david j. moore chats with The Ninja Immovable Heart director and star Rob Baard…
The endurance of the ninja genre is evident in 2015 with Rob Baard’s debut feature film The Ninja Immovable Heart, currently out on DVD across the US (and out in the UK as Ninja on April 20). Baard, a 4th degree black belt in ninjutsu, has worked for years building up a ninja-based online universe. With his extensive knowledge of the art of ninjutsu serving as a foundation for his direct-to-video action superhero film, Baard is featured as a captured ninja named Reeve, struggling to unlock his dormant powers. The low budget picture features an extending cameo by top-billed Danny Glover (from the Lethal Weapon franchise), but it is Baard (who serves as writer, director, and producer) who emerges as the real star of the film.
david j. moore: Talk a little about your inspirations for making The Ninja Immovable Heart.
Rob Baard: What made me want to make this movie is that I came from a pretty rough area. I came up from a single family with my mother and my sister, and I was raised by those movies – the superhero films, the Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones movies, and even Batman, you know? The American Ninja movies, and all that sort of stuff. What I used to love about coming out of those movies was feeling giddy and being excited, inspired to go out and make a difference and helping people, to do something positive in the world. I wanted to do that myself. That’s the reason why I wanted to make The Ninja Immovable Heart. I run a company called The Ninja Movies, and it’s a ninja universe. I rolled all my passions into one – ninjutsu and superheroes – and I’m not really out there trying to be the best director or to really crack the film industry. I’m just focusing on creating this character that is someone people can look up to and be inspired or empowered by.
djm: Say something about your interest in ninjutsu.
RB: I’m a 4th degree black belt in ninjutsu, but I love all martial arts as long as it’s taught to you with the right mindset and comes from the right people. There’re bigger things than just the kicking and the punching. That’s what so interesting about this film. It resonates with people, but if they’re just looking for kicking and punching, they’re probably going to be let down. It goes into other things. I started out in Karate when I was about 12 years old. Then I did Tae Kwon Do for a little while, but I always wanted to do ninjutsu. It was completely different from anything else I’d experienced. I was too young for Karate, and I became bored with it. When it came to ninjutsu, it covered such a broad spectrum – physically, mentally, and spiritually. This idea of living a better life by opening up your abilities was empowering to me. I loved it.
djm: Was it a challenge for you to bring ninjutsu to a motion picture? What I mean is, was adapting the art of ninjutsu to this film a difficult task for you? I can see you really tried to get your philosophy and talents in ninjutsu to come across as cinematically as possible in this movie.
RB: It was challenging – extremely challenging. We did two short films before this, and they delve into different things. The one we did before Immovable Heart was about what the character has learned from a 9th Judo shodan. The Immovable Heart was tougher. It carries across three timelines and it can be confusing for people watching it for the first time, especially if they think they’re in for a no-brainer martial arts movie. It’s called The Ninja Immovable Heart because it’s structured around Fudoshin, and this is a course of ninjutsu training, which translates to “The Immovable Heart.” It’s about stripping away and removing blockages that are holding you up in life. The hardest part of the feature film is that we’re taking people on a journey, but we’re also creating a shift in the way that the training does things to you. The structure is actually quite simple in that the character is captured and tortured, and along the way as he’s being tortured, he’s being asked questions which are triggering him to go back into his own past to see how he either stuffed up that lesson or how it went wrong for him. He’s got to reconcile that within himself so that he can unblock what’s going on. All of this is so that he can transcend in the end and achieve the immovable heart. I think this film will resonate with people who are studying ninjutsu became it does have quotes from the grandmasters of ninjutsu, and it is really strongly based on those things. People who aren’t familiar with those things might say, “What is going on?!” But the magic is that when people watch it two or three times and they start seeing and hearing these things and understand it. As you change, you start to understand things more.
djm: Did you shoot the whole film in Australia, or were pieces of it shot in Los Angeles?
RB: We shot about 99% of it in Australia, and we shot the Danny Glover scenes in L.A.
djm: Was it difficult for you to raise funding for this film in Australia?
RB: I think we’re in such a global market these days that funding falls into place and it’s all about numbers. People are just looking at returns from a business perspective. It’s not so much about how the film industry is these days in Australia, it’s: How is the industry worldwide? How is the money coming back? Making an action film, you can sell it to a lot of countries. It’s much easier to sell when you have a star like Danny Glover attached. The reality is that in Australia, they don’t make these sorts of films. This is the first superhero action film made in Australia. Usually a lot of films made in Australia are dramas about local heritage and that sort of thing. To be honest, those aren’t as marketable to a worldwide audience. Most films made in Australia are made strictly for Australians. The new Mad Max movie coming out might be the only exception.
djm: There’s a moment in the film where you literally look like a comic book superhero. It’s a nice moment in the film where you become a superhero. That was the moment where you become “The Immovable Ninja.”
RB: Yeah! He transcends, and everything falls into place, and it is that moment where he becomes selfless and that’s what gets him across the line. It’s the starting point for what comes next. We just shot a short film that carries on after the film. In a way, it’s like The Animatrix, and it leads the story to the next film. It’s been huge for us online. People are starting to get what this is about.
djm: These days it’s very difficult for men and women to cross over from martial arts or sports and take on careers in action films. It used to be that people were crossing over by the dozen and got to enjoy long and lucrative careers as action stars. It’s very rare these days. Are you hoping to move into that spot and become what I would call “an action star?”
RB: I think deep down I want to give people a character that inspires them. I want people to be inspired enough to go out and do the training and lead a great life. It’s about having a moral ethic and having role models. In the 80’s and 90’s it was less about story and less about being able to act. These days, people expect bigger and better quality. I made this on a microbudget. My background comes from writing, it comes from directing, it comes from producing, it comes from doing visual effects, from all different facets. I think for me maybe that’s the point of difference of what’s going on. I run the company, and we’ve got pre-sales for the next one already in different countries. I’m 34 now, and I’ve been doing this for the last ten years. Any job is a hard journey if you’re working for it and wanting to be the best and go further.
djm: Are you happy with the way this movie is being received? Are you reading the reviews or listening to the people who’ve watched it?
RB: I get amazing emails from people who’ve watched it and it’s changed their life and how excited they are, but there’re certainly two sides. I’ve certainly read some mixed reviews, and mixed reviews were expected. It’s a hard film to follow. You start watching it and it makes you question your own beliefs and your own understanding. For some people, it will resonate with they’re watching and with their own understanding and where they’re going in life, and for other people they simply don’t want to address that stuff. I’ve heard people say, “The story doesn’t make sense!” But it does work, and on your first viewing it will be hard to follow. Someone said that it’s like a book because you have to listen to every word. That’s true. It’s a book in that way. What’s exciting is the next stuff. I feel that with The Immovable Heart, we told the story we set out to tell.
djm: You should say something about working with Danny Glover, who is the top billed name in the movie. Why did you guys go to Danny Glover for that supporting role?
RB: You know, we got offered a few people. There was talk about certain names, but for me Danny Glover resonated. This wasn’t a role for Dolph Lundgren or Steven Seagal or someone that would give the picture a completely different message. He came from the Lethal Weapon background, and I could see him fitting in an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Avengers-type franchise, and that’s where we’re really heading with this franchise. I can see people going, “Why is Danny Glover in a ninja movie?” but that was intentional so that people would wonder, Okay, what’s really going on here?
djm: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the film?
RB: To me, it’s not a martial arts film. To me, it’s an action superhero film. It’s a low budget one, and it’s a first one. It’s an opening up and a beginning.
Many thanks to Rob Baard for taking the time for this interview.
david j. moore is a contributing writer to Fangoria, FilmFax, Lunchmeat and VideoScope Magazines. His book WORLD GONE WILD: A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES was published last year.