Michael Baumgarten Talks w/411 About His New Film Paying Mr. McGetty
The B- Movie Interview: Michael Baumgarten
Michael Baumgarten is a writer, producer, and director who has been involved in the movie and TV business for several years, directing nine projects and producing twenty (you can check out his imdb credits page here). Alongside Traditionz Entertainment Baumgarten has directed The Martial Arts Kid and the soon-to-be-released Paying Mr. McGetty, both featuring modern action legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Baumgarten recently took time out of his very busy schedule to participate in an interview with this writer about Paying Mr. McGetty, the movie business, working with “The Dragon,” and more.
Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved in Paying Mr. McGetty?
Michael Baumgarten: We were in NYC at the Urban Action Showcase to premiere the movie trailer for The Martial Arts Kid and R. Marcos Taylor was there. He had a role in The Martial Arts Kid. He was sitting near me during a screening of the cult hit The Last Dragon and he was literally delivering every line from the movie on cue. It was at that moment that I knew he was more than a fighter and a stuntman, he was truly a movie fan. The commitment to pair up Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson with Marcos was born at the Urban Action Showcase. Also, when I saw Marcos kneel down and kiss the feet of Black Belt Jones star Gloria Hendry in the cinema, I knew Marcos had to kiss somebody’s feet in Paying Mr. McGetty.
BK: Was the comedic tone of Paying Mr. McGetty something that you planned on doing from the outset with the movie, or was it something that you figured out while making the movie? Did the script change at all during the making of the movie?
MB: The comedic tone was partially there in the edit but then amped up more through edit choices and music choices. The script was tight in places where it needed to be for continuity but loose in places where we could have fun and do some improv. The original draft had us filming in NYC and New Jersey and had a more serious tone. When we relocated to Florida and adapted it for the new location, it presented new opportunities to where I was sometimes changing scenes or even writing brand new scenes hours before filming. Luckily, the actors were open to getting new pages and talented at improv. The entire salon fight scene was an example of using a location that became available to us and it’s one of my favorite scenes. The ladies in the scene are not actors. They were the real staff and customers who happened to be there when we came into film and they played along with the scene. Another scene, the scene with The Master, was very loosely scripted because I knew Tayari Casel would just be a version of himself and that would be wonderful.
BK: How long did it take to make Paying Mr. McGetty, both in terms of pre-production and getting it ready and the actual filming of the movie?
MB: Official Pre-Production was maybe 3 weeks split between the LA office and pre-production in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thanks to Google Maps and business websites, I was able to do a virtual location scout of things I was interested in seeing. Thanks to Google Maps, I was ableto scout out truck and van parking in St. Pete. Then, thanks to the St. Pete film office, I submitted a list of locations I was seeking and they sent me back options and contact numbers to call. Back in LA, I started to build a wall of potential locations. The actual shoot was 10 days in Florida, 2 days in LA, and 1 hour in Las Vegas.
BK: What was the hardest part of making Paying Mr. McGetty? The easiest part?
MB: The hardest part of making Paying Mr. McGetty was filming during the time of year where it got dark by 5:30p and the sunlight was barely 10 hours a day. The easy part was thanks to the wonderful cast, crew, stuntmen, vendors, and host hotel we assembled in Florida. They really did make things easier for us.
BK: What was it like working with action icon Don “The Dragon” Wilson?
MB: I have known Don for about 30 years from way back when I lived in Florida. He encouraged me to come to LA and he’d get me a job as a Set PA. He meant it. I worked as a production assistant on his movie Red Sun Rising. He told me, “I can get you a job but it’s up to you to build a career.” Based on that, I then went my own way and booked gigs in film finance and theatrical distribution. After nearly 4 years of that, I then went into producing and screenwriting. Working with Don gave me that jumpstart 20 years ago and he’s now allowing me to direct him in The Martial Arts Kid and Paying Mr. McGetty. If there’s something he likes, he tells me. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he tells me. For the fight scenes, Don also comes in and works with an editor on those because that’s his specialty. He milks the footage. Then when I get to the action scenes, they’re pretty much already as good as they can get thanks to Don.
BK: How did R. Marcos Taylor, who plays Tyrrell, become involved in the movie?
MB: Marcos Taylor was in The Martial Arts Kid for a fun scene where he’s trying to return a bike to a bike store without a receipt and they don’t even sell that brand of bike there. Don’s character arrives and confronts him, there’s a fight, and Don’s character prevails. Marcos was able to elevate that scene and his character beyond what it was on the page and he was fun to work with. So when we thought about pairing Don up with somebody — when the Urban Action Showcase event inspired us — R. Marcos Taylor was already on our radar.
BK: Where did you film Cynthia Rothrock’s cameo?
MB: The Cynthia Rothrock cameo was filmed in Las Vegas during Dr. Robert Goldman’s anti-aging convention. There were about a dozen people filling the frame during that scene who we have known for years and we’re blessed that they decided to help us out and be in it.
BK: Is it hard to make movies in Florida?
MB: Making a movie in Florida was only difficult in the summer due to the heat, humidity, and afternoon rains. We had to deal with that all during the making of The Martial Arts Kid. But once you get used to that, the rest of filming in Florida is worth it. Great deals on hotel rooms, great deals on locations, no nickel and dime film permit charges like in LA, cheap flights to and from, much lower fuel prices than California, great prices on rental cars and mini-vans, and the state minimum wage is lower so the food costs and the costs of hiring background actors is more in our favor than in LA. When you’re making an indie film, all of that matters. As an indie film, the local TV news and the local paper came out to our set; and the film office reps visited the set to make sure we were happy and doing well. That never happens to us in LA.
BK: Who are your moviemaking heroes?
MB: I am a fan of movies so there are so many influences. Beyond the obvious list that includes Spielberg, Coppola, James Cameron, Lucas, Clint Eastwood, David O’Russell, Tarantino, Ang Lee, and Zemeckis, I’m a fan of Cameron Crowe, John Hughes, Blake Edwards, Judd Apatow, Herbert Ross, Amy Heckerling, Jody Hill, Wes Anderson, Doug Liman, Walter Hill, David Fincher, Lee Daniels, Victor Nunez, Wes Craven, Peter Berg, Jon Favreau, Ron Shelton, John Carpenter, Bernardo Bertolucci, Richard Linklater, Greg Mottola, Robert Rodriquez, and Kevin Smith. In fact, it was Kevin Smith’s indie hit Clerks that gave me the most hope that I could have a career in this industry.
BK: Any upcoming projects?
MB: My upcoming projects include The Martial Arts Kid II: Payback; a female assassin movie; a boy and dog movie; an epic vampire movie that is part of a trilogy; a Florida Keys wedding comedy called My Fabulous Wingman; another buddy comedy called Man Campers; a romance movie set on a 1,000 mile road trip; a zany family dark comedy; a teen crime drama called Suburban Gangstas; and a drama web/TV series set in a Gentlemen’s Club. I’m like an indie studio with a pipeline of projects. With funds and a distribution partner, we can do great things.
BK: What are we likely to see first, The Martial Arts Kid 2 or a Paying Mr. McGetty spin-off sequel where Don “The Dragon” Wilson hangs out with his fellow assassins?
MB: Probably the Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback. We’re hoping for a Spring 2017 shoot. But I would definitely like to see more of the UW Social Club and the world that Shota inhabits.
Thanks again to Michael Baumgarten for agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for setting it up.