FilmHounds' Interviews Editor Freddie Deighton had the chance to talk to Bradley J. Fischer, the producer of Michael Bay's new action thriller Ambulance, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Read on as they talk about making remakes, pandemic production hell and helicopters!
Who first brought the original film Ambulancen to your attention?
The original film was brought to me by Chris Fedak, the screenwriter who adapted it. I believe it was brought to him by his Danish manager who knew about it, Mikkel Bondesen. I think the thing about the original movie that appealed to Chris immediately – that also really grabbed my attention – was just this core concept of this big heist movie set in LA (though obviously the original isn't set there) while also having the notion of these three characters who were stuck together inside this enclosed space flying through the city and trying to escape these extreme circumstances. That was something, even though it was a fairly straight forward idea, it was a collision of elements that I hadn't really seen before inside an action thriller. Funnily enough, Michael Bay came to mind instantly, I think both for the obvious reasons of the spectacle, the tension of what's happening inside and outside of the ambulance, the helicopters, the bank robbery. But also I thought a lot about the earlier films that he'd done in the 1990's like Bad Boys and The Rock which were very much focused on character. They were these characters that were at the centre of these extreme situations. You think of Sean Connery in The Rock and the image that comes to mind is just as big as any explosion that he (Bay) conjures alongside. So yeah that was the origin of it.
Did you have any other directors in mind for this?
He (Bay) really was the first choice but I'll tell you that we didn't get him when we first submitted the script to him. I think it was due to availability, he was in the midst of one of the Transformers movies at that time. There were a number of other directors that we had attached over the years but it never moved forward for various reasons and then eventually we sort of circled back to Michael and his reps encouraged us to take another shot and at that point he was available, he read it and really responded. Then as happens when you get a filmmaker like that on board, things moved along very quickly.
It definitely does feel like one of his films
Instantly recognisable right? The second you see a few frames from a Micheal Bay movie, if you'd just jumped into it you'd know.
Are you as a producer always on the look out for lesser known films to remake?
Yeah I mean it's hard right? It's hard enough to watch the big movie that's coming out on any given weekend with everything that you have going on in life. So you rely on people like Chris Fedak's manager or other writers or filmmakers who will flag films, books, articles, other sources of storytelling that might be out there from other places around the world. We've seen it, there was a time when Asian films were all the rage to remake around the time of The Ring. Scandinavian novels and films like the Stieg Larsson books sort of became a centre of projects that Hollywood started to really focus on. Then in television, the Israeli formats have been huge both in terms of remakes as well as just broadcasting the originals like Fauda. I do think people crave originality as much as franchises which by definition are the gifts that keep on giving – in terms of the success of the Marvel movies and remakes etcetera. I think the power of IP (intellectual property), people talk about that a lot and what it means. The conventional wisdom is that if there's a recognisable title then it's easier to market but the truth is, I think it's nostalgia and there's a power that some of those stories and characters have that people are familiar with from many years ago that they have an affinity towards. Though Star Wars started off as an original film, it was an original screenplay called “The Star Wars“. They dropped the “The” and now that's a universe, that's something that's been returned to and Disney bought that for $4 billion and continues to monetise it. But there are other original stories that are waiting to become big franchises wherever they come from, and they'll represent all kinds of different places and voices.
So are you thinking you're going to make a franchise out of Ambulance?
Let's see! I think the audience has to speak first and embrace it, which hopefully they will. But yeah we've been kicking around a few ideas about what could happen next and where these characters might go. So if we're fortunate enough we'll be there to come up with that story and make that movie.
How difficult and different was it to make a film that was made almost completely up of one car chase?
First of all, it was a bit of a novelty to be able to shoot a film in Los Angeles, which is where I live, so that felt like a bit of a luxury. But the big challenge for us just from a production stand point, aside from the usual, was we shot the film at the height of the pandemic. This was at a time when LA was having its turn as the hotspot in the world. That made things really challenging because we felt a bit like the canary in the coal mine. We had epidemiologists that were guiding us in terms of set safety and making sure that we had protocols that everybody understood. I did another film after this that's in post now that was also shot during the pandemic but then I'd had the benefit of having that experience. It was very challenging, telling the story in one day – of course we shot it in thirty eight/thirty nine days! Which itself was kind of miraculous because when you look at it, it looks like it was shot in seventy/seventy five days. It was all practical, all on location, there was very little in the way of VFX outside of enhancements. The helicopters were all real, the explosions were all real. All of the stuff you see on camera was in camera and those are the hallmarks of Michael Bay. I think that's also why it's really great to experience this movie on a huge screen, just to be enveloped in that cinematic journey.
Ambulance releases in cinemas on Friday 25th March