outlets, whether it be MMA fighting or sporting, or whatever it is. But that was a lot of fun, because every two weeks you get a different sort of thing. You’re like, “Alright awesome, we’re shooting Antonio Banderas for the next three weeks. Now we’ve got Arnold for two weeks. Now we’ve got Harrison Ford for two weeks.” Obviously there was always overlaps as well, there were a couple of days we ended up with thirteen chairs on set with thirteen movie star’s names on them, which was pretty crazy. We had a real blast shooting the film and I think it really shines through as well.
I definitely have to ask you about getting to work with Harrison Ford, who’s one of the new additions for Expendables 3. That’s a real coup getting him to be in the movie. Can you sort of talk about how it came together? Was it Sly making the phone call? How did it all come about?
HUGHES: It came together very quickly. I remember I was working with Sly, because I came on board early on- it was like with Mel. We were discussing who we could get to play the villain and I remember I was in his office he walked in one day and said, “Hey what do you think of Mel Gibson?” “I’m like dude, Mel Gibson. Come on Mad Max vs. Rambo, bring it on.” And he goes, “Yeah, you’re right.” And then he just turns around, picks up his phone and just calls Mel straight up. I think obviously Sly’s had a huge enormous, phenomenal career and he’s able to do that. It was pretty crazy.
I can’t imagine what his Rolodex looks like.
HUGHES: [Laughs] Yeah totally, he knows everyone! He knows everyone. He’s at that level where he doesn’t wait to contact people, he just calls them directly [laughs]. With Harrison Ford, too. That happened just within one day. It was like, “Okay, so Bruce Willis has decided not to pursue the film,” and we were discussing and he was like, “What do you think of Harrison Ford?” [Laughs] I’m like, “Dude come on, Han Solo, bring him on.” That was one of the funny things as well on set, you know, I like to have a good time on set and have a joke around and Sly’s the same so we had a really good rapport on set. We’d be setting up and be like, “Alright Han Solo you stand over there, Rambo you stand here, Terminator you’re going to walk in and turn camera left.” Just calling them all by their generic character names that they’re known for. It was pretty funny.
I can’t even imagine being able to do that. You guys shot in Bulgaria, what are the pros and cons of shooting in Bulgaria?
HUGHES: I would say the variety of location. I have had a very good career in commercials and I’ve shot every country in the world five times over in the last fifteen years, and shooting in Bulgaria reminds me a lot of shooting in a place like New Zealand. When you shoot in a place like New Zealand, it’s why a lot of movies film there and why a lot of movies come to Bulgaria, is you’ve got a variety of locations that are really close together. One thing I really pursued on this film , I pushed from the start when sitting with Sly, I was like, “Let’s not just end up with a whole movie that’s green screens and studios and that sort of stuff. Let’s go out on location. We’re going to have a chopper attacking a train, lets just get a freaking chopper and buy a train and let’s do it for real.” It’s really economical shooting here, because when you move locations you tend to lose a lot of time, sometimes you lose up to a half a day just moving location. So a place like Bulgaria, within fifteen minutes of the studio you’re at snow capped mountains, you’re in a city, you’re in the forest, you’re in a rural area, you’re in farmland, you’re in industrial zones, and you’ve got all these different textures and aesthetics and landscapes that are all within fifteen minutes. That was the one thing, I came out here, I was location scouting six months before we shot and looking for all those variety of locations. We’re were down on the coast, we shot down there for ten days to begin with and we used the Port Varna which we dressed as Mogadishu Just the scale of the place, it’s just phenomenal. That’s been the real joy here. And also the crews are really good fun and great to work with.
I heard that everyone was very happy with the way Expendables 3 turned out and that’s one of the reason why maybe you were offered The Raid, the remake, and a lot of people want to know what your plans are for the movie or what can you tease people about your take on it?
HUGHES: It’s a really fun project. We’re in pre-production, we’re in early days at the moment, but one thing is it probably feels like it’s got a broader landscape to it. Obviously I’m a huge fan of the original, the action is phenomenal, and if anything we’re looking to match the action, but also to have a really distinct take on it. I’m really interested because it’s set within the world of the DEA fast teams, so what’s really interesting is that clash of culture and clash of fighting styles. That’s a project that we’re really excited about.
For more on The Expendables 3:
- 35 Things to Know about THE EXPENDABLES 3 from Our Set Visit
- Sylvester Stallone Talks Topping THE AVENGERS, the Cast, Using Actors’ “Baggage” as an Advantage, and More on the Set of THE EXPENDABLES 3
And look for more exclusive interviews with the cast in the coming days.