We were supposed to talk to director Michael Bassett before his second “Strike Back” episode aired, but busy schedules delayed it. It worked out for us, because after “Strike Back” got a third season order, we had a lot more to talk about. Bassett also directed the film Silent Hill: Revelation 3D which opens this Friday, October 26, so we also spoke with him about that and a potential sequel to Solomon Kane.
CraveOnline: When did you get the news that you’d be hired for the third season of “Strike Back” on Cinemax, since they just made the announcement that there’d be one?
Michael Bassett: Well, we were talking and there were a lot of what ifs over the last month or so. If there’s a season three, would I be interested in coming back? We all hoped there would be because we felt that the season was pretty good and we hoped that the audience would enjoy it. So there was already talk about doing it.
I went off to do another job and during it had conversations, “If they’re going to go for it, would you be interested?” I said, “You bet I would.” I’d known that it was a definite possibility and I said yes. We were just waiting for the official announcement so it’s really great to hear that it was definitely green lit. We’ve got stories, we’ve got ideas, we’ve been thinking about it in the hopes that it was going to be positive and it has been so that’s great.
CraveOnline: Will you do another pair of episodes, or maybe more?
Michael Bassett: This year I’m lead director so I’m doing four out of the 10. I’m going to do the first two and the last two which is a great opportunity. I can kick the show off with the energy that I think it needs and maybe introduce some new ideas and some new tonal things to it, so we can really, really take that cinematic vibe and just keep pushing it and making it bigger and better all the time.
The show has already got so much energy and so much scale to it, it’s hard to know how much you can push that, but it’ll be my job as the lead director to make sure it gets bigger and better and smarter which is I think what we want to do.
CraveOnline: Do you get to be in the writer’s room earlier?
Michael Bassett: Oh yes. The great thing about “Strike Back,” one of the unique things about “Strike Back” – and I don’t have that much television experience but talking to other TV directors – is the production team, the producers and the writers, we’re all incredibly collaborative. So the writer’s room is going. I’ve been involved in the story ideas and helping shape them. Then the broadcasters talk about it, producers talk about it, they send me the outlines and ideas.
I’ll kick in my ideas so we are in the place now where I think we can see a shape for the whole season emerging. Certainly shape some of the stories I want to tell. We have big beats for the middle part of the season already laid out so we know what we want to do with it. I know what I want to do with Scott and Stonebridge and all the other characters as well, have some fun with them this year and see the interesting places we can take them.
Yeah, the writer’s room is up and running, the scripts are beginning to take great shape and the stories are all there. I think it’s really exciting stuff.
CraveOnline: What are some of the tonal things you want to try on season three?
Michael Bassett: The show has this huge cinematic ambition which I think is to its credit and a very exciting thing to bring. With what the broadcasters want and the direction the characters are going to go in, one of the things I want to do is see if we can find a way of exploring the price that these guys have to pay for the life they live.
One of the great things about “Strike Back” is that it does exist in the real world and it’s very particular about the research that goes into the stories, and the sort of sociopolitical environment of the narrative. It’s an action-adventure show but it takes place in the real world with real threats that most of us are familiar with. I think the guys who have to be on the ground and explore this world and defend us, it’s a huge price they have to pay.
It would be really nice to see a little bit more of that come into this next season. So retaining the great warmth and humanity that Scott and Stonebridge have, of course we’ve put poor old Stonebridge through terrible things this year with the loss of his life and the story that went with that. I think it would be good fun to push that a little bit further, to see the cracks appearing, certainly for somebody like Scott who on the surface of it deals with everything terribly well, but there must be a pressure inside which’ll bring those cracks through a little bit more which I think might be great fun.
And then visually, I want to just try and push it even further than we have, really get inside the action and really make it a show which has that kind of breathless energy which just carries you along, the kinetic momentum of the whole thing. So there’s challenges and there’s a lot of exciting things to do.
CraveOnline: This season brought Rhona Mitra on. Will we be able to explore Dalton more and push her further?
Michael Bassett: Bringing Rhona on this year was an excellent change in dynamic energy in the crib. Rhona’s an old hand at these action things. I don’t want to be giving anything away what’s going to happen next year, but there’s a very good chance we’re going to see some fireworks. It’s something that will be exciting for the audience but I don’t want to give anything more away than that.
CraveOnline: The action looks so big already. To us it’s all big, so what were the particularly challenging stunts or action that you were proud of accomplishing in your episodes?
Michael Bassett: A couple of things I did in my two episodes or so I just enjoyed hugely. For me it was the shooting of the townships in Capetown. The hero of episode 1, or the principal character was Walter Lutulu played by Eamonn Walker, to bring him into the townships just outside Capetown and shoot the rousing speech and his subsequent assassination and the chases through the shanties was enormously exciting for me because we were just on the ground in the real place running through with cameras in this world which to me as a kind of privileged English guy was a totally unique environment.
And spending a week there shooting this stuff, and experiencing the warmth of that place and delivering a chase and action sequence which I thought on the screen turned out incredibly well. I really enjoyed the hostage exchange where we blow up an ambulance inside a warehouse. It was one of the biggest inside explosions I’ve ever done and I haven’t seen many that size.
Sticking explosives in things and making them go bang brings out the little boy in me. I remember when I was a kid emptying out fireworks and filling toy models with fireworks and then blowing them up on camera so I could see the explosion. So doing “Strike Back” is just the adult version of that writ large. Then the gun battle in the rain where Major Sinclair meets his untimely end, that was a challenging thing. I like rain on film a lot.
It looks terrific and then to stage a big gunfight in the rain and all the energy that brings was tremendous so the key with “Strike Back” is there’s a handful of action set pieces every episode and you want to just bring a slightly different palette to each one so we’re not just repeating ourselves. You don’t want men and women with guns becoming boring and there’s a danger of doing that so you have to keep thinking of new and interesting visual things to do.
CraveOnline: Did any of those sequences run over or fall off schedule?
Michael Bassett: Not for me. It’s a TV budget, it’s a TV schedule and they’re both pretty generous in the TV world. It’s very, very hard staging big action under pressure of time because you’ve got to get it right and it’s got to be safe. It’s got to look incredibly dangerous and at the same time be completely safe.
One of the great things about this show is that all the cast are very well trained. They’re all physically very capable and with Phil and Sully in the middle of it, they’re the most physically capable actors I’ve ever come across. They’ve trained extensively, have military training, they know their weapons, they know how to handle them, there’s never a pause to reload or fix a jammed gun or have to strip something down. They can do it themselves, real time, on screen if need be. They’ve trained in combat, they’ve trained in every aspect of military work.
So having those guys at the heart of it really, really makes the show run smoothly in our most physical moments. Obviously we’ve got stunt guys to do the stuff which is impractical or very dangerous but as far as possible, Phil and Sully do everything themselves because it’s the best way of doing it. It means we could be close with cameras and really see our heroes do what they’re doing.
CraveOnline: When you come in to direct episodes in the middle of a season of “Strike Back,” what are the rules you have to follow?
Michael Bassett: The first rule is to just love the show. I’ve never done television before because I was a feature director. I’ve done four movies and the reason I got into “Strike Back” is because I was friends with Phil Winchester. I’d cast him in a movie I’d made called Solomon Kane where he played the young strident hero with a sword alongside James Purefoy, the lead character.
Phil and I stayed in touch because I’d cast him in something years earlier which had fallen apart. Then Kane came along, it was a good role for him there. Then I went off and did Silent Hill and Phil went off and did “Strike Back” and we were just exchanging Christmas e-mails saying, “Hey, how are you doing?” Phil said, “Why don’t you come and do a ‘Strike Back?’” I said "that’d be great" because I’d watched the show.
I thought it was a fantastic show. There’s nothing like it on television in the U.K. or U.S. So I sort of glibly said yeah, I’d love to do one and then a week later I got a call from the producer saying, “Were you serious?” It turned out Andy Harries, the executive producer of the show, was a fan of Solomon Kane.
I went down and met them. I said, “Listen, I’d love to jump on board this thing. I know it’s an existing show. It’s not broken so I’m not here to fix anything but I would love to try and bring as much energy and cinematic value to the screen as possible and take these stories that you’re writing and just give them as much heart and humanity in the midst of all the action."
So there’s no hard and fast rule. The show is a machine and you have to make sure that you’re happy to jump on board that machine because if you don’t keep up and if you don’t go along with it, it will eat you up. But if you’re prepared and you know what it is you want to do within the context of the action genre, then it’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a camera I have to say. I’m so delighted to go back for the next season because this is the most fun I’ve ever had.
CraveOnline: What were you excited to do with Silent Hill: Revelation?
Michael Bassett: Ah, that’s a different beast entirely. I was a fan of the games so I know the Silent Hill world. It’s a brilliant counterpoint to “Strike Back” in many ways and one of the reasons I wanted to go to “Strike Back” after Silent Hill was because Silent Hill is a world of intense atmosphere, fear, creepiness, all these sort of slow, more somber things.
If you’re trying to draw an audience into the world, and we shot it in 3D so it’s a much slower process, and it’s lots of effects work, lots of creature work and it’s a little more gory. It’s a much more intense thing so to be able to take a best selling computer game, adapt one of those, try and make it my own story as well because I wrote Silent Hill and then to deliver something to an audience which is a Halloween movie, hopefully will freak them out with some really striking imagery, great horror fantasy storytelling. It should be a good Halloween movie.
I think the film’s turned out very well. They’re very, very different things, one set of muscles being exercised in Silent Hill and then a completely new set of muscles being exercised with “Strike Back” so they complicate each other very well for me.
CraveOnline: Did the previous Silent Hill movie write you into a corner in any way? Could you start from scratch or did you have to acknowledge it?
Michael Bassett: Silent Hill: Revelation was a little bit of a challenge because the producers were the same producers I had on Solomon Kane so we knew each other well. They wanted it to be a sequel to the first movie, but they also wanted it to be a standalone movie so that you didn’t have to have seen the first movie to enjoy this one.
And they also wanted it to be an adaptation of one of the existing game stories. So what I had to do was to try and find a way of making all those three things serve almost three different audience and feel like one unified movie. The first movie didn’t paint me into a corner so much as close a few doors off I have had to kind of kick back open again or carefully unlock in order to carry on the narrative that I wanted to do.
The writing of Silent Hill was very, very tricky. Of course you’re serving a community of fans, particularly gamers who are very obsessed with the game and they really know the games. They know the mythology and they have an investment in the characters which you have to respect, and I’ve absolutely tried to as the writer/director of this one.
And at the same time, not to slavishly just replicate a computer game, because there’s no fun for me in that. So it was a significant challenge, making a sequel to a movie which is a good five years old now, and making it feel fresh and interesting and making sure that neophytes could understand it and enjoy it as well.
CraveOnline: But as someone who obsesses about the Silent Hill games, the games can take hours to play and the movie you have 90 minutes or maybe two hours, so what were the things you wanted to take over?
Michael Bassett: The games themselves are some of the most artfully created games of all time. I’m a longstanding gamer. The Silent Hill stuff does stand head and shoulders, particularly the early ones. They were unique for a long time. Nobody ever did anything like them.
The game world itself, the sound design, the music, the atmosphere and the mythic storytelling that went into that experience of basically wandering along creepy dark corridors and monsters jumping out at you. They elevated that to something else. Obviously that storytelling can take a really long time over a game, you’re absolutely right. I had an hour and 40-odd minutes to tell the story of Silent Hill so the thing you have to do is tell the human story in the middle of it.
Yes, there’s a game adaptation but first and foremost it’s a human story. There’s a character we follow played by Adelaide Clemens, a fantastic young Australian actress. She’s our heroine. She is what carries us through the whole journey. It’s her story of searching for her father. So on one level, it’s a very simple story and that’s easy enough to tell in this relatively short piece of screen time. And then you fold it all in mythology and you try and bring all the other characters and monsters and frightening sequences, but it all serves her story. If she doesn’t learn anything from it, if she doesn’t progress through it, we’ll never engage anyway and you might as well go and play the game.
The key is to try and make it a human engaging story. And the same thing with “Strike Back” to be honest. “Strike Back” is an action genre piece and you could easily just run around shooting guns and blowing things up. But unless you engage with the characters at the heart of that, there’s no investment of all. So it’s always human storytelling no matter what the genre is.
CraveOnline: Were you able to build any sets right out of the game?
Michael Bassett: You betcha’ I built some sets right out of the game! Yeah, because I adapted mostly from game three. There’s Lakeside Amusement Park from game three which is an incredibly creepy fun set. Yeah, we built carousels and we have these great burning fires around carousels and huge clown structures.
What you’re doing, with Silent Hill particularly, the realization of the world is so complete within the game that sometimes you can just simply play a sequence of the game and say, “Okay, we’re going to build that because it’s fantastically creepy and does everything we want for the sequence.”
There’s moments from the game which I absolutely frame for frame replicate and hopefully the gamers will watch it go by and go, “Yeah, that dude’s played the game. That dude understands it.” And there’s other stuff which they’ll go, “Why the hell did he make that choice because that’s totally different from the game?” It will sometimes be because my story needed me to go there and sometimes it’s because of the filmmaker. I wanted to have a little bit of fun and do something different.
CraveOnline: I saw Solomon Kane at ActionFest earlier this year and now it’s just coming out. Is one of the advantages of doing television that you know it’s going to be on right after you shoot it?
Michael Bassett: I’m discovering that one of the advantages of television is that there’s a much faster turnaround from shooting it to the audience getting to enjoy it. Kane has taken a very long time to get to the U.S. for all sorts of complicated distribution reasons.
I’m delighted it’s finally made its way over here because half the world hadn’t seen it. It’s terrible to make a movie that the only way you can get it is by downloading it illegally. So yes, and then Silent Hill I made 18 months ago because there was a year of special effects and post-production on that so that’s coming out.
The very bizarre fact that you could watch my episode of “Strike Back” and go see Solomon Kane the night it was released in the U.S. and then four weeks later you can go and see my next movie, there’s a saying in England that you wait forever for a bus and then three come along at the same time. It sort of happened just like that for me.
CraveOnline: How long would it be before you know if you can do a Solomon Kane sequel?
Michael Bassett: Now that all depends on how well the DVD/Blu-ray release does in the U.S. It’s been available in the rest of the world, done pretty well and it has its very loyal fans. There’s people who don’t like it, people who do like it. I’d love to do a Kane sequel because I think he’s a perfect character, particularly for a TV series actually.
I’d love to do his adventures in Africa. James Purefoy’s up for it. I know James has got a new TV show coming out with Kevin Bacon early next year called “The Following” which I’ve heard is tremendous. So James is going to be busy for a while, but if we can both find a bit of space in our schedules, I know we’d love to revisit Solomon Kane.