Brian Trenchard-Smith is a cheerful English-Australian fellow in his late 60s who has directed more than 40 movies. Some of his works include Leprechaun 3 (and 4!), BMX Bandits and Tyrannosaurus Azteca. He’s a little bit like Werner Herzog crossed with Gene Hackman’s character from Get Shorty. But before you write him off as a talentless hack, consider this: In an Entertainment Weekly article, Tarantino once named Trenchard-Smith one of his favorite directors. Yes, that Tarantino.
The feeling is mutual. “Quentin was very gracious to cite me and mention two films he liked, Dead End Drive-In and The Siege of Firebase Gloria,” says Trenchard-Smith. “I think he has a subversive sense of humor that he recognizes in some of my films, and he’s kind enough to acknowledge it. We do meet from time to time. And he did ask me and four other directors to come to his house and look at a Cannes print of Inglourious Basterds. So that was an honor. I love his work. He’s a genius, in my view. Whatever he does is interesting. He can bend the rules.”
With his latest movie, the John Cusack/Thomas Jane thrill ride Drive Hard, hitting VOD today and theaters next month, we asked Trenchard-Smith for some lessons from 40 years in filmmaking. Here’s what he said.
“I’ve made, as they say, 42 crimes against cinema, and that teaches you how to husband your resources. And I find that a very enjoyable challenge.”
Get a star.
“For young filmmakers getting started, first, find a piece of material that will attract a star. Even if it’s sort of a two-hander in a single location—but has such crackling dialogue that a star will want to do it and a star will have faith in you. And then you get that opportunity to strut your stuff.”
Make every shot count.
“I come from an editorial background. I shoot as an editor. I don’t waste time setting up a shot that I’m not going to use. I can’t honestly think of a shot in Drive Hard that I didn’t use a piece of. I had two cameras going all the time and I had three GoPros on some of the car action. So I actually could get five images out of one take.”
Just shoot the damn thing.
“We shot Drive Hard in 18 days in Gold Coast, Australia. I’ve made, as they say, 42 crimes against cinema, and that teaches you how to husband your resources. And I find that a very enjoyable challenge. I believe films should be made with energy, and I don’t think sitting around talking about it for an hour necessarily makes the shot any better. The director has a vision and that in turn energizes the cast and crew. Energy is the name of the game.”
It’s not the budget. It’s the camera hours.
“I shot BMX Bandits in 40 days. That was Nicole Kidman’s first film. But that only cost a million dollars back in 1983. So you can’t compare budgets necessarily. It’s apples and oranges. It all boils down to how many camera hours you can get. For Drive Hard we had 18 ten-hour days. That’s 180 hours. And we had a fantastic crew and two really gifted actors who spark off each other nicely.”
Star power: Jane makes the mistake of bringing fists to a gunfight with Cusack in Drive Hard.
Timing is crucial.
“The biggest budget I ever had was for a Pentecostal apocalyptic movie called Meggido: The Omega Code 2. It started with a $12 million budget, but the producers seemed to want to add more and more visual effects to it. So they probably brought it up to about 18, maybe even $19 million. And it played very well for their market. But as it was released 10 days after 9-11, an end-of-the-world movie was really not what everyone was going to rush out to see.”
“Another thing I wanted to explore with Drive Hard was a little bit of John Cusack’s personal politics. There’s a scene where he basically outlines his singular peeve, which is the game is rigged. So it’s buried, but it’s there for people to see if they want. And I don’t know whether I could have gotten that into a studio movie.”
“Drive Hard sounds like it might be a Vanishing Point or Fast and the Furious, but it’s actually a riff on buddy action comedies, a Midnight Run kind of a thing. I like to have a little bit of fun with the formula and add the odd reference here and there to past films.”
Make a better second film.
“Also, make sure that the second film, the sophomore film, is not fluff. It’s the most important film you will make after your first film. Your second film can get you into the working industry.”
“Finally, try to communicate your sense of enthusiasm for the medium to everyone in the cast and crew. The captain of the ship must be confident and look like he’s having fun… and having fun. That makes the best possible working atmosphere. You know, circus ringmaster, group therapist, brigade commander—these are the things you have to be 14, 15 hours a day when you’re making a movie. And hopefully I won’t have my directing license taken away before I keel over beside the camera having done the last shot.”