SIX STRING SAMURAI
by William C. Martell
"What if they were bowlers? Bald bowlers flipping coins? And they have bowling pins with knives in them. That would be cool!" Lance Mungia exclaims as he explains the geneses of the team of bowling assassins in his new film SIX STRING SAMURAI. If the idea of killers in rented shoes sounds strange, wait until you hear some of the other elements from his new film. "I love the idea of taking pop culture and twisting the hell out of it. We have Rock & Roll royalty, and a cannibalistic Cleaver nuclear family, bowler bounty hunters, and Death plays a heavy metal guitar. Just stuff that's so bizarre, but really cool!"
"Jeff and I just wanted to do something humorous, really unique," Lance says.
"The whole thing plays off of the fears of the 1950s, the whole red scare," adds his partner Jeff Falcon who stars in the film and co-wrote it. "Remember, Elvis was big in the 50s. What would happen if Russia had dropped the bomb in 1957, destroyed America and took over, and the Rock & Rollers became our freedom fighters."
Lance was a film student at Loyola Marymont who needed to make an undergrad thesis film and had the crazy idea of making a 35mm feature film. He met Jeff Falcon, the star of a half dozen Hong Kong action films, at the American Film Market and they became friends. Both were trying to crack the US feature business. "We came up with the idea for SIX STRING SAMURAI, which sprung from the SHOGUN ASSASSIN movies," Jeff said. "I thought it would be fun to do a road trip with a kid as a sidekick," Lance adds.
"Instead of sending out resumes, or taking a lot of meetings, we decided to do it ourselves," Jeff explains.
"And if it didn't work out, at least we could say we tried," Lance adds. "What did we have to lose? Knowing we could fail gave us the drive to keep doing it."
With limited funds, they looked for every possible way to cut corners. Instead of renting a 35mm camera, they searched for a donation. Panavision thought the idea of a samurai Buddy Holly was funny, and agreed to donate an old Arriflex 2C non-sound camera plus lenses for any weekend Jeff and Lance wanted it.
But a camera is no good without film. The pair began calling every film lab in Los Angeles looking for free film, hitting paydirt when Fuji agreed to give them 25,000 feet of recently expired film, all on short 100' rolls.
Director of photography Kristian Bernier became their third partner, working for free on weekends in 120 degree heat of Death Valley to turn these crazy ideas into a film.
"We shot the first 20% on our own," says Jeff. "Shooting Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. We'd prep the rest of the week, then caravan out to the desert in our U- Haul truck for the weekend. Sleeping in tents, drinking no-name cola... but we had a good time. Our whole crew had guitars..."
"Mikey had a drum set, bongos..."
"It was more like a camping trip!"
Running out of money, with the rainy season approaching, they had to take a break. Lance's short film A GARDEN FOR RIO had been accepted in the Sundance Festival. They quickly cut together a trailer for SAMURAI from the fifth of the film they had shot and took it with them to Park City. Looking for completion funds.
Instead they found an agent interested in shopping their project. Indie maven Cassian Elwes at William Morris. Elwes took their project to HSX Films, who agreed to invest $2 million to complete the film.
"We were able to back pay people, hire new professional people, and shoot for a month," Jeff says. "And we had real grip trucks, no more U-Haul."
"Doing this film on a budget, we were forced to be resourceful," Lance says. "Forced to make things work. Don't have any actors? We'll shoot the whole scene in shadows. What you don't see is scarier than what you do see."
Since the first fifth of the film was shot with a non-sound camera, the decision was made to complete the without film sync sound. "I'm a big fan of Italian cinema," Lance explains. "The film became a little bit unreal, but everything about the film is unreal. We heavily used reverb and created a whole sound design. We wanted things to work not only on a visual level, but on a aural level as well."
Despite losing three camera assistants and a costume person in their first week of big budget film making, the crew bonded and the rest of the production went smoothly.
"So much of the film was: 'Wouldn't it be cool if...?' Let's try this!" Lance explains. The film has an improvised quality at times.
"One of the things I wanted to do was to make sure the action scenes weren't over the top," Jeff says. "Don't make a ten minute action scene, don't use all of this extrordinary choreography that only martial arts film fans can follow. We really wanted to tone it down and focus more on the story."
"So many people have expectations for this film, and it'll never be what you expect it," Lance says. "You have to take it for what it is. It's very hard to classify."
Equally hard to classify will be their next film, which they are currently writing. The Mafia takes over all of America's toy companies and control America's children... But they have forgotten one man. Santa Clause.
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