Being an Australian film maker, you're pretty much guaranteed to have heard the name Brian Trenchard Smith, whether it's in hushed reverance or in revulsion depends on the filmic circles you're a part of. If you haven't heard of him, you're in the wrong circles!
In Highschool in Film and TV, where there was some mention of Australian films in the 70's and 80's, films like 'Razorback' (Dir - Russell Mulcahy) and 'Alvin Purple' (Dir - Tim Burstall) and 'Dead End Drive In' and were briefly covered as crass B grade schlock, move right along, and lets look at 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' and 'Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith' kind of way. Brian had directed "Dead End Drive In" which was the first time I heard his name...
At no point did anyone say I may have seen his work already, in the form of 'BMX Bandits' sporting a young Nicole Kidman, and directly responsible for my blood red BMX bike and the scars of trying to hurl it about as a kid.
Yes, I can claim Brian Trenchard Smith scarred me for life.
But in a good way.
I have to confess, that it was only after the 'Not Quite Hollywood' doco that I investigated 'The Man From Hong Kong' and as a former Kung Fu student whilst at uni, I was shocked at not having seen it earlier, but then sourcing copies has been difficult until Madman Entertainment waded into the fray and made them easily available.
Now I own it and force it on unsuspecting friends - "What do you mean you've never seen Australia's most kick ass kung fu movie!"
In a lot of 'Not Quite Hollywood' marketing and on several sites, Brian is touted as one of Quentin Tarintino's favourite directors. I think it's a great line but find it sad that its needed to give Brian's work a level of authority or validation, his work is strong enough to stand on it's own, but then maybe it needed a signpost to point it out to the new generation.
So in keeping with my efforts of interviewing industry pro's on action/military realism on film, Brian agreed to answer my questions amongst his busy schedule, as he is a working director in LA.
Simon: As a Director, what considerations do you take into account when deciding to work on a film with firearms, ie period, genre, training, budget, schedule etc
Brian: Safety is my first concern when firearms or complex physical action is involved.
Simon: How important is it to you to represent genuine and authentic infantry/professional behaviour and weapon handling on screen?
Brian: Authenticity is important, but rarely do you see a movie that is 100% authentic. Maybe thorough research can get the costumes, props, and weaponry right, but how do we really know exactly how the battle went, when what orders were given and by whom,. Some of it is guesswork, and all of it is subordinated to the need for a non-historian audience to understand the narrative.
Simon: How much training do you require before actors/stunt teams even get to set?
Brian: Weapon training is obligatory if live firing is required. But more and more on low budget movies, digital muzzle flash and cartridge ejection is deployed in post production, because it saves time and ensures safety. It's not as good, - my In Her Line Of Fire used all digital gunfire and pyro - but the budget rules.
Simon: What are the main considerations you deal with in accommodating film requirements versus genuine infantry/police behaviours/maneuvers. Eg authenticity vs safety/camera angles/directorial constraints.
Brian: I try to keep it real, but films by their very nature are stylized representations of real life, using short cuts and simplifications.
Simon: With your background as a stuntman, your knowledge of firearms, explosives, vehicles, high falls, and hand to hand combat would be extensive, though I know the days of setting yourself on fire and participating in kung fu/karate dojo fights have dwindled, but does that experience bring a different appreciation to directing action sequences as opposed to a director who's never done those things?
Brian: My experience participating in simple stunts, nothing major, has given me an understanding of shooting the stunt from the inside as well as the outside. In a stunt sequence, you have to convey geography, spacial relationships, impact, etc. but if you can also convey how the character is reacting to the experience, and add the character's perspective of the event, that will enhance the audience's enjoyment.
Simon: Stunt/action technology must be forever changing, from wires, to air cannons, springboards, and digital gunfire and explosions in post, do you have to regularly update your knowledge?
Brian: I keep my ear to the ground. But I always have key people around me who are completely up to the minute on the latest technological developments.
Simon: How much do you rely on real life advisors ie Military, Police, Emergency Services etc etc in approaching a scene/sequence?
Brian: I always have an adviser for these scenes to help find the acceptable compromise between drama and authenticity. A lot of police work, cops tell me, is boring. Will the audience want us to authentically depict the boredom? Or would they rather we cut to the chase.
Simon: Do you ask more or less of your stunt team due to your experience in both worlds?
Brian: I only ask what can safely deliver maximum impact. With the advances in CGI, we can add shots that would have been fatal if carried out by live rather than digital stunt personnel.
Simon: As a professional watching films/recreations, can you describe how you know the difference between a weapons trained actor and untrained actor.
Brian: One give away is when an actor is firing an automatic weapon , and he is allowing the kick of the weapon to cause the barrel to point upwards, higher than where his target is. There are some examples of that in my Siege Of Firebase Gloria, currently available on netflix streaming.
Simon: When watching stunt sequences, do you deconstruct them as to how you would have performed them, and then how you would have directed the sequence?
Brian: Yes, all the time. Half my brain is enjoying the story ( or not) the other half is analyzing the success (or not) of the staging and editorial choices. Action can be sharpened or ruined in the editing. Despite this schizoid approach, I always enjoy the movie going experience, even if the picture was terrible. Why was it terrible? How could it have been improved? What were the script mistakes? What would I have done with that subject on that budget. In fact, I must conclude now, run to the mall, and pick 2 movies to see this wonderful July 4th!
Brian went on to supply a link to his blog, where I have sourced the following.
April 20, 2009
Brian: As CGI becomes more affordable, the low budget historical spectacular is within our grasp…Musings on the value of History, and the morality of War as entertainment.
I love costume pictures, in which present day issues are mirrored in the past, while relationships and events play out amid spectacular sets and landscapes. It’s an expensive undertaking; consequently many historical pictures do not recoup their cost, making this genre ever harder to finance. So we have to find ways of making them cheaper. Tighter schedules, digital set extensions, combined with computer crowd and battle technology is the way to go.
My appetite for historical epics was sharpened by a recent visit to Waterloo in Belgium.
To read of Brian's visit to Belgium and his thoughts on the battle and films representing that era go here
Also, Brian does a commentary review on films at Trailers From Hell
Battle of the Bulge
Hell to Eternity
Thank you to Brian for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, it was very much appreciated.
Brian has contacted me after reading this and added some more links for those interested!
A magazine giveaway with a feature article interview with Brian Trenchard Smith here
And more musings from the Ozploitation Master here