Air Collision, the best action film ever directed by a woman (for The Asylum), has a great ensemble cast and comes from a really innovative company; The Asylum, like Roger Corman’s various studios, is game to give a woman a chance to direct a genre film as well as to cast all ethnicities and both sexes for all kinds of roles. In short, I love The Asylum.
Director Liz Adams had one award-winning short film under her belt (Side Effect) when she went in for an interview at The Asylum. She was originally asked to write the fast-paced script for the then-unnamed action movie, but was offered the chance to submit herself as the director as well. “I threw my hat into the ring to direct and they gave me a shot,” she says. This is not unlike the shot given to filmmakers like Katt Shea by Corman; when a studio is all about churning out the genre flicks and doing it on the cheap, it seems to be more likely to hire women in directing positions. Why this is, I’m not sure; perhaps because working in that kind of fast-paced and low-budget environment changes everyone’s mindset about who can and should be doing which jobs, and for how much? Gerald Webb, star of Air Collision (he’s Lt. Aoki, co-pilot of the commercial jetliner heading straight towards Air Force One!!!), says, “David Rimawi, David Latt and Paul Bales, the producers, give a lot of people opportunities on both sides of the camera. I love and have benefitted from that greatly.” Adams is joined by Rachel Goldenberg (Sherlock Holmes, Grimm’s Snow White) as an Asylum repeat female genre film director.
Air Collision is a film that was made on the cheap and seemingly sometimes on the fly; cast and crew changes happened right up until day one of shooting, and the over-the-top script was just what the company wanted for their low-budget-big-budget disaster movie. The Asylum has a reputation for churning out cheap genre movies at an alarming pace but maintain an irrational number of fans (myself included) that “get” the filmmaking formula and the sense of fun. In essence, I like to think of The Asylum as sticking its middle finger out to Hollywood and saying, “Anything you can do, we can do better and for 150 Million dollars less.”
“The Asylum makes over twenty movies a year and they move fast when they are doing it,” explains Adams. When it comes to the obvious rip-offs of big budget movies (Snakes on a Train comes to mind) “We prefer the term ‘mock buster’”, she says, “to describe an entertainment product that piggy-backs on the marketing campaign of a bloated-budget studio movie. Another way of saying we ‘exploit clichés’ might be to say we stick with winning formulas. As far as production value and budget size, one thing I admire about The Asylum’s way of making movies is that they have never lost money on a picture.”
“To my knowledge, they’ve never lost money on a film,” says Air Collision lead actor Michael Teh (he plays Captain Roscoe Simms), “an enviable record in Hollywood, so they must be doing something right!” Like Adams, he feels that the mock busters are “an intelligent business model.” As one of their repeat actors, “I must say, I’ve only ever had positive experiences with The Asylum,” he admits.
“I’ve had a lot of fun working on their sets,” concurs Webb. “There is clearly a market for low budget, crazy, cheesy monster, horror, disaster and mock buster films. The Asylum is the master of that domain and definitely don't take themselves too seriously. Why hate them for scratching the public's itch?”
I don’t, I LOVE them for scratching my itch.
Gerald Webb as Lt. Aoki and Michael Teh as Roscoe Simms, from left to right
Of course, things get a little crazy on a set like Air Collision; it’s done cheap, it’s done fast, and it’s done fun.
“My biggest surprise was how quickly the production was required to move and how little preparation time was available with the actors,” admits director Adams. “Shooting 12-15 pages a day is not unusual for an Asylum production. Additionally, much of the cast was hired just days before production was to begin so there was not much opportunity for rehearsal or to even meet the actors prior to shooting – that was quite a shock. That said, once we were on set the entire team was extremely professional, experienced, and well equipped to work at the fast pace. Some of the actors got together on Skype to rehearse. I would go over actor’s questions and comments while they were in make-up – I learned to be very efficient.”
Teh became cast in Air Collision in “a haphazard Asylum kind of way. I got a call from a casting director saying they like to use me on a film and asking was I available to start in three days. I said, ‘Umm. Thanks, can you send me the script?’ not knowing which film he was talking about. When he said ‘No, the script is unavailable as it’s in rewrites’, I started to figure out it was an Asylum film.”
His (rather amusing) story continues. “The day before I was scheduled to start shooting I started to freak out as I still hadn’t seen the script. Then at 6pm the night before we started, I saw the script for the first time and was told they were deciding which role I’d play…Aoki or Simms. At 7.30pm I was told my role was Simms. Then at 7a.m. the next day I was on set shooting my biggest dialog day, as most of my scenes were shot in the cockpit with limited set up changes. And because Asylum shooting schedules don’t allow time many takes, this meant they were able to shoot many, many pages and the majority of my dialog that day. Having had next-to-NO preparation time, I was literally learning the lines in between takes and often had the script in my lap. Far from ideal acting conditions but hey, I had fun, and I think we pulled it off. But to be honest,” he admits, “the script I received for the first time, the night we before we started, was pretty different from the product on screen.”
Webb was initially cast as Simms, the role Teh ended up playing. “Then I Liz and I had several discussions about the possibility of me switching to 1st Officer Aoki. So there was a very big possibility Michael's and my roles would be reversed! Yes, the final choice did come right down to the wire, about 20 hours before we began shooting. Since Michael and I shot all of our cockpit scenes on day one of shooting, we had to prep 12 pages of dialogue and action literally overnight.” But Webb didn’t mind so much: “Playing 1st Officer Ken Aoki was a much bigger departure from who I am and I loved the challenge that posed. Besides, who doesn’t like getting the girl in the end?! Michael will have to wait till next time for that one, though I doubt it’ll be a very long wait.”
Watch the Air Collision Trailer, so you understand this whole conversation:
Watching Air Collision, especially with a crowd, you’ll notice lots of laughter when the characters are placed in dire and horrible situations. Yes, it’s funny. Much of it is over-the-top and it literally holds back nothing in exploiting the tropes of ensemble-cast airplane disaster films
“Nothing about Air Collision is played intentionally for parody or comedy,” says the director. And that’s the key; even the craziest moments are straight-faced (at least for the characters) and they never deviate from anything but a dead-serious fear of their impending doom.
“I laughed out loud all the way through the premiere,” says Teh. “I laughed more watching this film than I did in most of the comedies I’ve seen in the last couple of years.”
“That said,” Adams admits, “I know that there are moments in the film that are funny, and that’s OK. At its heart, AIR COLLISION is about good, hardworking people in a very bad situation. When an idea that simple and powerful is played earnestly and for real, I believe it has universal appeal – those moments where we push credulity or bump up against the limits of our production value give AIR COLLISION what I hope is an endearing quality that fans of The Asylum will enjoy, and appreciate.”
Adams at the Air Collision premiere on March 16th, 2012 in Los Angeles
My favorite aspect of not only Air Collision but The Asylum in general is that they are willing to cast all kinds of actors in all kinds of roles. Air Collision alone sports a very multi-colored cast, female scientists, a leading African American man, and all sorts of shapes and colors (some unidentifiable).
The reasons for this flexible casting might be that the people in charge at The Asylum believe in a better world, one in which there is no predetermined idea of what a “pilot” or a “scientist” looks like.
“Why can't you have leading men or women of all races?” asks Webb. “It's really just sad and silly that Hollywood has such a limited view of the world. But it’s not just about ethnicity! I think producers, directors, and casting professionals have to keep asking themselves why can't “blank” play the hero? And keep filling in the blank with: the big guy, the average girl, the Indian girl, the handicapped guy, the etc., etc…great actors come in all shapes, sizes, genders and colors even if mainstream Hollywood is late or reluctant to really embrace that fundamental truth. Fortunately, Liz wrote great characters and our producers were fine with them being filled by wide variety of people.”
OR maybe the reason The Asylum casts so many different kinds of actors for so many usually-typecast roles is because The Asylum is really business-savvy? They “capitalize on undervalued assets – many times those assets are talented folks who may have been overlooked because of gender, race, or age” says Adams. “While I think that looking for the most talent for the least money may drive many of the unconventional choices, there also seems to be a commitment to diversity and providing opportunity that is part of the culture at the company.”
Whatever the reason, it works. Not just for Air Collision but for the majority of The Asylum’s recent films. And whether The Asylum is just a mock buster factory, churning out low-budget versions of high-budget genre flicks for mass profit or a collection of extremely witty, savvy, talented people who enjoy throwing the traditional Hollywood machine a big wrench in the interest of art and diversity, or a little of both, they are a force and a phenomenon of which Air Collision is just the most recent product.
As if to cement what I just said, Adams is returning to direct another action/disaster film for The Asylum entitled Supercyclone. “The movie centers around Dr. Jenna Sparks, a research meteorologist for the NOAA who discovers that a new volcano created by a deep water oil rig is warming the ocean off the coast of California and creating a storm of unprecedented size and strength,” explains Adams. She had me at ‘Dr. Jenna Sparks.’ She continues, “She and drilling engineer Travis Verdon realize that the storm will overwhelm the current disaster plan and race against time to stop the storm itself. With the cooperation and resources of Col. Chadwick down at Camp Pendleton they execute a daring plan. Spoiler alert: flaming hail stones!”
Flaming hail stones, I await thee!
The, quite possibly my favorite actor of all time (he does a perfect American accent ((he’s Australian)) and he’s so exotic-looking) will next play one of the lead bad guys in an indie thriller called The Daughter. You can watch Michael asking for his money in this teaser trailer for the film:
You can also see him soon playing opposite Lance Henriksen, John Savage and Brian Krause in the sci-fi thriller Gemini Rising and in the Amber Heard, Kellan Lutz, and Brittany Snow movie by Aram Rappaport, Syrup.
Webb is “super psyched” about being in Huze Media Group's Zombie Plantation, filming this Spring 2012, working both behind the camera and playing the character of “Lee”. Christopher Ray and Webb are producing an episode of Brad Linaweaver's The Silicon Assassin Project entitled The Wall, starring sci-fi star Richard Hatch. Ray and Webb are also producing a pilot for a faith-based film called She's Not My Sister directed by Kel Mitchell.
I would have loved to speak to the other 900 cast members of Air Collision, but then this interview would have been 900 pages long and not “Internet-friendly” for your stunted attention span. I’m lucky to have access to the amazing people that I do.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Air Collision is The Asylum’s biggest success to date; I’m kind of the epitome of their fandom and I adored it. While Webb and I are not quite sure what the majority of The Asylum’s fan base actually looks like, he says he assumes that they range from stoned college kids in campus towns across America, to lunatics, to the Hong Kong investment banker who came up to him at a party there and asked if he was in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Michael Teh was.