Pasha Patriki

Pasha Patriki is a Canadian director, cinematographer, and film producer known for his work as the director of photography on numerous films including Please Kill Mr. Know It All, Gridlocked and The Sound. Patriki sits down with ATM to talk about his recent film, Black Water, starring the legendary Jean-Claude Van Damme, art direction, and his true thoughts about his experience on this film.

ATM: Explain the scene where Jean-Claude Van Damme jumps through the glass window.

PP: In the scene where JCVD jumps through the glass window, his character supposedly shoots through what is supposed to be a thick reinforced glass and weakens it to the point that he is able to jump through it. Of course, in the real life, it would be a real leap of faith – as you would need to really trust that you managed to crack the glass enough so that a split second later you are diving in head first through it. I would not suggest anyone attempting this at home. But if you are stuck on an underwater submarine that’s retrofitted to be a prison, and you really feel that you need to get out – I guess you could take a chance. Why not, right?

ATM: (Laughs). Exactly. Why not have a little fun?

PP: Now you are probably wondering how it was shot… I will explain exactly how it happened so that no one attempts this stunt at home!

In real life, you don’t want to be jumping through any kind of glass, let alone reinforced glass. On sets, we use break-away glass, or “sugar-glass” as they call it. No, it’s not made out of sugar – believe me, I tried licking it once.

ATM: OMG! You are so funny!

PP: But even then… not something you should just dive through. For a window of that size, the glass had to be thicker, and while it can probably easily break when someone hits it hard enough, the decision was made – for the sake of the stunt performer’s safety – to attach small detonators to it which were electrically activated a split second before the actor had an impact with glass. The timing had to be perfect, and we rehearsed it multiple times with the stunt coordinator counting down the beats for everyone.

So, in a way, you could say that it was a leap of faith for the actor. He had to jump and hope that mere moment before he hits this large thick glass pane, it would break on its own. I hope that gives you a good insight into how this scene was done.

ATM: What was the vision for art direction for the film?

PP: The vision was challenging and fun at the same time. Since a large part of the story takes place inside a submarine, we wanted a real submarine interior. The war museum and National Park in Mobile, Alabama (yes, the real location depicted in a film!) has two Battleships from World War II transformed into museums – USS Drum and USS Alabama. USS Drum is an actual submarine which has been dragged onto the land and turned into a walk-through museum. The submarine itself is quite small, and the exterior of it looks nothing like the Ohio-Class or Virginia-Class submarine that we wanted for the story. The interior of it was so tight that shooting there was almost impossible. We managed to shoot a couple of small scenes there nevertheless. USS Alabama, on the other hand, is a war-time hero battleship which apparently stationed 2500 crew back in the day.

It is also a museum with a guided tour, but it is so vast that you could literally spend an entire day inside there and get lost. We used many rooms and hallways of Battleship Alabama for sets of our submarine. The texture of these two ships’ interior provided us with the main concept of the film’s Art Direction. After walking through the ships and looking at some submarine films – namely Crimson Tide, the DP, and Director has a short discussion and it was decided to use colored LED bulbs to bring various colors into the submarine environment. We simply replaced the existing tungsten bulbs with our own color-coordinated LED bulbs from Home Depot and created a completely different visual environment. While it is probably a bit of a stretch from the reality of working on a submarine, but then again – who knows what happens on a black site underwater prison, right?

ATM: Right who knows. What did working with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren teach you about directing?

PP: Working with these two action giants was a real treat. The beauty of working in a creative industry and film is that you never stop learning. You deal with challenges every day. The shooting day usually consists of 40% creative work and 60% problem-solving. At least it has been that way for me, probably because my background is from low-budget indie films. So, through solving a problem, you learn new things. You learn from everything new you get to do, and from everyone new you get to work with. It’s truly the best job ever.

ATM: What is it about directing films that keep you going as a filmmaker in Hollywood?

PP: My answer to the previous question has partially answered this, but I would also like to add that if you decide to go for your dream, you have to stick with it, and never give up. Some careers are definitely tougher than others, and for most of us, it takes lots of perspiration to reach your goals. But you can never lose the sight of your target. Directing films is not easy. It is stressful, tiring, and mostly thankless. So why do we do it?  Because we love it.

ATM: How long did it take to film Black Water?

PP: We filmed over just 4 weeks, and the entire project – from the moment I had the script in my hand to the moment the film was finished – took just over a year.

ATM:  When did you receive the script for this film?

PP: I first had the chance to look at the script in December 2016.

ATM: What were you thoughts as soon as you received the script.

PP: Mmm… I think I am hungry.

ATM: What morals can an individual learn from this film?

PP: I have to say that the film’s intention is not to be heavy on the morals. There are bad guys and good guys…. But there are morals in everything I guess. “Stay true to yourself” would be one thing. “Always trust your gut feeling” – that’s not necessarily a moral that’s deliberately inserted into the film, but this is something I have proved to myself – yet again – when working on the film’s photography and post-production. Being in the position of the director, you have only your own gut to trust with how a scene is coming out. If you don’t think it’s working – you can’t move on to the next scene. If everyone is telling you that you don’t have the proper coverage, but in your gut, you know that you have what you need – trust yourself!

ATM: What is your target audience for this film?

PP: This film was originally mostly targeted at children of 12 years and under, but when I came onboard I explained to everyone that with the kind of language and multiple killings it should be targeted towards a slightly more mature audience. My kids – who are 13, 11 and 9 – still enjoy watching it with me, though. They already know all the bad words. 🙂

ATM: In order to convey the desired message to this target audience, what decisions did you make as a filmmaker?

PP: This is a very interesting question. As a filmmaker, I actually decided to take out a lot of technical details about what this dongle was, and who exactly framed JCVD’s character Wheeler, and a lot of other nerdy details. Originally, the script was packed with all these explanations of who did what and who framed who, what happened to this dongle that they are all after and who is actually behind this whole thing…

There is a scene in the film where Kingsley and Rhodes are having a bit of an argument, and Kingsley says “So who do you work for? The Russians? The Chinese?” – Rhodes (a character of Al Sapienza) responds “Does it Matter?” – “No, it doesn’t.”

So, yeah, who cares? You just want to get out of this coffin alive, right? So, in the editing room, much of these explanations ended up on “the cutting room floor.” We simplified the story a lot, and made it about Wheeler (JCVD) getting off the black prison site; rather than about discovering the true meaning of this big secret plan orchestrated by… The Russians? The Chinese? Doesn’t matter. Just enjoy watching the film!

ATM: Why do you feel you were the best director for this film?

 PP: I can’t say that I was the best director for this film. In fact, being humble, I certainly think I wasn’t. I did my best.

ATM: Hmm.

PP: And looking back, I would certainly have done some things differently. But hindsight is always 20/20. And, as Martin Scorsese once said, “the film is great when it is great under the circumstances.” It may have been someone other than Mr. Scorsese… And it probably didn’t sound exactly like this… But that’s what I think makes sense. Your next film should always be the best thing you have ever made prior to that.

Patriki provides an audience with an action-packed film. His hard work is shown throughout the film while watching the film. From the moment of stage direction and overseeing the daily operations of the film, he expressed his love of films. Patriki continues to work on projects.

Black Water will release in theaters and On Demand June 29, 2018.