With The Avengers currently lighting up the global box-office and The Dark Knight Rises poised to invade theatres, you’ve got to wonder were all the action movies aimed at men are? Forgive me if I’m nonplussed by this decade-long fascination with superheroes. I prefer my summer entertainment to feature car chases, endless ammunition and testosterone-fueled explosions. As our Reagan-era icons reach retirement age, action movies have been hijacked by costumed ubermensch and low-rent Euro-thrillers. Parkour has replaced bulging biceps and body-shrapnel. A recent New York Times article by Adam Sternbergh chronicles the rise and fall of America’s greatest cultural export, lamenting a bygone era of guts, glory and distilled machismo.
But hope is on the horizon. The Expendables 2, which drops in August, may be the bullet-riddled reprieve we’ve all been looking for. Sylvester Stallone’s original film co-starred Jason Statham and a stellar supporting cast, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in a much-ballyhooed, but all-too-brief cameo. While the sequel re-assembles the same red-blooded roster of forgotten action heroes, it also throws Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck “Fucking” Norris into the fray.
A few weeks ago, a fan-made trailer for The Expendables 2 kicked up a stir across the web. It was created by Garrison Dean, and presents a refreshingly gung-ho point of view. Schwarzenegger himself says the insanely jingoistic trailer “is without a doubt the best fan video I've seen.”. The Governator even goes so far as to suggest it should be the official trailer for the film. I couldn’t agree more. I recently traded punches with Garrison Dean, who currently works at an ad agency in Kansas City. We chatted about his creative sensibilities, his career aspirations, Michael Bay and the sad state of American action movies.
GEEK ZERO: What was your motivation for re-cutting The Expendables 2 trailer in the first place?
GARRISON DEAN: Sheer, raw, arrogance. I feel that I can do a better job selling the film than "they" can. The Expendables isn’t a gritty Bourne movie. It’s classic action, a bunch of dudes fucking shit up, and I wanted to get that across. The first one (Call To Arms trailer) definitely made a splash, and I was wondering if I could do a sequel. I wanted to capture that same vibe, same feeling and same call to action that the first one had, while not being a blatant copy of it.
When I made the Call To Arms trailer, I was thinking about the last Rambo, Punisher: War Zone, and a few other films that came and went without any fanfare. I wondered why guys weren’t seeing these? And with The Expendables I really felt that if this collection of movie stars can’t pull men in, then action films may have been lost to video games, or sports, or God knows what.
So for this, when I saw that NYT article, it reignited that feeling in me of, “dammit, this is America and Hollywood’s bread and butter. This is what we do!” So I felt I had to do a response.
GZ: Music is so instrumental (no pun intended) to the effectiveness of the trailer. Tell me about the song choice, “Totally Stupid" by Andrew W.K..
GD: Music, for everything I do really, is very important. And I fight like hell for it when I'm doing collaborative work on things other than trailers. I also try to pick something that isn't obvious and will hopefully give people something familiar, that they'll like, but that they probably haven't heard. But for this, I really wanted to use Andrew W.K. again because he worked so well for the first one. I think he's fucking brilliant. If you listen to his album, "The Wolf", it's basically what would happen if Meatloaf and the Top Gun soundtrack had sex and made their kid grow up listening only to Oi! Music. So when it comes to The Expendables and that 80’s style action, there is an optimism, a lack of irony and cynicism. And there’s an aggressive push towards almost violent positivity in Andrew W.K.’s music that really calls back to the 80's action films that The Expendables echoes.
In the 80's, for whatever reason, they knew to temper their insane violence and mindless action with synth pop or power ballads. I guarantee if every film from the past 10 years that thought about putting Drowning Pool's "Bodies" in their movie had instead put something by Robert Tepper or Frank Stallone in there, they would've seen their Box Office go up 10%. That's a Garrison Dean guarantee.
But for this, I knew it had to be big and sweeping. I tried his song "Ready to Die" and it kind of worked, but it wasn't anthemic enough. So I stuck with this and really tried hard to make it work, and I gotta say, it did. And for people complaining about it and saying it’s not manly enough? Well. You’re wrong.
GZ: You currently work in advertising, and you’ve created a collection of fan trailers. Is legitimate trailer cutting something you want to pursue, or do you have other movie-related career aspirations ?
GD: The ultimate goal is, that at some point down the road, I hope to direct a film that I can make my own trailer for. How long can I sit and piss and moan about action movies, or chick flicks, or how people "don't get it" without trying to really prove it myself? It would have cool cars, fights, explosions and boobs. That much I promise. My second film would probably have spaceships too.
It'd be fun to cut real trailers, but from what I know about advertising, I think that as soon as I enter into that world, all that crazy shit I can do in my house that everyone loves would become a victim of committee and Nervous Nellies. I also think that there is a lot more than just good editing going on in my trailers. I think people are too smart to be fooled anymore. I try to think creatively about how to sell a film, and I don’t know if studios or agencies would respond well to my strategies.
GZ: How do you honestly feel about the current state of American action movies?
GD: How do I feel about the current state of American action flicks? The NYT article wasn’t exactly wrong (despite my loud line in the trailer). I do think there are some other countries who are doing great action films. France and England for sure. I think a lot of it has to do with them having a smaller budget which allows them to be truer to their vision and not have to please as wide an audience. I think we’ve definitely veered towards the softer more family friendly superhero films. I think a lot of Hollywood films try to pander to as many people as possible and end up alienating a bunch of people in the process.
But America still kills it when they get the chance. Big, loud, and bold (and sometimes stupid) is what the other countries can’t do. Every Fast and Furious movie gets bigger and meatier and they just get better and better and keep making more and more money. There is something truly unique about American films that allows us to just go for it, and I find that endearing. The foreign films come in and work with the underdog status, they never achieve that certain something American films have. When we go big, we go big.
Sylvester Stallone, The Rock and a few other people are really keeping the flame going. Rambo, for my money, is one of the best action films of the past 20 years. And with the The Expendables, Stallone is able to bring together such a collage of people beloved around the world that anyone outside of Hollywood wouldn’t be able to do. But I do think that when these films are made they are often marketed with their head hung low as if they are ashamed that they are carrying the torch of the 80’s. As if its passé.
GZ: Any thoughts on the cinema of Michael Bay? I have a morbid fascination with him. I own all his films, but love them and hate them simultaneously.
GD: I fucking love Michael Bay. Yes, many of his films have issues with plot and character development, so I won't sit and endlessly argue with the haters on that point, but he is in a class all by himself. He's the type of auteur filmmaker normally found in indie or art films, he just makes those films about shit blowing up not about internal strife and struggle. Nothing exceeds like excess and he exceeds them all. While I say it tongue in cheek, I do stand by the stuff I say in the Transformers trailer I did.
I think it needs to be pointed out that to successfully manage films that big, and drive action the way he does takes a lot of talent. We can see with Battleship that just copying what he does, doesn't get results. And one can look at just about anything he shoots from film to commercials and know immediately that he did it. That kind of visual signature is rare and has to be respected. I think in a decade or two people will look at his films and have a bit more respect for them.
I really didn't like Pearl Harbor though. And you could've cut out almost all of Sam's storyline in Transformers 3 and had one hell of a mean action film. Also, I find it interesting that no one has pointed out that TF3 and The Avengers have pretty much exactly the same plot? Right down to space portals on the top of skyscrapers bringing in alien armies and gigantic robotic space snakes/slugs? Just sayin.
GZ: Other than The Expendables 2, what summer movies are you looking forward to?
GD: Well, I was looking forward to G.I. Joe… but The Dark Knight Rises for sure. Prometheus, but I'm worried about that one despite how beautiful it looks. The trailer for Total Recall surprised me in that I didn't hate it, but not expecting miracles there. Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter I want to be excited for, but I know it's probably going to be essentially a fantasy movie with no real suspense or immediacy so I will just end up sitting there watching the cool slo-mo. Boy, you just forced me to go look through the list of films coming out this summer and it's pretty slim fuckin’ pickings. I'd love for Savages to be great old school Oliver Stone, but we'll see. Oh and Looper.
GZ: Anything else you'd like to add, about movies in general?
GD: I’d like to add to the record, that I love comic book movies. The Dark Knight and Iron Man are classics in my mind. But they are a definite departure from classic "Action" films. When it comes to action films we need heroes who can die, and we've lost that. We have so many Franchises, and Franchises can't die. Think about how all our heroes look at the end of all those classic American Action movies, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon(s), Commando, Rambo etc… The hero looks like death. They have been beaten, stabbed, shot, and stagger to the finish line and we feel that with them and root for them because of it. When John McClane takes out a building full of terrorists and jumps off the roof looking scared as shit as it explodes, it's unrealistic, but it's not fake.
If I could leave people with anything… have fun. Don’t take things so seriously and go to the actual theater as often as possible, seriously. There is nothing like a big screen, big stars, and popcorn and soda and a room full of people all enjoying something at the same time. That experience, whether it’s The Expendables, or Twilight or Moonrise Kingdom, is one of America’s greatest gifts to the world.
Garrison Dean has done every self-respecting man (and babe) a favour by compiling a mix-tape of all the music he's used in his trailers thus far. Let this be your Summer soundtrack.