We spoke to the director of Kickboxer, Lady Dragon, Lady Dragon 2, Shark Attack 2 and Shark Attack 3: Megalodon about his long career and working with everyone from JCVD to Clint Eastwood to Cynthia Rothrock and John Barrowman.
Ahead of our charity screening of Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, we thought we’d reach out to some of the cast and crew about their experiences. Top of the list was the director himself, David Worth, who has worked in cinema since the mid-1970s.
In a far-reaching conversation, we asked him everything from why he’s credited as “co-directing” Kickboxer to the challenges of making a film that’s meant to feature a 60ft prehistoric shark, but first we started we how he began his career as a cinematographer and editor on films such as Poor Pretty Eddie and DeathGame years before he went on to work on films with Clint Eastwood including Broncho Billy and Any Which Way You Can.
How did you make the move from cinematographer and editor to director?
I’d always wanted to be a director. When I was 15 years old and home from high school, I was watching television and a film came on called “Citizen Kane”
I’ve vaguely heard of it…
I watched it from beginning to end and despite all the commericals, I got it and it totally blew my mind. I’d be used to things like The Mickey Mouse Club, American Bandstand and Maverick. To see a film of that magnitude and that genius put me on the path to becoming a film-maker… though it took me many, many, many years to even begin to achieve my goal!
I studied film-making at UCLA and got on to the mean streets of Hollywood and began as a cinematographer working on small, forgettable feature films for $15-50,000. At one point, a producer friend called me and asked if I wanted to be the director of photographer on a project where the DP had been just been fired.
I was reluctant until I heard about the cast! It included Sondra Locke who had been nominated for her first film, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, as well as Seymour Cassel who had been nominated for the Cassavetes film Faces. Also it was the first film for the young and beautiful Colleen Camp! So I gladly took on the project that was eventually called DeathGame. However, it was a huge challenge to capture in Anamorphic Panavision in only 13 days! My answer was to handhold the hefty Panaflex camera for nearly every set up, usually bracing myself in or against a chair, since I knew that I didn’t have time to set up and level every shot on the tripod!
Eventually I also became the editor on that film, and was able to make it look like a “real movie” despite the short schedule. Even though the film never had any real distribution, Sondra Locke went directly on to the film The Outlaw Josey Wales and began a 15-year relationship with Clint Eastwood. Fortunately for me, she remembered how I had photographed her and how well we had worked together and she kept nudging Clint about my work!
They did a film called The Gauntlet where Sondra and Clint are on the run from the mob. After it came out, I gave her a call and congratulated her amazing work and she mentioned Clint had had a big fight with his DP because he wouldn’t shoot by campfire light! I quickly mentioned that I had just shot an entire off road motorcycle film doing exactly that! Shooting by lantern and campfire light!
She asked me to drop off a reel of that film to Clint. He loved it and that got my foot in the door at Malpaso Productions. That began a several year process until he finally saw another small feature that I had both DP’d and directed and he sent me the script for Bronco Billy!
You went from working with Clint Eastwood to working with Cannon Films on films like Bloodsport (where you were the cinematographer) and then directing Kickboxer. As a director, how did you find their more ‘fiscally conservative’ policies?
Cannon at that point had gone bankrupt three or four different times, but they always came back. When I worked with them in the late 80s, everything was pretty good. Because we were Hong Kong, they never paid any attention to us! We were the smallest project on the plate as they were doing $35 million films with Tobe Hooper (Lifeforce).
When Bloodsport became a big hit for them, the producers saw how I worked with the Hong Kong crew and I got the job to direct Kickboxer. And it wasn’t to co-direct! It was to direct!
So how did the ‘co-director’ credit happen?
The week before the film was finished, the ‘producer’ called me into his office and said, “I’m going to share the directing credit with you.”
And that was Mark DiSalle?
So you directed Kickboxer and Mark stole 50% of the glory?
Right! I immediately said to him that he already had his name all over the main titles! It was a Mark DiSalle Production, he had a writing credit, he had a producer credit! I asked him, “Why do you need your name on my credit? Why not take Wardrobe and Craft Service? You were looking over their shoulders and in their business more than mine!”
But since I was not in the DGA, and had nobody to protect my back, he wanted to take it, so he took it! I don’t really care at this point. Anyone can look on IMDb and see who the real director is! Mark only directed one more film and I have dozens of films to my credit! And then he “allegedly” got kicked out of Hollywood for taking “kickbacks” from the crew on a production!
You seem to work well with martial artists as you’ve worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Dudikoff, Richard Norton…
Don’t forget Daniel Bernhardt!
… have you always been a fan of the martial arts genre?
I love action, but those films came to me. I didn’t go looking for them. My heroes in cinema were D. W. Griffith and John Ford. Griffith and his cinematographer Billy Bitzer did over 450 one and two reel films in the early 1900s and basically invented the language of film. Ford did 40-50 10-day Westerns before he ever made his first feature. He went on to do 100s of films. I knew I’d never have their training ground, so I did whatever film across my desk!
Martial arts films found me because of Clint Eastwood. They saw I could shoot action using five cameras, so they came to me. I had just done huge second units for Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and Innerspace. In fact I was working on Innerspace when I went in for the Bloodsport interview and Newt Arnold and I had an immediate rapport, so Joe Dante let me go early from Innerspace and I was off to Hong Kong!
After Bloodsport and Kickboxer, projects like Lady Dragon also came calling. Almost all of my directing work came from networking, networking and more networking! I had networked with Avi and Danny Lerner at Nu Image for over ten years, then eventually Danny called me into his office slapped a script down on his desk and said, “How would you like to go to South Africa to direct a shark attack film?”
Before we get to Shark Attack… and we’ll definitely get to Shark Attack, I do have some Bloodsport and Kickboxer questions as I’m a big fan of those films. The dance scene in Kickboxer – how did that happen and whose idea was it?
As I recall, I think it was in the script because of the intense training his character goes through. I think the dancing was Jean-Claude’s idea. He’d taken ballet as a young man, so he brought a grace and beauty to martial arts. Plus because he was so good-looking and with his accent, he brought some new to martial arts audiences. He brought the ladies! He changed martial arts because of his good looks, his accent and his background in dance. Van Damme was a fantastic addition to the martial arts genre.
In Kickboxer, JCVD’s long-time training partner Michael Qissi plays Tong Po, who is a very large Thai man. However Michael is from Morroco, so… how did that happen?
[laughs] Just remember that Lawrence Olivier played Othello! It’s only a movie! As I recall, Michael had been in Bloodsport and he played a character who gets his leg broken by Bolo (Yeung). For Kickboxer, we looked at everyone both in Hollywood and Hong Kong, including Bolo again, but we could not find the right Tong Po. It was Michael, probably at Jean-Claude’s insistence, who knew that he could do the part. One day, he put on a skull cap on him, and even though he eventually shaved his head, he looked instantly iconic. He totally immersed himself into the world of Muay Thai and no one every questioned it, because he was always very respectful to the culture.
Have you seen the remake with Dave Bautista?
I like Dave as I’ve done a lot of work with wrestlers over the years, like Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper, but I did not like the remake. It didn’t have the heart or the emotion of the original and I didn’t like seeing Jean-Claude as the ‘Xian’ character. I loved him in Expendables 2 as the bad guy! I hear they might be remaking Bloodsport and to be honest, they can remake whatever they want. No matter how many millions of dollars they use, there will always be the original.
Let’s talk Shark Attack! So you get the call to go to South Africa to make Shark Attack 2! What made you agree and what are the challenges that go into making a shark movie?
As you already know, I do anything and everything that comes across my desk! All they had to do was ask me, if I wanted to go to South Africa! And it was a done deal! First, I watched the first Shark Attack film and it was a dud – it’s called Shark Attack and there’s no good shark attacks in it!
But I knew how to solve the “Shark Attack” problem! Because, on Remo Williams, we’d shot an excellent Doberman chase that the great 2nd Unit Director Glenn Randall made work by utilizing three different Dobermans – live trained ones, a full sized dummy and an articulated biting head.
So for Shark Attack 2, I asked them to build me a 25ft dummy shark that we could drag behind a jet-ski, three shark fins that could be operated by divers, and two articulated biting shark heads that could safely be operated by stuntmen to bite the cast and that could spray blood!
Also, before leaving for South Africa I needed to find a lot of footage of real sharks, so I went through thousands of feet of shark documentaries and stock footage to find what we needed! During the final editing I would use the real sharks in the stock footage as much as I could, then used our fins to make the sharks turn left or right, and finally the amazing biting heads for the bloody attacks. It was all done in editing, but I knew the pieces that I needed to make it work, well in advance.
Even someone as brilliant as Mr. Spielberg thought he could take a 2,000 lb robotic shark into the ocean and make it work… NOT!
When your sharks are 25ft long, that’s one thing, but in Shark Attack 3, your shark is a 70ft prehistoric Megalodon that has to swallow boats and jet-skis, surely that’s a whole new challenge?
Well, at the end of Shark Attack 2, I was filming at the bottom of a pool in Bulgaria with our actors and a 2,000 lb mechanical shark. That was a requirement as it was the shark they used in the first film…. and it was a piece of hammered shit! The producers were very proud of it, but I had to learn how to shoot round it.
if you looked at it for more than two seconds, you would laugh and Shark Attack films are not comedies! When it came to doing Megalodon, I knew that I could not use this laughable mechanical shark since we’d have to see it up close swallowing jet skis and boats etc… So once again I relied on stock footage slowed down in post production to create the scenes of our Megalodon.
When I saw they were making The Meg with Jason Statham, I thought, “You cock-suckers! I had to use stock footage! Now, you’re making it right with state-of-the-art CGI!” I’m jealous!
Stock footage was all I could find. That’s mainly what we used in Shark Attack 3 to make the opening title sequence.
And this was all done in Bulgaria, doubling for Mexico?
That’s right. It was all filmed in Bulgaria The first one was four weeks in South Africa with two weeks in Bulgaria. The practical biting head FX people in Cape Town were much better than what I got in Bulgaria!
When the production was over and I had to go back to LA, before my biting heads were ready in Bulgaria! So they had to be shot by a Second Unit, and when I finally got the material, it looked awful! I could barely make the scenes work! In fact, I can’t even watch Shark Attack 3 any more! Not only were the biting head inserts done badly, but I was also sent back to Bulgaria to do Air Strike, and I wasn’t in LA to supervise the ADR, the Music and the Final Mix, and it was done by some “no talent hack” on Ventura Boulevard! None of the sound effects cues were mixed correctly! Neither were the music cues! And it frustrates me so much, that I can no longer watch the film!
However, I had a great time making the film, especially with John Barrowman and Jenny McShane – they were were great fun.
Did you also have a hand in the script and if so, are you responsible for the greatest character name of all time – Chuck Rampart?
Not at all. The only thing I did on the script was go through it and note what we could do in Bulgaria and what we couldn’t. The script was done by the same guys who did Shark Attack 2 and they did a great job.
Let’s talk John Barrowman and Jenny McShane – were you aware that Jenny had been in the first Shark Attack film?
That’s why Nu Image wanted her. They wanted her to be the touchstone to that film and that was fine with me, she did a wonderful job. I was thrilled I got John as he started in the London Theatre working with the likes of Sam Mendes. Eventually, he’d go on to do Doctor Who and Torchwood, but he’s just a brilliant actor and we were lucky to have him.
In the UK, he’d been a host on a children’s TV show called Live and Kicking and then between that and Doctor Who, he did lots of theatre… and Shark Attack 3. Are you aware of the film’s massive cult following?
All you have to do is Google is “Best line in a B-movie” and our film will come up!
Let’s talk about that line. So John claims that he ad-libbed it to get a reaction out of Jenny and that you guys left it in. What’s your side of the story?
I’m happy to tell you. It was 100% John’s idea to do it. It was the end of the day and it was a final crane shot with one of the actors driving off. I called wrap for the day and John came up to me to ask if he could do one more take as he wanted to try something. I said, “Absolutely” and we did the shot again. So, I’m sat by the monitor and I have no idea what John’s going to do and suddenly he said, “Can I take you back to my place and eat your pussy?”
I fell off my apple box screaming with laughter and laughed all the way back to the hotel. Every time I saw it in the editing room, it killed me, so it was my decision to leave it. I was going to leave it in until someone told me to take it out… and no one every did! And of course, it became infamous and huge online. John doesn’t like to talk about it anymore, but I couldn’t help myself. I loved his attitude, Jenny’s attitude and his balls for doing it. It’s fun! And then we immediately cut to the sex scene! He does take her home and eat her pussy – good for him!
After Shark Attack 3, there were a lot of Asylum and Sy Fy films featuring ‘mega sharks’. Did you ever see them and what were your thoughts on them?
Everyone watches Shark Week and we’re fascinated by sharks. So I didn’t invent people being interested in sharks. Putting Jaws aside, which is a massive Hollywood project, Shark Attack 2 and Shark Attack 3 were very popular B-movies. But with films like Mega-Sharks vs. Mega-Alligator vs. Mega-Python – I draw the line. I just won’t watch them. I knew I was making B-movies, but all the acting, editing, production FX, music and everything was done so that it would be a real movie, not tongue in cheek like Sharknado. So I always tried to respect my craft, myself and the work we were doing.
Will you be going to see The Meg?
I’ll be first in line! I love Jason Statham and I love shark movies, so I’ll be going to see what I could have done if I had a $50-100 million budget!
David Worth, thank you very much!
For more information, visit www.davidworthfilm.com/