|| Print ||
|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Monday, 19 October 2009 00:00|
The room should be empty and totally off limits. Instead, a rowdy invitation-only crowd presses in on a makeshift boxing ring. Off to the side, Michael Dublin stands in a creased suit, chain smoking cigarettes, blowing grey cancer fog out across three days worth of chin stubble. He surveys the room: the usual collection of drunken cowboys and desperate rednecks, most of whom have just bet this month's rent money on the 250 lbs street brawler standing in the ring, awaiting his opponent. Finally, she enters. A slender beauty with dark hair cropped at the chin. Eyes of fire stare out from a face still flush with bruises from last night's fight. Who will win this match is, quite suddenly, anyone's guess. All eyes are on Katherine "Kid Vixen" Parker...
Or all eyes are on the screen, I should say, for Kat Parker is the protagonist of director Jonathan Dillon's action-adventure flick, Fight Night. The independent film shot in and around Kansas/Missouri area features a female pugilist and the scumbag promoter who wants to take her to the peak of the illegal underground boxing circuit, something he describes as "reverse-rigging." Winning just might provide the redemption both Kat and Dub have been looking for, but their dark pasts threaten to destroy them before they can reach the top.
Dillon was at Fan Expo 2009 in Toronto promoting the film, and he spoke with (Cult)ure about his directorial debut.
(Cult)ure: The film was shot under another title, Rigged, but was then changed to Fight Night. How did that change come about, and was it difficult to suddenly have a new title?
Jonathan Dillon: It was very difficult. Especially when you work on something for so long and are very passionate about it. It was kind of like having child, naming it, and then when it's nine years old someone comes along says, "You know what? We've got to change the name." It was weird, but I knew it was going to help sell the film. It started with [Toronto-based distributor] Cinema Vault. They said that for the foreign release Rigged doesn't really translate well. Fight Night is more of a blunt way of describing the genre of the film. They wanted to take that and run with it for foreign, and it just happened that it stuck for the domestic sale as well.
It's billed as an action-adventure movie, but it could just as easily be described as a boxing movie. How did you approach it in your mind while directing?
I fell in love with the script because of the characters. It wasn't about it being an action film, or a girl beating up guys, or anything like that. It was really crucial to me that these two characters, who are going in completely opposite directions in their lives, use each other to get there, and ultimately find out what is really important. The heart of any good story is the characters: who they are, how they change and evolve throughout the story. Once I read that and saw that, I really fell in love with Kat and Dublin. The boxing stuff was a lot of fun to do. It was just a piece of who Kat was, and a piece of who Dublin was in a past life, more or less. It was great to have fun with it, but also be able to dive into the characters and get the audience involved with them.
Did you revisit classic boxing films like Rocky and Raging Bull while prepping for the film?
"The heart of any good story is the characters: who they are, how they change and evolve."
I try to make a point to do a lot of research on any piece I'm going to be directing. I watched a lot of Ali fights, some of the classic matches, George Forman, Sugar Ray Leonard, and all that stuff. I really took note of the different boxing styles because I wanted to apply that to the characters. On top of watching some of the classic films, I watched newer ones, too. I watched Snatch, Girl Fight, Million Dollar Baby, Fight Club . . . all these different films that had a good reception. We didn't want to copy them. We didn't want to make something that was just a rip-off of Rocky, but it was nice to see how other directors interpreted the sport, and then take it and put our own spin on it. There are so many ways people see boxing. Every audience member is different. There were some lighting techniques in some of those films that we tried to emulate and capture, but the style and the fluidness of the boxing sequences in my movie hopefully come off a little different than anything you have seen before.
I think you helped audiences along with the suspension of disbelief by giving Kat a boxing style where she does a lot of dodging. Was that something you worked on a lot, developing a fighting style for the character?
Every character in the film has their own style. Kat is definitely more of an Ali-type of fighter, where she did a lot of dancing and moving around and landed her punches when she needed to. Her being a girl, I think it was hard for the audience to swallow that large pill of a 200 lb guy punching her in the face and her not being completely wiped out. We wanted to try to avoid her taking as many punches as possible, and give the idea that she is quick and illusive, but at the same time she has this immaculate punch that will take anyone to the mat. That was her style. Clark Richter, the antagonist at the end, had more of a bulldozer Mike Tyson-style where he would come directly at his opponent and just pummel them into the dirt. I told our fight choreographer, Richard Buswell, my ideas, thoughts, and feelings, and he tried to choreograph some of that stuff out, so that it felt like the characters had a very specific style in how they fought.
Fight Night is the only film listed on Rebecca Neuenswander's IMDb résumé. Given how spectacular a performance she delivers in this film, why have we not seen her in more movies?
Well, thank you, on behalf of Rebecca. I'm sure she would like to hear that. She's a tremendous actress. She wants to act more, she wants to get out there, but she lives in the mid-west, so there isn't a whole lot of projects and things shot in the mid-west. Most of them are derived from either Los Angeles, New York, or Florida, sometimes. It's really the coastal cities that tend to do more film production, so her not being around that limits the number of auditions she can go to and things she can get involved with. She also runs her own non-profit organization where she helps orphans in third world countries, and that's her labour of love. It's something that she has been focused on for the last five or six years, and it's her first priority in life. Her second is acting. Hopefully we will get to see her in more things, and I'll be able to hire her again, and we'll be able to work together and keep getting her face out there.
Speaking of her face, Kat's bruises and cuts become as much a part of the character as the ripped jeans, boots, and other wardrobe. How did you approach the make-up?
"It comes down to a great script, great performances, and a crew that busted their butts to make something really good."
It was a very trying process. This being my first film, and not doing a lot of special effects make-up before, or working with someone who does a lot of FX make-up, I knew it was going to be quite an undertaking. Especially with our limited budget. We had an artist who worked on it, and she couldn't do very much prosthetic work or building things on people faces. She was really great at doing bruises, a little bit of swelling, small stuff like that, but when it came to Kat's eye being busted and covering up part of her face, it wasn't really her bag. We shot that hospital scene three different times because of make-up. The first time, it took our make-up artist five hours to do this prosthetic thing. It was really hot outside, and it kept melting off the actress's face and not looking right. We shot it and tried to cut it together, but it always took everyone out of the film. The second time we go out there, and we got the same results. The third time we hired someone different, and that's what ended up making it into the film. It's such a very touchy thing, and going back, that's probably my biggest complaint about the film. I think we did overdose a bit on the make-up effects. It stands out. If I could go back, that would be something I would tone down a lot. It wouldn't be something I would be so concerned with trying to make so accurate. It's a very tough thing to do, and I think a word of caution to those out there is to probably not worry about the bruising so much. A couple of cuts should be fine. It's the movies, people can heal fast. It doesn't have to be real life.
As a viewer, I feel like people never look beat-up enough in films, so from my perspective, I appreciated how you captured the injuries with the makeup in the film.
Given that Fight Night has such as distinctly Western American feel, why has it done so well at international film festivals?
American films tend to have a broad scope, and a lot of people turn to American cinema as the staple of what cinema is. Our films tend to focus on these characters and how their story helps them evolve as people. That's the hook. If you can't understand every word, it still got this girl beating up guys, them doing this cross country thing, and this illegal underground world that not a lot of people know about. I think that's captivating, but at the same time people tend to fall for these characters. It's been great. I'm glad we've gotten the response that we have. I was in Italy last week, and we ended up winning the festival and Chad Ortis won for best actor. It seems like it definitely touches people. Big critics internationally, even average Joe people, seem to watch it and even if they don't understand the whole thing they tend to like a lot about it. It all comes down to a great script, great performances, and having a crew that really busted their butts and made something really good.
The director might have had something to do with it, too . . .
(Laughs) Maybe a little bit, but it all goes back to those people who helped me. I've got to say, I'm nothing without them.
Did you keep a female audience in mind while making the film?
I had a strong feeling that it would appeal to women. Both Kat and Dub are such thoroughly thought-out and well-developed characters that anyone can, on some level, relate to both of them. A lot of younger girls have really idolized Kat. I've received a lot of emails from girls who say, "I love your film, I love this character, I want to get her tattoo on my shoulder . . .." It's really cool to hear that. To me, I'm just telling a story. I look at a script and as I'm reading it I get visual images that motivate me, captivate me, and make me laugh and cry. I get through the script and I've experienced those emotions, it is then my job to convey those emotions as much as I possibly can on screen. Everybody is different. Not everyone is going to love the film. Not everyone is going to hate the movie. It's hit or miss, but I had a feeling going in that with such a strong female character women would really flock to it. Everyone wants to be portrayed as strong, independent, and able to take care of themselves. That's Katherine Parker's motto of who she is, but, ultimately, she has to rely on someone else. That's what it's all about. We all want to be loved, and we all want someone to share these experiences with.
The Fight Night DVD is on shelves now. Find more info about the film.
Kevin Johns is senior editor of (Cult)ure. He can be contacted at