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Roel Reiné, Director of Admiral

Roel Reiné found his calling early: When he saw Blade Runner at just 11 years old, he instantly knew that he wanted to be a filmmaker. After honing his craft in his native Netherlands, he made the jump to Los Angeles, helming direct-to-DVD movies like Death Race Inferno, The Marine, and The Man With the Iron Fists 2, among others. He released Admiral, a movie about Dutch naval hero Michiel de Ruyter, in Europe last year. We talked to the director about making inexpensive movies look like more than a million bucks, the challenges of filming on the water, and how consumer technology is changing movie-making.

What made you want to make movies?

I grew up in the Netherlands and I grew up with American movies. I saw Blade Runner when I was 11 and I knew I wanted to become a movie director. So from that moment on, I did everything that was needed: I started reading about making movies, I sneaked on to movie sets in Holland when I was 15 and 16, and I used my father’s 8 millimeter camera to do stop motion of my puppets.

Then I kind of found out that, in Holland, making genre movies wasn’t really done. I had to get my chops going in television.

I started in local television, and when I was 23 years old, I became the director of this action TV series in Holland—a prime time, really well-watched TV series. I did many TV shows in Holland before I developed my first screenplay, The Delivery, when I was 28. It was an English language road movie that I made with a Dutch cast. That movie basically took my career to the next level. I won this award in Holland called the Golden Calf. It’s kind of the Oscars in Holland for the best director.

Then the movie was sold to Lionsgate and that was my ticket to Los Angeles. It was very difficult to get my first American movie off the ground. So I said to my agent and my manager, “I really believe in the 10,000 hour rule: If I want to become a really good director, I need to be directing for 10,000 hours. Anything that is in front of me I will do.” So I jumped into the sequel and prequel business. I made 16 American feature films in 7 or 8 years, like Death Race 2 and The Marine and Dead in Tombstone—these are action movies that cost between $5 and $8 million for the studios to make.

Two years ago, I felt like I had done my 10,000 hours, and I wanted to make a really big, cool movie. So, I went back to Holland and developed this movie, Admiral.

When you came onboard to Admiral, was there a script already?

The producer, Klaas de Jong, was developing a screenplay about Michiel de Ruyter. He did that for 5 years, and he spoke with some Dutch directors, but he could not find one. They were very scared that they could not pull this off technically because of the sea battles.

I always wanted to make a movie about the golden age of Dutch history because, at that time, Holland was the only republic in the world. We were surrounded by kingdoms that were trying to stop us from being a republic. We were like a small empire—we had 20,000 ships on the oceans, while France had only 400 ships on the ocean.

So I called Klaas and said, “Let’s talk.” Then when I read the screenplay I said to him, “All those sea battles, those are easy. But we need to find a story because it’s too much of a history lesson.” So, I brought in a writer friend and we developed a new script over two years that was more story, more character, more heart and emotion. I also started developing the sea battles and how we had to do them technically.

When you start working on a project like this, how much research do you do? Do you feel like you have to be really historically accurate?

My research is massive. There’s a lot of stuff known about the 17th century—many museums have books and letters from that time, and there are a lot of paintings that show you this world, the sea battles and the killing of our prime minister. So, there’s a lot of material visually you can use as inspiration, but there’s also a lot that was written down that we could use. So that was really cool to tap into.

I wanted to be as historically correct as possible, but we’re making a movie and not a history lesson. The biggest thing I did was let go of the ages of all the characters—because if you want to follow the story of a character over a period of 20 years, it gets complicated. Maybe you need to use different actors and they have kids that grow up and they’re going to have wrinkles in the face and all this makeup and prosthetics. Then the movie becomes very … from a distance you cannot connect with these characters as a viewer.

What I did was give all the characters an average age, and told the story in a period of nine months—but in those nine months, we gave the audience 22 years of Dutch history. All these historical moments are happening to these characters in a period of nine months, and you can connect better to these characters.

We also made the language a little modern. If you go to old Dutch language, it’s really boring. But everything else—even the details in the sea battles and the details in set dressing and the ideas that the main character has to destroy the English fleet—all these things are historically correct.

Why was it important to tell Michiel de Ruyter’s story, and why was it important to make it in Holland? 

I think the most important reason is that he’s the No. 1 hero in Dutch history. Schools are named after this person. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam but on Dam Square in the middle of Amsterdam is Nieuwe Kerk [New Church], and in this church is his grave. It’s a beautiful, big grave. Everybody knows this person and nobody has done any movies about him. So I definitely wanted to make a movie that the Dutch people could be proud of. 

The main goal was to make a really good Dutch movie and to make it accurate. The Dutch speak Dutch, the English speak English, the French speak French so hopefully an international audience also finds that appealing.

There are a number of battles at sea in the trailer. How much of that was real, and how much of it was computer generated?

I really love doing stuff in camera. I think Death Race Inferno has some of the coolest action in racing out there because we did all the stunts in camera—we only used computer animation to clean up stuff. I wanted to do the same thing with Admiral. We had three 17th century ships. One is from Holland, one from Russia, and one from France. We brought them to a really big lake in Holland, where you can’t see the shore on the other side. With these three ships we did a real sea battle, with all the crew and actors on the ships and cannons firing. I didn’t use any green screen because I wanted it to feel real.

But then with computers I surrounded the ships with more ships so you feel the hundreds of ships around them. And we have some kind of Google Earth kind of perspective of the sea battles that is full CG where you can see kind of the logistics of it.

But it was a bit challenging. There are the three Bs: You don’t want to be on boats, you don’t want to use beasts, and you don’t want to use babies on movies. So, we did a lot of boats and we went on the water. Then you have to think about currents and wind direction. So, it makes it all very complicated. But I like to do complicated stuff. It’s my hobby.

Did you do a lot of the shooting yourself?

I’m the director of photography on all my movies, but sometimes I don’t get the credit because of union rules and that kind of stuff. It’s kind of part of my style. I don’t believe in sitting in another room behind a monitor. I like to be with the actors on the floor, feel what they feel and interact with them directly. And, because I’m operating the camera, I can participate in things that happen on the set and correct them or direct them really close by. That makes me very fast—but also all the actors really like it because they never get so much attention from a director as from me because I’m there.

You choose a location, you choose a script, you choose the actors, you block the actors. For me, moving the camera with specific lenses in that environment is one thought. It is one idea. It’s very much about having control over all those elements to make the movie really cool. So that’s the reason I’ve done it on all my movies.

It cost 8 million euro to make Admiral—which is not a ton of money. What lessons did you learn from making direct-to-video films that you applied there?

Movies like Death Race Inferno, they cost $6.5 million dollars. It’s very low, but I learned a way to make them look like $20 or $30 million: Use smaller crews, be my own DP, and never use studio sets—find the production value in the locations that you shoot. I always shoot with four cameras and therefore I get a lot more coverage—which makes the movie feel much richer because we can cut more and show more angles.

I brought all that knowledge to Admiral—it looks like a $40-50 million movie. We did it for 8 million euros because we used the same techniques. We were very smart in the way we planned, scheduled, and shot it. I shot that movie in 42 days and it’s a 2.5 hour movie with hundreds of extras every day—lots of costumes and horses and big sets. But if you surround yourself with a really good crew and you have a plan with stretching the dollar in a smart way, then you can pull it off.

You’ve used drones in some of your shoots. Is there any other sort of emerging technology that allows you to do really cool things as a director?

Many years ago, I think on my Scorpion King movie, I started learning flying the drones myself and they crashed all the time. It was a big disaster. But in the last few years, drones have became so sophisticated and very easy to fly. In Admiral, there are three shots flying over the water that I shot with a $600 consumer drone with a GoPro camera underneath. Then with this GoPro footage we went to the visual effects company. We CG’d in ships and other stuff and then we blew it up in 4K in cinema and nobody sees that this is like a GoPro shot in between the epic shots that we use for the whole movie.

So, it’s also using that technique and daring to use it in a bold way. I operate the drones myself. It’s fun.

On Admiral, we had two days on choppers because we were on the lake and I could have more control. But even when I’m shooting on choppers, I never use gyroscopes. I wear ropes and harnesses and I’m hanging half out of the chopper with the camera on a bungee rig from cables because I can control it much better, and stabilization you do in post with computers. So also there you use a combination of techniques to get the best result.

You love genre movies. What genre do you really want to work in?

I really would like to do science fiction. But also I really like historical movies. I’m going to do a few more historical movies out of the Netherlands. But I also want to do a movie, for example, about Waterloo and the whole battle to kick Napoleon out of Europe. I also had this Second World War movie that I want to do. It’s different stuff. That’s the great thing about making movies—I don’t want to stick around for one genre. I want to mix it up. It keeps me sharp and keeps it fun.

What’s one movie that you think everyone should see?

The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in the West and Blade Runner. Those are the movies that people should see—but I think everybody’s seen them already.

Since you got your start in TV, are there any TV series that you’d want to direct an episode of?

I love House of Cards, True DetectiveGame of Thrones and Vikings. Hollywood is making the big $100 million tentpoles and some sequels and some smaller movies. But the really daring movies—[movies with] political statements—a lot of studios are not making those movies anymore. You see a lot of moviemakers going to television to do it there, and I really like that. The Newsroom and all those kind of series I really like, because they dare to do something edgy and controversial, and they also do it in a style that is very filmish. These series look really cool—they look like feature films.

If you’re a big Game of Thrones fan, you must have been thrilled when Charles Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister, signed on to be in Admiral.

Of course. He was on my list, and I was like “I don’t know if we will succeed but let’s give it a try.” When he read the script and he said yes I was so excited because he’s such an iconic figure in that series. But he’s also a very iconic actor. He’s the villain in our movie and every time you see him, it’s so cool because he’s so powerful. It works so nicely. So I was really proud that he was part of this movie.

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15 Fun Facts About Army of Darkness
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

On February 19, 1993, Army of Darkness—the third installment in Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's Evil Dead franchise—made its way into U.S. theaters. You probably know all about Ash’s boomstick, but on the occasion of the hilarious horror comedy's 25th anniversary, it's worth a closer look.

1. ARMY OF DARKNESS ISN'T THE ENTIRE TITLE.

The film’s title is stylized onscreen as Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness. This phrasing was Sam Raimi’s homage to the defunct Hollywood tradition of putting stars’ names in movie titles (like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein)—but the studio feared the long title would confuse moviegoers, so it was shortened for official purposes to just Army of Darkness.

2. EVEN THE SHORTER TITLE WASN'T RAIMI'S FIRST CHOICE.

Army of Darkness is the third installment of the Evil Dead series and the first to take place during the Middle Ages. Raimi’s original title for Army of Darkness was The Medieval Dead.

3. BRIDGET FONDA FINALLY GOT TO WORK WITH RAIMI.

Bridget Fonda makes a cameoas Ash’s girlfriend Linda during the beginning flashback sequence. She is the third actress in three films to play Linda (following actresses Betsy Baker and Denise Bixler). Fonda—a huge Evil Dead II fan—had originally auditioned to be in Raimi’s previous film, Darkman, but didn’t get the part.

4. ASH'S CAR HAD A LOT OF SCREEN EXPERIENCE.

The 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 allegedly appears in all of Sam Raimi’s films.

5. DARKMAN MADE ARMY OF DARKNESS POSSIBLE.

Raimi wanted to make Army of Darkness immediately following 1987’s Evil Dead II, but he struggled to find funding to finish his trilogy. The financial success of Raimi’s 1990 film, Darkman, eventually convinced Universal Studios to split the $12 million budget with executive producer Dino De Laurentiis.

6. A SUBTLE SCIENCE FICTION REFERENCE PLAYS A KEY ROLE.

The words Ash must utter to safely retrieve the Necronomicon (“Klaatu verata nikto”) are actually a variation on a phrase from the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. In that film, “Klaatu barada nitko” is the phrase one must say to stop the robot Gort from destroying Earth.

7. THE SKELETON DEADITES WERE AN HOMAGE.

Their design is a tribute to visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen.

8. THE STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN MAKES AN APPEARANCE.

Billy Bryan, the actor who portrays the second monster in the medieval pit, also portrayed the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.

9. SAM RAIMI'S BROTHER WORE A LOT OF HATS.

Ted Raimi—who makes cameos in all of his brother’s films—appears as three different background characters in Army of Darkness. He is first seen as a sympathetic villager, then as a dying soldier during the final battle, and, finally, as an S-Mart employee in the last scene.

10. RAIMI HAD TO FIGHT FOR AN R-RATING.

In keeping with the gory first two films in the series, Army of Darkness received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. It was subsequently bumped down to an R rating after the filmmakers pointed out that the ostensible gore in the film was happening to skeletons.

11. PLAYING EVIL ASH WAS TOUGH FOR CAMPBELL.

It took makeup artists three hours to get Campbell ready for shooting.

12. RAIMI STORYBOARDED EVERY SINGLE SHOT IN THE MOVIE HIMSELF.

About 25 shots in the final battle are taken from storyboards originally used in the 1948 Victor Fleming film Joan of Arc, which were brought to Raimi’s attention by visual effects supervisor William Mesa. Mesa got them from a friend, who got them from Fleming himself.

13. THERE'S AN EASTER EGG FOR TREKKIES.

Star Trek fans will recognize the location where Ash learns the “Klaatu verata nikto” incantation. The scene was shot at the iconic Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce, California, where the famous “Arena” episode from Star Trek was also shot. The movie also shot in the Bronson Canyon area of Griffith Park in Los Angeles that served as the Batcave for the 1960s Batman television show.

14. THE STUDIO CHANGED THE ENDING.

Bruce Campbell stars in 'Army of Darkness' (1992)
Universal Pictures

The original conclusion of the film—which Universal Studios deemed too negative—featured Ash taking too much potion to get back to the present day and waking up in a future, post-apocalyptic London. The ending can be seen on subsequent director’s cuts of home video versions of Army of Darkness.

15. EVEN AFTER YEARS OF TRYING, A SEQUEL NEVER MATERIALIZED.

Beginning in 2015, Bruce Campbell reprised his role as Ash in the Ash vs Evil Dead TV series. While fans of the Evil Dead franchise love it, Raimi spent years trying to get a sequel to Army of Darkness off the ground. On the commentary track for the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead, Raimi even shared a few of the discarded ideas he had for the film.

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Beery won for The Champ (writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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