9.17.2012

Enter the Interview: Loren Avedon


Between romantic melodramas, comedies, and wuxia epics, Hong Kong's booming film industry was producing a couple hundred films per year during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, the region's cinematic bread and butter -- and its most popular genre internationally -- was the action film. Due in part to the transcendent popularity of Bruce Lee and the recent homegrown success of The Karate Kid, the U.S. market was primed for more kicks to its cinematic face.

Seasonal Film Corporation rose to the challenge and produced a total of seven films which combined Hong Kong action direction and fight choreography with American actors, locations, and sensibilities. Perhaps no other action star is as irrevocably linked to this series of films as Loren Avedon, who played the lead roles in No Retreat, No Surrender 2, No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers, and King of the Kickboxers. They remain three of the best American martial arts films ever produced. Armed with tremendous speed and technique during fight scenes, and humor and confidence in his line delivery, Avedon took the ball and ran with it.

Following his work with Seasonal, Avedon acted on television shows such as Baywatch and Martial Law, performed fight choreography for Tiger Claws III, and co-wrote the story for 1998's Deadly Ransom, a film in which he also starred. When I approached him for our very first interview this past August, he was extremely gracious with his time and candid in his responses. We touched upon everything from the ingredients of good fight choreography, to playing the villain, to his respect for co-star Billy Blanks.

Fist of B-List: Within about a week’s time, you went from selling used cars to starring in an action feature (NRNS2). Based on the changes in the industry you’ve observed during your career, would it be easier or more difficult for a twenty-something Loren Avedon to break through in today’s film scene?
Loren: I do have a one in a million story, and I know I am truly lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. But you create your own luck sometimes, when preparation meets opportunity as is in my case. In 2012, with technology allowing anyone with a digital video camera and computer to make their own film, or at least a great demo, the industry has changed completely for an up and comer. However, the fact is that it takes a lot of time, money and people to make a good commercial film for the international market. There is so much competition it depends on what your goals are as the twenty-something aspiring action star. I'd say it’s easier to break through these days because of technology, but at the same time more difficult because others can do the same thing, so it all boils down to talent, desire, timing and hard work.


Fist of B-List: The art of Tae Kwon Do has a major emphasis on kicks. Who -- perhaps other than Hwang Jang Lee -- are some of your favorite kickers to watch on film?
Loren: Of today’s films, I like Tony Jaa, Scott Adkins, and Donnie Yen and of course the great stunt men who you see flying in and getting kicked out, who will never get any credit. Of course, my all-time favorite is the original, the one and only, Bruce Lee.

Fist of B-List: As a martial artist, what do you believe is the most important element in a successful fight scene? The creativity and execution of the choreography? Shooting angles? Editing?
Loren: All are important, but it really depends on your fight director/choreographer and the talent in front of the camera as the key ingredient. If you have excellent athlete/martial artist/stunt actor fighters, you will have a great fight scene, but then again if you don't have a great director of photography, or 2nd unit director that knows how to shoot it, you are screwed. But if the fight is great because of the talent in front of the lens, and enough coverage, the editor can sometimes fix all. What I loved about working with the Chinese is they had the editor on set working with the director, fight choreographer, actors and DP. So the editor knew exactly what the director wanted and was able to suggest some shots to the director, and/or take notes on what takes he liked the best of those that were printed. The editor went to all the dailies -- remember we used to shoot on 35mm film -- to check the shots. If they were no good or something was missing, we'd shoot what was needed. We had no video playback, so a lot of the shots, the fight choreographer and director would put eye to lens themselves when we rolled camera, to make sure the shot was framed the way they wanted it. These days you have so many effects, software, and CG to help make things work, but you have to have all the ingredients and lots of coverage, or you'll end up with rubbish. It’s the little things: the reactions, the power powder, the sound, the acting while fighting…all can make things more powerful. It’s a team effort.

Fist of B-List: You’ve mentioned your fights with Billy Blanks (King of the Kickboxers) and Matthias Hues (NRNS2) as personal favorites. Which fight scene (or scenes) from your film work proved the most difficult for you individually?
Loren: Don't forget the end fight in Blood Brothers with Keith Vitali... that was a killer too. All of them were difficult really. If I wasn't sick from the food, I was sore, bruised, injured and in pain, boiling hot or freezing cold weather, and tired as hell.

Loren Avedon and Billy Blanks face off in 1991's King of the Kickboxers.
Loren Avedon and Billy Blanks in 1991's KING OF THE KICKBOXERS.

Fist of B-List: Your fight with Billy in KotKB made use of platforms of differing heights surrounded by water, and the climax with Keith, Mark Russo, and Rion Hunter in Blood Brothers involved scaffolding. What were some of the challenges to you as a fighter in engaging with those unique physical environments?
Loren: I'm not a fan of heights, and in KotKB, when I walked the final fight set with the fight choreographer and the director, I noticed that below each platform were real sharpened bamboo sticks. So I said calmly, "can you please make those prop sticks? Because if anyone -- crew, cast, extras -- happen to slip off the platform, they or I'd be killed.” Hellooooooo!

Thank God, I had a great co-star in Billy Blanks, an exceptionally gifted athlete, a gentleman and one of the most humble yet powerful and fast men I have ever known. He/we made it work. I remember him saying to me in the beginning of production, "this is your movie, you're the star and I want to make this film great," and he did. He was one of the best and still is. The challenge for me was keeping up with one of the greatest champions on earth, 7-time world karate champion, Billy Blanks. He made me better, and so did Keith Cooke. I remember we would train together in the hall of the hotel, or in whatever space we could find. When you train with athletes that are more gifted than you are, it makes you better, it bumps up your ability. What you thought you couldn't do, you just do. Then, you get scared and realize what could have happened later and wonder how you did it.

Honestly, the challenges were -- as an athlete, and as a martial artist -- mind over matter, maintaining an even keel, and developing the mental toughness needed to overcome any obstacle. You can't let anything affect your concentration, and covering your ass, that was the challenge, more than as a fighter. The fighting was what I loved. In KotKB, fighting over mosquito and parasite infested klong water with sharpened bamboo pungee sticks below, barefoot, dripping with sweat, 99 degrees with 99 percent humidity, with a mask on, fighting with a sword and then with other apparatus -- took two weeks, six days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day -- let me just say, is truly an example of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
 
In Blood Brothers, with the paint scaffold and again -- 130-degree heat in the summer in Florida, 30 feet off the ground on two 10-inch wide boards that were not secure -- I saw my life flash before my eyes many times. By the third day, I was used to it, and was swinging around like a monkey. The worst thing that happened was when the cameraman 30 feet above me shooting down dropped a metal focus puller, and it hit me in the solar plexus and knocked the wind out of me. After all that, at least he didn't drop the camera on me, that would have left a mark. All good stuff, and no whining allowed. [laughs]

Loren Avedon and Greg Douglass have a mild disagreement in 1992's FIGHTING SPIRIT.

Fist of B-List: Can personal or professional tension with a co-star enhance a fight scene, or hinder your ability to work on it together effectively?
Loren: Tension or disagreements on set with a co-star makes things much harder for everybody on the film to work together effectively. Attitude spreads, if you're already in a miserable situation because of the conditions and you have an actor whining, or anyone for that matter, it affects everyone. We all have our bad days, but when you're part of a team you act professionally and have respect for the job you are doing. You cannot let anything distract you. We are all human, but when the cameras roll, it’s all business. Also, people remember a person’s attitude under stress, and they will talk. So, if you want to work, you put your issues aside and do the job well, because at the end of the day it’s you up there on screen forever for all to see and the camera doesn't lie.

Fist of B-List: Speaking specifically to action filmmaking, how does the American film set compare to those you’ve encountered internationally?
Loren: Well, it’s the conditions, crew, cast and budget usually that are the difference. Most films are cast in the U.S. and go abroad. When you're working under S.A.G. rules you have more amenities and of course protection. Overseas or out of the U.S., you can be worked harder, in less than optimum conditions, with less safety provisions, so you have to "cover your ass" and make sure that you vet all the people and things that can affect your well-being, safety, comfort, and ability to do the best job you can. Out of the U.S., I've had to put my foot down many times because of safety issues, not being paid on time, etc., but by the same token, sometimes you are able to do more things that would be a no-no on a set in the U.S.

Fist of B-List: It seems like starring in a Filipino film was something of a right of passage for American action actors, from Leo Fong to Karen Shepard and Jerry Trimble. Fighting Spirit is one of your lesser known films, yet contains a number of excellent fight scenes. How did you get involved with that production and what was that experience like?
Loren: That was fun, and we did it all with little or no budget, choreographed on the fly. When I got there, we re-wrote the script (I had never even read the script) and made more sense of it. The stunt coordinator that also did the choreography was one of Jackie Chan’s team and we got on well. The Philippines has some great talent and English is spoken by almost everyone, so it makes it easier to work. I was offered that role through my buddy Jacob Bressler in L.A., the producer wanted me to be the star, so we made a deal over coffee at the Sunset Hyatt and a week later I was on a plane to PI.

Fist of B-List: For the most part, you’ve been cast as the hero but have also played the villain in films like Operation Golden Phoenix and Tiger Claws III. Which is more fun for you as an actor?
Loren: Both are fun, but playing the villain gives you so much more room to be creative. As we have seen, good guys have been getting more and more close to the bad guys in what is OK. The difference is, of course, the hero has a moral code and cannot cross certain lines. What makes it fun to play a great villain is the freedom to create a moral code and choices that belong to that character specifically. A great villain doesn't think he is doing anything wrong at all, he believes he has the right to do whatever he wants for whatever reason. For an actor that is heaven.

Fist of B-List: Which has been your favorite character to play?
Loren: My favorite good guy character was Frank Stevens in The Silent Force, and my favorite bad guy character was playing Stryker Goodenough in Tiger Claws III. That was a blast.

Loren Avedon as Frank Stevens in 1998's THE SILENT FORCE.

Fist of B-List: You did a guest spot for In Living Color in 1991 and performed in a scene with Damon Wayans. Your King of the Kickboxers co-star Billy Blanks had a small but memorable part in The Last Boy Scout, also starring Wayans. Were these two castings related in any way or just a happy coincidence?
Loren: My part in In Living Color came after King as did Billy's part in Last Boy Scout. Purely coincidence.

Fist of B-List: Of the action stars during your peak era, with whom would you have liked to work, but never had the chance to?
Loren: I would have like to work more with the Chinese -- with Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh -- and in Hollywood with some of my idols like Clint Eastwood, for example.

Fist of B-List: Were there any Western martial arts actors with whom you would have liked to work? (ex. Jeff Wincott, Gary Daniels, Richard Norton, Mark Dacascos, etc.)
Loren: All you have mentioned I would have loved to work with. Jeff is by far the best actor of all of us. [laughs]

Fist of B-List: Either in your martial arts training or as a result of a gaffe during the filming of a fight scene: who's the hardest hitter/kicker you've ever encountered?
Loren: Can't really say, but in training it would be JJ Perry. On film, Billy Blanks -- I saw stars a few times when he kicked me. Funny, the most painful kick was the one in KotKB where he drop/axe kicks me in the back, and he hit the lung point between the shoulder blade and spine -- no padding -- and I saw stars and couldn't breathe, but I finished the shot. When the director yelled “cut,” I had to sit down for a few minutes right there on the spot. Billy was concerned and I said to him, "don't hold back,” and he said "but, I am," and we laughed. I said, "well, then keep holding back, but let me have it." He laughed and we carried on. I have so much respect for Billy, he kept our movie poster in his dojo for years. I wonder if it’s still there somewhere in his place in Agoura [California]. I haven't spoken to him in years, but I can tell you that if I did see Billy, he would stop what he was doing, come over and we would shake hands, bro hug and smile. I remember one time coming by his school in Sherman Oaks and I had just missed him, and he ran down to the parking lot to catch me so he could say hello. He's a bad ass, but he has a lot of class, he is a man of honor, and a true martial artist. As my mother taught me, "only the truly great are humble," and she is right.

Loren Avedon and David Michael Sterling in 1990's NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 3.

Fist of B-List: American martial arts films from the 1980s and 1990s are known somewhat for the predominance of Otomix gear and Zubaz pants. What's been your most regrettable wardrobe choice from your films? Does anything stand out that made your fight scenes particularly uncomfortable to perform?
Loren: Mitch Bobrow of Otomix always gave me swag to wear, and in the 80's that was the bomb, and those baggy Otomix pants... much easier to move.

Those costumes in KotKB were tough. We had to be sewn into them practically every day. Wearing the light green striped polo shirt, with green pants in NRNS3 going into the karate school was interesting. I think I went to the director and asked him if Will [Avedon’s character] “had a feminine side" with the wardrobe choices they made. If you notice, I always tried to wear long sleeved shirts and pants, so I could wear pads. Then wearing pads constantly was nasty because every day they'd be soaked dirty and bloody, so I'd air 'em out at night and get ready for the next day. I remember asking wardrobe to sew in a diamond shape piece of extra denim in the crotch of the jeans that I did the split kick with in the bar in NRNS3, because I couldn't do the split with standard jeans. If you notice on your gi pants, in the crotch area, is a diamond shaped piece of material. That's what allows you to kick without nutting yourself every time.

Funny anecdote about Mitch Bobrow at Otomix: he would always say that he beat "Superfoot" Bill Wallace back in the point fighting tourney days, and he had some pics of him and Bill in action that he showed me. When I would see Bill and say "you know, Mitch says he beat you back in the day at the internationals," Bill would say to me: "tell Mitch, I don't recall him beating me, and you tell Mitch any time he wants to refresh his memory, he can lace up his gloves and we can go round and round." If you've ever met Bill, who, by the way used to use me as his demo dummy at class -- he'd comb my hair in front of the whole advanced class, with his toes, to demo his famous hook kick and of course, his balance and strength, then, of course, his body jab side kick just above the belt, et al., fun stuff -- and seen those wild eyes, yikes. I used to make him chase me around the mat with his bad knee, cause I was younger and faster, and tag him with little stuff, and pray. Then, usually he'd cut me off and light me up with that jab, right hand and left hook to the head or body, and as a finisher slide up and try and stick his heel through my head! Thank heaven, as I said, I was younger and faster than him (at that time, he was 45, I was 20). Lucky for me!


Fist of B-List: Much appreciated, Loren! Take care.
Loren: A pleasure.

***
I'd like to thank Loren again for his time, and encourage readers and fans who want to hear more of his thoughts on the film industry and his career to check out the audio interviews below:

With The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema & Karl Brezdin at ggtmc.libsyn.com
With Super Marcey and John Hamilton at supermarcey.com.


4 comments:

  1. Great interview! Loren comes off as a good dude, and I like his team mentality when it comes to making films. That sharpened bamboo stick anecdote was nuts; "HELLOOOOOOO!" is right, what were they thinking?

    "Power powder" FTW. Need to see more of that being used in today's fight films.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent interview! He had some great ancdotes about KOTB. Have to check out Operation Golden Phoenix one of these days...didn't know he was the villain.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great first interview, KB! Glad I was able to help a little behind the scenes as well. I really like Loren's behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and I love that you asked a lot of questions about the choreography, fighting, stunts, etc. That stuff has always been fascinating to me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Marco A. S. FreitasOctober 26, 2012 at 4:57 AM

    Pretty good interview. Great insights into Bmoviemaking outside North America!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...