Tim Everitt, vfx guru to some of Hollywood's biggest and most renowned productions, cut his filmmaking teeth on much smaller productions. 30 or so years after the release of his martial arts film Furious, the filmmaker teamed with Leomark studios to release a restored version of the cult classic on DVD. It's quite an achievement for a film that cost less than 20 grand to make, was shot in a week, and never did anything at the box office to have as large a fanbase as Furious has! We caught up with Tim Everitt to discuss the miraculous journey of the little film that could.
We know what the world thinks of Furious – they love it – but what do you think of it? It has, after all, been 30 years and I imagine your opinion of it does change over time?
Well, Tom and I liked it when we made it, we thought it was funny. And we thought it was quite an accomplishment for the $19,000 we spent. At the time, nobody in Hollywood shared our opinion, and the film pretty much disappeared. So we pretty much wrote it off as a learning experience and went on to other stuff. But after this generation has embraced it, I have to admit I’m back to liking it and appreciating what it is. It’s very heroic. Very old fashioned John Ford kind of thing. Watching it now, I’m pretty impressed with all the props and odd things we came up with, like chickens shooting out of a lame sorcerer’s fingertips. If it’s your first time seeing it, it’s got to make you blink.
If you could do it all over again what would you do differently?
At the time we didn’t think we could cast actors who had great karate skills and could act, too. So we went for karate, since we thought our main audience would be the martial arts crowd, and that they’d forgive wooden acting if the fights were good. If I had to do it over again, and we knew this at the time, we would have spent a lot more time casting, and found people who were good actors, right for the parts, and could also fight. That would have made a big difference.
Just how restrictive was the budget on it?
We had enough money to buy 90 minutes of raw film stock. We intended to use every exposed frame. In the end, it cut down to a 75 minute movie, but the reason you get into some weird editing loops in the movie, which we think adds to the surrealism, is we needed the screen time. Mostly we cut out the flash frames from the camera stops and that was the film. On the set we said “action” before we turned the camera on, so the actors kind of got up to speed before the film started running. There’re jokes about editing in the camera, but this was truly the case. We made an answer print that was one pass through the Hazeltine (the color correction device), and took what we got. Everything was negotiated to be done for pennies on the dollar. We were very proud of ourselves, at the time.
And it was shot in a matter of weeks, is that right?
It was shot in one week. On the last day of shooting the Rhee brothers didn’t show, because they went to Tijuana and got bombed the night before. The reason the Devo band is in the movie is we were trying to come up with a few more shots to shoot on the last day, without the stars. Crazy, but true. We had one roll of film left to shoot. Also, I believe, we shot the guys in the control room with the security cameras, sleeping and reading comic books. By that point in the production, we were having a lot of fun.
How did you get the Rhees’ onboard?
I think we contacted them randomly. They both had dojos in L.A., and it turns out they wanted to be in the movies. So they were game for trying something with us. It turns out they really had great talent. Simon was the cute one, and everybody thought he would be the star. As it happens, Phil was great both in front of and behind the camera. He went on the make the “Best of the Best” films, which were really good. Simon is still a major stunt coordinator on big studio A pictures. So we were just lucky to have snagged them for the film. Films are collaborative, and everybody makes a difference. The fighting and choreography was all them. And I think it really holds up as a karate document.
Did they perform most of the fight sequences themselves?
Of course. What you see is what they did, and what’s even more amazing is you’re watching nothing but first takes. There was only a second take if the camera fell over or something that bad. Also, that we were shooting so fast, there wasn’t any time for rehearsals. While Tom and I set up the camera, Phil and Simon worked out what they were going to do. Then it was, “OK, let’s go.” And that’s what you see. I think it’s a miracle that they did such interesting and fun fighting. Their students, which make up the evil Karate army, were also very athletic and very good.
Are you surprised they didn’t become even bigger stars than what they became?
They became quite big! Simon is a top coordinator in Hollywood, he’s at the very top. And Phil had a great run of pictures that he also produced and directed. Everybody who loves martial arts films knows them. Phil maybe didn’t have a hit the size of a Van Damme film, but I like Phil’s pictures better. They really stand up to the test of time, and that’s the important part. I think they both did fine.
As for you, was the hope that this might set your directing career on fire?
Well, we never thought it would set it on fire, but we hoped we’d get a little respect for pulling off a picture on such a low budget. That was in focus. And kind of fun. You never know. As it was, it didn’t help much, but what you do is keep making films. You go again, and do your best with what you’ve got. The important thing is to stay active, and keep working. Because sometimes the combination of actors and production values just clicks, and you never know. You have to take the shot. And sometimes, like with Furious, twenty five years later, it finds its audience. You never know.
How will you celebrate the release of the film on DVD?
We’ll be having a toast to Leomark Studios, who believed in the film and agreed to release it. They’ve put themselves behind it 1000%, and have given it more attention and thought that most movies get from indie distributors. A lot of indie films just get thrown into a library or catalogue of pictures owned by a distributor, but Leomark has treated this like a serious release, and we expect they will do very well. We’re unleashing a bit of madness on the world, but today’s world is apparently mad enough to get it and enjoy it.
Furious is released on DVD July 21.