EXCLUSIVE! Ilya Naishuller talks HARDCORE

Last week I got to sit down with the outstanding director of a movie that, with only a few released minutes, blew my fanboy mind. Now what I’m talking about is HARDCORE, directed by Ilya Naishuller, which is the world’s first feature film set entirely in POV. Principal photography has wrapped with the post production in the midst of a crowd-funding effort. And yes this one deserves attention and support!

UTF: Your indie band, Biting Elbows, had two music videos that wholly embraced the POV style featured in HARDCORE. What did you learn from making those and how did it inform this insane new movie?

Ilya Naishuller: We learned that you can make POV really kick ass and be super exciting. Obviously the videos led to the film because when “Bad Motherfucker” hit it went quite well and I got an offer from Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Night Watch and Wanted. Facebook. I hadn’t met the man before but he wrote to me and proposed to produce a feature length version.

I told him that “I don’t think it’s a good idea” because it’s one thing to have five minutes up on YouTube and another to have a hundred or so on the big screen. It’s a very different experience. He said I should think about it and I did. Because it’s not every day you get people like Timur calling you and being like, “hey you want to make a movie?”

15 days worth counts for quite a bit of experience when you’re working with stuff that nobody knows how to work with. The videos were an important stepping stone for this happening.

UTF: Absolutely. What made you want to direct something that was from a gamer’s perspective?

Ilya Naishuller: I have three things I’m really passionate about. It’s music, films, and video games. I could never make a living doing video games because I don’t know where I would start.

When it came to writing the script, I had so many years of playing everyday and first person is one of my favorite genres. So I made sure to have things that were familiar but at the same time – because the whole thing is already such a love letter – I made sure we didn’t copy and use the same set pieces we’ve seen many times over.

The first kill in the movie when Henry gets his hands on a weapon it was – some of the guys were reading the script, they were like, “why didn’t you have him attack the first guy with the crowbar? It’d be like Half-Life and everyone is going to get it.” I’m like, “everyone is going to get that the person who made this film fucking played Half-Life a couple of times at least.”

We went a lot more original and when you see the scene in the film, I don’t think the weapon’s ever been used. It was always an idea of making sure it’s familiar but at the same time it’s not ‘here you are, this is a reference.’

Behind the scenes HARDCORE A Widescreen

UTF: You worked in Russia with a largely international cast and crew. What was that experience like?

Ilya Naishuller: I have to say, I had an absolutely fantastic kick ass crew. The crew was Russian. The cast was international.

When it comes to culture, we had clashes but it was more because we used blank ammo with the guns. For example, in South Africa people bring the guns out and give them to the actor one way with the barrel facing a certain direction. In Russia you do it totally different. But it was new for Sharlto Copley. He was like, “no you have to do it this way.” Our technicians who had been doing this for fifteen years they’re like, “sure man, you want it like that, you have it like that.”

It was never a struggle of somebody not getting it. We made sure that our guests who arrived to star in the film, were treated fantastically. I know that we did because I’ve had quite a few earnest discussions about the process. Plus 70% of the crew was working on their first film.

I seem to recall, I think it was GoldenEye for the 64. It was made by about seven people that had never worked on a game before.

GoldenEye N64

I remember reading an interview saying that’s why it was possible. They didn’t know and they made a fantastic game. That’s how I see the film in the sense that we have a crew that was super passionate. It was all done in three blocks . We shot for like a month and a half, then we paused for a month, we shot for another two months and then we paused for six months. We actually kept, I think 99% of the crew, they’d leave their current project and come back to us when we put the call out.

That, to me, that’s a big sign of how much everybody enjoyed the process. I’d like to think I was a pleasure to work with, and for. We had some long shifts. There was several twenty-five hour days. What we did was every time we shot, we put it into the film and we’d see how it worked. That’s the only way you can make this.

Once we had half a sequence complete we’d gather the crew around and we’d show it and everybody would clap, enjoy it and laugh. We kept the moral going throughout the whole thing even though it was a pretty arduous shoot.

UTF: With the currently view-able scene there are many nods to classic antics in first person shooters. When filming a movie like this, how did you avoid the temptation of overexposing those familiar features?

Ilya Naishuller: It actually wasn’t as tempting as you’d imagine.

Our shooting script was good enough for the action sequences and the dialog in the sense that we knew what we were supposed to do. We’d arrive every day and then we’d pretty much make it up on the spot. Because no matter how well you write, the reality of shooting a film is trial and error. You’d come up with stuff and and it wouldn’t work. After a couple weeks we figured out that what you have to do is come on set, put the camera on and shoot. You don’t have to have all the makeup or anything in place. You don’t even need the props.

You see what works and what doesn’t. You have an hour to rethink it and you come back and you keep on shooting shooting shooting. I think we did a pretty good job of not going down the super familiar tropes. At this point I can’t be too objective but there was never a moment where we were like, “let’s do this like it is in this game.” There were ideas when people were reading the script and they’re like, “why wouldn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that?”

I think we went with the classical three act structure and had some fun with it. Especially in the sense that we had the beginning of the film, it takes you in slowly. We don’t start off with mad action right away just because it could be disorienting to go full POV. Instead, we begin calmly and build it up and by the end it’s completely, what’s the right word for it, super sonic. By then the audience is completely accustomed to what they’re seeing and the stylistic choices, so they follow it and have no problem with what’s happening.

UTF: The next thing I want to talk about is the heavy amount practical effects and stunt work. Were there any  scenes that stood out for you during filming?

Ilya Naishuller: I was shocked at how well and how quickly we shot the film.

There’s a bike chase scene. And we follow a convoy of bad guys. We had five days to do it, which I thought would be impossible. My final stunt coordinator, we actually had three on the film, was absolutely phenomenal.

The stuff we were able to come up with, we’d say, “let’s have him grab the machine gun, the mini gun, while we’re dragging him on the ground. And then we shoot him and he spins out of control and bleeds everywhere.” That’s not supposed to work, because we only said it five minutes ago, but it did. This guy was good enough that I would think of something crazy and he’d be able to pull off something crazier.

That was probably my most fond memory, I was just surprised with the stunt guys.

HARDCORE Behind the Scenes 3 Widescreen

We were lucky that my plan was, if we don’t break more than an arm or a leg during the film, we’re fine. Judging by you know how sometimes people do get really hurt by making an action movie. We were worried not to repeat those things and 80% of our shooting days were action stunts or featured action stunts and at the end of it we got away with five stitches on two guy’s heads. And a stunt girl got a little bit of blood on her wrist when she fell down but that’s it.

UTF: It’s always interesting to hear about what stunt people go through during the course of a movie, especially one that embraces putting them in practical sequences that have a certain amount of danger to them.

Ilya Naishuller: It was definitely a stunt man’s dream. When we started the guys always referred it to a festival of stunt work. I think the only thing we don’t have is underwater stunts. It was in the script but we didn’t have the time or the money to pull it off properly and we decided against it. There’s explosions, there’s people on fire, there’s machine gun fire, there’s absolutely everything. There’s a lot of wire work. There’s very little green screen. In fact, I think what we have something that’s super unique to us and I’m very proud of, every shot in the film had a stunt man as Henry. It was never a let’s throw the camera and add some CGI hands. It was always, if a guy’s going to be falling from a helicopter, he’s going to be falling from a fucking helicopter.

HARDCORE Behind the Scenes 1 Widescreen

The main character was played by I think about 15 or 16 different people at various points in the film. If you had a specialty. I said, “you fall out of the helicopter?” We had a guy who’d fall out of the helicopter. It was two main guys and the rest were just for specialty bits and pieces.

UTF: Going off of that, was it difficult to have different actors step into the same role? And does Henry ever speak in the movie?

Ilya Naishuller: He’s a cyborg. In the beginning of the film he’s put together from scratch. Before he gets a voice box installed, that’s when the shit hits the fan and the bad guys come and the villain takes his wife. The trick with having 15 or 16 people play the guy is that pretty much we’d have make up on the hands. We had a cybernetic on the left and a dragon tattoo on the right. The hands would have to be similar. When you shoot, the idea was we had all the guys that would come in. I’d spend an hour or so with them going over the motions and rehearsing just to get the right feeling of following the previous shooter’s footsteps. That wasn’t the difficult thing to do compared to the other stuff. It was pretty much just watching and giving the right directions.

UTF: Now that principal production is over and you started seeking funds for post, what’s left to be done exactly? What are fans helping to fund raise via Indiegogo?

Ilya Naishuller: It’s two thing that are super important.

Like I say in the video, it’s the CG and the sound. The reason that we’re doing this is we went over budget on the shoot. The idea was we originally shot the first video like a week before we started shooting. I chickened out of asking for crowd funding then because I thought I want to see the film before I ask for money. What if I shoot a piece of shit and I asked for people’s money. Reputation is at stake, etc.

I didn’t want to be the guy who takes the money and makes something that’s just okay.

HARDCORE Behind the Scenes 2 Widescreen

That’s happened before and I’ve supported campaigns that didn’t turn out to be fantastic and I was a little weary of it. While shooting we realized that we were going to have a lot more days and we decided to proceed. I told Timur “let’s do the crowd funding once we complete it, once we see it.” I think a month before we finished we had the film quite close to what it is and I thought “yeah, I feel safe asking for money because people are going to get their money’s worth.”

UTF: For my final question. I just want to open the mic to you and ask: is there any kind of message you want to send to the many fanboys and fangirls that frequent Unleash The Fanboy?

Ilya Naishuller: I think it’s a fantastic time to be a fan. There’s so much cool shit happening and so many movies being made that weren’t even a decade ago. Just the fact that we have Marvel‘s big [phase 3] announcements, I remember reading those comics. I remember looking at them and thinking, it’d be nice if these things happened. And now they are.

A lot more creative people are getting the chance to play around with the big bucks. We have James Gunn, who made Guardians of the Galaxy, which I thought was absolutely fantastic. I saw it twice in the theater. What are the chances that in the 90s a person who shot Slither and Super, would get that? They were pretty slim to say the lest.

Now we’re getting these great films in the time we’re living. So let’s enjoy ourselves.

I want to take the time to thank Ilya Naishuller for chatting with me. It was a great pleasure to talk with him about HARDCORE, and I know I speak for our staff when I say: we can’t wait to see the completed movie!

So what did you think of the interview my fellow fanboys and fangirls?

Sound off with your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

Ilya Naishuller 2014 Bitting Elbows