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An Interview with Gary Ugarek, Director of Thug Life: All in the Game

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2012

Films directed by Gary Ugarek on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new film Thug Life: All in the Game - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Drugs, Violence, and Sex. 

(You said a few words,)

 

With Thug Life: All in the Game being a gangster film, is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?

 

I am a fan of many genres, zombie horror, action films, modern day gangster films and the gangster flicks of the 30’s and 40’s. I am actually more of a fan of the original 1930’s Scarface than the Pacino remake.

I can’t say it is my all time fave because my tastes and likes in film change based on my mood and many other factors, but it is a genre I do enjoy.

 

With the majority of your cast being Afro-American, did the blaxploitation films of the 1970's at all serve as a template for your movie?

 

No, I know about them and enjoy them, but that was not a route I wanted to take.

 

(Other) sources of inspiration for Thug Life: All in the Game?

 

There are only 3 sources of inspiration for All in the Game, HBO’s The Wire (3 of my cast members were cast members on The Wire), Pulp Fiction (for the violence and torture carried out by Lucky). Reservoir Dogs was the final because of the consistent and quality wide shots, something we did try to emulate on All in the Game.

 

The inspiration that came from Pulp Fiction in regards to the character of Lucky was this simple question: What would Marsellus Wallace do?

 

You've shot your movie entirely in black and white - would you like to elaborate on this and other stylistic decisions?

 

I wanted to do and urban gangster film and a black and white film as part of my film career, and since money is very hard to come by, even for us indie guys, and trying to pull off a full movie on $1,700 (budget for All in the Game), I said I might as well make it in B&W, so I kill two birds with one stone.

I filtered some test footage before I made the final decision, and of course all the B&W is done in post with filtering, but the main reason was to get another check-off on my film career. I am not sure how many films I will be able to make in the future, and with each movie my next one is further and further out, so I try to wrap what I want to do all in one project if I can. But I will admit after doing the test footage in B&W I fell in love with it, so you could say it was an artistic choice if you want.

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to your subject at hand?

 

I have grown quite a bit as a filmmaker, so when directing my actors I try to find real world scenarios to describe what I am looking for, or use a movie they may have seen for reference. However, these are folks who act for a living, so I tell them some information when I give them the script and expect them to carry it out the best they can. On set I will tweak their performance within a take or two.

 

I think one of the aspects that make Thug Life: All in the Game so very much alive is its choice of wonderfully run-down locations. So what can you tell us about your locations?

 

The warehouse is the Street Light warehouse and was in use many years ago. It is Baltimore City property. That location makes numerous appearances on The Wire as well. The bar the gang hangs out in is an actual bar owned by one of the castmembers. It is a very popular East Baltimore hang-out, and one of the first places in Maryland to assist African Americans with voting when they were allowed to vote. So the building has a lot of history behind it.

 

Chris Clanton

Nelson Irizarry

Gary Ugargek

What can you tell us about your principal cast, and how did you find them?

 

Kelvin Page

Micaiah Jones

Lucky and Vince are Micaiah Jones and Chris Clanton. They played Little Man and Savino Bratton on The Wire. I met Micaiah through Nelson Irizarry who plays the leader – Ontario Banks. I met Nelson and Kelvin (who plays Littles) on the set of a 100% improv zombie film called Zombie Doomsday, in which I have a small cameo. After working with them I said one day I would sit down and write something they could appear in… All in the Game was that film. Nelson introduced me to a lot of the actors, and since I knew them from watching The Wire, it was a no-brainer to cast them in the film.

The great thing about indie filmmaking, there is always someone who knows someone who worked on a popular TV show, had a decent role people remember, and they just love to act. Plus we all had a blast making the film.

 

You also play a small role in Thug Life: All in the Game. A few words about Gary Ugarek, the actor?

 

No comment… I just wanted to set someone on fire.

 

A few words about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?

 

The film took 12 days to shoot. We re-shot day one footage on Day 12. The actors hadn’t quite gel’d yet so I said I will see how days 2-11 go, and if they get better we will reshoot all of day 1. We did and it works much better. On the self-DVD/Blu-Ray-release I actually include a lot of the Day One-footage that was scrapped, and you also get to see it in color. Once you see the film and re-watch the Day One-scenes you can see the differences.

 

The on-set atmosphere was a lot of dick jokes. We took the work seriously, but it was just day-in day-out of smart-assery, and someone always claiming they had a bigger dick than the next guy. Even race jokes flew around the set. We all became great friends and everyone knew where we stood as individuals, but it never stopped anyone from being called OUT ON THEIR HERITAGE. I didn’t care if I was called a Cracker, DP #1 Habib Awan probably got the worst of it. Habib, who was born in the USA, sounds every bit American as the rest of us, just was constantly being bombarded with jokes about him not possibly liking the film and plotting to blow us up at the premiere. (To note: this was in 2011, so way before The Dark Knight Rises-shooting.) To us saying and talking about race and origin takes the stigma off of it.

 

What can you tell us about critical and audience reception of your film so far?

 

Critical has been good, I haven’t read any horrible reviews yet. Audience - it is definitely a crowd type film. I know at the Baltimore Screening when Nicky Caprisci makes his big announcement, a lot of folks got pretty emotional about it and cheered at his come-uppance. The film toes a fine line of PC and P-UC. This was not done for shock-and-awe factor, this is just how the real world is, even in 2011/2012, and when you shoot a film on this subject matter, you better expect anything and everything to come flying out.

 

Should need arise, will there ever be a Thug Life II?

 

There is a script for a spin-off film based on the character of Lucky, titled Lucky, but it is still in early development. I also have a screenplay for All in the Game II that picks up right after the end of All in the Game 1. While they think they won the battle and won Caprisci’s territory, little did they know his only daughter has more balls than her bother and is 5 times more ruthless than her father. So the story picks up with the daughter getting wind and exacting revenge. When you’re in the drug trade. there is no end to the game. As it has been said, the game is rigged to get you to fail.

 

Also, the film is just titled ALL in the GAME, that is how I wrote it and directed it. The distributor changed the title and added Thug Life… I wasn’t crazy about it, but I said whatever, as long as All in the Game stays as a subtitle - so you will never here myself or a cast member call it Thug Life: All in the Game, we just call it All in the Game.

 


Before you've made Thug Life: All in the Game you made two zombie movies, Deadlands: The Rising and Deadlands 2: Trapped. What can you tell us about those?

 

Go buy them… They are aweomse.

 


Is it true that you are currently at some stage of production of Deadlands 3?

 

I was, but pushed it back until 2013. The film just needs a lot of money to be made, more than the normal budgets I work with. I actually discuss it in a YouTube video. It starts by me discussing the ending of Deadlands 2: Trapped, which is also on You Tube for free to watch, and a debate started up among viewers about the ending. I thought the ending was pretty obvious, but to some it was not so I ended up explaining it, then I touch upon Deadlands 3.

(Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-oygO3pC28)

 

Why zombie movies, and your genre favourites?

 

Zombies are the only horror monster that scares the living shit out of me. Even at 41, I could have a terrifying-as-hell nightmare about zombies and still wake up in a sweat breathing heavy. I have some very vivid dreams. Deadlands 2: Trapped was based on a dream I had the combined Demons and The Return of the Living Dead, so that is how Deadlands 2: Trapped was born.

Plus I also look at it like, every zombie filmmaker is making their own survivalist training video based on the zombie apocalypse through their eyes. Mine is just another training film.

 

Favourites: The original Dawn of the Dead is a favorite, Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead and some of the Italian zombie films.

 

Any other films of yours you'd like to talk about, any other future projects?

 

Not really but thanks for asking. I just ask your readers check out my films and they can even leave comments on the IMDb page for the film or email me directly (through the official websites) to let me know their thoughts and opinions. I like reading feedback, especially those who have true feedback that can help me improve. What they like and didn’t like. I strive to make each film better, but how you do that is through feedback.

 

Directors who inspire you?

 

So many to list, but I do respect Tony Scott, he knows action. Richard Donner, Shane Black, George Romero for his contributions to zombie cinema. Sam Raimi, Dan O’ Bannon. And Luc Besson.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Die Hard, Dawn of the Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, True Romance, Leon (aka The Professional), Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever, Boogie Nights, Shooter, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Goodfellas, and many others.

 

... and of course, films you really deplored?

 

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I have never really walked out of any movies except one. Collateral Damage with Arnold Schwarzenegger, that was bad, I just looked at my wife at the time and said I don’t know about you but I think this sucks and I am ready to head out. So we got up and left. I won’t say I deplored it, but I don’t care for The Dark Knight. When Heath Ledger was on screen the movie was dark sinister fun and entertaining, when he wasn’t it just seemed to meander looking for a purpose. I do deplore Avatar, not because it is a bad film, but because everyone thinks it is great film. It is really just a live action version of Ferngully, and while it looks great, it is only eye candy. Cameron has made better (Terminator 2, True Lies) and should be making even better films than those, not so-so flicks like Avatar.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Deadlands trilogy – www.playingwithdeadthings.com

All in the Gamewww.allinthegamemovie.net

Myself – IMDb, Twitter @GaryUgarek, FB www.facebook.com/DjfunkmasterG

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

I like Wonton soup.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thanks for having me on, and glad you enjoyed the film.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

Bauliche Angelegenheiten
ein Roman von
Michael Haberfelner

 

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