When I was approached by the fine gents at Snowfort Pictures to pen an action driven revenge flick called AMERICAN MUSCLE; I jumped at the chance. Vengeance is a theme that always stimulates me (as seen in my low budget flick Deaden) and macho, low budget Cannon like films are my cup of blood on any day. My script opens with this quote: “Barbarianism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is the whim of circumstance. And barbarianism must ultimately triumph” ― Robert E. Howard. Don’t know if they’ll keep that in the film but that was pretty much the M.O. I ran with in terms of this particular screenplay.
Shacked up in a dingy apartment in Paris (on my off days while acting in Dead Shadows) and armed with countless bottles of wine, the Drive and Faster soundtracks and packs of Malboro Light, I dived into the world of AMERICAN MUSCLE and the result was definitely the most violent and sexually deviant thing I had ever written. And just like with every gig, be it acting or screenwriting, I learned a lot on this show and am a better man for it. Allow me to share. On a script level, I learned about writing by committee with this one. Now I’ve written for other people before. RECON 2022 and RECON 2023 are perfect examples of me writing to serve another’s vision. Thing was with those scripts, I was only serving one person’s vision. With AMERICAN MUSCLE it went down differently. And I am not saying this as a bad thing; it just did. The producers had a vision. So I tried to serve them while doing my own thing. Once they hired a director (Mr. Ravi Dhar ); he also had a vision, which was different from the original vision, more ethereal as opposed to the guttural vibe I was going for. So I tried to serve his take on it as well and succeeded and failed to varied degrees.
On set with cool cat Nick Principe (John).
Once on set; the actors had input and brought a lot of themselves to the roles and the dialogue while director Dhar was big on improvisation, so yeah a lot changed but… the essence was the same. So that was a first for me; although all films are a collaborative creative process; AMERICAN MUSCLE took that even further in terms of what I had experienced thus far, the nature of the show was one inviting, being open to and accepting the cast/crew creative input. So basically my script became a body that many added further flesh to. The result? Somehow; even though coming from different places and having different ideas, we all wound up on the same page; a group synergy if you will and for the most part this was one of the smoother shoots I’ve ever been on. Who knew? Props to producer Travis Stevens for promoting that kind of environment but also for having a firm grasp on it. With him at the helm, the ship sailed smoothly and got to its destination (shitty analogy I know but hey, all I got).
I also so got a kick out of seeing actors Nick Principe (of Laid to Rest fame), Robin Sydney and Todd Farmer (yes THAT Todd Farmer) bring the lead characters of John, Darling and Sam to life. Nick nailed the John Falcon I had in mind (which I kind based on Conan out of the Dark Horse comics) but made him more vulnerable, Robin Sydney brought added nuances to her role of Darling and funnily enough, when I wrote Sam, he would speak with a Southern accent in my head (or out-loud, yes I speak my dialogue out-loud when I write it sometimes, helps keep it real). So when they cast Todd Farmer, I was delighted to see that the dude had that twang in his speech. A pleasant coincidence. All that to say you spend endless hours cooped up in a room inventing characters and situations with only wine and smokes as your companions. And that in itself is rewarding. But another plus is when you get on set and see other artists take what you created, lift it off the page and put in the real (fake movie) world. It’s a fucking trip!
Todd Farmer and Robin Sydney in between takes.
Now when I was offered the script job, I negotiated a part for myself in the film. So yup, I play one of the main villains. His name is Tongues, he’s a mute, he kicks ass and f*ck dames. A simple man. You see what I did there? Wrote myself the funnest role. I had no line of dialogue, I nailed broads and threw down; a dream role if you will (in my world anyway). And for the most part that’s how it went down on set. To say I had a blast going mano et mano with Nick Principe would be an understatement. Funnily enough, I wrote lots of kicks for my character in the script, cause I wanted to showcase what I got onscreen. Never got the chance in other films. But when I met Nick Principe, the mofo stood at like 6 feet 7 tall and I had to crescent kick him in the face (I’m 6 feet tall). Did I pull it off? Yes. How? I basically stretched all day, leading up to our fight scene. Am looking forward in seeing the fist to cuff onscreen. Hope it came out good.
The threesome sex scene (with me and two chicks) didn’t wind up being as amusing as I thought it would be. I had done a sex scene before (in Deaden) and it had went smoothly. It was us “making love” though, slow and sensual. Here it was a wam-bam, all animal lust, no love, thank you Mam. It was me doggy-styling some lass, while she’s making out with another lass and although on paper it sounded like a hoot and a nanny; it wasn’t. Nope, simulating nailing some broad from behind when you have a sock over your dick, Todd Farmer looking at your balls flapping in the wind and two cameras up your ass is just not as thrilling as you think it would be. You learn something new everyday Finally I’m a very physical person and adore doing stunts, AMERICAN MUSCLE gave me my fill of that and then some. When not playing Tongues, I would often slip on a mask and play “cannon fodder” characters. Falls, getting my head bashed into walls, getting kneed in the stomach, whacked in the face = fun shite!
My character of Tongues, ready to negotiate...
Looking back at the AMERICAN MUSCLE experience I have a lot of fond memories. I mean we all lived in a house (which also acted as one of the sets) in the Joshua Tree desert together (which BTW became its own character in the film, the desert was a genius choice of location, it really added to the story and production value of the movie), so we all became a big family (as on most sets). We all worked together but we also partied together after a hard day/night of shooting. It kind of became a grown up summer camp. Good times! I met solid people too! Producers Michael Lurie and Jeffrey Giles were class acts all around, you could not ask for a better AD than Joshua Lou Friedman, second AD Buz Danger Wallick was always a blast to have around and I had fun busting makeup girl Laura Raczka virtual balls (affectionately of course). I also had this hill I would try to hike up and down everyday to keep in some kind of shape for the shoot. I loved that hill. I miss that hill. That hill and I were tight! Being on top, taking in the vast mountain scenery before me, watching the hawks coast the wind while ducking rattlesnakes was one of my favorite places to be. Moreover I found it fascinating that the world of the film started to seep into our reality the more the shoot clocked forward. Lets just say that “some” of the desert locals were, um, unique to say the least; and that made the experience all that more exciting… and weird.
AMERICAN MUSCLE is presently in Post Production and I’m jazzed to see the finished product. The feel it emanated on set was DEATH WISH if directed by DAVID LYNCH… yup, totally out there and taking into account the story, not what you’d expect from a film of this ilk! All in all AMERICAN MUSCLE was a wonderful experience. Fulfilling creatively, a blast to be part of, a learning experience and a thrilling adventure. Can’t wait for this puppy to come out!
On top of my hill...