In today’s world, realism is something that is rarely emphasized on. With social media and online interaction, there is sometimes nothing faker than the world we surround ourselves in. Look even further into Hollywood and realism is something even less impactful. With superhero movies and Dwyane ‘The Rock’ Johnson fighting a giant Gorilla and Lizard, realism falls short in today’s blockbuster movies. However, there is one Hollywood director who makes it a point of his to ‘keep it real’.
Christian Gudegast, writer & director for the successful ‘Den of Thieves’ movie believes in authenticity, in reality, and in the real-life experiences of human beings. I had the chance to speak with Gudegast and discuss the upcoming sequel to Den of Thieves and a show he’s developing with Curtis ‘50 Cent‘ Jackson on Starz.
Def Pen: Mr. Gudegast, first and foremost I want to say thank you for joining me for an interview, here at Def Pen we’re all big fans of your work, especially with what you did with Den of thieves. I heard that the project was in development for over 14 years, does that make the success of the project that much more special to you?
Maybe to a degree, yes. The 14-year thing that’s just really ‘welcome to Hollywood’. It was a long one, you know the development game was brutal and that was a function of where it was. The movie was first at Relativity media and they went bankrupt so we were greenlit there 3 or 4 times and we never got the movie going because of where we were. So when we finally got it out of there and into STX we made it immediately and it was a blessing.
How was the process of shooting the film?
It was, to be honest, magical. Everybody had the best time they ever had shooting a movie. We had the whole cast their about 6-8 weeks before we started shooting and Merriman everybody. You know with Merriman and the gangsters we had ex-military guys and with Big Nick and the guys we had a bunch of cops and I kept the 2 crews separate and we did this huge boot camp. We wanted them to do all of their stunts so they would do the firearms themselves and they trained their assess off for weeks. They lifted together, ate together, got drunk together so it was a real sort of bonding experience and then it just carried through the whole shoot. It was just a positive energy and a positive set, we worked our asses off and it was challenging in terms of the scheduling. You know it was set in LA but we shot a lot of it in Atlanta so there were all kinds of challenges but everybody was down for it so it made it a great experience.
That’s incredible. I didn’t realize they all did their own stunts. That makes the movie even better. Now, you’ve had two movies in which Gerard Butler was involved, Den Of Thieves & London has Fallen. Is that something we should be expecting more of or is it something that just happened?
Well, we’re going to be doing Den of Thieves 2 together and we have another project we’re working on as well. You know, most movies aren’t actually made. I’ve been working with Gerard for years on several projects that are various stages of development that haven’t been made yet. We’ve become very very close, he’s like a brother to me and in a lot of ways we’re very similar so yes, we will be working a lot more together.
You directed and wrote for this film, which do you prefer?
Tough answer. Directing, but you can’t direct unless you wrote it. They’re linked. But if you’ve written it and you’ve written it well, that is to say, then it makes the directing that much more fulfilling. Directing is more social, but the writing process is more solitary and more studious. You’re doing the research and you’re taking the time. Directing is very physical, shooting movies is manual labor basically. It’s very hard physical work which I love and it’s very social. Both tap into a different part of me but directing is more fun in the sense that you’re finally making it, you know? It’s no longer on the page or in your mind, it’s physically in front of you. They’re just so different.
I can see how both have their fun parts. In terms of writing, especially with Den of Thieves, there were some amazing action scenes in there, especially the last one with the traffic jam. How do you bring an action scene to life through the script?
Good question. The way I do it, my process is that I never make anything up. I always research things to an extreme degree but specifically, with the people that I’m writing about. I discuss it with them, in this case, the police. Going through their experiences, I designed a sequence with the people who know what they’re talking about and they give me confidence in designing something that is real. It goes through a lot of phases and drafts and I just try to make it real. I don’t set out to make it original, I set out to make it real. In the process of that, if you do your work right, then it becomes original. The reality of the world is always more interesting than anything you can make up. It’s about drilling down those details about how it would go down. Embracing the reality of changing a mag, your gun jamming, the exhaustion of running and sprinting, what do rounds do when they go overhead. What happens when you get shot, you know? Those little details are skimmed over and we did the opposite. We don’t care about the overall we care about every moment. So what we paid very close attention to is what it is emotionally and physically like to go through a firefight like that.
The detail in Den of Thieves in terms of the preparation for the fight, when all the cops are getting ready for it. He was practicing reloading the mag without the gun, you could tell something big was about to go down and the reality of it all was shown. Another thing I really enjoyed about the movie was that you introduced elements of their family and their personal life which made the characters a lot more real. Was that something that you intended throughout? Because I truly don’t see that in a lot of newer cop/gangster movies anymore.
That was always the plan, always in the script. My whole approach to the story was that I wasn’t judgemental to anybody as the creator. I didn’t think anybody was bad or anybody was good. They’re all just human beings, they’re all just living their life and doing what they can do. So in the process of doing that you examine, ok, what’s their life about?
All the characters are based on people that I know. I drew from real life. I basically applied these various life situations to characters that were very real. That’s what attracted everybody to the script because it was different. I had love for all the characters. Nobody in the world walks around thinking they’re the bad guy, they all have their reasons for doing whatever it is they do. It’s about examining that and examining the similarities between all of them rather than the differences because they’re all part of one business called ‘Cops & Robbers’, you know? There’s actually, unfortunately, because we had dictates from the studio about the length of the movie but there were a lot of scenes that didn’t make it that didn’t make the film. There were a lot of scenes from Merriman and 50 Cent and their back stories which didn’t make it.
You mentioned Merriman right now, when you write a certain character into a movie, let’s say, Merriman, do you envision a certain actor playing that role?
No, because the characters are based on people that I already know so I’m thinking of the real people and then it’s just about finding that actor that just embodies that.
You roll with some heavy gangsters man.
Oh yeah, and they were there in the movie! If you look at the garage scene where Enson (50 Cent) takes his daughter’s date into the garage, the background of that scene, those are a lot of the real guys. Even in the warehouse a lot of the guys are some of those real-life gangsters. We sort of populated the cast and the set with the real thing.
That’s a cool element to add to a movie. I love that garage scene I had a question about that. The scene where 50 introduces his daughter’s prom date to the “Den of Thieves” is that every father’s dream?
Yes, and I have three daughters and that’s where that came from. (Laughs)
So with the sequel of Den of Thieves, is O’Shea reprising his role?
Yes, he is. It’ll be O’Shea, it’ll be Big Nick. Of course, it won’t be Enson or Merriman because they died but it’ll be the other regulators. Nick is going to be hunting O’Shea in Europe and it’s going to be diamond thieves and diamond heists in Europe.
Looking forward to it. How was it working with Curtis?
Amazing. I’m working with him again right now. He’s an animal, he is the hardest working dude in the world. He is very disciplined, he wants it, he lives clean. He pays attention, he’s incredibly street smart. He’s probably the most street-smart dude you’ve ever met in your life. He’s just a beast.
Does that give you a throwback to your early days making rap music videos? I wasn’t sure if that was true but I had to ask.
I did, I 100% did.
Do you still listen to Hip Hop now?
Oh of course, of course. I listen to everything. I’ve been a Hip Hop guy for years.
Nice. Any other projects we should be looking out for?
Yeah, I’m doing a TV Show with Starz called Vanguard about a Navy Seal who grew up as a Gangster. I’m actually doing that with Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, he’s producing with me. And before Den of Thieves 2, I’m doing a project called ‘North Hollywood’ about the North Hollywood shootout which took place in 1997 here in LA. I’m not sure if you’re familiar but it’s the biggest shoutout to happen in the history of law enforcement and it’s sort of like a Blackhawk down, United 93 style film. It’s a recreation of that day basically where 2 bank robbers shot it out with the LAPD for about 45 minutes in the streets of LA.
Wow. That’s going to be some heavy action.
Heavy, and all real.
Well, I can tell action plays a big part of the movies you do. What are some of your favorite action movies growing up?
Man, I mean everything from French Connection to the Road Warrior to Predator. Oh god, Lethal Weapon. To live and Die in LA, Heat. Whenever action is done realistically I enjoy it. You know I like some of the popcorn’y stuff as well, like Die Hard and stuff like that. It’s not really my style, even though I appreciate it because it’s fun, but yeah that’s about it.
Those are some great movies. Couple more questions for you; what are some things you draw inspiration from in your work? I know we touched on it but what really inspires you?
The Real world. Documentaries, real people I know. True crime stories. I’m fascinated with how the world REALLY works. The human element behind it, the people. I love meeting with them and just learning about their lives and what their jobs were like or what their lives are like and it’s just about finding a real world with real stories that are fascinating.
That’s very important, especially in Hollywood nowadays.
Just to keep that element of reality, it’s cool to hear how important it is to a director.
Quite frankly, all the rest I have no interest in.
Fair enough, so what movie really bothered you in terms of being unrealistic recently?
Oh god. I mean where to begin. The whole superhero thing, I get it I understand, you know hey maybe I’ll do one someday who knows. But I mean there’s nothing heroic about a superhero if you’ve got a superpower, why is it heroic that you do it? It’s the opposite of a real hero journey and so it baffles me that whole genre. But people love it and it’s escapism and I understand but it’s not my cup of tea.
Fair enough, last question for you. What kind of advice would you give to any aspiring scriptwriter or director aspiring to get into Hollywood?
Specificity. Tell a story about something you know intimately. So you can say something about it that’s original and true. That’s it.
I like that, that’s amazing. Thank you man, I really appreciate you doing this interview and we look forward to Den of Thieves 2.
Anytime, don’t freeze to death up their in Toronto.