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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Actor Brahim Achabbakhe Interview (Exclusive!) (C) 2014 Danny Shamon-Dan's Movie Report


The 2014 year of action rolls on with a fantastically detailed interview with rising action star Brahim Achabbakhe. Although his name may not seem familiar to those outside the action film world, Brahim has worked on a variety of high profile projects over the past several years, and chats in depth about working on a films ranging from Kill 'Em All' to the latest Van Damme project 'Pound of Flesh'. Brahim has worked as a stunt double, actor, and even stunt coordinator on many films, and takes time out of his schedule to chat about his experiences exclusively on Dan's Movie Report.
Discuss working on 'Scorpion King 3', what type of training was involved, you mentioned you worked with Krystal Vee and helped her with the fight sequences. How long was the training prior to filming?
On 'Scorpion king 3' we were a group of 12 stunt guys. There was 10 Thai stuntmen and 2 foreigners, so I was one of those 2 foreign guys. I mostly trained with Krystal for her sword training under what the stunt coordinator would tell me to do. We would train also a bit of kicking techniques as well as some form patterns that she had to do on the movie. She showed a lot of potential from the first days of training, and she is a natural athlete ,so basically she remembers what you show her very easily. The training time was about 3 weeks before the film started to shoot, if I remember correctly. We would train from 9 am until 12 pm then 1 pm until 5 pm 6 days a week. Later on we shot the film for 28 days in different locations around Thailand.
Were some of the fight sequences on 'Scorpion King 3' altered prior to shooting the final movie? If so perhaps chat about them, also how open was the director to your ideas?
I don't remember we made any pre-visuals before we go to shooting. It was mostly just some rough ideas about, Ok,for this scene this is what is happening, and they would film, a master shot of the action we performed at the training. On the film I worked as a full time stunt performer through the whole film so I didn't have much to talk with the director, but I remember Roel Reine' being very fast and shooting very long takes more like master shots. For a short amount of time as 28 days it is very hard to make a good action film, however, I think he did a good job.
Krystal Vee and Selina Lo had a pretty detailed fight in Scorpion King 3, Selina is more experienced in Martial Arts than Krystal, who comes from a dance background, perhaps chat about your thoughts on that fight. As a follow-up, chat about working on a scene where one of the performers is far more skilled than the other, and what adjustments you make to help them?
As I said earlier, Krystal did a very good job, considering it was her first role where she was doing this much action. Even though Selina is coming from a martial arts background, we still had to train her during the training period of the movie. We would pair them together during training and make them rehearse their fight. I also worked on Selina's kicking to make her control her techniques better, so that Krystal is safe to fight with her. I thought the fight could have been much better if we had more time to practice. Roel Reine makes very long shots and very wide ,so you cannot get the impact of the action, becasue the camera is always too far away. Sometimes it is better if you come closer, so the power of the moves or the detail behind one action, can be properly displayed to the audience. Back to Krystal and Selina, they both did a great job and gave 200%. I think Krystal should do more action roles, because really she has amazing potential in that field , and she is a talented actress. If you could give me one year training her, I would make her a killing machine.
Chatting about working on a scene where one performer is less skilled than the other, basically the more skilled person is going to sell the action by helping the other performer either through his reactions getting hit and also adjusting his speed so the less skilled guy can keep up. Plenty of times situations like this arose, and you really need to be careful with unskilled performers, because they can really hurt you if you don't adjust to them. I saw people getting punched in the nose for real, basically, if the person comes to close to you, you have to adjust the distance for him or her. It can be hard to do, but it is a thing any action guy or girl has to learn, because you not going to fight a skilled performer like Jackie Chan or Jet Li on every film :)
Sweet Krystal Vee as a killing machine, not sure haha, but at least a great onscreen fighter. Shifting the discussion, chat about 'Kill 'Em All', how were you approached to work on the film?
'Kill 'Em All' was back in 2011. Tim Man took me to be his assistant on the film and the director Raimund Huber gave me the part of Gauthier.

Obviously everyone worked really hard on the fighting aspect in 'Kill 'Em All', chat about the training on that film.
Tim Man was the fight choreographer on the film and we would come at training everyday at 9 am. Tim had already choreographed all the fights so basically we would make pre-visuals of each fights and the director would either approve or change a few details. We had a very small group of stunt who had very little experience so at first, thus it was very hard, so we had to teach them a lot of stuff about getting hit, falling and fighting properly on camera. It was very hot as the training facility was on the front yard of the producer house but we had a lot of fun overall. Zom would come with her SUV and her manager Sunny everyday at training. Tim trained her and I was basically repeating the moves he instructed me to perform with her. Zom is the kind of girl you don't wanna fight with. Out of all the girls I trained with, she is the one who really has a lot of power in her techniques. She is a very nice person in addition to being a very famous singer in Thailand.
Discussing a bit more about Zom, I interviewed her, and she chatted about her training, perhaps share a training story with Zom Ammara, who had no prior fighting experience.
I always loved how she was throwing left and right her little Pug dog who she always brought with her at training. Zom is a very humble girl who always sat down with the stunt guys to eat and always apologized when hitting you too hard or made a mistake.
Zom mentioned about breaking the nose of the guy she fought, in Kill 'Em All, perhaps you can shed some additional light about that incident, was that the final take that made it on the film, and what was the direction given to her during that sequence.
That day was crazy, we shot for 20 hours. I am not kidding 20 hours cause we were behind schedule. Zom was very tired and the day before while fighting that guy, she hurt her rib so we had to take her to the hospital to check to make sure her rib was fine. 20 hours of shooting, combined with a very hot room, and people rushing to get things done, not a good situation. Zom punched and the guy didn't adjust his distance as I said on the earlier question, so her hand made contact with his nose and bang, the fountain of blood was next. Rashid is very tough, and managed to finish the fight even if his nose was broken. Zom felt very sorry for him, and told me she was very tired, that is why it happened.
Yeah, that is a wild story, now Zom could be a killing machine for real, haha! Wrapping up the chat about Kill 'Em All, what is your opinion of the final release of the film? Tim Man had some very strong words about the editor, and the way the final fights were edited.
I enjoyed the movie itself, I thought it had a nice feel and with more budget it could have been something way more memorable. The editor butchered what we did on 'Kill 'em All', yes and it sucks because you do all this hard work, and then somebody cuts it wrong and makes you look bad. If they edited the fights like Tim edited the pre visuals then the audience would like 'Kill 'Em All' even more. Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen ,and Jet Li films are so good because those guys control the action of the film from filming it, to editing it. Nobody touches it or changes it, their stunt team does it themselves so that's why their films are so good, and the action is filmed and edited properly . Also we are talking about a few hours per fights on 'Kill 'Em All' so imagine how rushed you are when all you have is a few hours. It was hard but yes the editor even made it harder on us with his awful edit.
Shifting the interview to 'Man of Tai Chi', I thought it was a very cool film, how did you become involved?
I got involved thanks to Mike Leeder. Mike Leeder had my contact for 2 years before Man of Tai Chi ,and he often asked me to update him with my demo reel and pictures. Around December 2011, he asked me to email him pictures with high kicks. I emailed him pictures but also went to the gym and made a demo of various of jumping kicks. In January 2012, he emailed me, and told me you got a part on the movie as the taekwondo fighter. I was really happy, because this was my first job in China. They flew me in once for 4 days to train with Yuen Woo Ping's stunt team so it was like Christmas for me as I have always been a big fan of master Yuen's work. The second time they flew me in to do my fight scene with Tiger Chen. The fight scene was basically taekwondo vs tai chi and I had to do all those kicks in the air while Tiger was dodging them with Tai chi moves. The final edit got the scene cut a lot but you still got me on the film which for me is a big honor. A big thank to Mike Leeder for this.
Continuing the discussion on 'Man of Tai Chi', share a behind the scenes tidbit from the film.
Keanu Reeves was great to work with. I remember between takes he would bring me some energy drinks and snacks himself. He is a very humble person, and one of the only foreign filmmakers who really understands martial arts movies.
Cool stories from 'Man of Tai Chi', shifting to the next project, chat about working with Scott Adkins in 'Ninja: Shadow of a Tear'. Working as a coordinator and double must have been a hectic schedule. Share a story you have yet to speak about from working on the film.
When I first heard about 'Ninja: Shadow of a Tear' coming to shoot in Thailand, it was from the producer Tom Waller who often uses me to coordinate his projects. His production De Warrenne is the best production you can find to make your movies in Thailand and I highly recommend Hollywood producers to use De Warrenne to line produce your films in Thailand. At some point the project dropped but later on around september 2012 Chaya Supannarat who is the assistant of Isaac Florentine contacted Tim Man and I for the film. Tim sent his demo, I sent my demo and since I speak Thai I had the task to coordinate the stunt guys for the shooting like translation and also arrange the budget for the stunt guys during shooting and training. It was a lot of hard work but I am really thankful to Isaac period for taking me on the project. Tim was in sweden and came with all the fights already choreographed. I basically was doubling for scott during the pre visuals at training that Tim had prepared.
Scott Adkins is a real talented actor and his martial arts is incredible. He is really humble and works very hard. We had a room for him for lunch breaks so he can relax and eat but he enjoyed more to sit down with us and eat in the training room. He is a real model for upcoming action guys. Isaac is a genius when it comes to martial arts films to work with him was a true blessing. He often talked French to me on the set and is really respectful with every stuntmen. We also had Ross Clarkson who is the best action D O P I ever worked with. He always works with Isaac. The movie was 4 weeks training and 6 weeks shooting and I can tell you I was exhausted when it ended and so was Tim Man. We only had 2 stunt guys, Arm Worapoj and Phets Phet with us ,but, they are two of the best stunt guys in Thailand at the moment. Tim Man did an great job w choreographing those fights. It was hard but worth it.

How has working with a talent like Scott Adkins inspired your own career?
I have watchd all his films and follow his career. My fighting style is really similar to his style ,so he was kind of a motivation for me to make myself better. Like when I wanted to get big I often watched his look on 'Undisputed' and told myself one day I wanna be built like this. He still does inspire me really and I look up to him very much. My dream is one day to fight him in a movie since on 'Ninja: Shadow of a Tear' I was behind the scene. Maybe I ask too much, but I would love to be able to get on a movie with Scott again, in front of the camera this time.
Shifting the discussion to the new Tekken film, it is disappointing about the new Tekken film, how it turned out. The overall poor film has nothing to do with your action sequences, I am curious to hear your thoughts about the project. and what could have been changed.
I know and I feel terrible for the fans. I got approached to choreograph the film back in 2013 and the original script was completely different than what you saw. It was really close to the Tekken story and had characters such as Nina, Bruce Irvin, Kazuya, Heihachi and Bryan Fury. They changed the script several times and even the director who was originally Pearry Teo. We had only 18 days to shoot the whole film and only 12 days for 7 action scenes. I had a lot of pressure on me so much that I had many sleepless nights editing pre visuals fight scenes and also having skype meetings. We had no budget for props or even for nice locations. The wardrobe team was not the best also I would say and yes many things could have been better. I dislocated my shoulder during the training of the film and had to go to work with a bad left shoulder and also do that end fight with my shoulder still not healed. The doctor told me 6 weeks without activity just some elastic band drills. I did that fight after 2 weeks which still amaze me that it went ok. I had my stuntteam who really helped me a lot on the project guys like my assistant David Bueno and also Ron Smoorenburg who came often to help me out during the training and I brought him for the end fight of the movie. There is a video online called Tekken Kazuya Revenge stuntteam you guys should check it out and also I will pose later on pre visuals during training so you can see difference between the actual movie and my work.
Brahim, thanks for your honesty regarding 'Tekken 2', shifting the discussion, chat about the film 'Trafficker', I see that it is out in Thailand, discuss being the stunt coordinator on that film, is there a lot of action and fighting in it?
'Trafficker' is more of a drama film. It's talking about death sentence in Singapore. Basically there is a few action scenes in the movie and one of them is a drug bust where the main actor gets apprehended by two cops so a fight and chase break there. We also had some other actions such as bike riding and also gun shot reactions. The director is Larry Smith and we shot that back in 2013. Krystal Vee was in it as well as she was the female lead on that film.

Sounds like a cool project. Chat about working with Van Damme in 'Pound of Flesh', that film looks amazing, have you seen any of the footage yet, if so how is it? Perhaps share a set story from the production.
'Pound of Flesh' was my second film with JCVD as I worked before with him on Soldiers in 2008. Producer Mike Leeder contacted me once again for the film and also brought John Salvitti who worked on Donnie Yen's films such as 'SPL', 'Flash Point,' Special ID' and 'Kung Fu Jungle'. I can tell you that what John did on this film is completely different from what JCVD usually does on his other films. The fighting style is amazing and based on real techniques that John Salvitti uses to train US Marines back in America. John is a superb martial artist and the best fight choreographer you can get for MMA kind of movies. He really came up with new ways to bring back JCVD signatures like his split and kicks. I actually came on board for a 9 week period in which I was suppose to be JCVD's stuntdouble. Kris Van damme who is the son of JC was actually on board to play the role of Marcello, but for some reasons in the end he didn't do it, and the role was suppose to get cancelled but at my fitting with JC,VD he saw me and told me in French that I gained a lot of muscles since the last time he met me , and asked me if I was interested in taking over the role for Marcello which later on became Nardo on the script. I told him yes of course and later on, Ernie Barbarash our director, Mike Leeder, John Salvitti and JCVD had this meeting to see if we should keep the Nardo part or not and in the end they kept it and I was in the movie. I can't wait to see the final edit of that fight scene cause John really pushed me in a different style and I remember Mike Leeder coming with food and making sure everyone was ok on the set. What amazes me is also Pound of Flesh is not such a big budget film but we had a great catering, great snacks and a very good atmosphere on the set. We also had Darren Shahlavi from 'IP MAN 2', 'Mortal Kombat Legacy' who did an amazing job and I look up to him a lot. He gave me some great advices about life and how to keep climbing in the film business. Charlotte Peters who plays the female lead in the film was very nice as well and she gave me great advices on acting and told me I should keep up in this way. She is a very talented actress from London and the film is very lucky to get her on board. Ernie Barbarash is the nicest director ever. He is really working hard and was in China way before everyone else prepping the film. He makes sure everyone is safe on set and gives you great directions. I got a good feeling about this film cause the team we had was amazing.
Yeah 'Pound Of Flesh' looks very cool, cannot wait till that comes out. Rolling on to the next topic, chat about a couple of your upcoming films, 'Dragon Blade' and 'Fight Street 'what is your part in them etc...?
When I wrapped 'Pound of Flesh' I flew back to Bangkok but for about 4 months I was getting some emails about Dragon Blade but I kept telling the casting director I was on Pound of flesh and not free at the moment. So at some point she stopped contacting me but funny enough just when I was back in Thailand, I got an email from one of Jackie Chan stunt team's leader about if I was interested in joining them for the final battle scene in the movie. So in a very short notice I received my ticket and after three flights I was in the desert of gobi without a clue on what I was doing. I played one of Tiberius's (Adrian Brody) generals and in the final battle of the film I fought Samy Hung who is Sammo Hos's son. Samy Hung was very nice and the action scene I did was basically me killing the leader of the tribe then fighting Samy in a short fight. Jackie's stunt team is very profesional and very nice. They come up with the action on the set so you got to stay very focus and watch what they are doing and stand by. They show you one time and then you got to do it at full speed. They are really demanding about timing and speed. I remember I had to get kicked in the head and we shot it 12 times so you can imagine 12 kicks in the head how you feel after, needless to say, I had a good sleep after that day.
'Fight street' is a project that Ross Clarkson wants to direct, but right now I still do not know when it will happen. I am suppose to be his fight choreographer on the film and also play one of the Villains.

Brahim, you mentioned you would like to come to the USA, do you feel that US films lack detailed fight choreography as the Asian films do? I am curious of your opinion of PG-13 action vs R Rated action films that are more bloody etc,what do you think of the trend to water everything down to reach a larger audience.
I actually lived in America before at the time I was studying martial arts. I was in Atlanta and also Miami. I really like America and would love to be able to work there. It would be a dream come true. I think teams like 87 eleven do a great job at bringing great fight scenes on the screen. They are probably the best in the business at the moment and they get all the big jobs. I think there is a trend right now on more bloody and gore action cause of the success of the indonesian films 'The Raid' and 'The Raid 2'. Those two films prove that Indonesia has the new market for martial arts films and they deserve it cause Gareth Evans, the director came up with a unique style of film making that attracts both martial arts lovers and drama movies lovers.
The Raid 2 is kind of for me Scarface with martial arts. The gore in it is really showing you what will happen if a guy will hit you in the face with a bottle of beer and the damage it will cause. I think this trend is what people are wanting now cause they got tired of being cheated with wire work, stunt doubles and camera cheats. The audience has become smarter with the years, in addition, the behind the scenes videos show everything you need to know. Action movie making is getting more and more difficult, thus action film makers need to come up always with new ideas that will please the audience. Not easy, but worth the try.
I noticed you have worked as a stunt Coordinator on many recent projects, do you see yourself breaking away from stunt work into a more supervisory role in the future?
I actually do very rarely stunt work in Thailand now, and only do coordinating and play characters in the films I coordinate. I formed my own action group called Brahim Action Design and I invested in a lot of equipment such as crash mats, pads, flooring and also a training facility that I use for the movies I coordinate. I love to coordinate and choreograph fight scenes and I also love to act in movies. I want to do both and may be one day do my own films in which I could play a lead character and create my own action. That is what I am looking for in the next coming years. I got the best stuntmen in Thailand working with me and I wanna bring something new to the table. We can make great action in Thailand, so if you guys read this, use me, and let's rock-n-roll!
Chat about people in the film world you would like to work with in the future that you have not had the opportunity to work with yet?
Said Taghmaoui who is an incredible french actor, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Marc Dacascos, Jet Li. I also would love to work with Gina Carano I really liked her in Haywire and I am a big fan.
In ten years Brahim, what do you see yourself doing in the film world?
No idea really. As long as I am healthy and happy, I guess that is the most important.
Wrapping up this interview, share some wisdom for those actors and actresses who want to be involved with on screen fighting, and share some final thoughts on the Thailand film industry, how it is changing, and things that need changing.
Screen fighting is an unique sport that takes a lot of time to be mastered. You got to adapt the way you hit for the camera angles and know where the camera is. A technique with a bad angle is nothing. I always tell newbies to not look at the people through their eyes, look through the camera and notice how different it looks. For upcoming stunt men, stunt women or action actors be humble, do not lie about your credits as the movie world is really small. Lot of new guys lie about that they worked on this film or that film. I had guys telling me to my face they worked on films I did and that they were playing the role I played so you can imagine how you look at people like that. Train hard also always try to make yourself better. If you have no demo reel it is ok to make one even with your phone. I find it funny that people always complain that they cannot make one. I did a 16 min short film called Marksmen with exactly 500 us dollars. The short film got me 'Tekken Kazuya's Revenge' so you can see every dime invested in your future is worth it.
The film industry in Thailand is not good at the moment, and that is the reason why I currently focus a lot on China, Indonesia or even Europe at some point because I am branching out a lot this last year. We need to make things change, such as getting more days to make action films. Most producers come to Thailand ,and wanna shoot films in 18 days and if you are lucky 25 days. Also no Thai action films are being made nowadays, and it's a shame cause there is a lot of talent out there waiting to be used.
Thank you Brahim for this amazing and insightful interview. Keep reading Dan's Movie Report for more information on Brahim and more exclusives! For more on Brahim high kick your browser over to these sites @ 

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