When sci-fi legend Michael Biehn was looking to write and
direct a movie, he went back to basics. Biehn, who is beloved in genre
circles for lead roles in The Terminator and Aliens,
recently worked with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino on their
Grindhouse double-feature. He'd also read Rodriguez' book Rebel
Without a Crew and became intrigued with the idea of low-budget
Biehn and his wife, actress Jennifer Blanc-Biehn (The
Divide) decided to make and star in The Victim. The movie –
about a stripper who witnesses a murder and has to hide from crooked
cops with the help of a mysterious stranger – was filmed in an amazingly
short twelve days.
As the film was getting released, the couple gave us a call
to discuss their labor of love.
What made you want to
make a grindhouse film?
Mostly because of my association with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin
Tarantino. I did Planet Terror [half of the Grindhouse
project] for Robert. Quentin was around a lot. The two of them
were just fascinating and fun people. They introduced me to the whole
genre film community and the low-budget movies.
You hadn't run across
When I was a kid, I used to go to the drive-in theater. My parents
would want to see Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot
Tin Roof. That would start at 8:00. At 6:00 we would all go down
by the playground. They would start the first movie. It was hardly
even dark by then. It was always Connie Stevens and Vic Morrow and
stuff. A cheaper, low-budget movie. So I'd seen a lot of them, I just
didn't identify them as grindhouse films.
made you feel it was something you could do?
I had an opportunity arise when I was up in Winnipeg. I was working on
The Divide with Xavier [Gens]. I was in a coffee shop, talking
to a kid who was reading Rebel Without a Crew [Rodriguez' book
about low-budget moviemaking]. We got talking about Rodriguez, because
I told him that I'd worked with him. He told me how he wanted to be a
filmmaker. I had been told in the past, by [James] Cameron and a couple
of other directors, that they thought that I'd make a good director. I
just thought, what the heck, I'll give it a try.
What did you do to
get it started?
I asked Jennifer if she could go out and raise a little bit of money. I
wrote it in three weeks. Then we rolled into a twelve-day shoot.
That's how much money we had... not very much at all. Actually, in
the credits of the movie, you'll notice that Jennifer's mother and
father are both credited as working in different capacities in the
movie. My brother is credited as working on the movie. My niece. Then
a lot of friends that worked as favors for us. You'll also notice in
the credits, you'll see one person and they'll have three different
jobs. It was quite an experience. It was, I think, a lot of fun for
everybody but me. (Jennifer laughs) I was kind of pulling my
hair out, trying to shoot 45 set-ups a day. I was yelling and screaming
and nobody was paying that much attention to me. People always talk
about how tough it is working with these demanding directors like
Friedkin and Jim Cameron and Michael Bay and so on. Take all three of
those guys and wrap them together on their worst day – that was me for
eight straight days.
How was it different
than being in a bigger-budget production?
I'd never done a movie before where I was done in less that 24 days. I
used to think 24-day shoots were rather quick. We used to run up to
Canada ten-fifteen years ago and do these little action movies. They
had action sequences in them, but mostly it was just story. I'd never
done anything in less that 24 days before. So a 12-day shoot was just
unbelievably quick. I always tell people, if you're going to build a
house and you have $100,000 and six weeks to build the house, you're
going to get a certain kind of house. Give it a week and $6,000 to
build that same house, it's going to look a little bit different.
But, I think we did a good job, considering our challenges and how quick
we did it.
Yeah, this really actually turned out to be quite a success story for
your character goes through a lot – there are sex and drugs all around,
your best friend is killed, you are being hunted, you meet up with this
strange protector. Was it all a lot to process as an actress,
particularly when working on such a tight timeline?
Yeah, I think it was a lot. It's so easy for people to watch the movie,
and they compare it – I've always heard Michael say this – to people who
have 45 days in the movie. It's completely different in 12 days.
(laughs) Thank God I had Michael. He's incredible. And just a lot
of support from other people. Hair, makeup, other actors. Everybody
was just like a family. The other thing I found was, oddly, for me,
producing helped me to speed through a lot of that stuff, because I
didn't have time to really panic about it. I was not only acting in it,
memorizing lines, and scripts were coming in as we went, but I was also
producing it and dealing with crew and all kinds of stuff. It actually
helped me to stay out of my head and just show up and do the job and try
to be present and do the best I could.
Both of your
characters are anti-heroes, good people in many ways but deeply flawed,
willing to make morally questionable choices. Is it fun to play such
I love the idea of presenting a girl that is morally questionable, yet
you're rooting for her. She's a stripper. She takes off her clothes.
She's partying, drugs. Still you don't want to see her get hurt. She
ends up having all kinds of strength based in that sexuality. That's
something that Michael has always clung to with this script. It points
out a woman using her sexuality to get out of a bad situation.
Michael, was it weird
writing that type of role for your wife?
You obviously don't know Jennifer very well. (they laugh)
Oh, my God!
Jennifer is a lot of fun. She is very liberal. Nothing really shocks
her. She's been in the movie and theater business since she was a
little girl. At twelve or thirteen she was touring with Brighton
Beach Memoirs. She grew up on the streets of New York. She was
doing a lot of crazy stuff when she was [young]. She's a veteran of
that. It wasn't like I was asking Pollyanna to do anything.
But it was important
to show the character in a mostly positive light.
I think the way that we presented her in the movie, and Danielle
[Harris, who plays her character's best friend] too, we did the best we
could to make the scenes as loving. In some cases. And as sexually...
I don't want to say eye candy. We knew we wanted to make a really good
love scene. We wanted to make sexual situations that were not abrasive,
not gratuitous. I promised the girls that I would let them come in
after we shot the movie and if there were any angles and anything that
they didn't like, they could change them. They could cut them. I kept
that promise. The only thing that I had to fight Jennifer for was that
I think she wanted the love scene to last a little bit longer than I
did. (she chuckles) We had a fight about that. But we were
always fighting and making up.
actor-turned-director, were the new responsibilities interesting for you
to try on?
It was quite a fun experience. It was like no other, because when I
made the movie, it was such a low amount of money. When you work on
these really low-budget movies, you can really look bad if it is a bad
script or if you have bad sets or wardrobe or if the DP is really bad.
As an actor, it doesn't make any difference how good you are, you can
still look stupid if you're standing on a dumb-looking script. So, I
basically said to the guy who put up the money – which like I said was
not very much – I'll make this movie and I'll write this, I'll do it,
but I have to have all the creative control. I have to have all the
production control. I have to be the person who decides when we sell it
and where we sell it. They agreed to that, so we signed contracts. In
a way, I was the boss. I was the person that was going to be
responsible for its final outcome.
Was it tough taking
on all that responsibility?
I had a lot of help. Truly, everybody really, really worked very, very
hard on it. I think they had a lot of fun on it. But when it came down
to how long it was going to be, what shots we were going to use, when we
were going to move on, which locations, which actors, who we were going
to cast, what music we were going to use, which sound house we would
use: I got to make all those decisions, which was a fun and exhilarating
situation for me since I've always been just one of the players. Like
on a football team, I was always a guard or a tackle. I was never the
quarterback or the coach, figuring out which plays we were going to use
to beat the other team.
have worked with the biggest directors in the world: James Cameron,
William Friedkin, Michael Bay, Tony Scott, Rodriquez and many others.
How did they affect your directing?
The movie wouldn't have been made if I hadn't worked with Robert
Rodriguez. Robert is a bigger-than-life personality and a lot of fun.
Very inspiring. Jim Cameron said it best, "One of the brilliant things
about Robert is that he just doesn't understand that he can't do
something." That's Robert's philosophy. I'd ask him about filmmaking
and what he was doing. He'd say, "Why don't you just go pick up a
camera and go make a movie, Michael? You can do it. Go write
something." I've spent my whole life rewriting characters and scripts
when I thought I could help make better movies. I've worked with Jim
over 25 years. He's always said, "When are you going to make your own
movie?" Finally, circumstances fell into place. I didn't know you
could make a movie for as little as we did. I shot it day for night. I
didn't know they still shot movies day for night. I was working for
Xavier Gens (making The Divide). He did a film over in France...
... called Frontiers. I watched that movie when I was getting
ready to work with him. He shot part of that movie day for
night. I just thought his nights were so beautiful. I approached him
on the set and said I watched Frontiers the other day and your
nights are like their own character, it's so beautifully done. How do
you make the night look so good? He said, "Oh, Michael, we shoot day
for night." I said, Oh, my God, I didn't realize they still did that.
He did it on film. We did it digitally. I just fell in love with his
nights in Frontiers. Once I realized we could do that, I
realized you could shoot at night, which is when most horror movies and
creepy movies are done. Ours isn't a horror movie by any long stretch
of the imagination, but I realized that maybe I could do something that
took place and night and shoot day for night. You don't have to do a
lot of lighting. You still have to do some lighting, but you don't have
to do all that massive lighting for the night shots.
I was reading that in
an early draft of
The Victim was
much more of a horror film. It was much more graphically violent,
almost like one of the Saw movies. When did you feel you had the
About halfway through the first day of shooting. (laughs) There
is a kid by the name of Reed Lackey and about a year ago he approached
It was over two years ago.
Right, it was a little bit over two years ago. He approached me with a
script. Jennifer's agent approached me with the script. It was called
The Victim. He asked me if I wanted to get involved in it. I
read it and there was something to it. There was something that I liked
about it. But it was a first-time filmmaker, first-time writer. He'd
never written anything before, that I know of. Certainly never had
anything produced before. I think he'd been shopping the script around
for a couple of years. He wrote it a little like a novel. There was a
lot of description and not very much dialogue. There was a basis of a
story. There was the basis of all the characters, I think. The four
main characters, for sure. It was a completely different movie. There
was a mad man serial killer in it. He lived in the woods. That was the
about only similarity between his script and mine. His was very much
more an attempt to write a Saw-like movie about a serial killer.
It was one of these torture porn scripts with nothing but lots and lots
didn't feel right to you?
I personally have never liked those types of movies. The Saw
franchise, Halloween, Hostel. That time of film we went through
where everybody was watching people being torn apart and being posed and
things being yanked off their bodies and stuff like that. Very
graphically. I thought Saw was really kind of distasteful. It
wasn't my type of movie. But, I do want to say, I'm not being a snob
about it. There are very, very talented filmmakers – like Rob Zombie,
who is a much more talented filmmaker than I am – who love that kind of
stuff. And there's a great audience out there for it. So, to each his
own. That's the kind of movie that he likes to make. I think he's a
wizard with a camera. He can do anything he wants. If he likes to make
those kind of movies. You get somebody like Robert Rodriguez, who has
lots of violence in his movies, but he puts a kinetic spin on it.
How did you see doing
I've always wanted to do something that was just a story. A suspense
story that was a little more of a real life thriller. I pushed that
script aside, used the characters and rewrote it. Or, we rewrote it.
It's a page run of rewrites. There is no dialogue, I don't think, from
his script. Reed put his script on the internet. I think Reed is real
happy with the script and I think he's real happy with the final version
of it. I had to rewrite his script.
How long did that
I did that in about three weeks. While we were doing that three weeks,
[usually] the circumstances in these things is there are people who say
they have money and don't. I didn't really think this was going to move
forward. When people started writing checks and they started clearing,
I knew that I needed to get to work. So I rewrote his script in three
weeks. During that three week period of time, we went into
preproduction. Without a script, which is not really the way that you
want to do it. We crewed up and got with the Screen Actor's Guild and
all the locations, did all our casting and all our fittings. And of
course props and decided which cameras we were going to use. Which
visual effects we were going to use. Which talent house. We did all
that in three weeks, and during that time, I rewrote the script at
night. Then we rolled into that twelve day shoot, and voila!
What came out was The Victim.
mentioned earlier that a lot of people who worked on the film were
family and friends. It was really cool how for the end credits you gave
a little screen time for everyone who worked on the film. In a
low-budget film like this, does the crew become almost like a family?
Yeah. They do. It was really important to us that they got that
credit, because they worked so hard and they were so passionate about
it. They were having so much fun that it was important to give them
that screen time. Those kind of credits make people want to keep it on,
instead of just a black screen with white writing.
I was reading that
you were well into the followup,
Treachery. What can we expect from that?
That is not a Michael Biehn written or directed film. It is a
Blancbiehn Production, though.
It stars me.
It's starring Michael. He is the star of the movie. He plays a very
controversial character. I have a supporting role in it. It also stars
Sarah Butler (I Spit On Your Grave) and Caitlyn Keats (Kill
Bill: Vol. 2) and a guy named Chris Meyer (Uncertainty). An
actor named Matthew Ziff (Lynch Mob). Basically, it's the story
of a kid. It starts off with the kid as an adult retelling the story of
a family vacation.
A dysfunctional one.
dysfunctional family vacation. It becomes this psychological
horror story in the sense that this father is such a mess. He's
alcoholic, he's screwing the son's girlfriend, he gets the girlfriend
And he has lots of money, so everybody puts up with it.
It's told through the eyes of the adult kid, but you see it acted out in
the memory. The guy has lots of money, so everybody kind of kowtows to
him. The audience knows about what is going on with these characters
before the characters do. That's where the suspense comes in. It's
very dramatic, but it's also, I think, turning into a little bit more of
a suspense [film] than we thought it would.
I saw that you have
been signed to do three of these grindhouse films. How exciting is
that? Are you working on other ideas yet, or waiting until
Treachery is done?
Yes, we have three. We're planning on [starting] them April of next
year. So, we have lots of time to set up and get into preproduction.
We've been already into that. We have the scripts. One is in French
being translated to English right now, called The Predicator.
Another one is called Up and Down. That is only in French right
now. Then, the one that Xavier Gens was going to direct is called
The Farm. It was his concept and it was written by the Marcus
Brothers (Kevin and Bradley). We do have a script for that movie. That
will be the first one to go into production of those three. It's
something that Xavier is going to helm with us. It will be a joint
union between Blancbiehn Productions and Xavier Gens and his partner
Michel [Teicher], in France.
That is a great
Before we even do that, we have a possible other one on the slate. We
definitely are going to do [it]. I don't know if you read, but when we
were at Fantasia, we saw a Spanish movie called Hidden in the Woods,
that premieres there today. Michael was on the jury, so we got to
see it early. It's Chilean director named Patricio Valladares. We fell
so much in love with him as a director and his movie, that we are going
to remake the film in an English version with Michael starring in it and
Patricio directing it again. That's something we're going to do at the
beginning of next year. Then, into the spring is when we would roll
into the other movie with Xavier.
You went to Comic-Con
The Victim. What was that like?
That was fun. I loved the Entertainment Weekly shoot.
(laughs) I thought that was really cool. You go to this suite and
they pop people in and out. I was looking at all the people. We were
in such good company. That was the exciting part for me. Michael, what
was the exciting part of Comic-Con for you?
I had never been to Comic-Con in San Diego before, but I had been to
similar situations in Atlanta. They have a Comic-Con there that is
pretty big. And Toronto. I was at those two, so I had an idea of what
I was getting myself in for. It's a little bit problematic for an actor
at those shows. You can't begin to walk around and enjoy the show like
other people do, because every minute, every second, somebody wants to
take a picture of you. It actually turned out to be a pretty good trip
for me, because I was just down there to promote The Victim.
Anchor Bay is distributing the movie. They picked our movie, along with
a couple of others, to publicize down there. We drove down, which was a
nice drive down to San Diego. The hotel was right next to Comic-Con, so
they had a way of slipping me in the back door. Anchor Bay's booth was
right on the edge of Comic-Con. It wasn't in the middle of the whole
thing. I went up the back stairs and did a lot of interviews upstairs.
Then I went down to sign autographs for the fans for The Victim.
They can't quite get to you when you're upstairs, so I would go back
upstairs and do some more interviews. Then sign some more autographs.
And then we went out the back door and went back to the hotel.
Wow, quite a day...
So, considering how incredibly crazy and wild those Comic-Cons can be,
for me, I almost felt like a Governor or something and the Secret
Service was taking me through the back route. I would appear and then
disappear and appear and then disappear and back to the hotel. I like
to interact with fans and I do it a lot. I go out a lot over the last
year. It's hard to get people to see the movie, so I'd go out to a lot
of these signings and show the movie. I like interacting with the fans,
but that is just on such a massive scale it's hard to stop at any
point. It really, truly gets a little scary, actually. I do understand
why somebody like Arnold (Schwarzenegger) or a Charlie Sheen or Tom
Cruise actually need like four big bodyguards to keep people away from
them, because it becomes very frenzied. But I had a really, really good
experience down there.
What were some of the
classic grindhouse films which inspired you?
To be perfectly honest with you, until I did Grindhouse, I didn't
really know what a grindhouse movie was. The only reason I call myself
a grindhouse movie maker was because it was exploitation. I didn't have
enough money to do visual effects or makeup effects. I couldn't do
Eat My Dust because I didn't have the budget for cars. I couldn't
do a zombie movie. I couldn't do a lot of things. I decided to set my
sights on the sexuality. I am not an aficionado of grindhouse movies.
You can talk to somebody like Quentin and he could tell you 100 movies.
I just remember going to the drive-in theaters and seeing these movies.
I got an eye opening when I worked for Robert and Quentin. They
screened a number of grindhouse movies for us. They looked like
low-budget exploitation movies.
So what would you
like to do in the long run?
I can't say I really want to run out and make another grindhouse movie.
My idea about making a small movie was hopefully I can make a movie and
hopefully it'll be entertaining. I can sell it, and the person who
invested the money will make his money back and hopefully then some.
Then I can take that experience to another filmmaker and say, I made
this for X amount of money. Now the financier has been paid back and
he's making money. So far, so good. I have a pretty good track record,
would you be interested in financing one that is a little bit bigger? I
was hoping to work my way up. Even though I enjoyed very much making a
movie in 12 days, I wouldn't mind having 24 days, 36 days to shoot a
movie myself. There are movies I've always wanted to make. There are
ideas that are always floating around my head. But I would never be
able to make those movies unless I have a couple of big actors that a
studio or mini-studio was behind.
As a writer and
director, are there any other styles or genres you'd like to take on?
Maybe things that people might not expect from you?
Yes. The problem is always going to be financing. I will continue to
make movies. Hopefully I will be able to make movies that show some
profit. The more I do that, the more possibilities I'll have at making
larger-budget films. Maybe someday I'll make a big-budget movie. I
have ideas I've wanted to do for years, but they are just financially
out of the question. But there might be a time.... I also am not
interested these days in directing. I have to tell you, directing
The Victim was really, really a difficult procedure for me. I'm not
a young man, by any stretch of the imagination. Once I finished doing
the post on it – which was a lot of work – I thought I was done. Then I
realized I had to go out and sell it. So I've spent the last year,
basically, going around to all these small venues, selling it bit by
bit. Review after review after review. Finally started to catch the
attention of some of the distribution companies. Finally able to make a
Okay, now you've made a deal, now we have to go out and we have to sell
it to the public. First I had to sell it to the distributors, now I
have to sell it to the public. We've screened the movie about 20 times
I'd say. We've been in Spain and Ireland and Japan. Texas, three or
four times. California. San Francisco. Kansas City. Kentucky.
Louisville. Lexington. We've just shown it over and over and over
again. Luckily we've gotten some nice feedback on it. Anchor Bay was a
company that I was familiar with. They had a really good reputation as
far as being fair with the talent if the movie makes any money. They
were the company that distributed The Divide. I had a little bit
of a relationship with Kevin Kasha, who picked up the movie.
So it all worked out.
It's a lot of work. Particularly with a lot of people who are just
starting out. Like I said, if you notice in our film, not only are
people doing two or three jobs, a lot of them are doing them for the
first time. They maybe trying out a Steadicam for the first or second
time. Or just gotten a rig. Or just doing makeup and hair for the
first time. Our makeup artist has actually worked a lot, but her
assistants. It was a team of... they weren't all college-aged kids, but
they weren't an experienced crew by any stretch of the imagination. It
would be fun someday to make a movie I really want to make and have a
really good budget and make the movie that I really want to make. This
film itself, it's fun and it works really well and people enjoy it, but
I look at it and I know I could have made a better film if I had a
little bit more money. It has a low-budget grungy look to it. It's
missing a lot of visual effects. It's missing certain things that I
wish were there. It helps sell that grindhouse, low-budget feeling, so
I guess it works. But I'd like to have a chance to make a real movie.
Do you think your
film can help get grindhouse films to a new audience?
It's very hard to make five million dollar movies these days and be
successful, because there is nowhere to show the movies. There used to
be a lot of theaters around. The big companies have monopolized the
movie business. I'm from Lake Havasu, Arizona. I go back, it's a much
larger town than when I was a kid growing up. It used to have one
theater and show one movie. Now they have two cineplexes. Both are
playing the same movies. Those are the same movies being played
everywhere else across the country. It's very hard to find
independents, like Laemmle's [an LA art house chain], in smaller towns.
You go to Kentucky and they just don't have those. Nebraska.
Oklahoma. West Virginia. They don't have art house films. The only
way you can see the movie is on DVD.
So what are you doing
to get it out there?
I've still got a pretty big push to do on this film. I'll be done here
in about a month or so. It comes out in New York for a week. It comes
out in LA for a week. This month, later on in the month. Next month it
comes out in on DVD, Blu-ray, in hotels, all that kind of stuff.
Walmart. You'll be able to buy it anywhere. I'd like to see how well
it does. Then Jennifer and I have something that is a positive
experience for a financer. Because it's no fun to go in and invest a
bunch of money in a movie and not get anything back.
I want to be able to show the filmmakers that I can make money.
Hopefully we can do that and continue on making these small movies. I
would like to be in a big movie (as an actor) and if something comes
along I still have my agents. I still have people. I still get calls
to come in for meetings and sometimes auditions for these big $200
million dollar movies. Depending on the character and so on, I still
like to do those. But these [smaller films] are a lot of fun, just
because they are ours. We create them from the bottom up. They are our
ideas. They are our movies. They aren't somebody else's movies.
People always talk about acting and I've always said that as an actor I
was like a color on a palette. For the director or a painter.
If I was a color, red or yellow, or whatever color I was, I would try to
be as bright of a color as I could. I'd provide as much texture as I
could. And try to take up as much of the canvas as I possibly could.
Really make people see that red when they look at that painting. It was
fun. I enjoyed that. But I like being the painter. (laughs)
I can imagine.
I like being the person that makes final decisions, because over the
years I've seen so many decisions that I felt were not good ones. I'm
certainly not always right, but after almost 40 years of doing this, I
think I have a pretty good head on my shoulders as far as whether
something makes sense or if we have to rewrite or reshoot a scene. The
movie is too long, let's cut it down. So, it's fun to be the guy. It's
fun to be in charge. I have to admit the most fun I had in making this
movie was that I'm the person that's going to make the final decisions
on how long it's going to be and who you're going to sell it to and who
we're going to cast in it. And write it and have people say words that
came out of my head.