In the independent filmmaking world, Albert Pyun is a little more independent than most. Having made his directorial debut with “The Sword and the Sorcerer” in 1982 after serving an apprenticeship under Akira Kurosawa, Pyun carved out a unique niche as a director of low-budget, high-concept genre films starring casts slightly past their prime.
Some will think that’s a charitable description for Pyun, who has been derided as “the new Ed Wood,” but consider that his pairings of rap stars and action stars (beginning with the 1997 Ice-T/Christopher Lambert team-up “Mean Guns”) begat the trend Joel Silver popularized in the early naughts, and he was once just two weeks shy of directing “Spider-Man” (which he’ll explain below).
These days, Pyun’s movies rarely see the inside of a theater, but that’s made him a pioneer in another arena: streaming video-on-demand. With his latest film, “Tales of an Ancient Empire,” a spiritual “not for children” sequel to “Sword and the Sorcerer” starring the aforementioned Lambert and fellow titans of the fantasy genre Kevin Sorbo, Pyun is teaming up with Magic Rock Entertainment to bring the film directly into homes nationwide beginning on July 21st.
It kicks off with a live webcast of the film’s premiere on the eve of Comic-Con in San Diego where fans will be able to interact with Pyun and some of the cast during a post-screening Q & A via Twitter and Facebook. In the mean time, I had some questions of my own for the man about his long, unusual career.
More and more filmmakers are having to get used to the fact that their film will likely not have a theatrical release, but you haven’t had one in a while. Has that made it easier for you to embrace VOD?
When I started making films, there were only [maybe] 300 films released in the world in the entire year, so to be one of those 300, you had to jump through the hoops of making sure that the film was viable. Nowadays, with all the different platforms that are available and how easy it is for everybody to make a movie, people still need some type of a vetting process for their film and their ideas to make sure that it’s viable in the market.
I learned early on that once those other markets came online, like home video and cable, they were all viable outlets that got the film out to a much bigger audience than theatrical ever would. Theatrical is not something that filmmakers should think about initially. They should think about how to connect to their audience and then figure out what the best platform will be to connect to that audience. Theatrical is a little vanity-oriented. [Filmmakers] see it as validation it’s a real movie, and I’ve never seen that.
With “Sword and the Sorcerer” in the ’80s and “Sorcerers” in the ’90s and now this film, you seem to return to the fantasy genre every once a decade. What keeps you coming back?
I enjoy the fact that it allows you to put your imagination on the screen unbridled and I enjoy creating worlds — over half my films are about creating an entire universe that came out of my or our writers’ imagination. Last year, the film I enjoyed most was “District 9” — I like movies that transport you to a different setting and the way the stories can play out there in more imaginative ways than contemporary ones.
But you also went through a period in the ’90s where you were making some pretty gritty films usually featuring rap stars.
There weren’t many rap movies being made — I think “Mean Guns” was the first pairing of a traditional action hero, in that case Christopher Lambert, with a rapper, which was Ice-T. There were a lot of those movies after that, but I think my place in the industry has been to stay ahead of the curve in the concepts. In the late ’80s, visually, rap was pretty interesting and I liked what the music was saying, so I tried to bring that to the movies. Also, those were the first movies I tried to do digitally.
Air France lost half of the three movies that I did with Snoop Dogg and Big Pun and Fat Joe, so they had to be made from just the remnants — just half of shot movies. There was a little bit of a problem.
You mentioned the pairing of Ice T and Christopher Lambert, who I know is in this film as well. How do you go about casting?
First, I find a story that I want, and then look around for what would be the most [interesting] on a limited budget because I’m always on a limited budget. Generally, it’s pretty risky because they’re not things that people normally would imagine. I did a film called “Brainsmasher,” where I had Teri Hatcher and Andrew Dice Clay — that was a weird sort of mix. [laughs]. I try not think too much about the commercial side of things, just who would make the most interesting casting combination. That’s why a lot of the casts for my movies have been pretty weird, pretty interesting.