Rafael Motamayor talks to the cast and director of VFW about doing action scenes at an older age, character dynamic, and blood, tons of blood…
In the distant future, America has become a war zone. There’s a drug known as Hype that has conquered the streets, turning men, women and kids into violent mutants that act like zombies in order to find their next fix. We meet a group of older, grizzled Vietnam and Korean war veterans played by legendary actors Stephen Lang, William Sadler, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt, Martin Kove, and Fred Williamson. They suddenly have to stop a birthday celebration when a woman carrying a stash of Hype enters their VFW post and all hell breaks loose.
Flickering Myth spoke with the director of this badass punk
rock movie VFW, Joe Begos, as well as part of its cast: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, and Martin Kove about the making of the film after its premiere at Fantastic Fest last September. Read the interview below:
What attracted you to this project? What did you want to add to it?
Joe Begos: This is actually the first thing I’ve directed that I haven’t written. And I’ve always been up for doing that but I’ve written my stuff in a very specific aesthetic. But the producer and the dude who owns Fangoria, Dallas [Sonnier], was my manager six or seven years ago before he became a producer. So then one day he goes ‘Look, I got Fangoria already, I’m going to do a set of movies, so is it going to be one with you?’ And he sent me a bunch of scripts and VFW was one of them.
It was the one story that I thought would benefit from me directing it. I love dark images, I love neon and frenetic cam work mixed with slow methodical zooms. And I really wanted to do this as a throwback with all these great actors who are now older.
Martin Kove: I originally wanted [William Sadler’s] role, and then I realized I could never do it, but I wanted it. But then I also liked the script and I wanted to flesh out my character a bit more, I wanted my character to be more heroic. So I worked on rewriting the character to be more from like The Wild Bunch, I also made him a salesman and simply gave him a greater relationship with the character of Fred. The three of us, really [Kove, Sandler and Lang] wrote our character’s relationship in Vietnam, how we went through that and came back in one piece more or less.
Stephen Lang: I found the setting very unique, and I saw Fred as a guy who has his own little domain inside the VFW and he runs it kind of like a benign tyrant. And the fact that the characters are at a place that is isolated and they’re defending their turf, not only from the mutants but from the city that deteriorates around them. I liked that. Many of the roles I play are based on not caring for people, mostly villains, but Fred cares about his friends.
How practical was the movie? How was it working with the VFX team?
SL: It was very practical. We didn’t use doubles, but we worked very carefully being aware of where the danger spots are going to be, at least on my part, and then you address it.
William Sadler: There was a lot of blood. Every picture I have from the shoot I’m covered in blood. We didn’t really have conversations about the style of the film, but Joe clearly had a strong sense of style. He wanted the movie to have a particular look, to film it handheld, like a documentary.
MK: And Joe also wanted us to improvise some of the action, not so much the lines, but the action. Because it’s one thing to write down an action scene on a page and imagine how it looks, but then you get the prop and it isn’t quite right, and the reality of the set is different, so you have to adjust.
What I loved about the movie was how no attention was paid to the age of the characters, there weren’t any jokes about being old.
WS: What the film does is introduce us to these characters at a point where they don’t have that physicality they used to have, well Steve Lang is still kind of Universal Soldier in this movie [laughs], but bottom line was, we’re not Rambo. What’s interesting is that we all rise in the same way to the occasion, we all get familiar with some weapon and use it like pros to the best of our ability. Because there are no automatic weapons around you improvise with like a club made with spikes. The characters have to be clever because they can’t be massively overpowered. It threw us an interesting challenge because of our age, I made no qualms about getting out of breath when doing certain scenes because that’s just what I was doing. I wanted to work in a joke about how Martin’s character is bleeding from a cut with a chainsaw and I say it’s nothing among blood thinners.
MK: Because it’s truth. It’s human truth. You get to this age and nothing works the way it used to, but you still have to get up and face these people. And that’s what I think was fun, getting to be the underdog.
Many thanks to Joe Begos, Stephen Lang, William Sadler, and Martin Kove for taking the time for this interview.