An Interview with Sam Firstenberg
When I first began writing for Bulletproof Action, interviewing director Sam Firstenberg was only a dream. But now that dream has become reality.
One of Sam Firstenberg’s most famous films is the 1984 cult classic, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The plot of Breakin’ 2 revolves around the dance trio of Ozone, Turbo and Kelly trying to raise money to save a local community center. Fast forward to the present day and Sam finds himself as the subject of a money raising campaign on the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter. Now this money is not for Sam personally, but for a proposed book by author Marco Seidelmann covering Sam’s career in the world of independent film, most notably his time working for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. A book with so much behind the scenes information on Sam’s Cannon experience and movies like American Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination and Avenging Force, would be a dream come true for action fans around the world and the great thing is fans can pre-order the book and support the cause at the same time.
Sam and I talk about the Kickstarter campaign and some of his most memorable movies in this exclusive interview…
CTB: First off, I want to thank you for the hours upon hours of entertainment you have provided action fans over the years. Did you think when you directed Revenge of the Ninja that it would lead to you becoming one of Cannon’s go to directors for their action movies?
SF: I am thrilled by the fact that the movies I directed provided so much entertainment and excitement to loads of action film fans over all these years. When I got the opportunity to direct Revenge of the Ninja I just saw it as a lucky break and a chance to enter the world of directing movies. In my wildest dreams I did not think that I would become a thriving director in the field of action flicks with so many of them to my credit.
CTB: Your time with Cannon is the subject of Marco Siedelmann’s latest project “Stories From The Trenches”. This is obviously a project you believe in, you spent countless hours conversing with Marco and providing him with resources. You have even personally contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to make this idea a reality. Why do you think fans should get behind this project?
SF: The subject of low budget genre movies is close to my heart, within the story of Hollywood’s history they are neglected and seldom mentioned, but yet they have millions of fans and enthusiastic followers all over the world. The story of those films in particular of the 80’s and 90’s, in my opinion, should be recorded and preserved and the more that is written about them the better. One of the people (among others) dedicated to that cause is publisher/writer Marco Sidelmann but the world of publishing books nowadays is a tough business and financially very hard to master so any help from the fans is important and rewarding at the same time since this book with its wealth of knowledge, photos and facts will shed a new light on that era of film making and since participating is actually pre-buying a copy of the book it is a win, win situation.
CTB: Why did we never get a sequel to Avenging Force?
SF: At the end of the editing of Avenging Force, Michael Dudikoff, Steve James and I were sent right away to South Africa to begin the preparation of American Ninja 2, after that Michael got engaged in other projects for Cannon and I was busy directing for other companies. The truth is that Avenging Force was not a financial success and that is probably why Cannon Films never pursued the idea of a sequel to this movie.
CTB: All of the movies you did for Cannon in the 1980’s have been released on Blu-ray in recent years and I always love to listen to your commentary tracks on these releases. Do you enjoy reliving your films and recording the commentaries?
SF: For many years I pursued MGM to let me do a commentary track for the DVD discs they reissued of the movies I directed for Cannon Films but to no avail, MGM was not interested, but lately with the issuing of the same movies on Blu-Ray it is happening and I am invited to add commentary to every one of them here, domestically, and abroad. I do enjoy telling the stories I remember of the behind the scenes of those movies not so much in order to relive the times but to be given the chance to enhance the experience and enjoyment of the viewers like yourself.
CTB: One of your commentary tracks actually got me into some hot water with stunt coordinator Steve Lambert after I wrote about some of the interesting facts you shared on the American Ninja Blu-ray. Steve’s memories differed from yours in some areas and he took me to task. What was it like working with Steve?
SF: Steve Lambert is an innovative and courageous stunt coordinator he helped me a lot during filming in coming up with and executing some of the most original and exiting moments in the movies I directed. Steve and me have this unique working relationship and chemistry that professionally brings out the best in us and therefore creating memorable action and fight sequences. Despite the fact that our memories of 35 year ago differ we are in touch to this day, maintaining our friendship.
CTB: Your name is one that is synonymous with Cannon Films, but the same could be said for Charles Bronson. Would you have liked to work with Bronson?
SF: Of course I would but Bronson worked only with his two approved directors, Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson, no one else. I visited once the set where J. Lee Thompson was directing one of the Charles Bronson movies; out there I ran into Charles Bronson for the first and only time. He was actually a very private and reclusive man, most of the day he kept to himself so no words were exchanged between us.
CTB: I mentioned this movie in my introduction and while it is a bit off topic for this site, I have to mention the one non-action movie you are most known for… Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo! The movie is pure fun, but I believe you have mentioned that there really wasn’t much difference directing an action movie vs. directing a dance movie. Is this correct?
SF: It is correct indeed, I do not choreograph the fight sequences nor the dance numbers that are part of the movies I direct, there are professional choreographers that specialized in doing it. My job is to interpret what they create and present to me and then film it in a way that it will later be shown on the screen in the most effective, impressive, and exiting way for the enjoyment of the viewers. There are slight differences. A dance number can be filmed uninterrupted from beginning to end again and again several times and all that is really needed are good dancers. Fight sequence on the other hand are very technical, segmented and at times dangerous, so it has to be filmed in segments and with extra care. Each of them presents its own unique challenges when it comes to filming them.
CTB: Any final words for all your fans reading this interview?
SF: All I wanted to convey to the fans of the movies I directed is my thanks to their dedication in keeping them alive and relevant, watched and adored even today some 30 years and more after being made. I directed these movies with one thing in mind, I wanted them to excite and entertain movie lovers and hopefully I succeeded.
CTB: Thank you again Mr. Firstenberg. Your movies epitomize the golden era of action movies. I have contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and believe in it wholeheartedly. I look forward to reading “Stories from the Trenches” later this year.
SF: Thank you Chris for the support and your enthusiasm for those movies we made in the 80’s and 90’s and the book.