Albert Pyun's

Q&A with director

Albert Pyun's latest cinematic offering LEFT FOR DEAD will make its African big screen premier
at the South African HORRORFEST, on Thursday 1 November at 8:30pm.

Not many people can say they got a shot being a trainee of the great Akira Kurosawa – how did that transpire?
Well, it was really my first pro experience. I had worked as an unpaid intern at several very small commercial production companies in Hawaii but the invitation from actor Toshiro Mifune to work alongside the masters of Japanese (and world) cinema was quite overwhelming. Originally, I was to work under Mifune and Kurosawa on “Dersu Uzala”, but eventually, Mifune backed out of that film so my time with Kurosawa was limited by both time and by my complete inability to understand Japanese. I then went on to work at Mifune’s own TV production but with Kurosawa’s great cinematographer, Takao Saito. And it is to Saito I owe much of my way of seeing cinema composition and use of color to tell a story.

Your first feature was The Sword And The Sorcerer – to many this is still a cult favourite. Please did this project come about?
It took four long years of going door to door to virtually every Hollywood studio and production/distribution company. I happened to be visiting for the umpteenth time a small distributor called Group One on the day after “Excalibur” opened. Because of that film’s exciting opening, “The Sword and the Sorcerer” was green lit almost on the spot and eight weeks later we were shooting. So persistence pays as it often positions you in the right spot at the exact right moment to succeed.

Dollman also has great cult appeal, as does the Band and Full Moon family – how did you find that experience?
A bit frustrating because of the rather meager flow of funds. It’s always a challenge making films for small companies like Full Moon because their eyes and dreams always exceed their cash flow. I was glad to get an opportunity to make Dollman

What is it that you prefer about action related films as opposed to a slow drama?

I think growing up on a steady diet of action films on the military bases I lived on around the world and, because my mother was from Japan, Japanese samurai and fantasy epics of the 50’s and 60’s…I think films about imagination and visceral thrills are what I loved as a child. I’ve been making films since I was ten years old and, in a sense, I’ve continued on just making films I wanted to see. An odd hybrid of foreign sensibilities fused with American whiz bang.

Are you a fan of Horror or is it a means to an end?
I’ve always been a fan of horror. But more of the sci-fi horror genre and less of the nubile woman or kids in peril variety. Horror like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and gothic horror like the Hideous Sun Demon really got to me as a kid.

How did Left For Dead come about?
I was sent the script from a teacher at Chapman College whom I was friends with. She thought I’d be taken with the originality and complexity of the piece. Separately, I had been talking to a writer/producer in Argentina who was trying to get me to shoot down there and I had formed a partnership with the film’s producer, Michael Najjar, on another project. Left For Dead, which I saw as a kind of modern spaghetti western with gothic horror seemed perfect for where I was at. The other great thing is the film allowed me to work with South African filmmakers and artists like Ben Cowley on the film’s post.

What were some of the ups and downs attached to the production?

None really. It went very smooth. Shot in 11 days in Buenos Aires with an all Argentine cast and crew (in order to get that “spaghetti” foreign flavor). It’s been my best production experience in 25 years and 42 films.

(Except for Victoria Maurette), was it a conscious choice not to include some of your name actors you’ve worked with in the past – and how did you experience the cast of Left For Dead?
Yes, because I wanted that foreign flavor that spaghetti westerns had. The cast was fantastic. It exceeded all my hopes. Victoria is an Argentine actress and appeared in a teen novella on TV there.

How much of a Horror/Action balance can be found in Left For Dead?
It’s different. The horror is two fold. There’s a haunted town with a vengeful ghost, who is horrifying initially, but as the movie continues, my hope is the audience comes to sympathize and even relish the ghost killing the humans. The real horror as we learn at the end is what depravity human’s are capable of and how ruthless violent that can be to one another both physically and emotionally. That’s the real horror.

Van Damme always gets a lot of criticism regarding ego – how did you experience him?
He was fine on Cyborg, which was early in his career. I think all actors are difficult in some ways and need to be to protect their artistic vision.

You’ve done several movies with Ice-T (and other rappers) - what made you choose him and what is he like to work with?
He’s just a very cool and creative man. I really enjoy what he brings to each role and I think he appreciates how I’ve tried to push him artistically. He’s one of my favorite people.

Is Andrew Dice Clay always in character?
Yeah. But only because he loves being Dice.

In addition to action stars and guys like Dennis Hopper, Christopher Lambert, and Tom Sizemore, are there any actors you’d still love to work with (and why)?
My deepest regret is that I was never able to have Mifune-san in one of my films. But in terms of whom I’d like to work with? Michael Pare’…I think his work in Streets of Fire and the Eddie film was fantastic. I’d love to do something that brings him back to that. I’d love to work with a lot of actors but it’s always a matter of money!!

What are some of your fondest memories related to the Horror films you’ve been involved with?
Well, I have a Lovecraft adaptation (Cool Air) - just finished and my first really balls out horror film Infection which has been re-titled Invasion by Lions Gate. It comes out in the US on Dec 18th. The whole film is just a single shot. No edits. My fondest memory has been with Infection so far…to hold an audience in the grip of paranoia and fear for the length of the single shot was really rewarding.

Do you feel Horror has reached a saturation point - is there hope on the horizon and what is needed to rejuvenate the genre?
I think there’s a saturation of a certain type of horror. I think the genre needs to expand and look into different dark corners.

How do you feel about the weighing of cost and quality when it comes to choosing to shoot on Film or HD?
I love HD for how it looks and feels. I’ll never shoot 35mm again if I can avoid it. It’s not a matter of cost but of aesthetics for me.

Aspiring filmmakers can never get too much advice, what would you suggest?
Perseverance, passion and always hearing a “no” as a maybe.

- Paul Blom