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INT: Antoine Fuqua


Director Antoine Fuqua has been hit-and-miss since he made the leap from music videos to feature films a decade ago with THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. His excellent effort on TRAINING DAY garnered his star Denzel Washington an Oscar for Best Picture, but Fuqua stumbled badly with the ill-advised historical epic KING ARTHUR (although Arthur's director's cut is an improvement). With his latest movie, SHOOTER, Fuqua returns to what he does best: flicks about dudes with guns.

Fuqua stopped by the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills recently to talk about his experience making SHOOTER. The laid-back director also discussed other projects, including WITHOUT A BADGE and BASTARDS OF THE PARTY.

Antoine Fuqua

Your producer made a point to mention that you love America, but this isn't exactly the most pro-American movie.

Well, I love what it’s supposed to represent; I still think it’s a great place for opportunity, and I think that most of the young men and women who are fighting in this country are great heroes and people who don’t always know why they’re there doing it. They’re just doing it for what they believe, if the right reason; and I think it’s the people above them that could become a problem and the bad guys in this situation. But the country itself I love, I love the country; I’ve been around the world, and I’m sure you guys have traveled – and it’s not so bad when you come back.

What was it about this movie that attracted you?

The politics certainly attracted me; the opportunity to make a movie that sort of represents a little bit about Blackwater and Halliburton...what these guys are all about. When I first read the script, it talked about the village burning and the destruction and the pipeline and immediately I got interested in that. The idea that an action/thriller for a studio you get to get a broad audience to see a little politics it’s pretty cool – but most of the time, it’s avoided. I thought, ‘Why not!’ And why not blow them all away at the end – do what most people said they’d like to do; it’s a movie, it’s a cautionary tale, so why not.

Do you like to focus on every detail or do you think you have to?

I have to do it to understand it, to some degree; a lot of writers write, great writers, it’s all pretend and I can’t wrap my head around it when they’re talking about something that’s supposed to be based in the real world – I just don’t understand how that works. For example, the action sequence at the farm, yeah it’s big, but everything there can be done. I had a special forces guy, and he looked through a book – which I still had to pull from everybody cause it scared me when I saw it, the things we can learn about how to make these bombs.

You can go to department stores and make napalm. It’s just scary. I need to understand, how do you deal with a bunch of guys in a situation like that, and is it possible – and yeah, it’s possible. Are there shadow governments that exist that are so called engineers that go and put these pipelines in these places? And the answer is yes there are, and it’s been going on for a long, long time. So yeah, I need it; it needs to be grounded for me. I always like to talk to somebody who actually does it for a living; it’s hard to talk to those guys, but I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries on some of those events.

Those groups are all over Iraq.

Yeah, how is that Halliburton gets the engineering job in Iraq without any bidding with any other company? How does that happen? I’m fascinated with that. How is it that companies like Maine get their checks from the World Bank and you can’t trace any of it; you can’t trace any of them? How is that possible? We pay taxes; how is it possible they get away with it? All those sort of things – how does $2 billion in Iraq disappear? There’s no receipts for it – how does that happen? So I’m fascinated with that, and when I read the script, it’s at least the beginning of a discussion. Yeah, it’s an action/thriller and you can’t take it too seriously, but there’s elements of it you should take seriously because it’s happening in your world.

Is this series a possible franchise if it succeeds?

If it succeeds, I can see making it a franchise out of it, with Mark; he’s primed for it, and (Steven) Hunter has 6 books, 8 books, so there’s material for it.

Had you read the book?

Front to back, yeah I did. Not until the script came across my desk and then I went back and read the book. The funny thing is I have his books at my house in my library, and I just didn’t have a chance to read them; they’re there, I just didn’t read them.

Could you not carry out your vision without going to the specific locations?

Yeah, because to me, it’s just as important as the story; to me, the shots, the locations is America. In the beginning, once he leaves Africa, the concept – I wanted people to feel that space and that beauty and that peace that it was supposed to represent. And how you leave that peace and beauty and come into the concrete, that’s when all the crap happens to you – when you come back into the so called real world, the so called civilized world where all the craziness is happening. And it’s all apart of America, and it’s all apart of our environment – these cities like Washington, Philly, Baltimore – they all represent the heart of America.

People always think of New York and California, but no, those places represent the working class of America; there are working class people in Philadelphia in Baltimore and DC. The glacier and all that scope and beauty – it’s even got the picture in the sky – a man just protecting his home, just the basic elements, and people want to just live and enjoy what is supposed to be, what freedom is supposed to be. I shot most of this movie, I didn’t shoot longer than a 60 millimeter – nothing was longer than a 60 millimeter, it was either a 40 or a 60, and I only used a 50 because my 60 wasn’t available cause Spielberg had it. Other than that, that was it because I wanted you to feel animorphic, just so you could feel the world around you – and what he thought he was fighting for.

What was the biggest challenge in doing this?

Logistics, it was logistics; just having to go from place to place and start over and start over and start over. Sometimes, not having the whole crew; we had a different crew in Philly, another one in Washington – except for the keys, it’s hard to keep up your speed, your pace. So I’m doing double, you have to do double work to get everyone up to speed. There’s no sort of ‘you can go sit in your chair and everyone knows the deal.’ No, I literally have to get up and walk and talk and have production meetings again, another production meeting again. And the glacier was just a whole nother thing; you shoot on a glacier, it’s like shooting on the moon cause there’s nothing but ice.

There’s no cover, there’s no mistakes, you can’t walk in the same place twice cause it’ll leave marks; it’s minus 5 degrees – it goes to 80 degrees when the sun’s up cause of the snow bounces back and you’re so hot for an hour, and then it just drops and then you’re freezing again. And if you don’t have the right lens, if you’re not prepared with story boards, you don’t know what you’re shooting, you don’t know what you want – you’re not going to get it cause it takes an hour to fly the chopper back to base camp, get what you want and come back. And you can only have 30 some people up there at a time cause of the crevices; it was one of those things where it was so beautiful I had to do it. But when I got up there, it was the ‘be careful what you wished for’ kind of thing; there were a few days where I was thinking, ‘I could have shot over at the ski resort.’ You know what I’m saying - it wouldn’t have looked this good, just get on the lift and ride up! No, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

What were your challenges at Independence Hall?

Yeah, they didn’t want us to shoot there at first; assassinating the president, that didn’t go over too well. They were tough.

How did you convince them?

I don’t know what deals Rick made, the line producer; but the FBI had something to do with that, I believe. Cause they were more than helpful, I can’t tell you how amazing the FBI in Philadelphia was; they never said ‘no’ to me, they let me come up to their offices whenever I wanted. They actually hung out on set with us, cause some of them are secret service, the layout of the secret service scene; they let me fly helicopters in between buildings, guys with guns hanging out of them freakin’ people out.

There were people, I went to the Philadelphia Eagles game and I was sitting there with some guys, ‘So that was you? We were calling 911 trying to figure out what was going on; all of a sudden, I looked out and thought it was another 9/11.’ FBI was flying through the air with guns, the FBI in helicopters – they didn’t know what the hell was going on. But they opened up the doors, they let me do whatever I wanted; it was amazing. Independence Hall was tough, but other than that, they let me do whatever I wanted.

How long was the shoot?

I’m not sure, maybe 80 days, that’s including some re-shoots.

Did you have to stick to the budget?

Yes, yes; I was begging for more money, begging. But it wasn’t going to happen though.

Was there a scene that got cut out that you really would have liked to have kept in?

No, not really; most of the scenes are in the movie. There’s a different ending, the senator died in a different way, the guy blows up a plane; it was a little more visceral, a little more mysterious which is cool. But the audiences didn’t want that, they wanted revenge and that’s what it dictates in that, too. Just stuff like that, but not really. There’s some talking scenes with politics, but after a while, even I was sitting there in the bay saying, ‘Just shut up. Hang me.’ It was getting too talky, Swagger had too much to say. I like the quiet, Steve McQueen type; you start talking and –

Wahlberg works better that way.

Yeah, he’s better that way; he’s great that way, he’s stronger that way. He’s a good actor, too; he could handle it, but the dialogue, it was just too opinionated and I think that’s dangerous for a hero.

And he’s a recluse; he shouldn’t be acting that way anyway.

Yeah, he lives in the mountains; exactly, what does he know about all those politics and how the world was working. He’s living up there being a child right now; I quit, I’m leaving, I’m going to my cabin with my dog and beer and eat carrots.

In the film, the time difference is ‘thirty six months;’ why didn’t you just say three years?

The writer, he wrote it that way, so I left it that way. He wrote it like that and I said the same thing, ‘I’m going to put three years.’ But then I said, ‘That’s just wrong, he wrote it that way, and I’m going to put it up on the screen ‘thirty six months.’

Does that tell you something when you read a script like that?

It tells me something about the writer; Jonathan Lemkin, Jonathan is that way, though. Jonathan is complex in his way; he’s so – everything, sometimes I’d say, ‘Just be straight forward.’ But everything has to be so smart – at the harbor. So whatever, thirty six months – there you go.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know; there’s a project I’m talking to Paramount about, and then there’s one I own the rights to called, Without a Badge, about the Jerry Speziale story – do you know that story? Been trying to make that for years, and finally got the money; it’s about the Cali cartel who went deep, deep, deep under and actually became one of them. Did you read the papers recently? Yeah, all these guys are going down, man; these were the Escobar’s rivals at the time. So I’m trying to get that movie made, maybe go in July – but it depends on what happens with this other project for Paramount.

Is that the other project with Mark?

Yeah, we were doing another project before this one – By Any Means Necessary. But, who knows, it’s kind of out of my hands.

That could be the title of this one.

It could be, it could have been; it may be the title of the sequel. They’ll just take that title and put it on there; they own it anyway.

Is that movie too hard to make?

It’s a good story, I think it’s perfect to make.

You’ve made so many different films; do you think directors get pigeon-holed?

Oh yeah, I’ve been doing that since videos; when I first started doing music videos, if I heard another rap and R&B song, I’d jump off a building. I’m listening to everything, man; Sting and Nirvana have these huge budgets, and I was like, ‘I want to do one of those videos.’ And it wasn’t happening, so I stopped and started doing commercials; and so all commercials is is cover, so all of a sudden I’m doing Armani and Pirelli and Miller Beer and stuff, and getting nice budgets to do them. And then, I realized that was a formula that worked for me, so when I came to features they offered me a lot of urban films – The Next Boy in the Hood, The Hood and the Boy, whatever. And I just wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it because as soon as you do that –

You did make Training Day.

Yeah, Training Day was just something I know a lot about that world, so I’m interested in that; I would make that movie. And some of the stuff I would make takes place down in the ghettos – I just don’t want it being the only thing.

You just did a documentary.

Yeah, Bastards of the Party about the evolution of gang-banging, where the first bullet came from, and FBI’s involvement.

Could you possibly see a feature come out of that?

Oh, Bastards of the Party, could be – if someone gave me the money; nobody gave the money to make that. I had to pay for that myself, so I don’t know if that would happen. It’s one of those things where as soon as it gets too real, it’s a lot of closet interest; everybody likes it until it’s real.

That’s like working with Scorsese on Lightning in a Bottle.

Right, Scorsese – Scorsese loves music; it’s fun. I think ‘Bottle’ is one of the best times I’ve ever had making anything just because it was a blast. Levon Helm was there, and everyone was there, Buddy Guy, B.B. King – I was just in Heaven, meeting all these old survivors, guys with one lung, their fingers screwed up, knuckles that big – it was cool, man. And they’re still playing, still drinking, still hanging; man, this is survivors club for sure. But that was a great time; Scorsese loves music, he’s like a professor. He just goes on and on and on and on, at a thousand miles an hour. ‘I’m glad you didn’t do American X, I’m glad you didn’t do that movie.’ I was like, ‘I’m glad you are, but I’m not.’

Do you think you didn’t get the money for this, because you’re a black director?

Because I’m black, they wouldn’t make Bastards of the Party; I think they would be a little more cautious if I did it cause I’d come at it from a different perspective. They make not like – not like, a lot of people are compassionate; it’s what they think is sellable, that’s what it comes down to, how can they market that, it always comes down to that.

If you attach your name to it, doesn’t that do something?

It helped me get this one made; HBO picked it up which was great. It helps. Look, I gotta keep making films and try not to get fired from it, stand my ground, be who I am in order to do Bastards of the Party, in order to do Training Day, or anything I want to say. A give and take, I gotta give, some of that commercial stuff and hopefully find success in that in order to do the little small ones that really mean a lot. It’s really hard to get that done, on that level.

How did you get Levon Helm to come to this film? You just let him go in that shot

Levon. You could tell; Levon’s one of those guys, he’s a rock star. He thinks like a rock star, he acts like a rock star, he’s the best. Levon came in, he did it, we partied with him, he’s really cool; he’s got amazing stories about the band and it was the best time to sit down and hang out with Levon. He’s great!

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at





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3:57PM on 03/22/2007
I thought Training Day was great. I also tend to enjoy Mr. Wahlberg to some degree in most of his films. But everything I've seen of this movie looks pretty bland. Also, I'm kinda getting tired of movies with a one sided political view. I'd LOVE to see someone make a film that shows that one side is not all heroes and the other is not all evil old men. But, I think I'll be waiting a while for that one.
I thought Training Day was great. I also tend to enjoy Mr. Wahlberg to some degree in most of his films. But everything I've seen of this movie looks pretty bland. Also, I'm kinda getting tired of movies with a one sided political view. I'd LOVE to see someone make a film that shows that one side is not all heroes and the other is not all evil old men. But, I think I'll be waiting a while for that one.
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2:48PM on 03/22/2007
And I thought Fuqua's excellent effort on TRAINING DAY garnered his star Denzel Washington an Oscar for Best mistake :)
And I thought Fuqua's excellent effort on TRAINING DAY garnered his star Denzel Washington an Oscar for Best mistake :)
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