Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Robert De Niro and Dave Bautista, Heist follows a casino employee and his volatile colleague as they assemble a crew to rob their criminal boss. One needs cash for his family, one just wants a payday, but all hell breaks loose when they hijack a bus during their escape, taking hostages with the cops in close pursuit…
To coincide with Heist’s release, director Scott Mann delves back into some of the genre’s best loved and recent highlights to get under the skin of Heist. He also sheds light on his experiences working with three of the film’s major stars…
Robocop (1987) I probably saw this when I was a bit too young, but the whole visceral experience really had an impact on me. The tone of the violence and action is very significant and, even now, I appreciate how the film manages to remain a little tongue-in-cheek, even during hyper violent scenes. To this day, I love the idea of filming “real” action as much as possible because you’re creating something organic from scratch. Even if you use good quality CGI, you tend to be drawing from references rather than making some completely new. I love the physical action and real effects of films like Robocop and it’s definitely an approach that inspired me when making Heist.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) I’ve always loved genre films and one of my absolute favourites growing up would have to be T2. I’m a huge fan of James Cameron’s work but this one, in particular, had a big impact on me. I saw it as a kid and it made me realise how good an action film really can be. In retrospect, it’s because it has such strong characters behind it and you end up caring about the action. We become invested. Action is actually incredibly hard to do well and Cameron is one of the masters.
From watching the film almost every day as a kid, I learned pretty much every cinematic cut and camera angle from paying attention to how Cameron frames his action. Funnily enough I shot a kind of homage to T2 in my previous film, The Tournament, and Cameron’s producer Gale Anne Hurd saw it, spotted those references and emailed me! That was very cool.
Speed (1994) This would have to be one of my favourite action films. It’s also Jan de Bont’s first movie as a director which is incredible because it’s so well executed. I’m also a big fan of Keanu Reeves. You couldn’t do a film about a bus chase without being compared to Speed, so we just had to accept it and try to do something different. As it happens, the director of photography and I tracked down some “behind the scenes” material from Speed and even spoke to some of the production team involved about how they did it, over 20 years ago! We couldn’t emulate all their methods and tricks because we weren’t working to the same budget but it gave us ideas about how to frame certain scenes on the bus and use the space almost like a mini theatre, which was an interesting approach.
Starship Troopers (1997) I’m a big fan of Paul Verhoeven and his unusual repertoire of films. Throughout the 1980s and 90s he made so many impressive movies, like Total Recall and Basic Instinct. The action in Starship Troopers is actually very intense, so much so that people might not immediately realise it’s tongue- in-cheek. If you look at it through the lens of being slightly sarcastic, and having fun with it, that’s a very cool and creative way to work. The action is also chaotic and not too pretty which I like.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) The first time I remember seeing this high energy, documentary style of action and drama was in Saving Private Ryan. It’s funny how we read into the camera operator’s body language which influences how we feel about the energy of the scene. It doesn’t require “shaky cam” but rather the ability to move around the scene in a way that enhances the action through key moments. Since first seeing the film, I’ve consciously worked with camera operators who understand this “language”.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) As I’ve got older and more mature, the Paul Greengrass hyper-realistic, documentary-influenced style has been very inspiring for me, bringing new energy and realism. Unfortunately now I think people have taken it too far with “shaky cam” and use this method to hide badly done sequences, rather than applying it cleverly to add energy and still allow you to follow the geography of a scene. I possibly enjoyed The Bourne Supremacy more as an overall movie, but the action in Ultimatum really takes you on a ride. The style of the fight scenes are very intense, yet you can follow everything that’s happening, all driven by Jason Bourne’s character and journey.
The Raid (2011) This is an amazingly executed film. It’s almost perfect from beginning to end because they spent a lot of time getting each element just right. Also, going back to the idea of “real” physical action, the same goes for fight scenes and the performance. In The Raid, the actors are incredibly skilled and put an exceptional amount of time, preparation and intensity into the many fights. Actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Dave Bautista in Heist are extremely physical performers and like to get hands on. It’s the same with Scott Adkins when I worked with him in The Tournament, it makes such a difference.
On working with Jeffrey Dean Morgan He’s so experienced and comes across as a real acting veteran who carries the heart and soul of the movie. That’s incredibly hard to do. The whole film was shot in only 17 days and keeping up that emotional engagement, not just for the action but the story as well, is very demanding. It was nice because, since Jeffrey was working closely with Dave [Bautista], Dave was very focused and keen to learn from him so they made a great pair.
On working with Dave Bautista He’s such a good actor, very focused and loves getting into the character, plus he’s the loveliest guy on the planet. After a hard day at work I’m always happy to hug things out because it’s a big love affair at the end of the day and Bautista gives the biggest bear hugs! I recall he made Spectre after Heist and I remember him saying “I want to get back on the bus” [Laughs] which is because they were working on around an eighth of a page of script in four days and we were shooting 8-10 pages per day while racing down the freeway, and so the actors had a lot of fun. It was a very refreshing and organic way to work.
On working with Robert De Niro I was obviously very starstruck working with De Niro as he’s one of my heroes. What’s great is that he actually loves being directed. As it was such an intense shoot, I asked him to trust me because we’d have to cut to the proverbial chase if things were working, or not. However, he has no ego and he’s very happy to try different things so it was a real pleasure and honour. One day I did have to pinch myself while reading lines with him because I couldn’t quite believe it, it was surreal! [Laughs]
I think he was attracted to early changes we made to the script focusing on elements of fatherhood and sacrifice. What we tried to do was take the classic Casino style character he’s well known for but explore a different part of his life, perhaps in his later years. I think this was interesting and his character experiences one of the biggest arcs in the story. It was also really nice to see him do something different. In short, I had the most amazing cast to work with and it was worth its weight in gold.