By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Nicholas Gyeney is an independent filmmaker based out of Seattle, Washington and his upcoming film, Beta Test, will definitely break one cinematic record that I’ve seen and am excited for. It will feature a really long continuous shot of well-coordinated fight scene! Getting a film noticed in the sea of summer blockbuster material is tough, and I feel this director succeeded.
His past works include The Penitent Man (2010) with Lance Henriksen in an important role, and Matt’s Choice (2013), starring Edward Furlong, Lee Majors and Margot Kidder. In my interview with him, he revealed that he creates the characters with specific performers in mind, and that alone has me interested in seeking out his earlier material to check out. After seeing his latest movie, I found myself appreciating Manu Bennett (Arrow) and Larenz Tate’s (Crash) talents more. A review can be found on this website titled, “Playing Video Games Can Be Dangerous in the Film, ‘Beta Test'”
This movie is set to debut in select theatres across the USA on July 22nd (see below for listings) and it will arrive on VOD the following month at outlets like iTunes, Google Play, Amazon. I have to thank Gyeney for taking the time to answer my questions.
ES: Can you please introduce yourself to readers unfamiliar with your movies?
NG: I fell in love with film at a young age. Dad introduced me to it all. He died when I was 12. It changed my life. I discovered filmmaking when I realized the impact movies had on my ability to get through losing my father. I decided to work towards creating films that could return the favor.
ES: How did the story come about?
NG: It was born out of a desire to make an indie action film that injected, hopefully, a bit more class into the indie action sub-genre. Most of the films we see in this market are plagued by sloppy production values from the top down. I wanted something to help change the conversation. A movie that says, just because we are small, doesn’t mean we have to be bad. With that said, I knew I had to come up with some sort of spectacle that could sell the film, which is where the idea for the longest single-take fight sequence was born.
ES: How difficult was it to coordinate that?
NG: Well, I’ll say this. We got very lucky. Before embarking on this crazy quest, I reached out to several top tier stunt teams for advice. One memorable conversation was with the team behind the roughly 1-minute long take in Batman v Superman. They were quick to tell me I would need 8-10 weeks of rehearsal and a whole team of experienced stuntmen. When I told him we had 11 days, 5 pro stunt guys, and a wide assortment of local actors and martial artists, they laughed at me. But I pushed on despite that and through hard work and dedication from everyone involved, we pulled it off on the very first try!
ES: Did you have Manu Bennett and Larenz Tate in mind when you were developing the script? What was it like working with them?
NG: I wrote the story with Manu in mind after I discovered him while watching the first couple seasons of Arrow. Larenz came on later in the process. They both have strong personalities with lots of their own ideas, so it was a constant tug match between the three of us to find that balance of what worked and what didn’t. I’m always open to collaboration, and I feel that only through teamwork can anyone make a good film. So I was open to letting them bring their ideas to the table, and I incorporated them into the film whenever it felt appropriate.
ES: For their character names, were you intentionally referencing Max Payne and Assassin’s Creed?
NG: I can’t claim that, although that would have certainly been cool. Creed came from Victor Creed aka Sabretooth from the X-Men comics. Max Troy was a reference to Castor Troy from Face/Off. Creed’s first name, Orson, is a play on my father’s name, Örs.
ES: Kevon Stover could potentially pass himself off as a very young Danny Trejo, and I have to ask if this bit of casting was intentional?
NG: I always saw him as a Mickey Rourke type. Yes, I actually wrote the character of Zane with Kevon specifically in mind. With that character, I wanted to create an over-the-top James Bond henchman character. He poured his soul into the film, and I was lucky to have someone with so much dedication playing an important tongue-in-cheek role in the film.
ES: What other video game worlds are being referenced in the game Max was playing and also in the real world fights?
NG: Well certainly in the long-take there is what I call my “Mortal Kombat” segment. But if you really break down the film, it’s really Mario rushing to save Princess Peach from Bowser’s castle. It was always meant to have that classic narrative structure. Some might consider is predictable or clichéd, but that was the whole point! We wanted to emulate those films from the 80s and 90s, and those classic games like Mario.
ES: Are you a big video gamer yourself?
NG: I’m not, actually. I’m a Mario Kart/Goldeneye kind of guy. I wanted to tell this story because I felt someone who appreciated the world of gaming, but wasn’t dominated by it, would be able to create an accessible movie that could attract a broader audience.
ES: Was there a reason why you didn’t go for the ultra-realism of current gen platforms (PS4 / Xbox 360) instead of a PS2?
NG: The decision not to go ultra real was two-fold. On one hand, I wanted something that was stylized, as Max points out, to distract from the intense violence. A retro approach, if you will. Budget and time were the other reason. We actually developed a functioning game using the Unreal game engine for this film, so those “game scenes” aren’t just animations, they are video game sequences. As I learned in the making of this film, game design is not only hugely expensive, but it takes time. And since we couldn’t afford a crew of 200, I decided to stylize the look and movements to accommodate a turnaround of approximately a year with 20 crew vs 2-3 years with much more than that.
ES: In closing, what’s next in the pipeline that you have in the works?
NG: I’m finishing post-production on a charming little comedy called Second Nature that I’m excited about. Once that’s done I move into either a horror film or a modern western that I’ve been developing. I’m also in the process of writing a script for a psychological thriller with Linden Ashby, who plays Kincaid in the film. Working with him was definitely the highlight of production for me, and we remained good friends afterwards.
Los Angeles, CA (Orange 30 AMC + Atlantic AMC)
Seattle, WA ( Lakewood Mall AMC, Siff Uptown)
Atlanta, GA (North Dekalb Mall 16)
Baton Rouge, LA ( Baton Rouge AMC )
Chicago, IL (South Barrington AMC)
New York, NY (Empire 25, Jersey 20 AMC’s)
Washington, D.C. (Loudoun 11 AMC)
Houston, TX (Studio 30 AMC)
Tampa, FL (Veterans Expressway AMC)
San Francisco/Oakland, CA (AMC Deer Valley 16)
Phoenix, AZ (Arizona Center AMC)
Oklahoma City, OK (AMC Northpark 7)
Federal Way, WA (AMC Gateway 8)
Bellingham, WA (AMC Loews Cascade Mall 14)
Denver, CO (AMC Westminster Promenade 24)
Detroit, MI (AMC Forum 30)
Philadelphia, PA (AMC Neshaminy 24)