Red Stewart chats with filmmaker Rob Cohen…
Rob Cohen is an American filmmaker who has been working in the film and television industry since the 1970s. He is best known for his feature length movies The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and Dragonheart. His latest film was the action thriller The Hurricane Heist, which came out in March of this year.
Flickering Myth had the privilege to speak with him, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it:
Mr. Cohen, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to talk to me. I’ve been a fan of your work for a while now, so this really is an honor.
Thank you for that. I really appreciate it, more than you think.
No, I absolutely mean it from the bottom of my heart. Daylight was one of the first films I saw as a kid.
Now, you’re very unique in that you started off producing and directing a lot of television before transitioning into the film genre. And I’m wondering, did your experiences on actiony shows like Miami Vice and Private Eye prepare you when it came to doing action movies like Fast and Furious and The Hurricane Heist?
Yeah, you know my first film was a sensitive drama about my experiences going through Harvard during the 1960s antiwar movement period. And a lot of times, when you start out making a movie, you have some crazy idea of what stories you want to tell.
But in 1985, when Michael Mann asked me to direct as many episodes for Miami Vice as I could, I went to Miami and for the first time I had guns, fast cars, sexy women, and handsome men. And man, did I have a blast doing that show [laughs]. And there was a point where I looked inside myself and I said “you know, this is who you are. These are the movies you love, so stop trying to be Truffaut and go do what’s in your heart,” which is create your own unique brand of action films. Because you’ll have a lot more fun going to work every day doing this kind of genre stuff that you love than you do agonizing over other things. So go for it.
And from that point on, I did. And I wrote Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story, which had both action and heart, and continued on with Daylight and so on. And it was like, okay I’m trying to do action films where the characters are actually more vivid and believable than one would guess from the trailer. And that’s where I found my great joy in the work I’ve done.
Oh for sure, and I think it definitely shows in a lot of your films where you think it’s just going to be a straight up action film, but you end up becoming invested in the characters. Like I remember in Daylight, there was the African American security guard, I forget the actor’s name…
Oh, Stan Shaw.
Yes, that’s him! It’s so sad when he has to be left behind when his neck gets broken, I almost cried. Now, you mentioned that you wanted to create a unique brand of action films, and I think that with The Hurricane Heist, you can’t get any more unique than that. This is such an outlandish premise and I really loved it because you don’t see this kind of innovation in films, especially bank heists. I know you didn’t write the script, but was it that creativity that initially attracted you to the project?
Yes, because it had an idea. The original script was like 20-some years old, so it needed to be modernized a bit, but the concept that [Jeff Dixon and Scott Windhauser] had come up with was so great. The idea of doing a heist under the cover of what these robbers think is going to be a kind of average hurricane: they don’t expect it to be the biggest one that’s going to hit the gulf coast.
And the complexity of that for me technically was how to do it. It was about how to A) make a hurricane, and B) how to make audiences reinterpret all the action film tropes. Cause a gun battle is no longer just shooting. You’ve got crap in the air going 116 miles an hour [laughs], and cars flipping and jumping around and it becomes a very different action scene than if you would have imagined this as a heist without a hurricane. Like in Ocean’s Eleven, where you’re in the real world, the danger is always “are they going to get caught, what are they actually doing?” And I love Ocean’s Eleven, but imagine if suddenly the casino was put on lock down, not that you’re going to get a hurricane in Las Vegas.
You have to reinvent chases and shoot outs, and any kind of stunt sequence has to be re-thought through because of the overpowering power of nature.
Now, when you talk about inventive action sequences, I remember reading in a past interview that you wanted to rely more on practical effects than CGI. And it shows in the movie where I feel a greater sense of danger for the actors because you know the wind they’re feeling is from real wind machines. Why did you want to emphasize practicality over CGI?
Because I think CGI…Marvel has taken CGI to create a whole universe, and they’ve done it brilliantly. But when you go to Earth and you’re not dealing with Asgard, and you’re not dealing with superheroes, it seems to me that audiences don’t want to have a digital fest. They want to feel like “if I were caught in a hurricane, what would it be like? What would it sound like? What would it feel like?” And for me, I feel that’s the way to create an experience.
The film did not have a big budget, but I wanted it to have the gripping thing of “you are there, the reality is immersive.” And I think to create immersion, artifice, which is what digital creation is, doesn’t get you there. It gives you an experience and visual candy and all that, but it doesn’t make you feel like “god, how would I survive this?”
I want to start a new wave of analog filmmaking [laughs].
And bring back reality!
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