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Our Interview With “Setup” Film Director Mike Gunther In Grand Rapids

December 19, 2010

This past week we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mike Gunther, the director for the film “Setup”.  The film is currently filming in Grand Rapids, MI. “Setup” stars 50 Cent, Ryan Phillippe, Jenna Dewan and Bruce Willis. The film is produced by 50 Cent and Randall Emmett.  I want to give a special thank you to both Mike Gunther and his Director Assistant Robin Spears for taking the time in setting up the interview and set visit. This is your first major production that you’ve written and directed –

Mike Gunther: Correct.

BTT: So how has the transition gone from being a stunt coordinator or stunt man to being a director?

MG: Starting out in the action world is a little different than, I guess, sitting in the first chair. They’re the same but different. It’s the same tree just different branches from the tree, I think. As the stunt coordinator you’re worried about people’s safety and making sure everyone goes home safe to their family and all that. As a director you’re more worried about the story. It’s a different pressure. Everyone’s pulling at you in a different way. I guess you’ve got to live both to really understand it, you know what I mean? One I’m the paint, now I’m the painter, I guess that’s the best way to say it.

BTT: We know a little bit about the plot from what we’ve read – it’s about a diamond heist that goes wrong –

MG: Right.

BTT: Is there anything else you can tell us about the plot or the characters?

MG: There’s three young men that grow up together on the wrong side of the tracks and basically they’re into petty crime and one has this religious background. He was being raised to be an altar boy and he broke away from that. The two other boys he runs around with… They’re just kids being kids and they decide to pull off a bigger heist than what they’re accustomed to. [Let’s just say… things don’t go exactly as planned.] It’s a really gritty, kinda of a guys-guys kind of movie. You know, guys being guys and having to deal with what’s right and wrong? I know what right and wrong is, but I’m still going to get what’s mine – you know, kinda thing? I think that’s really more the dilemma.

BTT: I read that Bruce Willis is playing a mob boss.

MG: [One of the characters starts] disrupting… things that are owned by this mob guy. So the mob then picks him up and says “Hey.” So he’s a fish out of water and his only concern is “Hey look, this guy shot me, I’m just trying to get him, I don’t really care what you think.” So it detours you a little bit.

BTT: Where did the idea for this come from?

MG: I love movies. I love making movies, I love watching movies and for me there’s not that many … Hollywood’s very comic book-driven and big budget, $100 million movies. Very rarely do you ever get these guys-guys kinda movies to get off the ground because for whatever reason Hollywood… there’s a lot of red tape, let’s say. So to me I just want to do a cool little movie that got back to roots. Not doing CGI, not doing wire work, not doing any of the things that I come – that’s my background… you’re getting all these fancy action movies. I just wanted to do something that was just more on this level like a Boondock Saints or a Reservoir Dogs – that kind of a feel.

BTT: I think the theory right now is that it’s a big action movie because of everything that’s been going on downtown. Would you categorize it as a big action movie then or is it more on the lines of a character-driven movie?

MG: I would say it’s an art action movie. It’s a drama that has action, but it’s not… An action movie to me is if you go see “The Bourne Supremacy” or James Bond movies – that is an action movie. This is more of an art action movie. There’s action – you know, people getting shot – but there’s no fireballs and I’m not pipe ramping cars off of buildings and stuff like that. It’s all driven by the story.

BTT: I read in the paper that the movie is actually set in Grand Rapids.

MG: It’s actually set in Detroit. We’re playing Grand Rapids as Detroit.

BTT: 50 Cent is your producer or one of your producers?

MG: He’s one of the producers, yes.

BTT: Has he been involved since the beginning?

MG: Oh yeah – he’s very committed, he’s definitely on point. This is his passion project, for sure.

BTT: And has it made it easier since he’s been in Grand Rapids so many times, filming?

MG: By all means. Anyone that’s dedicated like he is – it always makes everything run smoother because the rest of the crew follows suit so it’s kinda nice.

BTT:Did you have actors in mind when you were writing?
MG: I think you always do, but not anyone in specific. Obviously everyone would like an Ed Norton or a De Niro or Al Pacino, but I don’t really go down that road I write a story for the sake of the story. We cast a lot of people that were unknowns as well that came to the audition and just really knocked out a part in the audition. So it didn’t really matter if it was a name or not a name, it was really – could they play this part? Would they allow you, when you go to watch the movie, to take you on a ride and it was believable?

BTT: So you say it’s better to go into the casting call with an open mind?

MG: I don’t ever look at names and who’s who and whatever. I guess I’ve just been around it so much it doesn’t really matter. If I’m looking for a guy to play a mobster it doesn’t matter to me if it’s a well-known name or a guy that just plays the part and he’s so good at it that I buy that that’s the role. Because sometimes using a big name or star pulls you out of the movie because you see them in a different light like… Robin Williams or someone like that. If you remember him on “Mork and Mindy” or a comedian and all of the sudden he’s playing this serious role it kinda throws you off too because you’re like ‘Oh, he’s the comedy guy.’ He’s a brilliant actor but some people can’t get around the fact that he’s…

BTT: ‘Mork’

MG: It’s the same concept, yeah.

BTT: Bruce Willis is your mob boss, and you’ve worked with him before as his stunt coordinator –

MG: Yes.

BTT: Has there been a big dynamic change going from his stunt coordinator to his director?

MG: No, because as the stunt coordinator you oversee the action so when I’m involved with him in the action I’m overseeing him with that anyway. But it’s just a different kind of … instead of worrying about him getting hurt, you’re now trying to get him to be emotionally connected to what you need. But you’re talking about a guy that’s been around for years. He is a rock star. He shows up, he just does his thing. Really, to be honest, there ain’t much directing I’m doing. He’s like ‘Kid, don’t worry. I got it handled.’ He is a great guy. I mean a class act, and the opportunity to work with him was, I mean, beyond awesome. You know, so … [laughs] Yeah, I didn’t really direct him. I just said ‘Action’ and ‘Cut.’ But he brings so much to the table. You give him three lines and he brings it. He takes that character to a whole different level. So it was entertaining for me just to watch the monitor and watch him get off page and just do his thing and you’re like ‘Holy s###, you’re good,” so it was kinda a dream come true.

BTT: So I take it you’re not worried about him – as a director – with him doing stunts at all, since he’s done stunts before?

MG: [Laughs] I don’t really worry about him about anything. He’s been around so long he just knows what’s his job is and how to do it. And he’s very open. You can give him ideas and he’ll give you ideas – he’s very connective in that sense. And he’s trying to make the best project possible. Sometimes when we hand a script to someone they interpret it a little differently than you do. It’s a cool process, it really is.

BTT: And your other actors, are they doing their own stunts?

MG: Everyone on the show has done their own stunts. Ryan Phillippe has done his own stunts, Jenna Dewan. We have not had… every piece of footage you see that Ryan does is him. Every piece of footage you see that 50 Cent has done is him.

BTT: And they’re handling that pretty well?

MG: I think that’s part of why they signed up for the project too, because they feel safe maybe because that’s the world I come from, but they’ve always wanted to be. And a lot of those guys aren’t offered roles. I mean you look at Ryan Phillippe, he’s never really been offered a gritty little underground role. He’s always been the pretty boy or the preppy kid or the rich kid.

BTT: So we’re going to see a different side of him?

MG: He f’ing murders it. He is a great actor. I mean he brings it. So to me he is very good at what he does. When [people] see the poster and it’ll seem like ‘Oh, how do they all …’ You know you’ve got Curtis, Bruce and Ryan and it’ll be like ‘Well that’s an odd combo’ but it works really really well.

BTT: According to IMDB you have Ryan Woods as your stunt coordinator?

MG: Yes.

BTT: Are you just leaving everything up to him?

MG: Me and Kyle go back. He’s been on other movies with me. So he just knows my program and how – our shorthand just works, so to me it’s a no-brainer. He’s fantastic and you’re just not going to get a better guy out there.

BTT: When you were writing the script we’re you thinking – as a stunt coordinator – what you could have these characters doing?

MG: No. Just write the best story you possibly can and whatever happens from that happens.

BTT: What have the benefits been to filming here in Grand Rapids?

MG: I’ve filmed all over the world and I think this is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been in and the most film-friendly so far. I mean if you say ‘I want to shoot in this restaurant’ they just go ‘Yeah, come shoot in this restaurant.’ I don’t know how much longer that’s going to last. As far as that they’re wonderful. I mean we shut down the middle of downtown. We did a whole shootout.

BTT: And have people been pretty open to that?

MG: Oh yeah. From my perspective. I’m not really involved in so much of that. I just scout what I want and producers make that happen.

BTT: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

MG: For me, personally, the cold. Because I’m not from here, I’ve never lived in snow I think that to me slows down everything. To me it’s just been the weather. But the flip side of that is that it looks so good on film. So for the purpose of the movie, it’s fantastic. But as far as getting up everyday and having to throw forty layers of f’ing clothes on… that gets old. I don’t know how you guys do that. [Laughs]

BTT: So did you mean to make a winter movie then?

MG: No, it just happened that way. That’s what it was slotted for. Producers had a window… that’s just what it was slotted for.

BTT: Has it thrown any wrenches into the plotline that you have snow?

MG: No, because it was never based on that, whether it was in the snow or not. There was a little thing – because they started putting up Christmas lights up, so I kinda had to address that a little bit in the script – that it was the holidays. I couldn’t really take the Christmas lights down in downtown. That was the only little thing.

BTT: What’s your next project? What are you going to be working on when “Setup” is wrapped up?

MG: As soon as I get done with this I’ll go back home, take a week off and then I’m in post – editing, scoring the movie, color correcting and all of that. That’ll probably be middle of March, end of March I’ll be done with that and then I have two other projects that are kinda in development so hopefully that’ll roll in. Then maybe I’ll take a week to shut down so I can get some sleep. [Laughs] But seriously – I’m liking next year. The couple of projects I have slated I’m excited about. Art action as well.

BTT: Are you writing them?

MG: Yeah.

BTT: You and Mike Behrman?

MG: Yeah. We have a production company and that company owns the material and we pull from that and then sell to whatever company wants to do our projects.

BTT: And do you think you would ever come back to Grand Rapids?

MG: I would in a minute. I definitely would. It’s a pretty cool place. I would definitely come back in the summer though. I wouldn’t come back here in the winter. But it is a really cool scene – you get a lot of production value out of such a small town. And I walk to work, I come home. I think we have close to fifty locations and a lot of them are just downtown so I can use this restaurant and that alley and this parking lot, so it’s kinda cool, in that sense. Where L.A. it takes you thirty minutes to drive anywhere and that could be like a block. And they’re not as film friendly there – but they do have sunshine, just so you know. But it’s a great place here, it really is. I would come back, for sure.