An Interview with ‘Raze’ Director Josh Waller

Hey guys, Aaron Peterson here with our exclusive interview with Raze director, Josh Waller. Raze is an action film centered around 50 women captured by a secret society and forced to fight to the death, or watch their loved ones perish. Zoe Bell stars as Sabrina, a woman forced to fight in order to save her daughter’s life. The movie stars Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Doug Jones, Tracie Toms, and Rebecca Marshall among others. You can also read my interview with star Zoe Bell here.

Raze is a ‘no holds barred’ action flick, and a throwback to when fights scenes carried that intense realism that is so missing from today’s overly-choreographed nonsense. The winners here are often unpredictable and that makes the film interesting all the way through the end. We reviewed Raze recently on Episode 123, as well as you can look for my written review shortly on the site. Raze hits theaters and Video OnDemand January 10th and you can find even more info at RazetheMovie.com.

Josh knew what he was getting into with this film, as it can easily cross over into exploitation if he didn’t tow the line (which it doesn’t, in my humble opinion). We discuss where Raze came from, gathering such a talented cast, shooting on a tight budget, and even where this could go as a franchise. A great interview with an up-and-comer. Here is my interview with ‘Raze’ Director Josh Waller:

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Aaron Peterson: Alright, well, I have to tell you, to be honest with you, I watch a lot of movies each year. So it’s rare that one catches me by surprise, and Raze did. So, well done.

Josh Waller: Aw, thanks man. I appreciate that.

AP: And that’s sincere. I knew about it, and it’s kind of fell off the radar, and it popped up and I watched it. It was a lot better than I honestly anticipated. Great job.

JW: I think that’s one of the pluses about doing a film like Raze with, in that sub-genre of like, women and prisoners. Because, you know, people are just going to automatically anticipate that it’s going to be exploitation and, you know, kind of… well. Exploitation.

AP: And honestly, I read a few reviews before I watched it, just to kind of get a feel for it. And some of them had implied that this was in the exploitation genre… I didn’t feel like that at all watching the movie. Not at all.

JW: Good. Thank you. Look, there’s obviously… I’d be a fool to completely avoid some of the cliches within that genre, but I just choose to take some of those cliches more seriously than I’ve seen before.

AP: Before we get straight to the movie, tell me a little bit more about yourself. What brought you to Hollywood and made you want to be a writer and director?

JW: [Laughs] Okay. Well, I’ve been in L.A. since early 2000’s. I moved here from New York City and when I was living in New York, I was attending the William Esper studio. So I went to a 2 year acting program out there. You know, I wanted to be involved with film every since I was probably 5 years old. Initially inspired by films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and such. I just didn’t know how I was going to go about doing it and I also always thought that because the person that you relate to in a film are the characters, are the actors, that I always imagined that I was going to become an actor. And started to throw some of my energy into that as an adult after I finished with the military.

But then, you know, the only thing I never really liked about acting was the lack of control you have with your own career. So I started writing and developing stuff for myself as an actor, and then produced and directed a little short for me to act in. It was going to be, ya know, a show piece for me as an actor. And pretty much the moment that I finished shooting it, I realized ‘ohhhhhh, I’m not supposed to be in front of the camera’.  You know? The sense of accomplishment, the sense of fulfillment that came that came with creating something from absolutely nothing. Creating something that was nothing more than an idea. And then I was able to translate that idea into something tangible and then watch it on a screen. That was an immense sense of accomplishment. I just went ‘wow, that is something that I have never felt in any way as an actor.’

AP: Wow.

JW: And so I just kind of went for it. And you know, I also never really busted my ass as an actor. I was one of so many people out in this industry and like ‘I’m going to be an actor’ and they don’t realize that you have to take it as seriously as anything else and it is a business and you have to bust your ass. And that was something that I was just kind of like ‘I’m an actor’, but I never really busted my ass to do it. And the second that I realized that I was supposed to be behind the camera, it felt like I had a fire lit under my ass and you could not put it out. And I was just hungry, hungry, hungry. And I think that’s when you know you’ve hit upon the thing you’re supposed to be doing.

AP: So, and to quote you, what about Raze lit a fire under your ass?

JW: Um, the challenge. You know, like I said, I didn’t grow up watching exploitation films, I wasn’t particularly interested in them as a kid and I wasn’t really interested in them as an adult. So when my friend Kenny Gage, one of my producting partners on the film, he and I came up with… developed the story for it. He had the original idea and asked me if I’d just take a look at this little 7 page short that he’d written. And I took it home and I just thought that there was something there, it was little more exploitative than I’m interested in. So when I got back to him and said ‘look man, I think there’s something here, there’s something interesting, but if I was going to be involved in something like this here’s what I would want to do.’ And then he and I just kind of started tossing ideas back and forth. And what interested me in the project was that it’s not necessarily what I would gravitate toward as a viewer, as an audience member, and it’s not necessarily something I would gravitate towards as a filmmaker. So for those reasons alone, I was like, let me challenge myself by doing something I don’t think normally would have thought that I would do. You know what I mean?

AP: Yeah, that’s the way you should do it.

JW: And so I was like, if I am going to do it, I’m going to do it in my way. And I’m going to try to take it more seriously.

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AP: And what brought you to Zoe Bell as your perfect lead for Sabrina?

JW: Zoe’s been a close friend of mine for about 7 or 8 years. And like a close friend, I obviously knew what she was capable of as a stunt woman. But more than that, as a friend, I knew what she was capable of as an actor and I felt that she was just the perfect person for a film like this. She would be able to bring a sense of… she’d be able to bring some real gravitas to all those action sequences. And because we are friends and there is a level of trust there, I thought that if anyone was going to be able to push her to deeper, richer emotional heights it would be someone who she also trusts.

AP: Well, one of the best compliments, and I kind of told you this earlier, but for a movie like Raze, it’s a movie about woman cage-fighting, really, against their will. And even though you can see the genre roots, it never really felt, to me, like exploitation. You know, it’s not Caged Heat or something like that.

JW: Right, exactly.

AP: Was that intentional? I mean, you kind of talked about it a little bit, but was it intentional to make sure that stayed out of it as much as possible? Or wasn’t really intentional and it just worked out that way because of your directing style?

JW: It’s intentional. I wanted to take it very seriously. I wanted to… kind of an approach that I took to the film was if this was all about 50 dudes that were abducted and forced to kill each other in fights, no one would ever call it an exploitation film no matter what you did with it.

AP: That’s true, that’s true.

JW: It would just be a bunch of dudes that were abducted and they were fighting. It’d be like Fight Club, but Fight Club meets Hostel. Why does it automatically make it exploitation if it’s women? Like, what’s the difference? The difference is that if you do it with women, most people I think, and what’s been done in the past in this kind of women in prison sub-genre, it’s like it’s going to be women and that means there needs to be nudity, that means there needs to be sexual innuedo between the guards, there needs to be sexual innuendo or even sex scenes between the woman, like some kind of shower scene. It’s like ‘oh if they’re underground, if women are underground without guys for an extended period of time you know they’re going to become lesbians.’ That’s bullshit. You know what I mean?

AP: [laughs] Yeah, and that is the expectation, yeah.

JW: So it was like, I just wanted to treat it exactly the same as if it were men. That’s why there’s no nudity, that’s why they’re not wearing revealing clothes. They’re wearing like grey sweats, you know? That’s why anything that felt like sexual in the dialogue or anything we cut it out of the script. I just didn’t even shoot it. And that really helped kind of reign that all in. We kind of took care of that early on so it wasn’t something I had to be concerned about while we were shooting.

AP: That’s good.

JW: That also relates to a guideline that we have within my own company. You know my company didn’t produce Raze, I did it outside of my company. But my company Spectrevision, we try to… One of the litmus tests which we use on our films, which are all genre films, is we don’t want the films to just rely on the genre itself. So anytime we have a project you look at it and go okay, if you take the genre element out of this script, do we still have a compelling story with interesting characters? If the answer is yes, we’re on the right path. If the answer is no, you take out the genre elements and it’s just a pile of shit with a bunch of dialogue, then that means you need to go back in and you need to start doing some character work and develop the plot more. And then throw in the horror elements, you know?

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AP: And let me ask you about that. When you’re talking about the actresses, you’ve got Zoe Bell and Rachel Nichols and they’re kind of known for their physicality through different things. But you’ve also got actresses like Rebecca Marshall and Tracie Thoms, actresses that aren’t really known as fighters. Did you cast them intentionally to make the characters seem sympathetic to the audience so that you could sell all those points you’re talking about?

JW: No, I mean, sympathetic, you’re talking Rebecca Marshall, her character Phoebe is a complete piece of shit. So, you know, I don’t think anybody sympathizes with her character.

AP: [Laughs] Relatable. If you see them all as fighters you kind of, you think well all these woman can really fight. Some of these are really just actresses that aren’t normally known for this kind of physicality.

JW: Well, I didn’t really want to… we didn’t want to pick anyone that were fighters. We didn’t want to make this…it shouldn’t be Mortal Kombat. Or the female edition of Best of the Best or something. I wanted it to be about, like, normal women in society that are plucked. And what would a normal woman do if she was put into these circumstances? So, I didn’t have those kind of thoughts during the casting process like, oh Rebecca or Tracie, they’re not really known for this. Honestly, the casting process was incredibly simple. The first two people that we thought of, were like, Zoe’s a friend, we can call Zoe. And then I was like, well, Rachel’s one of my best friends, so I’ll just call Rachel and I think the two of them would be great together. And they were. Rebecca Marshall’s been a friend for ten years. She was in one of my shorts that was pretty successful back in 2006 and we worked together a couple times on little fun stuff. And I cast Rebecca as Phoebe, because it’s so opposite of who Rebecca is as a person and so opposite of any characters that she’s played I wanted to give her a chance to do something different and push her to do something different and push her to new heights.

With Tracie it was kind of a similar thing, it was like, you know, Zoe obviously knows Tracie well from Death Proof and all through these years and I knew Tracie… I mean, you know, it’s Tracie Toms. She’s an incredibly gifted actor.

AP: She is.

JW: So you know, it was ‘let’s get her’. I just based it off of personality and talents. Nothing more. If you have a good actor, I don’t care what work they’ve done in the past. If it’s a talented actor, they can pull it of.

AP: Oh, Rebecca was evil. She just nailed that. She was evil.

JW: Yeah, she did. I’m glad that you felt that she nailed it, cuz we did as well.

AP: She nailed it. She never went over the line, she was right where she needed to be. Well, the fights in the film, for me personally, were vicious. Just brutal and vicious. And extremely well shot. Because normally, and I explained this on our show when I was reviewing it, a lot of these action films, you go see them, you know Jason Statham, who ever it is, and you know exactly what’s coming. You know who’s going to win, you know how that fight’s going to go, you know where the hits are going to be. It’s the same fight you’ve seen 100 times. I watched this and there are several of these fights where I was on the edge of my seat going ‘Ugh! Oh! What’s going to happen?!’ Even when I know who the lead of the movie is, you know? And you set that up very early, and I won’t go into that, but the fights are extremely well done. How hard was it to choreograph that?

JW: Well, they weren’t hard to choreograph. You know, there was a bit of like a collaboration with our stunt coordinator, which this is like his first feature that he was a stunt coordinator on. A guy named James Young. And, you know, he’s a member of a stunt crew called Thousand Pound Crew and immediately after we wrapped, he went on to do Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And he was the double for Sebastian. So it was a bit of a collaboration with James and myself and obviously Zoe. Not asking for her input would be completely foolish. Plus, she was a producer on the project with us. When you have a resource like Zoe, ya know, you use it. And with Kenny, Kenny Gage was, in addition to being a producer like us and helping developing the story together, Kenny was an undefeated professional boxer before he got into the industry. So, like, we all had our fingers dipping into the choreography.

The difficulty really came from when we had to shoot the fights. Not because I didn’t know how I wanted to shoot them, but because this a low-budget independent film and what we were trying to accomplish was 19 action sequences in 30 days. That’s not normal, nor is it healthy or recommended. And I say that now. I would not recommend that to anyone including myself. Because it was damn hard and exhausting. Ya know, we would splend like half of a day on one fight, and then you’d be like ‘okay, after lunch we’re gonna go into this fight.’ And these were fights where you would normally have two or three days to be shooting.

It was just about trying to find unique ways to cover those fights because we were going to be living in the exact same arena for all of them. And if we shot em in a similar style and if the choreography didn’t change in every fight to reflect each of the characters, and not necessarily their fighting style, but to reflect their emotional life and their arc, then it would just get fucking boring. You’d just see like ‘oh, here they go down in a fucking well and they’re just gonna start punching each other again.’

AP: Yeah, pretty much.

JW: It would get boring.

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AP: Well especially, and they were all pretty good, but the end of the movie when you’ve got the fight between Phoebe and Sabrina where it’s just like lions in a cage. God.

JW: I love that fight.

AP: I jumped out of my seat. So, kudos.

JW: Thank you.

AP: Yeah, it’s always good when you watch a movie with fighting and you actually want to be in the fight.

JW: Aw, wait til you see the sequel.

AP: Yeah, you already got some ideas for it?

JW: Oh, I wrote out treatments for Raze 2-5.

AP: Oh, wow. Nice!

JW: Ideally Raze is a franchise.

AP: Yeah, okay. I could see how that could work.

JW: It’s got a really interesting society, and ya know, also one of my other objectives with this franchise is people are always complaining, and you read all these articles about there not being enough roles for women in film today. It’s just, like, actually getting worse. And I was like, ‘Well, we’ve managed to create a franchise-able film, in my opinion, where the cast is 98% female. And not only is it 98% female, it’s roles for women where they get to do shit they don’t normally get asked to do. This would typically be like a boy movie, ya know?

AP: Absolutely.

JW: So we’re asking girls ‘No, forget all that candy and the makeup and pretty shit, and we’re gonna come and ask you guys ‘Wanna come get dirty and roll around in the dirt and beat the shit out of each other? Have some fight sequences?’ And pretty much everybody was like ‘Hell yeah!’ And because the whole concept is that everyone dies except for one person, what that means is that with every film that we do, I can cast a whole new gang of actresses. And hopefully help cultivate some young careers.

AP: Well, I gotta tell ya it’s gonna help sell the movie having genre favorites like Zoe and Rachel, and Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn, all those guys. That’s definitely gonna help sell the movie to people that’ll be vocal about it.

JW: I think so, I think this film is really gonna find its audience over time on the VOD market.

AP: Oh, absolutely.

JW: It’s just that kind of film.

AP: So Raze is coming out January 10th, what’s next for you after this?

JW: Well, ya know, ever since we wrapped McCanick, which is a film I did right after Raze that I’ve been preparing for like 9 years. I’ve just been focused on our production company Spectrevision, and just some of the films we’ve been producing like Cooties which is premiering at Sundance, and also Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is also premiering at Sundance.

AP: Oh, that’s a lot.

JW: And I’m gettin ready to head down to Columbia here in two days and we are doing another film called Harrow and following that up with a film called Curse the Darkness that we’re producing that Michelle Brow is directing. And as soon as we finish that, I will head back to the States and I will be directing and producing a comedy called I’m From the Future. Which is just a straight up heartfelt comedy.

AP: That’s a complete turn of events for you. From this movie, anyway.

JW: Yeah, as far as my directing I just, I mean yes, our production company is genre based, but my love for film is exactly that. It’s for all film.

AP: That’s good.

JW: So I’m interested in doing a horror film and following the horror film with a comedy, and following the comedy with a drama, then following that with an action. But as a director I do have a huge soft spot for action-adventures.

AP: I’m sorry for taking so much of your time.

JW: Don’t worry about it, I enjoyed it.

AP: I will wish you the best of luck, I hope the movie is a great success. It’s very good, we’ll tout it as much as we can. And we’ll look forward to Raze 2. Is it Razes? However you would pluralize that.

JW: Razing the bar. Ohhhhhh!

AP: I see what ya did there.

JW: Please forget that I said that.

AP: Will do.

Thanks again to Josh for his time, and you can catch his film Raze when it hits theaters and video-on-demand January 10th. RazetheMovie.com

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Aaron Peterson
The Hollywood Outsider
Aaron@TheHollywoodOutsider.com

About Aaron B. Peterson

The Hollywood Outsider was born in an attempt to discuss a myriad of genres, while also serving as a sounding board for the ‘Average Joe’ – those film buffs who can appreciate Taxi Driver just as much as Transformers – without an ounce of pretentiousness. I try to approach each film on its own merits, and through the eyes the filmmakers intended. Enjoy yourself. Be unique. Most importantly, 'Buy Popcorn'. Aaron@TheHollywoodOutsider.com