Recently, I reviewed the quirky and engaging action comedy, “Paying Mr. McGetty,” starring R. Marcos Taylor & martial arts legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson. It follows the travails of Tyrrell (Taylor) as he awakens from a night of drinking and gambling to discover he’s in deep with the mob, with hitman Shota (Wilson) being hired to track him down. It is an energetic and upbeat film thanks in part to Michael Baumgarten’s direction. I got the opportunity to talk to the man about the film and his experience in the industry.
What inspired you to make “Paying Mr. McGetty?”
It was after a trip we did to the Urban Action Expo in New York. Basically, we thought “Wow, this is fun! We could do something just like this.” We saw movies like The Last Dragon and I thought “Let’s pair Don [Wilson] up with somebody and make this fun movie where we basically have a one-two punch type of thing. So, we paired up Don with R. Marcos Taylor of Straight Outta Compton. This was before he made that film that he agreed to do our film. It had been kicked around for 6-8 months, then he filmed Straight Outta Compton and then made our film.
This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Don “The Dragon” Wilson. What’s it been like working with him?
Don’s great! With Don, you’re not just dealing with an actor; you’re dealing with an action star. You’re dealing with a world-class champion martial artist. He’s also a producer of most of his films. With Don, you don’t just get the actor, you get the whole package. He brings a lot to the party. For example, when I’m in post, he works with one of the editors in cutting the fight scenes. I cut up until the fight and right after the fight. We have Don cut the fight scenes and purge his thoughts on where the fight scene should be.
What was it like working with R. Marcos Taylor?
Marcos is great! He’s like a big teddy bear, you know what I mean?
Yeah. He’s got that vibe in the film, which I liked!
Yeah! He’s six foot three, a very large man. People sometimes get afraid for no reason, despite him not putting off that vibe. It’s just that he’s large. When you see how flexible the guy is for his size, how quick he is, it’s unnatural. You usually don’t see speed and flexibility in a man that large. *laughs*
Your films tend to feature a lot of martial arts. Did you have a fondness for this growing up? Any experience yourself?
When I was in elementary school, I was bullied. So, my mom put me in a martial arts class and I learned to kick and punch and all of that. I was nothing more than a white belt. That was it. But, my mom was divorced and working two jobs, one of them being at a movie theater. I would go in there and watch Bruce Lee films and all kinds of stuff. While everyone else was doing their homework, I was doing my own: watching movies at night time and building a movie poster collection. I was probably nine or ten at that point and I was just watching these really cool films and was absolutely happy. All of the Bruce Lee films and all of the action films were what I really loved!
Excellent! Now, to go back to the humor in the film, it was very quirky. Is this where your humor tends to lie or are you all over the place?
I’m not just an action fan, but a comedic fan too. The Don Wilson that I know is a funny guy! But, the films he’s made throughout the years have him always playing it as the safe man. He never gets to crack a joke. He may get to crack a smile, but he doesn’t get to crack a joke. I kept watching his films and I would think that people didn’t capture Don. [Paying Mr. McGetty] shows Don’s personality.
I really liked getting to see that in this film and The Martial Arts Kid!
Thank you! That was definitely intentional. It’s one of those things where you’re sitting there thinking, “At some point, you need to see Don!” With The Martial Arts Kid, it was closer to his personality. In part it was because I followed him around to martial arts conventions filming him while he was instructing different people and showed him that. I said, “Don, this is what we need from you in The Martial Arts Kid. This is Uncle Glen. You are not you!” *laughs*I told him, “Just be you!”
That was the same thing with Cynthia [Rothrock]. I was looking to do with her something she hadn’t done before. When I seen her, I asked “Is there anything that you do that people don’t know you do so we can introduce it?” And that became the whole thing with her dance at the Halloween bash [in The Martial Arts Kid]. People didn’t know she could do that. I didn’t know that! I don’t know if you also connected the dots during that scene. We filmed in Cocoa Beach and Don is in an air force outfit and [Cynthia] is dressed as a genie. I Dream of Jeannie! That’s what that is! Some people connected the dots, but we didn’t want to be too spot on.
Was it weird working with Cynthia & Don having watched their films and now being on the other side?
No. I mean, I actually knew Don before he filmed anything. For me, I knew Don from watching him fight first and then he began doing movies. But, I’m watching these movies that he’s involved with, like Ring of Fire and Bloodfist, as well as ones I worked on, such as Red Sun Rising and The Last Sentinel, for a long time. He had been watching mine and at some point, once I began to direct more instead of just writing and producing, I got the opportunity to direct Don; at least in the non-action scenes. In the Martial Arts Kid, the action scenes are directed by James Lew who’s amazing! In the film Paying Mr. McGetty, most of the action scenes were directed by John Kreng. There came a point where I was like, “I’m directing, I’m directing, the action’s about to start…” and I take a few steps back. In comes John Kreng to direct the action, da da da da da, action’s done, I take back over. *laughs* That’s how that process works. We basically discuss what would be fun and what would be cool. Once it gets to the action, [John] is the martial artist and I’m not, so I just take a step back and look at the monitor. I let them do their thing.
You’ve also worked Adam W. Marsh a lot, working on four scripts together. Do you two have good chemistry?
Yeah! I was part of a writing group called The Burbank Eight. Sometimes there were nine or ten of us, but it began with eight. We would read scripts from each other and give support. We had a wonderful group! The person that I kept hanging out with afterwards was Adam. He’s an interesting guy to hang out with because he watches everything. He is basically now a Mr. Mom. He hangs out at home, he raises the kid, his wife goes to work, leaving him time to enjoy Netflix all day long. *laughs* He’s kept up with all of the big shows and pretty much just makes me laugh. His sarcastic tone is so off the charts; it just makes me laugh.
He’s like a modern-day Michael Keaton.
Yeah! *laughs* When we had filmed Paying Mr. McGetty, it was supposed to be more action, running action specifically. But, because Marcos tweaked his knee, we had to keep him safe. He did that on the first day of filming, so now we couldn’t do any running. So, we had to do more like he’s walking or hobbling. It took a few hours to embrace that. We had to roll with it; we had no choice.
It kind of fits the feel of the film, with everything coming at him as opposed to him running at it. I feel that worked in the long run.
Yes, but it was so unintentional. *laughs* If you look at the movie Taken, Liam [Neeson] is running…a lot. So, I look at Liam Neeson at sixty-plus years old running for at least fifteen feet at a time. To that extent was what Marcos perhaps was supposed to be running in Paying Mr. McGetty. But, because of the tweaking of the knee, we had to basically put him on ice and shoot him when he’s only going five or so feet. There were running shots we had planned. We had a drone planned. The drone was going to keep in pace as he runs from spot to spot. But, we never got to use it!
That’s a shame.
Right! But then, we had to kind of make an adjustment. A lot of what we did was we filmed what we could film and had fun with the comedy aspect. When I had done a rough patch on it, I brought in Adam. I told him, “You’re watching this now with fresh eyes.” We decided to shuffle some scenes around. Since it took place over the course of one day, everyone was wearing the same clothes, which made this easier. Adam wasn’t only co-writing, but he was also a collaborator because he watches everything. He’s got a good sense of what feels in place and what feels out of place.
You tend to write, direct, and produce your films. Is there any one process you prefer over the other or do you just like the whole collective unit?
Here’s the thing: I had found that, when I go to have something I’ve written produced, it hasn’t worked out unless I’m the producer. Then, when I passed over things that I’ve written and produced, it never really felt as good to me because I didn’t direct it. In other words, I haven’t been able to write and direct without having to also take on some of the duties of a producer simply because I’ve done it so many times. I tend to help everyone through it because I know how to do every part of it. I’ve been a production manager, line producer, and a crew supervisor. For me, I’m just doing everything to make the film happen. I know all of the steps to where I just expedite things. It makes it easier for the other producers.
When it comes to producing, do you feel the current marketplace of video on demand, Kickstarter, etc. is more beneficial or limiting for independent filmmakers?
What’s happened is it’s become so inexpensive to make a film that so many people are making them, which causes a glut. Distributors don’t pay as much because there’s a glut of product. All of the HD looks great because it’s not hard to find a good HD camera. An HD camera costs four-thousand dollars or more, you can interchange lenses and make the movie you need to make, for the most part. There’s so many things where people can just make a movie for fifty-thousand or a hundred-thousand dollars and will be inclined to sign any deal that comes their way because they don’t know how bad the deal actually is. What that does is it encourages distributors to seek more of those kinds of deals.
Back around ten to fifteen years ago, things were still shot on film, meaning there was too much money involved. For a distributor to get a movie, they had to make a substantial commitment. Now, because so many people are making movies for passion and just because they can, distributors don’t feel the need to have to pay for what they want like at Sundance.
It’s like a pro and a con at the same time. It’s great to have that outlet, but now it’s too crowded.
Yeah! And because of Youtube and Netflix, there’s a whole generation of kids that feel that content is either free or super cheap. That’s also part of the problem. When you’re used to watching anything you want for ten to fifteen dollars a month and there’s so much free content on Youtube, it makes it tougher. I like the fact that with Redbox you have to pay.
It makes it harder to stand out.
MB: Yeah. It’s tough! Unless you’re in Redbox, where are you at? If you’re an indie and you didn’t have a theatrical release or a big star, how can you even get anybody to notice you? It’s like you’re just on the net.
Do you feel it’s one of those things that, for every good thing that comes along, there’s a negative that goes with it? For as great as it is to have the accessibility, there’s the downside of too much content now.
Yes, it’s a glut! I was a Director of Acquisitions for Legacy Releasing in the late nineties. My job was to go to festivals like Sundance and would watch films there. On top of that, I’d watch over two-hundred films a year. That was when everything was still shot on film and people had to put more thought into their films because they were expensive. That was two-hundred films back then. There are a lot of folks now that can just make a movie and do it for half the cost they used. What might’ve been a seven-hundred and fifty thousand dollar movie back then (2002, 2005) is now being done for two-fifty, three hundred, three-fifty. Basically, it creates a glut.
Do you have a distribution deal in place for Paying Mr. McGetty or is that still up in the air?
The Martial Arts Kid is being handled by Gorilla Pictures worldwide and I know they’re working on a domestic deal. We also did on our own, for proof of concept, a release of [Paying Mr. McGetty] in twenty cities last fall. That was great! To go around the country in support of the film and see crowds show up was fantastic! I loved it! To see how much they enjoyed the film up on the big screen was great! And that was done by a wonderful group called Tugg (www.tugg.com). They allow you to take an indie film and basically crowdsource your screening at an AMC, a Regal, or a theater chain like that. We were getting wonderful, fantastic cinemas for like a night. But, we had it and it was great! I encourage people to do that! As well, people in the indies should look at companies like Distribber (https://www.distribber.com/), who can self-distribute through them or companies like Juice Worldwide (http://juiceworldwide.com/), which is an aggregator. Juice gets you on sites like iTunes, which is really helpful.
On top of those recommendations, do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Films are becoming tougher and tougher because there are not a lot of buyers like there used to be. Now, there are too many companies that are just stockpiling rights. You might have a sales company take on twenty-five films a year and they can’t give true love and support to every one of them. They’re just picking up the rights for nothing or dirt cheap and hoping just to access people who will make them money. Hopefully, there’s some left over for the people who produced and funded the film.
What’s next for you?
MB: I actually just line produced a webshow called Up North. It was filmed in New York and that was fun! We just wrapped that up about a week ago. Now, I’m about to see what my 2017 looks like. I’ve got a whole bunch of things I would like to do; just depends on which one gets done first. I’ve got a vampire film that’s a trilogy that I’d really like to do. I’ve got a teen crime drama called Suburban Gangsters. I’ve got a comedy film, My Fabulous Wingman. I’ve got a road picture. So, it just depends on which one gets the funding.
I’m also looking to go towards the series route. There is a movie about a girl in a gentlemen’s club. There was a script that I wrote years back that was supposed to be a movie. It got auctioned on, but I’ve got the rights back now. But, now as I’m watching things like Netflix and HBO half-hour and hour-long shows, the ability to go into that story with those characters in a ten-episode order, I think to myself, “Wow! I can do so much more now than just condense these stories into an hour and a half. Now, I can explore that world a lot more!” The focus would be in how could I do this kind of story, this kind of setting, and have it aimed for Emmy awards. That’s kind of what my plan would be, to go into it with that goal in mind. Emmy show: here’s what we need. Boom! That’s what I’d really like to do! I think that there’s great drama there, life lessons to be learned, and the dark and right side of people that’s appealing. It’s a lot of good and bad within those stories. I think it’d be great drama!
That sounds amazing! I also love the variety in your projects!
Yeah! That’s what I like to do! I didn’t get into this just to be a movie maker of one genre. I haven’t been stuck doing just one thing; I can mix it up. I wrote and produced a boy-and-dog movie called Smitty starring Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Jason London, and Lolita Davidovich. I wrote that on my own and it’s a wonderful story that’s about redemption and a kid that just needs to learn some life lessons. Because some of these kids are just a bit too spoiled! *laughs*
Just a bit! *laughs*
Imagine Peter Fonda as the granddad who’s on a farm and this kid has nowhere else to go but to deal with his granddad. It’s really fun! He gets a dog and the dog of course helps him learn life lessons. It’s out now; it’s been out for a few years. It’s one of those things where you’re thinking about a film like that and it actually helped spawn a martial arts film because Don [Wilson] and James Wilson came to the premiere of Smitty. There was a big crowd, a lot of families there; it was packed! It was a lot of good laughs. I said to Don, “Hey, you should do a family film, sir!” *laughs*
He was a good fit for it!
Right! Because he is a dad! That’s kind of how that all evolved. Don came to the Smitty premiere and we talked about doing a film that was a family film. This was to introduce him to a whole new audience that might not go to see his ‘R’ films.
I love HBO shows, like Game of Thrones, so I’m not someone who needs to particularly stay in the ‘PG’ realm.
Variety is the spice of life, after all!
MB: Exactly! I brought in [David M. Evans] for Smitty who helped bring in a high-profile because he previously did The Sandlot. That helped get that cast and I think it’s really the best cast he ever had on a small, independent budget, so that’s kind of nice!
That is a stacked cast!
Right! A stacked cast and a very low budget. They liked the script, they liked going to Iowa, they liked that they could do a movie that was safe and watch with their family. They often do films that only certain families can watch. *laughs* There was no issue to not take the role, so it worked out great!
This has been great! I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to conduct this interview!
Paying Mr. McGetty will be released in 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for it!