Interview: The Creators of ‘Six String Samurai’ Speak!
Originally written for The Occidental.
Interview: The Creators of ‘Six String Samurai’ Speak!
Originally written for The Occidental.
Lance Mungia and Jeffrey Falcon, the creators of the new film Six-String Samurai, granted The Occidental a pair of exclusive, over-the-phone interviews, and gave us a peek into what went into the making of the film. Mungia and Falcon met at the American Film Market, introduced by a mutual friend, and together they dreamed up the post-apocalyptic story of Buddy, one of many warrior musicians heading for Vegas now that the King of Rock and Roll is dead. (For a more complete description of the movie, see my review in issue 4 of the Occidental)
Mungia, who both co-wrote Six-String and directed the film, cites directors like Akira Kurosawa (The Hidden Fortress and Sanjuro) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) as his inspiration, as well as “the things everybody’s inspired by — Star Wars, Sergio Leoni westerns, a lot of Hitchcock stuff… basically it all boils down to stuff that has a lot of attention to detail, a lot of attention to scope.” The film is a mixture of his and Falcon’s interests: “I was a big fan of fifties rock’n’roll, and Jeff came from a Hong Kong action movie background from the Far East, so we decided that together it would be cool to incorporate fifties rock and roll and really a lot of Americana to make something that was very Eastern but also very Western…” He added later, “we wanted to develop a very surrealistic feeling, almost like this might be a child’s nightmare, and so a lot of things in the film were intentionally very bizarre.”
Anyone who’s seen Six-String Samurai can tell you that the music, fifties rock with a Russian flavor, is memorable. Much of the soundtrack is made up of original pieces by a band from Santa Monica, the Red Elvises, who fit Mungia and Falcon’s ideas perfectly. Mungia explains, “we actually had the Red Elvises’ music as we were writing the script, so we were able to write a lot of the script around the music.”
The hero, Buddy, is a unique sort of character, and was created in a rather unique situation. “At 3 o’clock in the morning we took a break from writing,” Mungia said, “We were trying to come up with a main character, and we went to Starbucks … I was wearing my glasses, which look kind of like Buddy Holly glasses, and had tape on ’em and stuff, barely holding together, and he (Falcon) goes, ‘man how can you see out of those things?’ and I said, ‘here, you check ’em out.’ He put ’em on, and he looked a lot like Elvis Costello or Buddy Holly or someone like that. And I went, ‘hey, that’s pretty funny, you look like Buddy Holly or something.’ And we went, ‘ha, ha, that’s funny?’ And then we thought about it, and went ‘hey, that’s cool!'”
The villain, Death himself, is also unusual. Mungia said that he wanted “…a heavy metal version of Darth Vader” crossed with the classic version of Death. The result is a sword-swinging, guitar-playing menace whose presence pervades the entire film.
When asked if he had any advice for the budding film makers here at Oxy, Mungia said, “I think the most important thing is to use your common sense and plan ahead of time, plan things out very well before you go out and shoot… at least shoot something first that if you have to you can use as a trailer incase it doesn’t work out that you can shoot the whole thing. We were lucky, because we thought, ‘if we can’t finish everything, at least we’ll have this really killer trailer that we can cut and take around and show people’ which is what we did. Second of all, I would say that a lot of people when they’re in film school don’t realize that when you leave that film school your degree is pretty meaningless. Don’t get me wrong, your degree means something in the business sense, in the sense that you want to be an agent or you want to be an executive, or someone on the business side. Then yeah, the degree is very important. But to be a film maker, to actually be someone who gets to make movies for a living in whatever capacity, no one cares about the degree. ‘Okay, you have a degree, great. But show me something you’ve done, y’know, show me a film.’… in reality, when you graduate, and you leave with that can of film in your hand, that’s your diploma!”
Mungia adds that film school students should remember, “that film school kind of environment that you’re in is a very limited tiny little universe, it’s not the whole world.” One of the shorts Mungia himself did was poorly received at Loyola Merrymount, where he attended film school. Undeterred, he continued working on it, and last year, that same short was accepted into the Sundance film festival. Mungia summed up with, “It’s just keeping a level head, and using your common sense, and doing something that you’re passionate about.”
A book about the experience of making Six-String, by Mungia, called … And Then The Gods Smiled: The Making of Six String Samurai, A First Timer’s Apocalypse, is in the works, so keep your eyes open!
Falcon is not only the co-writer and the star of Six-String Samurai, he also drew on his experiences in Hong Kong (where he has spent the last 15 years, doing 17 films and a 40-part TV series, all in Chinese) and his life-long study of Chinese martial arts to choregraph the fight sequences. Unlike his character, he does not wear glasses, but Falcon does play the guitar.
In spite of Falcon’s deadpan demeanor during the film, he often had trouble keeping that straight face while the cameras rolled. During one scene in particular, the hero enters a bar and orders a drink, and is then approached by a woman dressed like a cheerleader, who stretches her bubblegum onto his glasses, then nibbles her way along the gum until she reaches him. “That was such a bust-up to film, man. I was losing it for the whole scene, it was funnier than hell.” When asked if he’d find that a turn-on himself, Falcon laughs. “Oh, yes! Amongst other places!” Then he added, more seriously, “it wasn’t really mean to be a turn-on kind of thing. It’s kind of like a total hit-in-the-face, out-of-the-blue thing that some post-apocalyptic chick would do: ‘I choose you, you’re my man… and now I’m reeling you in, you’re my fish.'”
The film itself, which he describes as “a post-apocalyptic fairy tale,” was very difficult to make. “It’s easy to read it on paper, how these guys went through this and that, this and that, but when you actually have to do it, it was like climbing the great wall of China,” Falcon said. When the time came to film the final fight, between Buddy and Death, the prop swords were somehow left in the prop truck, which then left. Luckily, Death was being played (for the fight) by Liu Boa, the China Sword Champion, who had trained in the same sword style as Falcon. “We shot the first half of it with real swords, and then after that the prop truck arrived and we could go back to prop swords,” Falcon said. The film crew was terrified that someone would be injured, but the scene went off without a hitch.
Some action sequences were barely choreographed at all. Towards the end of the film, Buddy takes on one of the last remnants of the Russian Army (which had conquered America forty years before the film begins). Since it was getting late, Falcon merely talked the extras through the sequence, and then did the scene. “We did that scene in two takes… it was totally adlibbed,” he said. That method is one Falcon is used to, however: “with the action in Hong Kong, we tend to do that a lot because you get a lot of natural feel from the action if you don’t rehearse it… it gives the action a much better feel.’
Falcon’s next project is one he’s working on with Mungia, a film called Offing Santa. He describes it as “kind of a twisted, surreal, comical version of Christmas. … the mob, they all own Christmas now, they own all the department stores, and stuff, and they’re trying to assassinate Santa to get rid of the competition.”
When asked if he had any advice for the actors-in-training in Occidental’s theatre department, Falcon said, “do it for fun, and do it, and have fun when you’re doing it, and enjoy what you’re doing. And if you want to do it professionally, do it equally like that, because when you go out there, it can become a meathouse from what I hear.” He adds, “when it becomes no fun, if it’s not fun to do that, don’t do it. “Cause it ain’t worth it. … This industry just tears apart people. I don’t say actors, ’cause actors are people first, and a lot of people forget that.”
“That’s the thing to have in life,” Falcon concludes seriously, “enthusiasm in anything you do, and you’ll be succesfful. Enthusiasm was the sheer source of fuel that drove the making of Six-String Samurai, let me tell you. There were several times we thought about, ‘let’s go home, it’s 120 degree heat, I’m tired of sleeping in a sleeping bag, a tent! I’m tired of wearing this Buddy outfit!’ – which I wore, by the way, for eight months and never washed!” When it was pointed out that the battered tuxedo his character wears has a very realistic post-apocalyptic look, he said, “yes, very realistic. Especially for the cheerleader in the post-apocalyptic bar. She said, ‘damn, Jeff, you smell!'”
Six-String Samurai is still in theatres, so catch it while you can… and remember the words of Director Lance Mungia: “if you see it and the sound is low, it shouldn’t be low – tell them to turn it up!!”