INTERVIEW WITH Molotov Mitchell - FILMMAKER, ACTOR, writer

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Tell us about your background and when did you decide to become a filmmaker/actor/screenwriter? 


I’m not sure when I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I know when I wanted to make action pieces. Before I ever produced a narrative film, I produced commercials, and later political ads and video commentary of a Libertarian nature. I directed the documentary, “Dark Planet: Visions of America,” as well as some short docs about the Southern border and the proposed 9/11 Mosque for WND-TV. Years of that kind of work gave me the chops I needed to produce bigger creative projects. That’s my background. And my inspirations? Gosh. I guess the first time I saw “Seven Samurai” is a big moment. That’s when I knew that I just had to tell stories like that. Because there’s such a purity to hand-to-hand combat, you know? It’s both literal and symbolic. It embodies the conflict we all face in living versus dying, success versus failure, day in and day out. Now, this was many years before I started producing films or even knew Krav Maga, real “badassery,” right? But (the director) Kurosawa’s swordplay storytelling really resonated with me. I loved the hard edge of truth I saw in the plight of seven men standing up for the oppressed villagers. Back then, I was a punk rocker; I romanticized resistance. And vocationally, I still do. I turned 40 this year, so even though I’m what could pass for an old fart these days, I still love fighting. I own a combat training center in North Carolina called Triangle Krav Maga. Every day, we fight because that’s how you stay sharp. That’s the resistance I love, the art of staying dangerous. For me, that’s part of being an American. 



Films that inspired you to become a filmmaker/actor/screenwriter?


“Oldboy,” the older Korean film, has this insane one-shot, continuous action scene where the protagonist fights off, like, an entire hallway full of thugs with just his fists, his feet and a hammer. It’s shocking because it’s so realistic and utterly savage. Oh Dae-Su (the hero) gets knocked down, he gets kicked, beaten to shit, at one point even plays dead! But then he pops up swinging! Flailing, really. He just won’t give up. And this is really ugly fighting but it’s still got geometry to it, like Krav Maga does. It’s nothing like the buttery-smooth ballet of run-of-the-mill martial arts films where the hero stays pretty. That hammer fight was a mosh pit, man. Just like real life. The guy (Oh Dae-Su) gets knocked around, but keeps hammering through feet, knees, arms and anything else that gets near him, ‘til he’s the last man standing. In the late nineties, I lived on the street for a year to study the homeless, and as you might imagine, I saw some violence. I’ve been in group fights before and it’s just like what you see in “Oldboy.” Total chaos. You’ve gotta kick, bite, and rip anything you can to stay on your feet, or you’ll end up on your back, and that’s the last place to be in a fight with multiple attackers. Another film that inspired me was “Hanna.”  There were several moments in the film that were pretty real, like when the big skinhead is fighting Eric (the actor Eric Bana, who played Hanna’s father in the film), and he does a defensive front kick from Krav Maga. Just boots him. Then he winds up for a finisher, a real haymaker, and Eric does this beautiful 360 simultaneous counter with a heel strike. That’s when you block the wide attack with one hand and strike directly to the face with other. Perfect execution. And totally real! The exact same thing I’ve taught civilians, police and Spec Ops units for the past ten years. But it was the first time I’d ever seen Krav Maga used in a motion picture like that. Since then, elements of Krav have popped up in films like “The Debt,” “Alex Cross” and at least one of the “Bourne Identity” films, among others. But until we came along, movies didn’t really showcase authentic, gritty Krav Maga techniques. Oh! It has been done in one video game, however, if any readers would like to see Krav in that genre. The game is “Splinter Cell: Conviction.” I know we’re supposed to be talking film, but let me geek out for just one minute? Every single one of Sam Fisher’s (the game’s protagonist) moves are legit Krav Maga takedowns and finishers. Its so amazing. We even did a workshop weekend where we did nothing but train those takedowns. Epic! Okay, I’m ready to move on. So! Where were we? Inspiration, yes. So after I'd seen Krav ignored in films, I decided to to do something about it. In 2014, we released the world’s first film that only utilized Krav Maga techniques throughout it, and that was “Krav Maga Compendium.” That went viral, but we never put it to the festival circuit. It was meant to be a visual textbook to Krav moves; people can see it at thisiskravmaga.com, by the way. Each technique’s title flies on and offscreen in Hebrew and English, each time it’s used, so it wasn’t as wild or creative as a narrative piece. So this year, we set out to do just that. “WASTERS” is the first film to feature Krav Maga in an artistically, stylistically wild universe while retaining the true movements and principles of our fighting system.


Who is your biggest influence? 


George Miller and Robert Rodriguez are probably my two greatest influences for “WASTERS.” But in the broader sense, I really look up to Akira Kurosawa and Michael Mann for “Seven Samurai” and “Heat,” respectively. Decades later, those films are still extremely powerful. 


What were some of the challenges you had to face in making your films? 


As with every indie, financing was always a bear (laughs). It’s been a tremendous hurdle up until “WASTERS,” but not this time around. With this film, the greatest challenge was making sure that our actors could execute the fighting techniques, flawlessly. Many, many hours of practice, weekends of training and numerous takes really took a toll on the cast, especially my wife (Greer Mitchell, who plays Molotov’s co-lead “Sawyer”). With Fight Dub (Triangle Krav Maga’s fight team), we do our own stunts, so what you see in the film is what you get. Or what we got, actually. We got beaten up, kicked around and thrown out of windows nine feet high, for real. Nobody got injured, but we may have hurt somebody’s feelings once or twice (laughs). It was demanding, but we kept working, bleeding and even crying at times, until the final shot was right. And I’m very proud of the cast for it. Fight Dub is world class, and the final result really reflects that. 


Do you have a favorite genre to work in? Why is it your favorite? 


At this point, I’m more inclined toward action than anything else. I know it, I can do it. One of the accolades I treasure most is my Best Stuntman Award, from the Oniros Film Awards in Italy. That was a great honor to receive, given my line of work. And though I’m a huge fan of intangible things like classical literature or political science, the grounded, corporeal nature of physical conflict inspires me on many levels. I think that’s why Hemingway loved his pugilism and other physical challenges, despite being known as America’s most brilliant author. These days, there’s way more emphasis on feelings than on facts. I mean, that’s how people still push socialism, for example. Any nation that identifies as a socialist state restricts basic human rights and is extremely poor. We all know that. Even though millions starve in China, they have a lot of debtors around the world and use sweatshops to pump out car parts and electronics so their economy’s stronger than, say, Cuba. China’s adopted capitalism, but still identifies as a socialist state because they’re too embarrassed to admit that socialism didn’t work. If it had, they wouldn’t have adopted capitalism! They wouldn’t be working with Apple and Ray Ban! They make über-capitalist products for us. Even all-American products like American Girl Dolls and Radio Flyer wagons are actually manufactured by supposedly-socialist China. The point is, they practice capitalism, minus basic human rights, of course. And when you see this, it’s obvious that feelings are what drive people’s dedication to socialism, because the facts say that it’s a failure. In cinema, it’s the same. Just like in the real world, fists are facts. There’s no debate about what works when you get thrown through a glass table, right? There’s no ambiguity about a fist through your jaw. Fighting’s symbolic of cold, hard reality, just like the cold, hard, economic depression of Cuba. And taking matters into your own hands separates what works from what doesn’t, feelings be damned. It reflects or calculates all of your past experiences, all of your worldviews and passions, adds them all together and reveals a life-defining sum in one ruthless instant. You live or you don’t. Fighting reveals who you are more than what party you support or what politician you vote for. It exposes what you are, deep down. Are you a hero, a fool or a coward that runs at the first sign of physical danger? 


What’s your all-time favorite movie and why?


Easy. 

“Braveheart” is easily the greatest movie of all time for me, because it showed the world what true courage looked like. It pushed an entire generation toward real courage and independence, which we could really use more of these days. And technically, it was also the first film to throw terrified film crews and delicate equipment into the dumpster fire of muddy, medieval warfare and the first to actually show blood hitting the camera lens. Braveheart’s battles made you feel fear, as the camera lurched when struck by a horse or a falling soldier. It was intense! Before then, as the audience, we were used to seeing heroes and villains kicking each other’s asses. Braveheart was the first film to kick ours, too.


If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?


Mel Gibson. He’s one of the greatest actors and filmmakers of all time. “Braveheart.” Full stop.


Tell us something most people don't know about you.


I’ve died and come back to life more than once.


The one person who has truly believed in you throughout your career.


I have so many great people supporting me today, especially my wife Greer. She’s amazing, beautiful and supportive. She’s the best. But long before I met her, nearly two decades ago, when making films or opening a combat training were just dreams, my ex-wife Patricia, she believed in me and supported me in every way that she could. Having someone who loves an idea that would sound outrageous to the average person is the greatest gift a visionary could ask for. So, I’m thankful to her for that and always will be. But as I said, today, Greer provides support and critical opinion. Having a partner to challenge and hone your ideas is also invaluable. I’m very lucky to have her in my corner.


What was the most important lesson you had to learn as filmmaker/actor/screenwriter? 


Lighting. And I’m still learning it! The biggest lesson I’ve learned in that area was that it’s better to underlight than to overdo it. In post, you can possibly brighten low-lit footage, but when a scene is blown out, there’s nothing you can do.


Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?


I love to start projects, but wrapping them up takes a lot more self-control and time management. Having date-sensitive goals and intentionally setting them up so that other people depend on their completion is the key. I’m borrowing from the great Adam Smith here, who was probably the first person to ever observe that we often do our worst for ourselves and our loved ones but perform at our very best when strangers are involved. And I must say, after years of thinking about it, Mr. Smith is absolutely right. I honestly don’t respect myself as much as my staff or associates. It’s so easy to let myself down, but others? Oh, no. Not gonna happen. Not unless something crazy is going on. So, I set it up so that I’d be letting other team members down if I don’t get my work done on time. It forces me to be excellent.


What keeps you motivated?


Time. You’ll never get it back, man! So make every moment count!


How has your style evolved?


I used to be all about documentary work. I was pretty didactic, pushing the truth out, confronting viewers with reality. These days, I’m more interested in making fiction that reflects reality.


On set, the most important thing is:


A strong director. Even if and when things go wrong, an assertive director can steer the ship back on course. But if the director’s soft or even too easygoing, they won’t command the respect of their cast and crew. And there goes your time management, powerful performances and any technical excellence. The director has to set the tone and inspire an atmosphere of excellence. That’s not an easy thing to do! I think that most people aren’t equipped for it.


The project(s) you’re most proud of:


Honestly, I’m most proud of WASTERS. It’s a giant leap for Krav Maga! And it was a blast to make. I love the people I work with. They’re all top drawer, all the way. Especially my staff. Shout-out Caryn, Jason, Erik, Greer, everybody at TKM. Love you three thousand!


The most challenging project you worked on. And why?


Oh, wow. I think that would have to be when I was sent to the Southern border to see if it was secure or porous. It’s porous, in case anyone’s wondering (laughs). I interviewed law enforcement, border patrol, even militia members. At the time, the cartels supposedly had a bounty out on any American militia members near the Arizona border, which is where I was. So I had to wear Level 4 body armor just to roll with the militia to see what they’re doing out there. A couple times there were spotters that could have been snipers, and everybody had to take cover. Both times, the spotters took off. One time, I saw the gleam off of one of their binoculars or scopes, I couldn’t tell. They weren’t snipers, but it was still really scary, man. And then we had to stay in an abandoned mine, which they’d converted into their headquarters. There was no cell service out there, so my family and friends were freaking out the whole time I was there. And then, one night, a swarm of bats flew over me. Let me tell you, that is a seriously awful thing to wake up to. And I couldn’t see anything because the genny (power generator) had gone down, but I felt them flying right over me, squealing and shrieking. Holy cow. I’m PTSD’ing right now! I rolled over and covered my head, yelling at the top of my lungs. I honestly didn’t know what was going on, man! When I turned on my headlamp, there was guano like, everywhere, including my sleeping bag. Thankfully, none got on my body, but yeah. That was literally batshit crazy (laughs). 


What are your short term and long term career goals?


With Krav Maga, my long term goal is to continue training and certifying instructors through our federation, Atlas Krav Maga. In terms of film, I’d love to make either WASTERS 2 or a full-length WASTERS, proper. So far, WASTERS has won over 30 awards and nominations, internationally, so that only improves the odds of that happening. No matter what, we’ll keep promoting our savage system in creative ways and winning awards along the way. 


Your next projects?


Well, in addition to a WASTERS follow-up, we recently finished building out an all-new training facility in Durham, NC. So we’re doing all kinds of things there. It’s really amazing, the new place. Huge. Also, we’ll be making more Krav Maga instructional videos to help people stay dangerous. As I often say, nobody can guarantee your safety. But you can control your level of dangerous.


Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so our readers could keep track of your career.


Sure! They can follow Triangle Krav Maga at

https://www.facebook.com/TriangleKM/


and my page is Molotov Mitchell at

https://www.facebook.com/MolotovUSA