Michael Biehn and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn Play the Victim
by Jay S. Jacobs
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 filmmaking.
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?
Michael Biehn: 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 them before?
Michael Biehn: 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.
What made you feel it was something you could do?
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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.
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: But, I think we did a good job, considering our challenges and how quick we did it.
Michael Biehn: Yeah, this really actually turned out to be quite a success story for us.
Jennifer, obviously 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?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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 layered characters?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: You obviously don’t know Jennifer very well. (they laugh)
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: Oh, my God!
Michael Biehn: 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.
Michael Biehn: 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.
As an actor-turned-director, were the new responsibilities interesting for you to try on?
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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.
You 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?
Michael Biehn: 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…
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: Frontiers.
Michael Biehn: … 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 script right?
Michael Biehn: 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 me through…
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: It was over two years ago.
Michael Biehn: 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 of violence.
That didn’t feel right to you?
Michael Biehn: 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 it?
Michael Biehn: 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 take?
Michael Biehn: 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.
You 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?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: That is not a Michael Biehn written or directed film. It is a Blancbiehn Production, though.
Michael Biehn: It stars me.
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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.
Michael Biehn: A dysfunctional one.
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: Very 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 pregnant.
Michael Biehn: And he has lots of money, so everybody puts up with it.
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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 opportunity.
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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 recently for The Victim. What was that like?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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…
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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 deal.
Michael Biehn: 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.
Michael Biehn: 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. (laughs)
Do you think your film can help get grindhouse films to a new audience?
Michael Biehn: 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?
Michael Biehn: 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.
Michael Biehn: 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.
Michael Biehn: 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.
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 24, 2012.