Your new film The Sad
Café - in a few words, what is it about?
centers on Jack (played by Brad Fowler), a hired gun for the
underworld, who finds himself falling for a waitress, Rose (Katie
Lanigan). Jack finds himself torn between the power of his newfound
emotions and the responsibilities posed by a strict code to which he has
vowed allegiance. The code was inspired by the Samurai code of Bushido.
One day he wakes up and gets an assignment that will alter not only his
life, but Rose's forever.
Sad Café seems to be rather strongly inspired by Hong Kong cinema
- would you like to elaborate on that?
Growing up, all I ever watched were action films like
Rambo 2, The Terminator, Bloodsport, etc. everyday. Then when I was in
high school, my Mom took me to see Rumble in the Bronx when it was playing
in the theatres and that changed everything. I began buying a bunch of
Jackie Chan films on import because at that time, Police Story, Project
etc. weren’t released over here yet. Slowly I started discovering Jet
Li, John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Chang Cheh, Johnnie To and ultimately Wong
Kar-Wai. I remember I virtually stopped watching American films after
seeing Chungking Express for roughly between 2001 and 2006. I started
building my collection up of Hong Kong films, and it’s become the cinema
that I love most, and am inspired by the most. There are different themes
and aspects from HK films sprinkled throughout The Sad
Café from the
voice over narration, to the Chang Cheh theme of women being the downfall
of men, to the stylized action scenes, the simple medium 2 shot for
dialogue scenes to spend more time on action, and to top it all off, a tad
bit of slapstick comedy to lighten the mood; there’s a lot more in
there, these were just the first that came into my head. So ultimately, I
wanted to pay homage to the cinema that has influenced me the most and so
this is basically my love letter to Hong Kong cinema.
What drew you to
the professional killer genre in particular?
The Killer. It’s the film that made me want to
become a filmmaker in the first place. Aside from that, since I set out to
make a HK film, what better protagonist than a hired gun?
has quite a strong romance-subplot. Where did that come from?
tell anyone, but I’m a sucker for a good romance. When I set out to
write The Sad
Café years ago, I actually intended to make a romance film
with a kind of action subplot. I think one of the things that has drawn me
into HK films is the very innocent, cute love stories that they produce.
In America, it really seems to boil down to sex, whereas in HK it’s
really not. Look at Chungking
Express, if Faye Wong would have done what
she did in Tony Leung’s apartment in an American film, she’d be
labeled a stalker, whereas to me when I watch her sneak into his place and
pretty much snoop around, it’s kind of cute and very innocent. Love
doesn’t need to be carnal passion in HK cinema, and that’s what I
tried to create here in The Sad
Café. The two have been longing to talk
to one another for who knows how long, but really we see their first
conversation. It was all basically love at first sight, which is very HK.
can you tell us about your principal cast?
Fowler is absolutely amazing. I can’t tell you how honored and grateful
I am to have had him accept the role of Jack. I met him at an audition for
a film I was AD’ing, and I fought for him to get cast. Thank goodness he
was, because we started talking on the shoot and I told him about The Sad
Café, and what I wanted to do and he actually postponed moving to Los
Angeles by six months so he could star in the film. He spent most of those
months studying Hong Kong films and the code of Bushido for the role, and
by the time the cameras were rolling, he embodied Jack to the core.
Lanigan is another gem just waiting to be discovered. I can’t send her
enough praise as well for taking what I wanted her to do with the
character, and upping it five or six notches. I remember feeling so
horrible on set for writing her scenes where she had to cry because
listening to her prep for the scenes were heart wrenching.
Cortes is another star of the film, but no one saw his face because he was
the Director of Photography. What he did with the lighting, with the
amount of lights we had, still to this day amazes me. He actually was the
Gaffer on my 2nd short film at Columbia College Chicago, where
we met, and we always stayed in touch over the years, and I don’t know
what I would have done without him, and it’s only going to get better
for us as we move on to bigger projects.
Brad was on board, he basically cast the film himself, aside from two or
three roles that I had already cast. He’d send me headshots and resumes
from his friends from his class, let me know who he thought they’d be
good for and we’d set up a meeting time and he was right about everyone.
And I think that added a deeper sense of comfort and togetherness for the
cast since most of them already had worked together, and did repetition
together and all.
Brad, and most of the other
actors in the film, are Meisner actors and basically the Meisner technique
is living the life as the person by building memories and other things,
seriously look it up if you’re an aspiring actor. But for me, it was so
interesting to work with them because of how into it they became. When
Brad was killing Lin, I was afraid when he started lighting the blow torch
on the off chance that his mind was gone. The look of sheer hatred in his
eyes was real. There’s a great production still of Brad crying with a
9mm to his head. That was never in the film, that was him getting mentally
prepped for the scene at hand, and I have an immense respect for what
these actors did day in and day out because they let their guards down and
letting themselves become vulnerable to raw human emotions.
What can you
tell us about your stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Andrew Hempfling,
in what way did he influence the way your film looks like, and what was
your collaboration like?
Andrew Hempfling, or Wushu as we call him, is one of
the most energetic people you will ever meet in your life. He’s also a
Columbia Chicago Alumni, and a student of Wushu, and knows action. I had
written in the script basically what I wanted to see happen, he read it,
made some alterations and spent about 4 or 5 hours with the actors on set
going over it over and over again with them. Because I was off filming
other scenes, the first time I saw anything he came up with was during our
first camera rehearsal. He knew where I was placing the camera around the
massage parlor, and he set everyone up and made the magic happen. I
completely trusted Wushu to make a great action sequence, and he did.
Sad Café shows many outbursts of violence, but probably none as
brutal as the scene in which Brandon Fowler tortures maniacal Eliza Shin
to death. What can you tell us about the violence in your movie, and was there ever a line you just refused to
cross (for other than budgetary reasons)?
there was actually a line I didn’t want to cross. My first 3 features
were very gory films, and people started calling me, “The Horror Guy”
which scared me because I didn’t want to get that title since I wanted
to make Hong Kong style films that were far from horror. So when it came
to blood, I wanted it to be impactful. We don’t see Lin’s body until
the end of the sequence and we’re pulled back out of Jack’s mind, and
we’re in the horror that he’s facing too at that moment. I didn’t
want blood for blood’s sake; everything needed to be there for a reason.
Sad Café is quite strong on atmospheric filmmaking. How
important was it to you to give your movie a sort of elegiac vibe
was very important. During our production meetings, and all throughout
filming, I kept saying that I wanted the film to move and feel like a
waltz, and I was fortunate enough to get a composer to compose a waltz
ballad with a live cellist and violinist to play the tune, which was the
recurring theme within the film. Plus, I wanted to keep in the tradition
of a “Bullet Ballet”, so I didn’t want anything jarring in this
film. I wanted the cinematography beautiful, and the edits to be seamless,
and I think we accomplished all of that.
If my information is correct, The Sad
Café has so far only had a few theatrical screening. What can you
tell us about audience reaction so far?
we’ve only screened the film three times thus far, but as a whole the
reaction I’ve received has been great. My two favorite comments thus far
have been, “That felt like a foreign film.” And, “I normally don’t
tear up at movies, but I was crying by the end.” That’s a huge
compliment I feel, if someone was crying because they were moved by the
characters and the film.
of course, when and where will the film be released on DVD?
have no idea to tell you the truth. Hopefully soon. We’re part of the
AOF Co-Op, so hopefully they’ll be able to get it in front of their
distributors and we can see it on DVD sometime next year! I’m also
submitting to festivals still, so if you hear of one that might be
interested, let me know!
Feeling lucky ?
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The links below
will take you
film's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Also, please check out www.thebradfowler.com
contact info for casting.
if you’re looking for an out of the ordinary belt, please check out our
DP Macario Cortes’s belt company at www.obscurebelts.com!
projects you'd like to talk about?
I can’t really talk about plot details, but Brad and I have about four
or five films we want to make and are currently looking for funding to get
Anything else you are
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I think we’re good on everything. Thank you so
very, very, very much for asking me to do this interview and I can’t
wait to have a new project to talk with you about in the future!
for the interview!