Actor-director Emiliano Ruschel on scouting amazing locations for your script and budget
Welcome back to the Forward Filmmaker podcast, where we share stories and advice from a new generation of filmmakers bucking industry norms. On this episode, host Max Sanders interviews award-winning actor-director Emiliano Ruschel. Here’s an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation.
Max Sanders: Welcome to Forward Filmmaker, a podcast from Filmhub. I’m Max Sanders. You may know me from my podcast Buzzn’ The Tower, where I discuss my favorite eighties films. But this one is different. The film industry is changing, and filmmakers must adapt. On Forward Filmmaker, we’ll be talking with directors and producers about the pains and opportunities facing the modern filmmaker. Joining me today is director and actor Emiliano Ruschel, who has worked on everything from theater productions and soap operas to his own action movies. Currently based in Brazil, Emiliano has worked with the likes of Gerard Butler, Patrick Stewart, and Wagner Moura. He starred in and directed the film Maverick: Manhunt Brazil, which has been streamed in more than 133 countries. We’ll be talking about his filmmaking journey, and his knack for making action movies like Maverick for non-blockbuster budgets by filming from international locales.
Max Sanders: Emiliano, How are you today?
Emiliano Ruschel: Good man. Good. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Max Sanders: I’m so excited to talk about action movies. Let’s do it. You’ve been acting since you were a kid. What inspired you to go from acting to getting behind the camera and directing?
Emiliano Ruschel: I started when I was a kid doing TV commercials. My first commercial, I was five years old, so everything is connected in some way. It’s building to be here today with you. I was watching actions movies at home in the afternoon and then I’d go outside of my house and try to do the action stuff, like be a ninja and shoot stuff and running and going up a tree, and you know, all of this kind of action fantasies that I had when I was a kid is all coming through the movies. It’s kind of a friend of mine, those movies on eighties, nineties movies – the action movies that got me so excited to be a kid. Then from this point on, I went to do the commercials. Then the commercials to the theater. And I keep going. It’s kind of starting from this point.
Max Sanders: You’ve gotten all the way to directing, and you have this film now, Maverick: Manhunt Brazil, that has the stylized look of a high-end Hollywood action movie. How did you go about achieving that high quality without a blockbuster budget?
Emiliano Ruschel: I think it’s because all this experience that I have all my life – when I start doing theater, I moved when I was 17 years old to be a producer. Then later on I was writing theater, and then producing theater, and then directing. Later I started a production company. So I was working as an actor doing television, movies, and in my company, I was directing my first commercials, informercials, short movies – it’s all those experience you’re building in your life. Coming back to when I was a kid, watching those amazing blockbusters that the Americans do so amazingly, this was always an inspiration for me. When I started to shoot my own stuff, I was always chasing for that quality. Doesn’t matter the budget I have. I was always thinking about the location, thinking about the light, the movement of the camera, and how can I make this shot, even though I don’t have that budget, how I can do that simple shot to look like a million dollar shot. I think it was kind of exercise. When you go to the gym, you exercise to get better. All the time I had opportunity to point the camera to shoot, it doesn’t matter what I was shooting, I was always looking for that fantastic shot. I think it was an exercise: Trying to use what you have in your hands and make that better than it really is in reality – that is the magic of cinema. That’s the magic.
Max Sanders: Was it a lot of preparation to kind of get these shots on a budget? To make these movies look very stylized and very high end, did you have a lot of planning to do beforehand?
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes. It’s kind of nice to talk about it, because usually people think when you don’t have so much budget or much money in your production, I’m going to roll with what I have. And because I have this experience going through theater, and being able to, as an actor, be part of big budget movies – I work with Fernando Morales and movies in production from Universal Studios – so you have this opportunity to be in a big picture. What I was doing there, as I was working as an actor, I was watching, I was looking how they do stuff. What is the equipment? How can you make that happen? This is fantastic. One of the first movies I did when I moved to the south of Brazil, to Rio de Janeiro – and let’s put this way: Rio de Janeiro is kind of LA that we have in US, and Sao Paolo is kind of New York – I went to our California, Rio de Janeiro, and I started to do these movies and television. I have the experience day by day to work on a small production and a big production. I was learning all the time how to find a way to make things better. What do we have? I have this movie that I did it when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro that was The Game of Their Lives, with Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley. An amazing movie about soccer. I was very excited working with those guys. It was kind of middle budget – small budget for an American movie. But in Brazil it was like a blockbuster – it was big production. When we were doing the scene in the stadium, playing soccer, I never saw that before – it was like 10 cameras, panavision 35 millimeters, recording. That was like a dream. It was so big. So being part of those big productions and small productions got me excited. How can I make this look better? Even though I don’t have that amount of equipment, it’s how you organize things. I did a movie in Brazil called Forever Nevermore – this is the translation. This movie got me amazing awards. I was the lead in the movie. It’s a drama, a feature film. We got awards in Europe and the U.S., and I got an award for best lead actor in the Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival. This gave me the opportunity to move to LA, have an agent, a manager, and start to shoot stuff in Los Angeles. I have those experience in Brazil, but I’d never been to Los Angeles working before. Then I start working in studios, inside of Sony, Disney, Paramount. I did these kind of projects, and again, seeing all those big structures. Then I saw that as big as your movie is, the more planning you have. Coming back to Brazil and looking for the stuff that I did before, I saw that the bigger the budget, more planning, but the smaller the budget, less planning. Then I realized for myself that is the opposite. If you have a big budget and we’re shooting and I have all the equipment – crane, dolly, everything inside of the truck – I just say, “Get that, get this.” But here, I don’t have that truck full of equipment the whole film. I start to realize that I have to do the opposite. I start to plan it more and better and bigger. So Maverick, for instance, what I did is put all this effort in the pre-production. Three months before shooting, I was already working on everything. Because I was acting and directing, I did all the studying as an actor and, later, all the planning as a director. Two months before shooting, I brought the DP to all the locations. We saw the lighting and how we can make things happen in advance. All of the planning and designing of the logistics is in the pre production. So once you have it all organized, on the set it’s easy and fun. You’re not worried about resolving problems. That’s the biggest problem to make a good movie. When you have that moment to be creative and make the magic happen, you’re solving problems. You have production problems, then you have all that kind of stuff taking your energy out of the focus, where it should be.
Max Sanders: I love it. I know you took the tools from LA. What are the great advantages of shooting movies in Brazil?
Emiliano Ruschel: Because I had this experience living in LA, I kind of take another perspective from Brazil. Our currency, this is the principle difference – with one dollar, I can have five times the production value in Brazil. For me, it was so evident. I said for myself, “Look, I shot a movie in LA before, and I spent this amount of money.” And I said, “Look, if I go now to Brazil, I can have, with the same amount of money, five times the crew and all the equipment there.” Then I started to take that opportunity and make this kind of experience. I was living in Los Angeles, working in Los Angeles, and then I had this invitation to do a master class in the south of Brazil. In the end, they asked, “What do you think if at the end of the master class we shoot a short movie?” I said, “Maybe here is the opportunity to do my first feature movie – fiction.” They said, “What? That’s crazy. How are you going to do that?” I said, “I don’t know. Do you have someone over there that could be investor or something? That’s how works here in US.” Then I told them how it works, what I learned in the US, and they said, “We might have someone. Can we set up a meeting for next week?” I said, “Sure, that’d be awesome.” I never thought that was going to happen. I just said, “Let’s try.”
Max Sanders: Right.
Emiliano Ruschel: I had that thought of I hope it works, but until I have a phone call, let’s keep working. As an actor, we go to so many auditions that you kind of create this modus operandi. You do the audition and you just forget. Just forget it until someone is calling you. Otherwise you’re going to just suffer through your bones waiting for that call. Okay, I just forgot it. Then I was doing my stuff, and then they said, “Look, we have the meeting next week. You’re good for this schedule?” Yeah. Let’s talk about it. So we have this amazing meeting. I told them all my experience, all I learned through those years, and what I was planning to do. They said, “Okay, we like it. Can we think about it and give you an answer next week?” I said, “Of course.” Then the same thing. I just forget it again, you know, just keep doing my stuff. I don’t know if they’re going to call me back or not. It’s just, you keep going, man. Keep going. The next week, they said, “Hey, you’re able to talk?” I said, “Wow, that could be something.” We go to the meeting and they said, “Look. We love your idea, so send us the contract, and a couple of days the money will be on your account.” I said, “What?” We closed the deal. Then after that, I start all the planning, and then I can come back a little bit on the story, that that’s one of the keys that I can tell for all the younger filmmakers, all the people that want to do an independent movie, that you have two ways to planning your shooting: One is to write a script and start to break down your script and look for the locations. Or you can do the route that I chose. I have the treatment. I know the story that I want to tell. Because I want to act, direct, and produce the movie, I thought to myself, I need to bring someone with me in this journey to write the script with me. I invite a screenwriter from Argentina. She’s very talent, and it’s a woman. I thought, this is this action movie with chasing cars, fighting, guns, and I want to give more intelligence for this script, and give strong female characters. That’s kind of when you change your hat of actor for director for producer. I said, “Look. This is the great opportunity to bring a woman to work with me.” That was the first thing. Then later is the second one – I didn’t read the script and look for the locations, but I chose the locations before. I knew all the best locations I have in my city and my surroundings. I took the pictures, and I sent to the writer all the locations and said, “Look, we could set up the scene here. Because of this, we can do that.” So we started planning these scenes over the locations. This, I think, was the second thing. I choose the locations and write the scenes for the locations.
Max Sanders: We’ve talked about hiring a writer who gives you a different perspective. You’ve talked about scouting the locations and preparation. Do you have any other life hacks for getting your films out into the world?
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes. I did all the car chasing in my personal car, just going through all the places, the corners, every place, I time out the distance. I count all the blocks that we’re going to do. I take paper and draw it out. Diagram all your scenes. For the car chase, I had closed the route almost like 10 blocks – it’s a long road – that we could have all the scene done in these 10 blocks. So I separate the scenes, because we have an intense dialogue before the chase, and then through the chase, I have the action scene with the dialogue. So it’s about how can we do this to make it real and intense without needing to do green screen? I want to do the real stunt stuff to make it real. So I had this amazing race car – it’s a famous race car in Brazil. A V8. A monster. With F1 tires. It’s a fantastic car.
Max Sanders: It’s a very cool car.
Emiliano Ruschel: The sound of the car is almost like the Batmobile. It’s fantastic. The sound is so loud. You can’t talk and hear yourself besides the car. It’s so strong. It’s a race car. I couldn’t do the dialogue with the motor on, so I have a camera car, a platform, that I put the car on top of to shoot the scenes from the interior. But I did the scenes in exactly the same location. The first two blocks was the page one. The next two blocks, page two. The next two blocks, page three. We did the dialogue exactly the same place we did the car. So I shot the scenes in the platform with the same background that we have the outside shots. That was fantastic. We did all the same trajectory, like 30 times. Inside of the car, outside of the car, behind the car, in front of the car. That moment I planned also to have more than one camera. I had three cameras to shoot all the scenes. We started shooting the sequence at 8:00 PM, when was we closed the street, until 8:00 PM the next day, so it was 12 hours directly straight shooting all those scenes. The planning that we did, the diagram, that we need to do this dialogue in this section, the other part of the dialogue in this section, at that point, the truck hits the car, then he crosses to the other street. Then he stops here. Then he speeds here. All that was planning before. Because if you are going to do this kind of sequence, if you watch the movie – and I invite you all to watch the movie – you can do that, man, in 12 hours.
Max Sanders: Yeah, so batch it all together. Got it.
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes. That was the key.
Max Sanders: So we’ve talked about the action movies. What’s in store for the hero of Manhunt: Brazil, Jack Maverick? Do you have any more stories for him?
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes, man. Yes. I just finished the script for Maverick: Manhunt 2. We set up an amazing story right now to shoot. I want to do this kind of character that goes one story for the other, without so many jumps in his lifetime. He’s living in the south of Brazil when we finish the other one. Then he finishes the first sequence of action in this city. Then he goes to the other city. So we go to Rio de Janeiro, and then we go close to the beaches. Then later we move to the capital, and then we’re going to shoot most of the entire movie in Uruguay.
Max Sanders: Oh wow.
Emiliano Ruschel: Every movie, I want to start in a place and go to another one. We bring the people watching to go with us, to discover another place. Like Maverick: Manhunt Brazil, we came to Brazil, and then 90 percent of the movie was shot in Brazil. So the next one, I want to shoot like 90 percent in Uruguay so people go with us to Uruguay. It’s Jack Maverick vengeance in Uruguay.
Max Sanders: I love it.
Emiliano Ruschel: Then the next one, we go to a different place. My dream is to make every movie in a different place.
Max Sanders: Yeah. Mission: Impossible style. Just every place, and Fast and Furious as well.
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes.
Max Sanders: Did you do some research about Uruguay? Is your model for Brazil and stretching the dollar something 1) that other directors can do? and 2) is Uruguay at a good place for that?
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes. Yes, it is. It’s kind of the same thing that brings the US to come to Brazil to shoot in Brazil. It costs less. So if you want to shoot here, and of course it’ll be a pleasure to help you guys, and I have my production company here. It’s one fifth less expensive. To go to Uruguay is the same thing. From Brazil to Uruguay, it’s easier – it’s less expensive than Brazil. It’s important you know the places. I went to Uruguay. I traveled to all the locations. For Maverick, I knew the locations in advance to construct the script. I know the locations in Uruguay. I’ve been there before, so I know how to build the script for those locations. I think this is one of the keys for us to be able to bring high quality production value to our movies without having tens of millions of dollars in the budget. You know the place and especially have things that you like. I like cars. I drive cars in the race tracks too. I love action. I did stunt acting classes to be able to perform the scene. I’m part of a shooting range. I know how to shoot real guns too. I did a lot of classes for fight scenes, different styles. I think it’s important to do a movie that you’re passionate about, that you love the style, that you know the things you need to do, not just as an actor. If I am directing something that I have knowledge about, it’s so much easier, and so much more connected with your heart. That’s one of the other keys to be able to do a movie and bring production value – it’s when you choose it not for success but to make you happy and make other people happy. In the end, we do movies for other people. I do movies for the audience.
Max Sanders: Yeah. Once you put it into the world, it’s the audience’s movie. It’s no longer yours.
Emiliano Ruschel: Yeah. We have this kind of fighting between the producers and directors doing this kind of movie that’s for them, or it’s so personal. It is, but you need to think for the audience. When I chose to do this movie, I thought, ‘Wow. This kind of movie, my younger me would love to watch this.’ I feel happy about it to go through it, to make it happen.
Max Sanders: Clearly you’re unbelievably passionate about action moves in general. Who’s your favorite action hero?
Emiliano Ruschel: Oh, man, I need to bring this guy – it’s Tom Cruise. He does these awesome stunt scenes. One of the things that I really liked on Maverick is that it’s everything is kind of possible – to make it happen. It’s real stunts, it’s real things that you can make. I like so much that Tom Cruise does these stunts, these amazing stunts, and he prepares himself to do that kind of stuff. It’s well planning. I watch all the behind the scenes. It’s a lot of learning through that. Again, we need to prepare. When I did all my stunts, I have the fire department together. It’s important to say that for those kids who are listening to us.
Max: Yeah, be safe.
Emiliano Ruschel: Yeah. It’s really important we do everything with safety. This kind of shooting, we do it with professional people have have all of this rehearsal before and have all this safe. So maybe one day we can be kind of Tom Cruise that did all this amazing stuff to go to the moon. To shoot a movie on the moon.
Max Sanders: Yeah. We’ll see Emiliano on the side of a plane, just holding on for dear life.
Emiliano Ruschel: Yes. That’s amazing. You know, if Tom Cruise wants a Brazilian action guy, I’m here. I want to go to the moon. But I want to come back. I want to come back.
Max Sanders: Sure. I think we all do. Emiliano, where can people find you or find your work?
Max Sanders: Wonderful. Well, I’m so looking forward to what’s going to happen next to Jack Maverick, and hopefully he can travel all over the world. You’ll be doing Jack Maverick Antarctica in 10 years. Thanks so much for your time.