Interview with Sheldon Lettich
25 January, 2008
How did your career start?
The first time I was ever hired to work on a screenplay was with Motown Productions. It was a college football comedy! The title was “The White House All Stars.” I had been introduced to Suzanne DePasse at Motown via Leon Isaac Kennedy, the actor who starred in the “Penitentiary” films, and who’d previously read and optioned one of my screenplays, a horror-comedy titled “Haints!”
You always wanted to become a director?
No, originally I was interested in being a Director Of Photography.
And when did you and JCVD first met?
It was after he’d returned from filming «Blood Sport» in Hong Kong. Frank Dux made the introduction. I had previously spoken to JC via telephone while he was filming the movie in Hong Kong.
You obviously had a long working relationship with Jean-Claude. What qualities did you see in him, that obviously some other people had not seen, that attracted you to him?
He had an intensity about him, and a larger-than-life movie star quality. He would light up a room when he entered, and people would just naturally be drawn to him. Plus he had a great physique and some spectacular martial arts skills, qualities which I felt made him a natural to become a movie star.
In the eighties and nineties the biggest action stars were Dolph Lundgren, Sylvestor Stallone, and JCVD. You worked with them all. Ehhh... where's Arnold?
I met with Arnold on the set of "Red Heat," and discussed the notion of him starring in a movie about the Crusades. I even gave him an illustrated book on the Crusades to show him how cool I thought a movie like this would look. That notion never went anywhere, but then a few years later I was surprised to hear that he was planning to star in a movie about the Crusades that was to have been directed by Paul Verhoeven (which also never went anywhere!).
In what role you would like to film Jean Claude, what hasn’t been done before?
Presently I’m trying to get a movie called “Holy Blood” off the ground, in which he’d be playing a tough, former Catholic priest.
Can you already tell us more about the project “Holy Blood”?
Nothing more to say about it right now. Hopefully we’ll get it set up some time in the near future. I'm still trying to raise the proper financing to make it happen.
Do you have a dream project, something you still want to make?
I wrote a Vietnam War screenplay a number of years ago, titled “Firebase,” which I’d love to direct one of these days. A number of years ago I had Walter Hill and Joel Silver interested in making it (with Walter directing), but unfortunately it never got off the ground with them.
You filmed more than once in Israel, and even in the most discusses citys Jerusalem.Do you have a special relationship with it?
It's a country I love very much. I feel privileged to have been able to film there more than once, and in particular to have been able to film inside the walls of the historical Old City of Jerusalem.
What's your all time favorite movie? And which movie which you made, makes you the most proud?
Probably the first two “Godfather” movies. And I’m also equally fond of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Fellini’s “8 1/2.”. Of my own movies, I can't name one film in particular, but I would have to include "Lion Heart (A.W.O.L)", "Double Impact", and "Only The Strong" because fans are still loving them after so many years.
Can you tell us something more about the birth of a new movie? Do you wake up at night with a great idea, or do you pick things up from your own life? For example, how did you come to the story of Double Impact?
Ideas come from various sources and at unexpected times; you never know when and where the next one’s going to hit you. «Double Impact» came about during a meeting between JC, Menachem Golan, and myself at Cannon Films. There was a wall full of scripts behind Menachem, and the title of one of them caught my attention: “The Corsican Brothers.” Menachem had commissioned someone to adapt the old Alexander Dumas story into a modern-day action-thriller, and I thought that sounded like a cool idea for Van Damme: playing a couple of ass-kickin’ twins.
The last few years there’s discussion about violence in movies. Will movies lead to violent behavior in people’s normal life? Also in your films is a lot of violence. What is your opinion on this?
As a filmmaker I feel a responsibility to depict violence as being both painful and as having serious consequences. I don’t like seeing violence depicted as something that’s fun and inconsequential. There are unfortunately a few nut-cases out there who’ll – as an example - assimilate films like “Natural Born Killers” the wrong way; in the case of NBK there were innocent victims who lost their lives or suffered horribly because some sociopaths wanted to emulate what they’d seen depicted on the screen.
How do you ensure this on for example «Double Impact». I think most people liked the way that JC kicks and beats his enemies. Being violent (Alex) and living above the law seems to be cool!
In «Double Impact» Chad and Alex are taking matters into their own hands for a good reason, because their parents had been murdered and they've been cheated out of their inheritance by a group of unscrupulous gangsters. They're not just killing these people for sport or because it's "cool"; they're seeking justice and the return of what rightfully belongs to them. In other words, they have a good cause. In the scene where Chad kills a man for the first time (when they're sneaking into the drug lab), I clearly show him being shaken up by the experience, not enjoying it.
Last question: what is your goal with making a movie? Just make a film for entertainment, or do you want to give a message to the public?
For me it’s all about the emotional response first, and the entertainment value second. At least that’s how I feel about the movies that I make. But my tastes in the movies that I personally like to experience are quite varied. I don’t dislike so-called “message movies,” so long as they elicit some kind of an emotional response from me. In other words, I have to FEEL something.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Thanks for DEN VAN DAMME