David Barrett is mostly known for his work on TV shows such as Blue Bloods, The Mentalist and V, and his stunt work. Released today on DVD and Blu-ray, FIRE WITH FIRE is David’s first foray into feature-film directing and we were fortunate enough to catch up with him last week:
THN: Hi David, could we start with a little bit about the film please?
DB: The film is about a fireman, Josh Duhamel, Jeremy he ultimately one night witnesses a murder and is put into witness protection, and relocated. He then falls in love with a young woman, Rosario Dawson, and something bad happens to Rosario (laughs) and it becomes a revenge movie, and we see how dark Jeremy, Duhamel, will go to fight for the love of his life. In a nutshell that’s the plot.
THN: Thank you. You’ve worked on a lot of TV, what was it about FIRE WITH FIRE that made you want this to be your debut feature film?
Well, you know I have, um, it sounded great to begin with and I took that movie (FIRE WITH FIRE) as a different movie that was really on the page. It made a lot of sense because I’d done a lot of second-unit on films on different movies, I did FINAL DESTINATION 2 it was a big thing it was nominated next to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson for action sequences, and other movies like ORPHAN, which I ended up second-unit directing and producing, and STIGMATA so I’d worked on a lot of big movies. It’s tough to get an opportunity to direct a feature film because I was always the second-unit guy, or the TV guy so this script, I figured I could really turn into something special and take an actor like Josh Duhamel and take him places he’d never been before – I could prove I could work with the actors. Figuring I’d have 45 days to shoot the movie I knew in the TV world there isn’t anyone who shoots as fast as I shoot, and I’ve had lots of shows nominated for action, for Emmys, so my efficiency is extremely high but, all of a sudden, when we got to production I had to the prep the movie in a few weeks and shoot it in 20 days. So I got in a situation where it was kind of impossible to pull off what I was expected to deliver. At that point I just had to make a movie the best I could do with the time and the resources I had. You know the sad thing is this movie could have been really spectacular if we’d had the time, but with the 20 days we had I don’t know that there could have been a better result than we got. The actors were terrific they – Rosario and Josh – were unbelievable, we didn’t have air-conditioning on the set, and you know how Louisiana gets in the summer, about 120 degrees, they were sweating through their clothes before we even got to rehearsal and Rosario was in the fire with the paint top on, and I mean the crew worked so hard. I’m on Blue Bloods right now, produce the show in New York, you shoot six pages a day, and we were shooting 15 pages a day. We do a hundred page script in the movie we have less money, less time than we’d have on a TV show over the course of those 20 days, so, umm, our efficiency rate had to be better than TV, with some pretty big personalities and sequences so it was a small feat what we did and I’m proud of it in that respect. I don’t know if that answers your question, it’s probably more information than you needed but at the time I thought that’s what we felt.
THN: It’s an excellent answer, that was much more than we were expecting and you’ve been a lot more honest than most which is appreciated. You touched upon the cast there and the list of names is incredible: Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bruce Willis, how did you get everybody on-board with the movie?
DB: You know I grew up in the world where my Father was a stuntman with Paul Newman, and Paul was my godfather, and from the time I was a little kid we’d talk about character, the history of characters and the only way I knew how to get these people on side, it wasn’t on the page, I would talk to them about the characters from the time they were seven years old to the time of the movie, every defining moment in that characters life and that’s what got that cast assembled. I knew these characters inside and out.
THN: That’s one of the impressive aspects of the film; it’s an old-school action flick but there is so much character that you become more emotionally involved than you may do in, for example, some of Josh’s (Duhamel) other work on the TRANSFORMERS movies.
DB: Yeah, and the movie was a kind of popcorn type of movie and I tried to turn it into something real, because if it’s real, it’s relatable. You know the first scene I would have eliminated completely because it made no sense, in the end I’m gonna shoot the script we have and you can see what we were up against. They tested this movie and it got like a 72, which is insane, I would say 80% of movies don’t get this high and this is an indy-movie. Well, there was a deal, Lionsgate (production company) merged and they had films for 14 months so this movie should have been finished properly with visual effects – we had $50,000 visual effects for the movie. When I tell you I do TV shows for more than the cost of this movie, I’m not lying, we did this movie for half the cost I do episodes of network television shows for. So it was Bruce Willis on set for three and a half days and it’s over, I mean it’s unheard of. To tell people we did this in 20 days, people just don’t believe it.
THN: The finished product is very polished for 20 days when you consider some of the movies that have millions of dollars, and a lot more time thrown at them. You’ve done an excellent job with the movie considering.
DB: I appreciate that a bunch. I’m not sure it was the right decision but you know what at the time it was the right thing to do, and you know we’re casting a new movie called SANCTUARY with Mandalay so hopefully that will work out.
THN: You mentioned a little about your father, who is a stuntman and stunt co-ordinator and you followed in his footsteps. They aren’t immediately comparable, but I wondered what are some of the differences, and different challenges between stunt co-ordinating and directing?
DB: Well, what I had to do when co-ordinating stunts is I’d always sit down with the guys and approach from story and character. That got the eye of a lot of directors they said ‘I want him to shoot the action because he knows the characters’, it was the same with the producers, producers started saying ‘wow, he can talk to actors’, so if there was a director struggling to fit an actor into an action sequence they’d say ‘David said this is how it would fit into the role’. Having the communication skills and helping with the story is really how I got my break.
THN: You mentioned you have a script in the works, what can we expect from you next?
DB: I’m gonna do another feature, this one (SANCTUARY) is kind of a STIGMATA-type movie meets THE SIXTH SENSE. I know visually I can deliver a movie that no-one has ever seen before, for sure. I have a visual design for it, and there’s a heart in it and there’s some trickery for the audience in terms of spots which I’m really excited about. I know this movie will be a hit.
THN: Well, we definitely look forward to seeing that. We’re running out of time unfortunately so I just have one more question for you. I’m a huge Vincent D’Onofrio fan, in the film he’s terrifying and unsettling, and I wondered what it’s like to work with him?
DB: Umm, Vincent D’Onofrio was the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had with an actor. Short of Paul Newman he is absolutely unbelievable to work. I talked about the character with him, I’d made up the backstory that he was a Preachers son and his Father drank too much but he wanted to follow in his footsteps – I mapped out everything for him. He didn’t want to do the movie, but I demanded he get on the phone with me and by the end of the call he said ‘I’m doing the movie’. He was, it’s all about heart with him and when somebody talks about the heart of the character you can get through all of the ego. When actors are talking the superficial – how they walk etc. – that’s not him he’s fearless he’ truthful and the heart drives every decision he makes and I can’t say enough about him. Let me tell you, when he was on set 90% of the actors would stay and watch him, and the other 10% were completely intimidated by his performance, I think you might know who I’m talking about (laughs)
THN: I think I can but I’ll stay silent (laughs). Thank you very much for your time and all the best for the future.
DB: Thank you very much, goodbye.
FIRE WITH FIRE is out now on DVD and Blu-ray and reviewed here