Chuck Norris. Michael Dudikoff. Jean Claude Van Damme. Steven Segal.
Filmmaker Jody Hill gives gives us Mr. Simmons, the hard-nosed, beer-bellied Tae Kwon Do instructor in the indie comedy The Foot Fist Way.
Mix some “Bad Santa,” with a splash of “Napoleon Dynamite” and shake it up with a whole lot of whoop a*s and you’ve got one of the funniest martial arts movies since “They Call Me Bruce?”
We spoke with Jody Hill about his film that recently played Sundance.
What inspired “The Foot Fist Way”? ^ Growing up, I was into Martial Arts for most of my life. The people I trained with were not like the folks in movies, they were real people who shared a love for doing something outside of the norm. Most of the guys weren’t these peaceful creatures who oozed philosophical ramblings, but instead were just dudes from the south who liked to fight, talk about girls, and drink s**t loads of beer. I doubt they ever meditated once in their lives. In this film, I wanted to show the Martial Arts world as I saw it. I’ve always been a fan of films that don’t just rely on plot and hooks, but rather take a world and show characters as they exist in their day to day lives. “The Foot Fist Way” is a comedy, but I didn’t want to make the characters silly or have the jokes rely on a bunch of witty gags. I wanted to do a film that relies on character to make it humorous, kind of like Ashby did in “Shampoo” and “The Last Detail.” I’ve also always been a fan of movies about “outsiders” and I’m not talking about the “kid from the wrong side of the tracks” crap, I’m talking about a group of folks that rely on each other and don’t give a f**k about what the rest of the world is doing.
So you had some martial arts training? ^ I took Tae Kwon Do from a young age and made it to the rank of third degree black belt. I competed in tournaments until I went away to school. At 17, I opened a Tae Kwon Do school in my hometown of Concord, NC where I taught a kids and adults class three to four times a week. There once was a gang of ninjas that cornered me after school. They all died.
How did you assemble your cast? ^ Danny McBride has been one of my best friends since college. I wrote the movie with Danny in mind to play the lead, Mr. Simmons. I tried to get Michael Dudikoff for the role of Chuck “The Truck” Wallace, but apparently he’s fallen off the earth, so I went with my buddy Ben Best, who is stellar. All of the Tae Kwon Do kids are non actors and take Tae Kwon Do at Concord TKD, where my buddy Sean Baxter was nice enough to let us come in and use his school and students. This movie doesn’t have any “real actors” in it, just a bunch of cool kids who are more natural than any commercial kids out there.
What were some problems you ran across in getting this film made? ^ The main problem would just be money. I know that’s not a very interesting answer, but the truth of the matter is I worked a job for six years and saved every penny I made in the hopes of having enough to make a movie. When I started to make it, I still didn’t have enough so I filled out as many credit card applications as I could and was able to get a handful up and ready. I maxed out seven credit cards making this movie and have yet to pay them off. With all that said, there was never a doubt as to if this was the right thing to do or not. Once I decided that this movie was going to get made no matter what, nothing could stop the thing from going through. It may sound stupid, but if you’re getting ready to make a low-budget film, you really have to get into the mind set where you’re going to make this film and the only thing that can stop you is death, and even that’s worth it. Once I was there mentally, the rest fell into place. Friends, family, crew, locations, it all came together, once I decided that there was no turning back.
What would you compare “The Foot Fist Way” to? ^ I would say “Flash Gordon,” the Mike Hodges film, which is my favorite film of all time. It’s a great comedy, but with the music and the action, you are hooked from beginning to end. There are so many different genres happening in “Flash Gordon” that it’s amazing the studios even made it. The performance style of “The Foot Fist Way” relies heavily on improv so for that I would say some of the films of the 70’s: “Mean Streets,” “Shampoo,” “MASH.” This is a hard question for me because my goal was to take all the crap that I love from movies, the realism of 70’s cinema, the over the top show boating of the 80’s, the documentary style of “Don’t Look Back”, the hard cuts that the French loved to use, the music of “Eddie and The Cruisers.” Then, I wanted to mix all of this up and create a film that was original and true to the story being told, so hopefully the movie can stand alone and exist outside of genre.