Collider Goes to the Set of Walter Hill’s BULLET TO THE HEAD Starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Momoa

     January 24, 2013


Jason Momoa is dressed in a sharp black suit with his hair slicked back.  With his size and stature, he’s clearly someone you don’t want to fuck with.  He’s walking towards the back of a local Crescent City (New Orleans) bar, and after walking down a short, narrow hallway, he gets to an open door.  As he turns to enter the room, he quickly glances around to take in the surroundings.  Sitting at a table in a small room are four men playing cards, with another reading the local paper.  The man reading the paper appears to be the one in charge.  As Momoa moves closer to the table, he says to the man reading the paper, “Open the safe.”  The man responds, “What did you say?” Momoa responds, “Open the safe.”  Surprised by Momoa’s statement, the man says, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” Then, almost a millisecond later, Momoa responds, but not with words but with bullets.  Boom. Boom. Boom.  And just like that, Momoa has shot three of the people in the head.  “I said open the safe.”  A moment later, Boom! He’s shot the final card player at the table in the head.  “Please, open the safe.”  Clearly taken aback by the brutal killings, the final man left alive stands up, and leads Momoa towards the safe, opens it and takes a step back.  As Momoa reaches in to grab a thin tan file, we hear “Boom!” He’s shot the boss in the head.

Let me back up a second.  It’s August 23, 2011, and I just left New Orleans. I’m sitting on a plane flying back to Los Angeles because I spent yesterday on the set of director Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head.  For more on the visit, hit the jump.

What it’s About

The graphic novel adaptation stars Sylvester Stallone as Jimmy Bobo, a New Orleans hitman who teams up with a New York City cop (Sung Kang) to bring down the killers of their respective partners.  The film also stars Adewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeJason Momoa, Sarah Shahi and Christian Slater.

Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the trailer, I’d watch that first.

Walter Hill

walter hill bullet to the headWhile I usually don’t take the time to give a refresher on the director, for Walter Hill, I’ll make an exception.  Before going any further, if you’ve never seen 48 Hours, The Warriors, Brewster’s Millions (I dig this film), or The Driver, I strongly suggest adding the films to your Netflix queue, or picking them up on Amazon.  Hill’s early films are fantastic.

8 Things to Know About Bullet to the Head

Everyone shoots people in the head.  Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa….everyone.

The body count is going to be very high.  At least 70 people get killed.  No one would say the count hits 100, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Momoa and Stallone have 3 big fight scenes.  The final one involves the two of them fighting with axes.  They filmed the scene over three days and they had three days of rehearsals before filming.

New Orleans wouldn’t let them use the name “New Orleans” because the movie depicts a corrupt cop. So they had to use the name Crescent City.  Clearly, in the history of this fine city, there have never been any corrupt cops…

Walter Hill is planning on using Cajun music and old time band music for part of his soundtrack.

bullet to the head posterBullet to the Head isn’t a big spectacle movie; it’s more character driven.

The movie is trying to mix in humor along with the action and character moments.  Sung Kang referenced the way Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy talked in 48 Hours.

The movie has a 43-day shooting schedule and only eight were on soundstages.  The rest were on location.

The movie was shot on film, but the 2nd unit used the ARRI Alexa for a few of their shots.

The Filming

As I’ve said many times, every set visit is different.  I’ve been on movie sets where all we got to see is a small line of dialogue being delivered in many different ways, and I’ve been on set during a machine gun fight.  You never know what you’ll see and do until you walk onto set.  For Bullet to the Head, we got to watch a few things get filmed.

The first scene was what I wrote about during the opening of this report: we watched Momoa brutally kill five guys.  What I left out, though, was the way Momoa delivered the dialogue.  While he could have been serious, or played it like a joke, as he delivered his lines, he was almost smiling, like his character was absolutely loving his job and getting to kill people was the best part.  He’s definitely playing his character like a sadistic killer.

jason-momoa-bullet-to-the-headAfter watching the scene get filmed a number of different ways (you have to have coverage for editing), we eventually made our way to a local indoor pool where we watched Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang film their escape.  In the film, Stallone’s character has a beat up cabin on the water outside of the city.  At some point, their pursuers locate the cabin, and Stallone and Kang use an escape hatch in the middle of the floor to dive into the water and swim away.  After they get to the other side, Stallone uses a remote detonator to blow up the cabin while a bunch of people are inside.

As you might imagine, a movie isn’t going to ask the lead actors to jump into the Mississippi River.  After all, it’s dirty, and you can’t control the elements.  So what the production did was recreate the bottom of the cabin above an indoor swimming pool and they had Stallone and  Kang jump into the pool to pretend that was the river.  In addition, we watched as an underwater cameraman got a number of takes of Stallone and Kang swimming.  So when you see it in the movie, it’s not stuntmen.

What I found really interesting was what happened after each take.  Since Walter Hill was on first unit directing Jason Momoa, the second unit director would show Stallone the playback after every take and they’d discuss what worked and what needed a fix.  It’s clear that while Stallone isn’t directing Bullet to the Head, he’s very involved in the production and cares about every take.

sylvester-stallone-bullet-to-the-headAfter watching a number of takes, we left the extremely hot and humid pool for a short break.

Since the next part of the production was going to take place on the streets of New Orleans near Bourbon Street, we had a few hours to ourselves.  After some food and plenty of water, we eventually made our way to the production and watched – along with tons of regular folks who were lining the streets – Stallone do a small dialogue scene inside a brand new, black Ferrari.  While I don’t know what he was saying in the scene, we watched as two cameras recorded the action.  One was directly in front of the car and peering in from the front window, and the other was on the sidewalk with dolly tracks running parallel to the car.  As Stallone talked on a phone, we watched as the dolly pushed along the tracks.

From there, we watched as the production got a few establishing shots of the local hotel, and right after that, we walked back to our hotel.

Final Thoughts

As a big fan of Walter Hill, I’m sincerely rooting for Bullet to the Head to be a kick-ass film.  I’d like nothing more than Hill to make another awesome film, and for him to remind all the younger film fans that he’s a great and talented director.  Like most set visits, I left thinking what I just watched could be very cool.  Hopefully, it will be.

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