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IFH 545: The Godfather of Ninja and Cannon Films with Sam Firstenberg

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You are in for a treat today. We have legendary 80’s action director Sam Firstenberg.

At a young age Sam began to “create” movies to entertain his friends. Horrifying his mother, he would cut up books, stringing together the pictures and rolling them up. He would then put the roll into a box with a cut out window, shine a flashlight from behind, and manually pull the roll, revealing the pictures through the window in sequence.

Sometimes he would plan a special show in which his sister narrated the “film” based on a script Sam would concoct, and his father would accompany on the violin. As he grew up he found a hobby in photography and by high school had turned his bedroom into a darkroom where he would earn pocket money by developing pictures for his friends.

After serving three years in the Israeli army, Sam came to the US in 1971, began to study and work in films, and culminated his studies with “One More Chance,” the graduate film thesis which turned into a feature-length film.

“After Golan bailed us out, our film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981, then went on to become the official US entry at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival   in Switzerland, and won a Silver Plaque at the 17th Annual Chicago Film Festival. This film became my calling card, and launched my career.” recalls Sam.

By then Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had acquired Cannon Films. They hired Sam to direct “Revenge of the Ninja.” Sam knew nothing about martial arts, but learned quickly and the film, which starred Sho Kosugi, was shot in Salt Lake City, Utah. Distributed by MGM to a great box-office bonanza, it set the stage for Sam’s next directing assignment, “Ninja III – The Domination,” also starring Kosugi. The film was shot in Phoenix, Arizona and was also tremendously successful.

Both Ninja films directed by Sam were sequels to the highly successful “Enter the Ninja” directed by Golan. “Then came a pleasant opportunity,” Sam smiles.

“Golan wanted me to direct ‘ Breakin 2 – Electric Boogaloo,” another sequel, which then made me the king of sequels, but also gave me a break from directing Ninja action films.”

In fact, each of the sequels directed by Firstenberg resulted in better reviews and box office draws than the originals. “Breakin 2 – Electric Boogaloo ” was a musical that featured major dance production numbers, filmed in Los Angeles. Distributed by TRI-STAR it was critically acclaimed; and a box office success, one of the reviews hailed it as

“The most exuberant musical of the decade.”

Soon after the release of ” Breakin 2 – Electric Boogaloo ” Sam was on his way to the Philippines to direct “American Ninja” a major action picture starring Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, who would team up with Sam for two additional motion pictures, “Avenging Force,” shot in New Orleans and the swamps of Louisiana, and “American Ninja II”

’Avenging Force’ was one of the most physically grueling productions I ever worked on,”

comments Sam.

“We spent days and nights in water, mud up to our waists, with snakes crawling between our legs.”

The film opened to rave reviews. The LA Times called Firstenberg

“… a rockin’ young action director who’s pulled off a series of rave up pictures for Cannon including ‘ American Ninja ‘ and ‘ Electric Boogaloo,’ and now in ‘ Avenging Force ‘ shows off his savvy style, which combines a keen sense of pacing with brawny punch…it marks the emergence of a truly gifted movie talent.”

The next picture for Sam was “Riverbend”, a controversial drama with Steve James and Margaret Avery from “The Color Purple.” The picture explored race relations in 1966 Georgia, and was an opportunity for Firstenberg to work with strong dramatic material. In sharp contrast, Sam’s next picture was an all-out comedy, “The Day We Met,” which proved to him that his directorial talents were easily extended.

“Delta Force   III” came next, a military action picture with Nick Cassavettes, Eric Douglas, Mike Norris, and Matthew Penn, and was followed with a breakthrough approach to martial arts in “American Samurai” introducing hot young martial artists David Bradley and Marc Dacascos.  Firstenberg then got his first taste of TV work with a nighttime crime show for CBS, directing six episodes of “Sweating Bullets”

With the creation of Nu Image, principles Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort recruited Firstenberg to direct their first production, “Cyborg Cop,” and then the sequel, “Cyborg Soldier,” both sci-fi action flicks with David Bradley. In addition, Firstenberg completed with Bradley and Frank Zagarino the action picture “Blood Warrior.” Next came “Operation Delta Force” a military style action / adventure with Ernie Hudson, Jeff Fahey, Joe Lara, Frank Zagarino, and Hall Halbrok.

1997 brought Firstenberg to explore new directorial areas; “McCinsey’s Island” is a comedy for children, a treasure hunt movie with Hulk Hogan, Robert Vaughn, and Grace Jones, and “Motel Blue” with Sean Young, Soleil Moon Frye, and Seymour Cassel, is a psychological thriller with two women in the lead.

Sam and I had an amazing conversation about all things Cannon Films, Ninjas, Break Dancing and 80’s action films. Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show Sam Firstenberg. How're you doing Sam?

Sam Firstenberg 0:14
Excellent, thank you. I'm glad to be with you.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you so much for reaching out to me I was I was excited when I got your email. I'm like, oh my god, I gotta talk to Sam, I gotta I gotta get into the, into the the stories, I'm sure you have one or two stories about your time at Canon and all of your directing and filmmaking career throughout the 80s 90s. And even in the 70s, as well. But the but specifically, we're gonna focus on the 80s and 90s, and a lot of the cool stuff you did back in those days. But before we get started, how did you get started in this business?

Sam Firstenberg 0:49
I was one of those kids who love movies love cinema. And actually one of the, you know, there's always this one kid who goes and see the movies and comes back to the neighborhood and tells the movie to the other kids. So this was me. So that the answer I don't know that they love to cinema is I don't know where it comes in the love of storytelling. But I grew up in Israel and from Jerusalem. And I had no knowledge. We actually we didn't have television even then, when I was a kid in the 50s. And when I finished high school and the mandatory service in the military in Israel, so by the time I finished 21, I decided I'm going to Hollywood to study film, to learn how to make movies. So that that's basically it. I I traveled from Israel to Los Angeles and enrolled in film school. And I started to learn how how we make film, luckily, or accidentally or luckily, I met famous Israeli producer Menahem Golan did in Israel. He was very famous. And I met him here, here in Los Angeles in Hollywood. And, and I started working in, in in with him and other movies, all kinds of odd jobs. Assistant helper griep electric, anything in the beginning. So that's how I started into the business of movie.

Alex Ferrari 2:30
So you started with with with him and started just doing any little odd jobs and he was already was he? I'm for everyone listening. He started he was one of the cofounders of the legendary canon films.

Sam Firstenberg 2:45
Correct. But they were but that time was was still 1972 to 1973. They were there was no connection between him and Canon at the time. Okay. He was producing movies in Israel together with his cousin Euro Global's and they came here to Hollywood, they sold the movie, because I've learned and they they created the small company, the name of the company was America Europe picture. And they produced the movie he directed they produced a movie with Tony Curtis was called Lipkin a gangster movies. So in the 70s, you know, they had a company in Israel, no film, and they had this little company. America picture that produced lab care then produced another movie with Robert show diamonds, and few little movies. They only purchased the purchase cannot they did not establish canon canon was at a company in New York, a small distribution says company of movies in New York, and they purchased the company I believe in in the beginning of the 80s 1979 1980. The purchase they took over this company can all and then they took it. They took it and made it into a huge company.

Alex Ferrari 4:05
Right! So isn't so what but what was canon doing prior to them getting it? I mean, they were just just a normal small little distributor, right? They weren't doing genres stuff.

Sam Firstenberg 4:13
Correct. They were they were producers and distributors. They produce some movies. The base was in Israel in Tel Aviv. This was the base. And they produce a lot of Israeli movies. They made a lot of local Hebrew speaking movies. In conjunction with making this movie, let's say the dimension lab diamonds with Robert Shaw and was Assistant Director in the movie diamond. They produce the movie which is called the Passover plot. So a mixture of Israeli movies in some kind of international movies, English speaking international movies, but they were very good at sales. They used to go every year to confirm is divided into all the other film festivals and film market and sell those movies that they produce. And they became very knowledgeable. And with this process of selling movie internationally, up to this point, they always had the dream, both of them always had the dream to go to Hollywood one day to make it in Hollywood. And eventually they did. So the opportunity was they produced an Israel kind of successful movie operation tangible about that, and table operation. And they sold it to one of the major studios here. And I guess my guess is with the money of the sale, they bought this company, Cannon, they also had another hit. It was lemon PepsiCo, it was a Hebrew speaking movie that produced by the director they produce was directed by Bob Davidson, and also a movie that made a lot of money. So I guess that with the profits of both of those movies, they they were able to buy or to take over cannon.

Alex Ferrari 6:07
So how did they? How did they start? Since you were basically they're working with them. How did they make the decision to start going into genre? Because everything you're telling me right now is none of its really genre. Yeah, maybe a gangster movie here and there but not genre as we knew it.

Sam Firstenberg 6:25
Correct, correct. They, when they produced movies in Israel, there were mainly local comedy, that cater to the local audience. Very much like movies in Turkey or in Greece or in, in Egypt, those kinds of local comedies that deal with local subjects. And then they kind of always flirted with action a little bit. As I say, Operation Thunderbolt was a big action movie actually military action. But they had the SPN as movies they flirted with action when they came to when they took over. Ken on it was in the 80s 1980s 1981 What was very popular at the time here in in Hollywood for the low budget independent is to make low budget horror pictures. This was the standard there were many many of them done very low budget, you know, not much has changed not much has changed. Now much was my the source by the sorcerer but other movies by the excesses, sorry, influenced by the movie the excesses, but others, you know, there there were so many, and cannot, those two partners and cousins and 100 year old that was they decided to go this route of low budget, because it's really cheap to make a horror picture. But they were not very successful in terms of it was not part of their culture they in grew up in in America, that horror picture is a very American genre, it's very specific American genre, which is not definitely not that, at that time, was made in other countries around the world. And but they they it didn't really catch because they didn't understand the essence they then they didn't grow up with a horror picture. So they decided at some point to switch to action. And their first the first action movie they produced was called enter the Ninja.

Alex Ferrari 8:31
So they so where did the Where did the ninja come from? Because essentially, they popularized the concept of a ninja in America. I mean, I was I dressed as a ninja I went to ninja school. I was at throwing knives I mean, I didn't um Chuck's I mean yeah, there's Bruce Lee would not but the ninja was they brought it to America.

Sam Firstenberg 8:50
Definitely. So next you know next to the horror picture there was a an another genre floating around Of course you had from Hong Kong the martial art movie the Hong Kong the Chinese Hong Kong martial art movies, which we used to call them karate movies or kung fu movies. And but there was a beginning Chuck Norris, octagon. And then Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee. So there was this other general martial art going parallel to the, to the horror pictures, but not as big you know, there were a few in one day. And I can go on used to, to hear ideas. People came to him with scrapes and idea. And the story is the legend is I did not witness it. There's one day Mike stone walked into the office and Mike stone one of it was one of the champions. You know, as well as Chuck Norris and Tadashi and Bruce Lee. And and he pitched to Menahem Golan this idea to make a movie about ninja And now ninja was a as you say was a novel idea was a different idea because we all knew about samurai movies we you know that scene Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai you Jimbo and and we all knew about the Americans martial art movie entered the dragon was the big one and but ninja nobody ever heard he says a specific you know sub genre of the in Japan in the Japanese mythology of martial art in the Japanese culture and nobody ever thought later on I found out that here and there in Hong Kong movies there was some appearance of energy or energy here there's bad guys oh sure here and there very very few various spurs. But here Mike stone pitch to the idea. He probably had a story storyline I wasn't there and may not have gone I loved it and he said okay, this I understand actually, for the international market that's something that I understand and they produced and they went to the they did the filming in the Philippines they filmed it in the filament and they did it and came back editing and they sold it won pretty well much they sold it in a much better way that they sold that they did with the the horse right so I guess you know I'm trying to play to play to be in his brain so I guess they decided okay, we know what we don't want to do we understand we can do action and this new gimmick for them it was a gimmick ninja works people buy it you know the buyers buy it was Franco Nero was the star of enter the Ninja. And show Kosugi was the villain and Mike stone choreograph the fight and, and suddenly it was you know that the audiences around around the world not only here suddenly they saw this noble new idea and enjoy a nice gimmick tonight. As a nice look the the wardrobe. Yeah, it was it was very Oh my God, when you're a kid, at the beginning, when you're this is the legend. This is the story. Oh, Mike Stone, nothing to learn and how it was born.

Alex Ferrari 12:27
And now the funny thing is, is when you're a child, I mean, especially a kid growing up in the 80s and you see a ninja for the first time and you see the throwing star and the sword and it's like, oh, my it was just it was just a revelation. But I mean, nowadays there's so much when we you know nowadays they have 1000 things but back then there wasn't anything like that. Especially not thing on TV. No movies, it was a it was a thing. And I think what I mean and I think this is obvious cannons explosion in the in the world marketplace had to do also with the timing of the home video market, which that they fed off of each other and exploded Correct?

Sam Firstenberg 13:10
Definitely. So remember Ken on eventually, when we are looking in hindsight became the biggest of the independent company, but companies but it was not alone. There was a bunch of those companies, Shapiro Glickenhaus, am entertainment, corral call, and many, many more. And all of them were producing some of them specialized in horror only some of them specialize in in kind of comedies. Some of them specialize in what they used to call TNA movies,

Alex Ferrari 13:42
Right! Soft core, yes, soft core erotica.

Sam Firstenberg 13:47
There are many of them, and suddenly came in a new market, a new source of movie which was the home video market. The rental people went to the corner stores, they rented the movie. The major studios did not pay attention to this to this money, they're scarce. And but those little companies immediately they realized for them, it was a goldmine. And they started to produce movies, and they sold it so there was money there was no problem. The risk was very long. So this was the beginning of the 80s. They took very low risk. And worldwide not only here in the North America, not only in the United States, Canada, but worldwide those those this industry of renting cassettes to home was and you know the shops that had to buy those cassettes, they had to pay a lot of money.

Alex Ferrari 14:40
I worked at them. I worked at a video store. Oh yeah, we 10 to $20 Oh, I think wholesale we used to pay 75 60 to 75 bucks for wholesale retail was 100 books at least four copies of every movie business before blockbuster bought 1000 copies of everything.

Sam Firstenberg 15:02
It was a business so cannon thrive because of this, because of this money because of this market. And they started to, to produce more and more movies to the point that at some years, they made about 30 or 40 movies a year.

Alex Ferrari 15:18
Jesus, and it was it's so funny too, because I remember I worked in the video store 88 to 92. So I was right in the middle of the heyday of video stores, there were no DVDs, any of that stuff. But I remember because I was the manager. I will you know, we buy we buy, you know, four copies of American Ninja. Each one of those would make probably on on on return 400 bucks 500 bucks per and then sometimes you would get a movie like faces of death, which would which give you 2000 Because everybody wanted to read that one. But it was true. Our store was full of disk, Orion Pictures and canon and Kericho and then slowly the studio's figured out, they're like oh, maybe we should start throwing our movies up

Sam Firstenberg 16:11
Exactly what happened eventually the major switches he realized they say why are they making the money where we can make the money we have the power at the beginning of the 80s the mindset of the studios theater theatrical you know they make money in theaters then they sell it to television to networks they make a little bit more money they sell it to the airlines they make little bit more money with the airlines but then they realize this what's happening here making good money up over there with the with the cassette with the whole video let's let's move in and and and then you had predator then you have got these decided let's make those the same movies a little bit bigger budget bigger stars or quality and and then we will take over this.

Alex Ferrari 17:00
Right. That's when the diehards and the lethal weapons and all of the all those those were all essentially genre movies but with

Sam Firstenberg 17:06
Genre with a better budget with a bigger budget

Alex Ferrari 17:09
With bigger budgets. Exactly it I mean, it was I look back on those days very fondly working and everyone listening to the show knows how much I loved working in my video store. And I worked. I worked two video stores. I worked at a movie theater for two weeks, and I quit. Because I hated cleaning up the popcorn. The video store was a much better gig.

Sam Firstenberg 17:33
But But Alex the the studio is rigid, more or less. Right? So many departments. So when studio make a movie, it's rigid, independent companies at the time and the 80s they went crazy because there was so much money. There's so many Oh yeah. And basically they told the directors you guys go and do whatever you want. We don't have time to control you and to bother you. Right. Toby Hooper Joselito Sheldon is you guys weren't you basically had into the into the scene and they started doing Friday the 13th eventually also

Alex Ferrari 18:13
Got picked up Yeah,

Sam Firstenberg 18:14
Bigger movies came out of this big bigger idea.

Alex Ferrari 18:17
Right, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all these kinds of stuff.

Sam Firstenberg 18:20
Chainsaw massacre, Terminator came out of this genre.

Alex Ferrari 18:23
Yeah, exactly. The Jim Cameron, it was it was really a fun, interesting time because it was just those always a time when when the studios are in trouble. And they can't figure out or they have to fill a lot of content. They give a lot of freedom and creativity to the creators that happened in the 70s with the Scorsese consumers, right and easy writer. But in the 80s, there was so much need for content. I remember we used to be only able to buy two to three movies a week. That's all that was all that was being released. Like that was it and then now I mean, it's there's three movies a minute being released. And that was the other thing too for people listening and like you were saying that the studios are rigid. It took them 12 years before they opened up a streaming service after Netflix launched same Exactly. So Netflix made all the money for a decade, got a huge head start on them. And now they have a major competitor that they're losing talent to creativity actors are all losing them to Netflix because Netflix was ahead

Sam Firstenberg 19:29
It really it's a it's a it's a tide that repeat itself. The only thing was really we were lucky there was there was good money at the time in the 80s. I was not the budget. The movies that we made are not we're not tremendous budget, but we're not bad when you talk about like a couple two, 3 million in that time. Yeah, because if you take American Ninja, for instance, yeah, we shot it nine weeks, six days a week with two units, some some Halo six unit Nine weeks, nine weeks, nine weeks of six day nine weeks of with two unit two full units. That's an additional unit. Full unit. The crew was huge, like 250 people, we had anything we wanted. So they were really medium budget, and the streaming don't have this, you know, unless unless they make a event movie or television series, they they don't give those budgets. And today, young filmmakers have to make movies in five weeks, four weeks,

Alex Ferrari 20:32
Five days. It's it's, it's remarkable. But I mean, also back then, the the barrier to entry was a technology, it was so expensive to own any of the technology to make it where now, it's not about technology. It's not now it's about distribution. It's about actually getting your stuff seen. I always tell people in the 80s if you finished a movie, good, bad or indifferent, you made money with it, you sold it. It was sold. If you figured if you flush out a 35 millimeter movie, finished it, it went into theaters. And then when the whole middle market hit it definitely what I mean I saw stuff that I'm like, how did this get produced?

Sam Firstenberg 21:13
So Golan is a very funny quality. I think in the movie electric booger the secret of Cannon, he said. And they quoted him, but it was quote from the 80s. He said, I don't if you make a movie and you don't make any money, you probably stupid I don't understand.

Alex Ferrari 21:33
But But he had it. So his business model was low budget, you know, so we're talking, I mean, 1 million to $3 million. Which, right? Yeah. And above a little bit, depending on how big it was even more Electric Boogaloo was, like $6 million. Oh, yeah. But that you had a huge hit with break in the first one. And then there was a circumstances. And then of course, he did Masters of the Universe, which was a whole other thing. That's a whole other conversation

Sam Firstenberg 21:59
Another level of Cannon on which it's not exactly what we are talking about. Sure. But that was like, I think that was their hayday. But they had this model of, you know, that, hayday, they invented I know, they invented the so called PRISM that really took them to the marketplace, took them to their distributors. And and offer them this poster, that poster this idea, even before they had the script, if they saw that the buyer, you know, kind of liked it. Here's a poster with Chuck Norris, you liked it, they came back to the office, they pre sold it. And then they came to the office, they roughly in a rush way they wrote the script. And he went and made the movie to fulfill the promise of the poster and sell concept. So they came up with a pre sale. They knew how much money to invest on in the movie according to the pre sales to the amount of money

Alex Ferrari 22:57
So they they're the ones that came up with pre sales. We had no idea that Cannon was the guy those guys were the ones because when I heard about the pre sales, I mean pre sales now are are rare. They're there but it does happen especially if you have a relationship with the buyers and you're long standing. But generally me because before you literally could go to AFM with a poster this will do to open up a shop and go do you want this new movie with with Michael Duda coffin it great $50,000 for your territory $100,000 for your territory $250,000 For Germany and and, and they would sell up so they came home they're like, Okay, we could invest. Let's invest a million dollars because we have 1,000,005 it pre sales. And then we also have other places we can make some more money off of it. I mean, it's a win win.

Sam Firstenberg 23:45
Right this will this was the model this was the system. Beside the Menahem Golan in your world was there was another partner Danny Dean Berg, he was the head of sales. And they kind of invented it. Everybody adapted the system all the independent companies have pre selling. But yes, there was so much need for product all over the world for the for this new emerging market of home video. It was revolutionary for young people. Today. It's hard to understand when you see the streaming, the idea that you can take a cassette, bring it home, start the movie or whatever you want. You can pause it go rewind it rewind it restart. It was revolutionary. It's hard today today's how to grasp.

Alex Ferrari 24:32
Nobody was right. I literally had to go see Ghostbusters 34 times in the theater when I when it came out as a kid because but when the VHS came out, I bought it. And I watched it a million times at home and I would stop it. We rewind it. I could play it back. I could play the scene I loved again again. It was something that you know kids today really don't understand because now they're like well, I just had opened up my phone and everything that's ever been made is accessible to my fingertips. i It was revolutionary and people love that idea and that you can go out and rent 2,3,4 movies a weekend.

Sam Firstenberg 25:06
And it was equal in, in Los Angeles. Yep. And in some small village in Africa. In Africa, Far East, a little hot around the cafe. The video had the video machine, you know, so the village and the machine or every home and the machines are not expensive. It was a cheap.

Alex Ferrari 25:28
It was. It was. And I try to explain to people to back and we're still only talking in the VHS days when DVD it it was even cheaper to make things and when it was cheaper to produce the DVDs than it was to create the VHS is you could you can make 1000 of them in a minute. And it used to take a lot longer to do VHS is and I tell people like That's why sniper 7,8,9 were pre made and released because they knew they were going to make five or $6 million in the DVD market. But then in 05 06 It started to dwindle. And then streaming came along and then it just it destroyed. It destroyed that market. And I think that everyone I think it was basically from 1982, early 2000s It was a goldmine. Everybody was making money

Sam Firstenberg 26:19
We call the type of movies that we are talking about Friday the 13 American Ninja we are calling them that genre, low budget independent movies of the 80s in the first half of the 90s Right. So this was the era 15 years and then the studio's realized it's not it was not the end of the this industry but the studio started to take over in the middle of the 90s and they said they came they started to come up with bigger budget predator etc. True lies a terminator they started to take over the market of course they have more power or more financial power better product etc. Eventually they took over and they created the relationship with Blockbuster and it was in a movie became a business have a bigger budget now pushed away pushed away the smaller companies

Alex Ferrari 27:20
Right that's why Orion went under that that time and Cannon eventually call it fair there everybody my guy but they were making care Kericho was making to Terminator two, Total Recall. You know, Orion was doing Robocop and won four or five Oscars in the course of a decade. I mean, it was an Kuroko and made some big big moves. Oh huge movies they made Yeah, absolutely. So American Ninja. So So American Ninja which I just I you know when I heard first of all the ninja came out and you did Revenge Of The Ninja came out and then the ninja started to come out. But then American Ninja you like wait a minute, an American Ninja and it was like a mind blowing thing. You're like holy cow and Michael Duda cough is up there and he's doing how did you how did how did American Ninja come up? Was that your idea? How did that come?

Sam Firstenberg 28:13
Not mine. So we so they made enter the Ninja. Let's just talk a little bit about the history of the company made enter the ninja and the movie did pretty well you know moderately well. And they immediately they wanted the sequel. They wanted to make Revenge Of The Ninja they like show Kosugi very much he was the villain in enter the Ninja. And but the Menahem Golan, which directed enter the ninja did not want you know the company was starting to take off and he was busy. He didn't want to do the secret. So he turned to me I just finished directing a movie that I sold to Cannon and this was the beginning of 1982. I just sold to the movie one more chance that I directed and produced and they turned to me said would you direct it? Of course we had relationship as I told you I was his assistant director. I was assistant director in the company for a while and and here they saw that I can make a movie. This was this one more chance movie with Kirstie Alley by the way. Yeah, he was there. And and they turned to me said would you direct the sequel? Okay, so we made Revenge Of The Ninja which show Kosugi he was the star. It was they liked it. It was kind of successful they wanted? No it wasn't for them. It was more than successful. It was the first movie that MGM picked up. It was the first movie from canon that the major company picked up for distribution Revenge Of The Ninja because it was distributed by MGM. Okay, theatrical

Alex Ferrari 29:51
I remember I remember the box. I remember the VHS box was the big

Sam Firstenberg 29:55
Kosugi flying in the sky with Yeah, and this was actually designed by MGM and now we are talking you know they really need the sequel to make money. So, you know because of some reason show Kosugi did not want did not feature he was in the third the ninja three the domination he was not the feature the feature character but Lucinda Dickey, it was a female ninja and and then suddenly there was the craze of breakdowns So, Cannon pose with, with ninjas in the braking and braking to Electric Boogaloo which I directed again a sequel to the sequel, but the interest of the buyer when I say the interest of the buyers around the world maybe the viewers with the with the break downs with the breaking was quite for favor of quickly and the buyers wanted more ninja maybe they weren't ninjas. By now everybody's making movies. And they call me back to the office Moran Colin Colin calls me to a meeting. And he says we need another ninja movie. But this time it's going to be American Ninja. So not my idea. The phrase came from him. I don't know how he came up with this. Now this is a revolution actually a revolutionary and crazy, really crazy idea. Because Ninja is really unique. We already mentioned Japan very unique to Japanese collector culture. You can have Brazilian martial art, but you don't have a Brazilian ninja. Capoeira which is a Brazilian sure there is a Chinese martial art there is Korean martial art but not ninja Ninja is specifically Japanese samurai and it's part of the Japanese mythology and curse of course. And as long as we made that the ninja at the first three ninja movies with some connection to Japanese culture it was fine okay, but here he comes with IDEA forget about the Japanese forget about the American Ninja no connection to Japan whatsoever and culture so it was his idea there was no script there was no nothing this was only this idea. And you know I was thrilled I like our American cinema I believe that American cinema is the most successful and this is as close as I will get to to a James Bond thing in western America ninja so now I mean that I'm about to do Western james Bond.

Alex Ferrari 32:31
Now so American Ninja did extremely well it blew it was it exploded didn't it and I know it killed it by at the video stores I mean just killed

Sam Firstenberg 32:41
We didn't know what's going to happen you know of course as I said for Cannon film for Cannon breaking was a major major moneymaker the first breaking and breaking through electrical are big,

Alex Ferrari 32:53
I mean massive you're talking about 10s of millions of dollars breaking

Sam Firstenberg 32:59
And both of them or I mean MGM the first breaking was distributed by MGM the second the one I directed was distributed by Tristar Columbia Tristar so being distribution

Alex Ferrari 33:10
So also canon at this point is getting major distribution from because I know they had an output deal with Warner Brothers. That's how they got a Bloodsport

Sam Firstenberg 33:18
You mentioned must serve the universe they were flirting little bit with the Spider Man No Spider Man Superman yeah okay yeah that's right they did they can and Superman Yeah, I think the already they they also already had the Chuck Norris under contract invasion USA missing in action. So they already had Chuck Norris working for them. And they had Charles Bronson working for them exclusively at this point. That was number two. That was number three. Number four. Yeah, so by then the company was being and we are and they send us to the Philippines to make it to Manila to make American Ninja. And you know, we chose microfluidic have to be the American Ninja the persona, the actor who personify American Ninja, and we are there and we start to make the movie and we kind of realize you never know you know, maybe while making a movie. Nobody knows if the movie will be a success will not be a success. The audience will like it will hate it. You don't know you're making. It's enigmatic. It's it's a question big question mark when you but there was a good feeling. We saw Michael on the screen, the charisma, the relationship between Michael Ludi Cove and Steve James. It was really the bond was working on screen. Even the love story Michael do the COVID through the air and so on and she came from Friday the 13. So this was working with and we put the movie together editing room and music. And actually they were so eager to continue the company that they send us to new before the movie was released. They send that to New Orleans Would Michael do the job and Steve James and myself to make the movie avenging force, which was really meant for Chuck Norris and he didn't want to do it. It was part of the invasion USA. franchise, but he didn't want to. So we are now in New Orleans shooting this movie filming this movie, avenging force. And then the American injure came out in theaters. And then we hear we kind of start to hear and read the explosion. Worldwide. I'm not talking about America that this is like the new terrorism. Or this is the new mini James Bond. Right now this week. Yep. Wow, this whole idea that the concept, the phrase, American Ninja, and it's exploding all over the world. And we are there in New Orleans. That truck just did not even participate in any promotion anything because we were like, it was just like, yeah, do you think it just really soy? It was it was huge. Immediately. Of course, there is a target audience as you yourself was the you're the target audience share the young people male boys teenager or up to the age 3540 This was the mainly then, of course there were also girls that like this. He was so handsome Michaels looks so good. And but but it was a target market. It hit the market. Right. Right on all over the world. Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 36:33
What year was that? 8590. Right. So right when God VHS the video stores are exploding. There. I remember my first video store experience was 8182. And I rented for I think, no, it's actually later than that. By like 84. But I but I rented Flashdance. I never forgot it never forgot it. And we rented flash that's so around that time it was starting to it was starting to really take off blockbusters still years away. So the mom and pop stores are still running everything.

Sam Firstenberg 37:08
And, and in the case of American Ninja, it was theatrical all over the world. Yeah, it played theatrically in Africa, in Asia, or South America all over the world. Suddenly, it was if before there was some kind of, you know, the audience, I'm trying to terrorize here, though this has to relate to Japanese type of culture. Now, from this moment on, they didn't have to. It was a James Bond, American Ninja, you know, it was Hollywood movie the way they like, you know, the way most of the action movies in the world look like. And all American characters to the military in the military base, American military base, the story that happened? So I guess it was easy for the audiences around the world, the young people to identify. And this correction,

Alex Ferrari 38:02
Yeah, no, no question. And what I also always loved I absolutely love the chemistry between Michael and Steve. James. I mean, the late great Steve James. Well, I mean, he was so charismatic. On, on cam, I just never forgot him. You know, I looked him up a few years ago. And I heard that he had passed and I was very saddened by it. Because he was because I was looking at like, you know, maybe I could use him, I would love to have him in one of my movies. Just you know, to show respect to to a hero of mine when I was a child, his chemistry was amazing. Was all that like a lot of those lines in that stuff on set? Was that him and Michael just kind of, you know, riffing?

Sam Firstenberg 38:42
So yes, yes, you're right. When we cast when we when we were in the casting of American Ninja, and our main goal was to find this character American Ninja Johnstone, but also Jackson was already written the script, his body body sidekick, was written in the script. And we saw a lot of young people for both part, but and we had some hesitation with American Ninja with the jaw stone because everything is only shoulder. But let me tell you when Steve James walked in for the casting, and I spoke with him a little bit, and he was a martial artist and we read few lines. We didn't look anymore and he agreed when he agreed to do it. We didn't look anymore for this Jackson character. This was Steve James he will, you know, the Okay. big muscles, the shoulders that look like a Hercules.

Alex Ferrari 39:37
And he was funny. He was funny. He was smart and funny. He was smart and funny too.

Sam Firstenberg 39:42
So he had this, this, you know what you see eventually on the screen, and when we got to the Philippines, they they didn't have even chance to meet each other Michael Gove and Steve James up to the point because in the low budget, we don't have rehearsals. We don't have money for rehearsals. They don't give us any rehearsal time. So the first time you meet your fellow actor or the director many time with actor, it's on the set the first time, the first day of shooting, so they met on the set. And and they started, you know, as the scenes were developing, I don't remember exactly the order that we were shooting the scenes, but the chemistry, the chemistry between them or developing on and on. Now, Steve was a big fan of action movies. And and always I will say he's a historian of action movies, especially black action movies. You know, he had a big collection at home steam like 2000 movies, he was specializing in black cinema, sharing from the either black directors, black actors, silent from the silent era movies. But anyway, he was so this genre shaft, you know, he wanted to be the new chef. Basically, he could have been very familiar to. So back to your question many of the, of the one liners many of the mannerism he brought in. But now let me tell you something funny enough. Every time you know, I made you movies, it was teachings, I directed theater. But then at some point, he knew exactly in the series, some point he tears off his shirt, throws it away. To show his muscle ties it, Steve, you're not asking me. Every time in every movie, at some point, you take off your shirt and you continue. He said, What do you think you know how I'm working for this muscle? all this hard work I'm not going to show it off I have to show it off.

Alex Ferrari 41:49
Then how many and how many American ninjas were there. I think I remembered up to four was there more?

Sam Firstenberg 41:54
I directed only two of them. Okay. And then I directed with Michael and Steve the movie avenging for us. And I directed with Steve James another movie, which was completely different movie, which was called Riverbend. And this is not in the genre of the ninja. Not even martial art. It's kind of it's a racial tension movie in the south in the 60s.

Alex Ferrari 42:17
Oh, he must. That must have been awesome.

Sam Firstenberg 42:19
It's a very, and he was the lead. He was very happy. And then he took it was a little fight he took off his shirt.

Alex Ferrari 42:27
But obviously listen, if I looked like Steve James I would I would walk around without my shirt all the time.

Sam Firstenberg 42:31
I had the privilege to direct Steve James four times for movies.

Alex Ferrari 42:37
Like I said, if I look like Steve James, I would walk around without a shirt all the time. Did I mean absolutely. Absolutely. There would be no question anyone listening Google Steve James and you'll understand what I mean. Now was the biggest hit for for Cannon American Ninja. Oh, it was a Break in?

Sam Firstenberg 42:57
No, I I don't know exactly by number. Let's say they produced about 200 300 movies. She's the best, let's say the best. from a quality point of view. The best movie was runaway train. Oh, yeah. So people, most people agree that that's the best movie they made was runaway train with Eric Roberts, and Jon Voight. But a popularity they had few kind of franchises that were doing very well, the American Ninja, the Deathwish and the missing in action with Chuck Norris. So 111 franchise was Charles Bronson, which was doing very well one franchise with Chuck Norris, which was doing terrific and the third one was American engine. Now when the company the company ended up with bankruptcy and a lot of companies and people and creditors came after came to the court. They all they probably owe money to everybody to a lot of places and and the SS were divided. met everybody wanted American Ninja. It's a good title and eventually MGM won the entire American Ninja Series in and the breakdance series went to MGM so all the movies that either directors for Canon ended up with MGM but some movies ended up with Warner Brothers some ended up with Paramount and other creditor Charles Bronson was a creditor he gave us a lot of money Yes but this was the as the title American Ninja is the the you know as the title the title it the it is the thing that that came on headed as an essence not necessarily the movies but as a title. So yeah, the missing in action doesn't sound it sounds good but it's okay. Oh, that wish they did not originate as you know that wish was originated before Cannon

Alex Ferrari 45:00
Right, exactly. So then you did. So I remember when breakin came out because I was breakdancing as a kid back then and breakin was when it was big. It was breakin and Beat Street. Those were the two big breakdancing movies that came out that those years then came out break into the Electric Boogaloo with it, which I argue is probably the best title for a sequel ever. There's, I mean, it is Electric Boogaloo. Anytime you're trying to make a joke. I'm like, oh, yeah, we're gonna make lethal weapons three the Electric Boogaloo. Like you always throw Electric Boogaloo at the end of it. Who came up with Electric Boogaloo?

Sam Firstenberg 45:36
Okay, the phrase electric villa. There is a lot of discussion or disagreement about this. Now, there is an essay, somebody wrote an essay about this phrase electric Google, with the really research into history of America. Now, our two stars Shabba doo. Also, the late poor shabu also passed away this year. Shabba Doo and Michael shrimps, both of them kind of claim that they have invented it. But it has a deep root way back in the 50s. From what I read in the article, so either there was a Google was a type of dancing that goes all the way back to the 50s and 60s, and Shabba doo was very active in in the what was the television show The train the Soul Train? Yeah. And in the Soul Train, there were a lot of brigalow that there is a style of dancing that goes way back. How it was kind of combined and the shrimp and the name of the the street name of Michael chambers. So he's Michael Boogaloo shrimp chambers, Michael chambers. attached this, the word Bogota. But the combination of those two words and lectric boogle happened after the movie breaking and so sad probably in this because they already knew that they want to make a sequel. Even hookipa who did it though but who actually put it together for the movie? It was between men and Golan Shabba doo I had nothing to do with it when I was hired when I was asked to do the movie to directed the name braking to Electric Boogaloo was already on the script so I have nothing to do with it. So every every one of them in many discussions if you search the internet for interviews with the Shabba doo interviews with Sri with Michael Chang there or written interviews, you will find many different versions but but that to the best of my knowledge, the legend it It happened in Cannes Film Festival. When they were selling, breaking they took the three of them Lucinda and Shoba do and Michael took with them to can to promote the movie. And as they saw that the response of the buyer they immediately decided to do a sequel. And the legend the storytellers that right there in Cannes, it came together this breaking two Electric Boogaloo. I saw right about that it became a new meme of the 80s phrase of the 80s. And it was borrowed to many, many different purposes, including at some point somebody put a joke. We should write a Bible to Electric Boogaloo. Lately took a sinister turn, you know the it was adopted by the group. The Bigelow's that right, white supremacy grew Right, right believing in a sequel of the Civil War. Of course. The first they took the word he used to call it the second Civil War Electric Boogaloo. But then it was shortened to the Buggles the writers on a second in a second Civil War. Oh my god. I know. So the whole gamut from dancing to comedy to this to to a sinister

Alex Ferrari 49:10
Sinister doing white supremacy, you know, and it's, it's interesting also, because as artists, you just put things out there you don't know how it's going to be received and who's gonna take what and you just don't know as a as a, as a creator of these things. But, you know, I like to look at it. That term Electric Boogaloo is a very funny you know, a joke that a lot of people kind of throw out like the Bible to Electric Boogaloo and things like that that it's just so it's just one of those names that you you hear you never forget it. You hear bring it to the light you never forget it.

Sam Firstenberg 49:41
Right it has a good ring to it good sound and you know when they read the the sequel they when they make the when they made the documentary, right so immediately they took the title of the movie of this of the documentary is electric burger,

Alex Ferrari 49:57
Which exactly which summarizes everything Cannon did in two words. It was it's remarkable. And I do remember I never forgot this scene, and I know how you do it. But I'd love to I'd love to find out how you guys did it. How did turbo dance on the ceiling? You know, when he was dancing up on the wall? I know it's generally a big giant thing. I've seen Chris Nolan do it. It seemed Stanley Kubrick do it? But generally you don't have those kinds of budgets. So how the heck did you guys do it?

Sam Firstenberg 50:21
Okay. So this was not on the original script, this dance scene, this dance was not on the original screen, a script in one day, why even while I was shooting, we were shooting the movie in East LA more in the neighborhood, which is called Bowens height, which was the scene in the center of hip hop and breakdancing. I was called lunchtime and I was called back to the office office, the offices were in Hollywood. And man, I'm gonna say, come back. I had no idea why I'm coming back. Maybe he wants to fire me, maybe? I don't know. But anyway, he had this idea and said, Let's have shrimp dancing in the ceiling. Now, this is not a new idea. It was done by Fred Astaire. Yeah. Yeah, royal wedding, the name of the movie. So that's the first time it was done, then it was using Kubrick, right? In many horror pictures. And so basically, I knew what it is, it's, the mechanism is called gimbal. gimbal is kind of a simulator for flight simulator. You know, the, the, you know, the aerial photographers. So they actually, they practice in this gimbal, they put them on a set, and when it's too big, huge hoops, or rings, big one on rollers, and the chair is in the center, and then you can roll the dice big. So the cinematographer is upside down, or the pilot in training is upside down. Now, if you take this huge, huge gimbal, this huge of big rings, the Turing's on rollers, and and the set the room is built inside the camera is glued to the floor of the of the set, or kind of hooked not glued, necessarily here, you know, braced and if you turn the room around, the camera does not see the turning around because the camera goes around with the room. So for the camera, man, the room is always the straight, look straight. But dancer, you know, once you're 90 degree, let's say the camera man is to the right or to the left, the dancer is already on the wall, but the wall is horizontal to Earth. And when it is all the way up 180 degree the cover man is up on the way up, and the ceiling now is down. And he's dancing in the ceiling. But the camera doesn't see the difference. What you do need, everything has to be glued to the set. So all the for the pictures on the wall, everything all the books on the shelf, like behind you, you have books on the shelf, they have to be glued, because when it's up, they upside down, you know all the book to find. And if there is some scenery in the window, the scenery has to move in the window with the with the gimbal and all the lighting, you cannot have a change of light. So the lighting, everything moves together with this rotating and that's how it's done. And you know, it was done in a lot in horribly. This party I think that we got our particular gimbal from Elm Street.

Alex Ferrari 53:45
Oh, yeah. Well, yeah, I was I said what I was gonna say, Well, I West Craven because I know he did it for the blood, the blood coming out of the bed.

Sam Firstenberg 53:51
Okay, so he just read it was like it was somewhere around in the warehouse in Hollywood and

Alex Ferrari 53:56
They rented it. Okay, that makes sense.

Sam Firstenberg 53:59
It was built our our department builder said, Sure. And we hired the special cinematographer. You need the aerial cinematographer, because when they're upside down not to get confused. They are the aerial photo cinematographers the they they are used to this turning Iran upside down and

Alex Ferrari 54:18
I have to ask, I have to ask you, thank you for that. Because I mean, I always wonder like, they didn't have $10 million to build something like this. But I didn't think that they just had a couple of these lying around in LA because in LA there's everything I even shot. I shot I shot a television series.

Sam Firstenberg 54:34
Our operation Alex our operation was so cheap that it was turned by hand we didn't have multiple routes just kept pulling on this new drawing by hand manually.

Alex Ferrari 54:49
People always ask me like, should I move to LA I'm like, Look, you know, I just moved away from LA. I love LA but in LA you i mean i There's a standing spaceship set that I shot a whole series On that we just it's just a standing set that looks like aliens it's there you can't find that in Ohio

Sam Firstenberg 55:08
You know naturally the industry you know you you have to deal with cars you go to Detroit I mean, it's natural. The I worked all over the world I worked and filmed all over the world. And there is from a convenient point of view from a technical point of view and from personnel from people point of view. Expertise, there is no place in the world like Hollywood for me making film. I'm not talking maybe Hong Kong of course in Hong Kong in China, but London but there's nothing like all the get the generator goes down within 10 minutes you're another generator. Immediately easy. Somebody will find another generator in 10 minutes and it will be on the seven and working. You need this special lands crazy land on somewhere it is somewhere for rent within five or 10 minute drive is say it wardrobe. Obviously this is the center of this this type this industry it's the central point in the world for the for Western moviemaking is home. So everything is here you're right.

Alex Ferrari 56:12
Now what is the craziest story that you can say publicly from your times in cannon?

Sam Firstenberg 56:23
The truth is The truth is nothing extraordinary happened on the on any of the sets that I work not not a serious injury. Obviously nothing fatal. Nothing happened. No, no series we were so careful. And so methodic in working and in nothing crazy happened while filmmaking but let me tell you an interesting story that relates and does not realize and no, we were in the Philippines in Manila shooting Americans. And we stayed in a nice hotel Manila hotel in in Manila. This was the biggest hotel was beautiful. And Sunday we were not shooting they were not working. We are on the in the swimming pool most of the time in the swimming pool. So one of those Sundays, I am, you know, the crew is in the swimming pool. And next to me, Michael Rubicon. And we are kind of laying on those chairs in the sun and enjoying. And Michael is next to me. I'm here, Michael is suddenly I realize that something is wrong. There is a woman frantically running on the edge of the pool. And I look down and I see a girl that sees like a girl that like still like going up and down. She like she's drawn. And I look up and there was a lifeguard but he was completely busy. His attention was completely in another direction. Jesus. So I hit Michael right away. Michael was right next to me. Michael jumped with me into the pool. No question. So we both jumped into the pool and we dove all the way to by then the girl was all the way into one. And what we could see. So a nobody sees only this woman which apparently was the mother. And nobody else is it was just a moment that nobody was paying attention to what's happening in the water. And Michael and me were tagging all the way down to the bottom. We grew grew up the girl we bring there both of us put her on the edge by then she's not breathing anymore. So I'm trying or whatever crew to do whatever we do, but you know, I'm not the medic. I don't know what I'm doing and pushing and breath resuscitation. But then comes a young man. He says I'm a soldier. I'm a medic, we'll move over everybody let me I'm the only one in charge here right now. He was one of the soldiers American soldiers at the time. There are many many American soldiers in the Philippines. He took over as he knew what he was doing much better resuscitation push the on the chest. Water came out boom she came back and and that's it the girl came back back to life let's say and no we visited her that it was very exciting very emotional, you know to bring somebody from the dead back to life. She was her family was actually Chinese from Hong Kong they were visiting and vacationing over there. And later on I was in Hong Kong I visited visited with a family but there are a nice picture of Michael and me with a girl a day later this girl and and I consider it pretty crazy for that we were there shooting American Ninja at the right moment in the hotel in the day off to save some of his life. So I consider maybe The purpose of American the movie American Ninja was actually to save a girl.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
Right! So, so American Ninja actually saved, the American Ninja actually saved her.

Sam Firstenberg 1:00:13
Absolutely. Now, let me ask you, you didn't have that. You know, when we went to South Africa, we were talking about the explosion of American Ninja. And then we were shooting night hunter which became avenging force in New Orleans, all of us. And as we came back, and we finished editing, they already by then they needed a sequel to American Ninja badly because American Ninja was a huge need all over the world. They needed. And for some reason they had this time they had some money in South Africa. So apartheid South Africa, it was toward the end of apartheid, but still apartheid. And Steve was pretty worried. He said, Well, I'm a black person, I'm going out to South Africa. But he told me anyway, you're going ahead of the Euro pre production, call me and I want to go to hear from you every day. Tell me what it is in South Africa. Nobody knows. We went to South Africa. And this was really the the ending days of the apartheid. Actually, when I was there, there used to be three different identity identity identification card different ideas for different races, but by then they unified it to one car. There were no more different cards with different colors. So I um, you know, I told I called Steve I spoke with Steve you there there's still nothing to worry about. That is changing. The atmosphere is really changing. There is no more white beach Black Beach. It's it's changing, you know, really changing. Come up. So he came over in the first week, and in the weekend we went out in Johannesburg to the street. Now we didn't realize how big they became my political and Steve James became huge stars to the kids too. They were recognized everywhere. We couldn't walk in the street anymore. Because all the young African kids were running after them especially Steve that was tall and impressive. And in you know, probably for them they saw this hero black hero not only you know the African American hero or their it was something special. And they ran everywhere we went with Steve James it was impossible in the streets of Johannesburg.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:29
Wow. Amazing. Well, let me ask you so I asked I'm gonna ask you a few questions ask all my guests what is what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to to make it today's business?

Sam Firstenberg 1:02:42
What I see what I see today, let's say action more action because you know they're always placed for drama person on movies you can always make and take as you mentioned, technology is cheap all you need a computer camera, put the editing program in your computer and you can make them so all those person on movie like moonlight or what those movies will always be done. People will young people wants to tell story and express themselves, they will do it. The question comes down when you want to make a more expensive movie when you want to make action movie. It's not cheap, making actual movie is not cheap. And they're they're explosions, there are mechanical, there are cars chases, etc, etc. And what would happen from a business point of view that the movies went through transformation in the 2000, etc. They became paperback movies. It was expensive to make movies, you needed the lab, you need the camera, you needed to buy film, you need to print the film, everything was expensive. So you can make a very, very, very cheap movie. And you can make a movie you need at least to to be near a lab to develop the film, at least. And this have changed a lot. It's cheap now you don't need the lab. So the cost of production has strike. The buyer the potential buyer, television stations streaming services, whoever buys those small independent movie they got used now they can pay less money to buy the movies. You know, so now it movie they used to buy movie for $1 million. A young filmmaker that just finished a movie can you can have my movie for 80,000 I don't need 1 million. I will cover my costs if I sell it to you at and I sell it to some German television and cetera very quickly I will cover my costs. So the buyer got us to buy cheap movies. Now when it comes to make a action movie, and you need this eight weeks or nine weeks of shooting the 6 million today equivalent formula the buyers that we don't have don't make this action movie I don't care if you're not making Spider Man if you're not making superhero huge event movie, don't make this movie I will buy the small movie the cheap horror movie I will buy the the the cheap dramas. So the sources have dried the money have dried to make an action movie. And despite the fact that is it's it's cheaper, technologically cheaper, but still you need the money and and there is no money around. So producers who want young director to do action movies, they're asking them to do it for 1 million today money for weeks shooting and it's not really action movie. So this is a tough, tough, tough area. When you deal with action or sci fi stuff that needs special effects. This is one area the big the saving grace is the digital effects. Graphic digital effect we did not have it we had to or they were very very very expensive. So we had to physically produce everything every fight every Chase every card hit every head to really physically be done with to flip cars. Today, with some ingenuity and some knowledge you can flip a car on in your computer you can have a huge explosion for no money, etc. So those two forces which are really not working either working against each other or complementing each other, less money, much less money, but the technology of the CGI or the graphic. computerised graphic SpecialEffect help. So they have to navigate this area. They also the young filmmakers, again in action, they come up from a different background, we came from a background of as I say Western James Bond Tarzan's and the young filmmakers are coming from the background of video games. Sure, not home movies, they're back their visual background, the visual way they see thing is the way they saw it when they play video game to their kids.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:21
Right!

Sam Firstenberg 1:07:22
Fast pace, great special effect. Very grand stuff. So So those are the things that have changed, and but you can prove yourself by having a computer and camera people can buy a camera, they can buy a supercomputer, or they can just buy or this right Oh, the phone,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:45
The phone will do it. Then it shoots shoots 5k or 8k Now who knows? It's insane. Right? Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Sam Firstenberg 1:07:57
If you think the movie business is the analogy to life Okay, you I say I would say as it you know, Director Director is the chief guys, he's a top of the pyramid, he makes the decision. And he delegate the tasks to everybody. So he's at the top of the pyramid. So I've learned I think the most important is really, to be humble enough to humble yourself. There is nothing you do by yourself. This is the biggest bluff in the world. I mean, unless you're an animator and you sit at home for three years by yourself and you make the movie animation, you use a lot of talent, the director, the creator of any this type of movies, not It's not painting so you're not in your, in your studio by yourself painting, you need a lot of help and a lot of talent and and only with the help only with the with the harnessing all those different talents into your talent as the director is the storyteller, something the magic will happen. So, in my case, my success, you know, the movies that have been successful American Ninja Electric Boogaloo. They happen because many people contributed to the performers that are there. The cinematographer that and all of this together was channeled through my, my talent or my abilities or whatever you want to call it, to create what you've created. And I think it's also true in life. You don't go alone by yourself, are not alone. I can tell it now I'm 70 years old and look back you don't go alone by yourself if you don't have a support by friends and family, etc. Very true. Probably.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:49
Now and what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Sam Firstenberg 1:09:53
Films of all time?

Alex Ferrari 1:09:54
Three.

Sam Firstenberg 1:09:55
I'll tell you I am All it's hard to say there are so many features

Alex Ferrari 1:10:03
Three that comes to mind.

Sam Firstenberg 1:10:05
But the I love Akira Kurosawa's movies when I was introduced to this Japanese genre of action, Eugene Bo, 7 samurai I was struggling Oh, wow. Amazing. But, you know, I was influenced a lot when I was young by Hitchcock movies, you know, watching John Ford and etc. I'm not a great fan of horror pictures. So those are the type of movies let's say the most impressive are the movies of David Lee. I mean, Dr. Zhivago Lawrence of Arabia, big vast movie big big movies and and those are really the movies that I really like there is a big best Nestle, some action, great drama unfold within the movie, the story of the movie and etc.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:10
There's very few directors in today's world that gets to play on that kind of Canvas. You know, the James Cameron's that Steven Spielberg's the, you know, the Chris Nolan's of the world, they get to play in these giant giant canvases, because it's so darn expensive to play on those on those canvases. But, but it's remarkable but Sam, listen, I want to thank you for coming on the show. It has been an absolute honor and and pleasure talking to you and going back down the nostalgia lane talking about cannon and your amazing work you did back in the 80s and 90s. I appreciate you my friend and thank you for helping make my my childhood a little bit more interesting and entertaining. So I do I appreciate you my friend.

Sam Firstenberg 1:11:54
Yeah. First of all, you're very welcome. And I was happy to be in touch with you and I hope that the listeners will enjoy what we talked.

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Writer/Director
(Smokin' Aces, The Grey, Narc)

HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - ALBERT HUGHES
Eric Roth

Writer/Director
(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter/Producer
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - EDWARD ZWICK
HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - EDGAR WRIGHT

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Writer/Director
(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Free Training of The Week

FREE LOWER - GIL

How to Direct Big Action Sequences on a Micro-Budget

By Gil Bettman

Join veteran director Gil Bettman as he shares the secrets to directing big budget action on a micro budget.