Staying True to the Story
Stuntman Turned Director Lin Oeding Combines Emotion with Action with Braven
The minimalist outdoor action-thriller Braven concerns a logging supervisor named Joe Braven (Jason Mamoa) who, urged on by his devoted wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner), decides to take his proud but slowly mentally deteriorating father Linden (Stephen Lang) out to the family’s secluded mountain cabin to discuss medical and healthcare options as his illness progresses. Once they get there, however, things take a turn for the unexpectedly violent, a murderous drug dealer (Garret Dillahunt) showing up to recover a large cache of cocaine one of Joe’s truck drivers had secretly hidden in the shed at the back of the house. The two have to fight for their lives, a situation made even more dangerous and tense when it’s discovered youngster Charlotte (Sasha Rossof) has secretly joined her father and grandfather on the trip, hoping her perky, youthful presence will alleviate anxiety between the pair.
The feature-length directorial debut for veteran stuntman and stunt coordinator Lin Oeding, this B-grade action thriller is one heck of an entertaining ride. Overflowing in spectacular action set pieces anchored in character and motivated by authentic human emotions, the film is a surprisingly terrific small-scale gem that had me grinning ear-to-ear for every single one of its breathless 94 minutes. I had the pleasure to chat with Oeding about his film a few days before its limited theatrical release. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:
Sara Michelle Fetters: I’m curious. How is it that this project came your way? When did you know that this was the one that you wanted to make your jump from doing short films and television work into directing features?
Lin Oeding: I was stunt coordinating at the time and I’d just finished Straight Outta Compton, and when that was over, I decided to take a break from stunt coordinating to shoot some more short films. The next short film I did was called Lifted starring Joel Edgerton. It’s on IMDb to view.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Yes. It is. It’s outstanding, by the way. Congrats on that one. I think it’s my favorite of your short films that I was able to view before this interview.
Lin Oeding: Thank you so much! Yeah. It’s so funny that [Lifted] one has no action in it, and people like that one the most. [laughs]
But anyway, I did that short film with Joel, it went on the internet and a lot of people saw it. Jason had been looking for a director for this movie and after watching it he called me. It was the right fit, with somebody who has the experience of moving at a television pace but also knows how to design action that rivals that of a typical theatrical release.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Well, and that’s the thing about this movie, right? It’s obvious that you were working with a budget that is probably significantly less than the movies that you’ve done your stunt coordinating and spectacular stunt work on. Logan or The Fate of the Furious this one most certainly is not.
Lin Oeding: Exactly. I always say the budget of our entire film was less than the craft services’ budget on most of the films I’ve worked on in my career.
Sara Michelle Fetters: But the action sequences here, I think it makes them better because you know that these guys are out there doing them. If it’s not the actors, it’s your stunt people, and they really know what they’re doing. I was wowed. I was not necessarily sure what I was going to think of this film, if I’m being honest, but once Jason and Stephen got to that cabin I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
Lin Oeding: That’s awesome. That’s the plan. It’s so great to hear that.
Sara Michelle Fetters: How hard is it to do this, though? To make all of these practical stunts believable, especially when you’re on location for so much of the film. I mean, you’re obviously outdoors. You’re obviously in these environments. How difficult is it to orchestrate these events and yet also stay true to the character dynamics that have to fuel the emotion that is essential to keep the audience interested?
Lin Oeding: Myself and the stunt coordinator, Robert Alanzo, we would just sit and have brainstorm sessions on different ways to kill people using things you would find in a cabin, just different ways to kill people using items in a cabin and in the woods, always trying to utilize the surrounding environment. Jason had his thoughts on weapons that he’s just a fan of in movies as well. Stuff like axes, bow and arrows, bear traps, stuff like that. So, it was a, like all movies, a collaborative effort.
But it was also imperative that the action stay true to the story. The action had to be character-driven, not just there to be a spectacular set piece. The action had to feel authentic.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Talk about that. How do you stay true to the characters amidst all this eye-popping carnage and violence? Because, I think one of the things that most impressed me here, was that the action is always organic to the situation Joe Braven and his father suddenly find themselves in.
Lin Oeding: I think it’s like when you work on stunts for two decades on a variety of films, you see on so many sets ranging from episodic to big budget features to lower budget features how everything is done. You discover what works and what doesn’t. You see what looks spectacular but doesn’t add anything to the story. You see what does. You see what works and what doesn’t work. My repertoire of ideas for action is going to be different than somebody who has a different background. I just try to keep all the action inventive, fresh, and, if nothing else, honest. That’s what we were all going for.
Sara Michelle Fetters: I like that you say “honest” because that was one of the other things that struck me about the film. Early on I was thinking things were going to go in a certain direction. That characters were going to do certain things. That we were going to follow some of the usual outdoor action movie clichés. Instead you mostly chose to subvert those and to do so in an honest, authentic way. People actually call the police in this movie. People do what they’re told to do by their parents. It’s a very odd movie where people actually act like they would in real life, more or less.
Lin Oeding: For sure! That was the idea. Jason and I, we wanted to make sure that when you’re watching [Braven], the audience doesn’t feel like anything is gratuitous or campy. He and I have both seen so many action films over the years that we just wanted to do a simple, well-told thriller; make something that entertains moviegoers.
Sara Michelle Fetters: I think you pull that off. One of the nice things about the movie is you spend so much time on Joe and Linden’s relationship that, by the time our villains show up, we feel for these two guys. We understand what they’re going through and what the complexities are that driving their relationship forward. How fun was that for you as a director? The non-action elements? The pieces that were nothing more than subtly personal moments between Jason and Stephen?
Lin Oeding: Yeah. In the infancy stage of my career, transitioning out of stunt coordinating into directing, of course a lot of the offers for movies and what not have an action component to them because people know that that’s my specialty and I can do that sort of stuff in a short period of time. However, as we mentioned with Lifted, and a lot of TV shows I’ve directed, my last short film and many of these episodes have zero action. I feel just as confident and as well-versed directing story and actors as I do in handling action sequences. I just look at the macro view and try to make sure each part of the movie scene-by-scene works in the most truthful way possible. That’s always the goal.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Do you think Jason gets enough credit for being a good actor? We know what kind of physical presence he brings to a movie. We know he’s great at action. But do you think people actually give him credit for being a good dramatic actor?
Lin Oeding: I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know he is fantastic. As with all talented actors, the more good work they put out there, the more people’s opinions shift more favorably over time. I think he’s extremely talented and extremely strong. To have the physical ability to do what he can in the movie, all his action and stunts, and to have the emotional depth in the dramatic scenes, that’s extremely difficult. He pulls all of it off very well.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Turning back to you, I was interested reading your biography that you go to the University of Texas and you get a BFA in screenwriting and film directing, but then you end up becoming one of the most sought after stunt coordinators and stuntmen in Hollywood. How does that happen?
Lin Oeding: [laughs] Yeah. That’s pretty crazy, right?
Ehen I was in film school there was only one TV show in Texas filming, and it was “Walker, Texas Ranger.” I was competing in mixed martial arts at the time and I sent in one of my videos. It was a combination of MMA fights and homemade stunts with friends. “Backyard Stunts,” we called it. And Chuck Norris’s son, Eric Norris, was the stunt coordinator on the show. He watched my demo reel and asked me if I’d like to do fights with his father. Of course I was ecstatic, and I spent my last two years of film school driving up to Dallas to do fight scenes with Chuck Norris! One week they would dress me up as an Asian with tattoos on my face. The next week they would put a wig and a mustache on me and I’d play a Mexican gang-banger. They would recycle me over and over, because there wasn’t that many stuntmen in Texas, and using me was easier than flying people back and forth out from LA.
So I cut my teeth doing that. Through that show, I met choreographers for Jet Li and Steven Seagal, and next thing I knew I was branching out even more because of my martial arts reputation. Suddenly I’m working for Marvel and doing stunt choreography with Denzel Washington.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Yes. I was going to say, suddenly you end up working on films with the likes of JJ Abrams and Christopher Nolan. Is stepping on those sets like going to a second film school?
Lin Oeding: 100%. Absolutely. I feel fortunate. At film school you learn so many things that you would never learn on a movie set, and on a movie set you learn so many things that you would never learn in film school. So having the combination of both, I feel that really helped me understand how this business works. In film school, everyone thinks they’re a talented screenwriter, and it’s not until you are hanging out and working side-by-side with A-list writers that you realize there’s just tier upon tier upon tier in every department on a movie set. It takes being a part of that environment to realize just how little you know in the early part of your career. But I also think the same could be said for a lot of industries.
Sara Michelle Fetters: With that in mind, what inspires you as a filmmaker? What gets you excited about continuing to evolve and hone your craft?
Lin Oeding: I think the most important thing for me is being associated with material that is compelling and working with actors who I respect. That’s where I think inspiration for me comes from. When I’m in a room with talented and creative people, the ideas just begin to blossom one after the other.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Back to Braven, how much fun was it watching Jason do some of these crazy things you have him do? Like suddenly breaking that axe handle over his knew like it was a twig. Was that real? I have no idea if he really did that or if you tricked it somehow. Either way, that, him shimming up a tree using a coat, stuff like that, all of it is just plain cool.
Lin Oeding: No. We didn’t trick it. He really did that. Broke it right over his knee.
Sara Michelle Fetters: How much fun is it to stand behind the camera and watch stuff like that?
Lin Oeding: It’s pretty great. Can’t lie. There was a lot of fun stuff making this movie. The stunt on the cliff with the ATV. That was pretty crazy. The gag at the end of the movie, which I’m obviously not going to talk much about, that’s was incredible.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Yes. No spoilers, please. But I loved both of those, too.
Lin Oeding: Yeah. No spoilers. But there were honestly a lot of sequences that it made me excited while watching them on the set. Jason being able to do his own stunts makes it all the more fun because you’re not having to spend time figuring out ways to hide a stunt double. That certainly helped.
Sara Michelle Fetters: At the end of the day, while this movie is getting to get a theatrical release, it’s sadly a rather limited one, and most people are probably going to end up watching it on VOD and at home. When they do, what do you hope that they do take away from Braven? What do you hope they’re talking about?
Lin Oeding: I hope that viewers that watch the movie just have an enjoyable experience. I think it’s a fun ride. It’s a great action film and a solid family drama. I think that’s a great entertainment combination.
But also what we talked about earlier, when you’re making a movie for only a couple million dollars and doing it in only 22 days, to pull off the amount of things we did, I don’t think anyone will ever truly appreciate that. Only people who maybe understand the film business. The amount we accomplished on nine hours of daylight in 22 days, with no money, so much of it outdoors in the snow, I think industry insiders will hopefully look at that and be like, “Wow. I want to see what he can do with a big budget film.” I’d be okay with that. [laughs]
– Interview reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle