Movies & TV / Columns

Marco Siedelmann On His New Book About Hollywood Stories From The Trenches

March 17, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Stories From The Trenches

The 411 Interview: Marco Siedelmann


Marco Siedelmann is a film journalist, critic, and author from Germany who has collaborated on multiple movie books so far, notably The Untold, In-Depth, Outrageously True Story of Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment with Nadia Bruce-Rawlings (you can buy that book here). His latest book is Stories From the Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies with Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg, a book about the legendary director of Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja 1 and 2, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Avenging Force, and many more. In this interview, Siedelmann talks with this writer about collaborating with Firstenberg on the book, putting the book together, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you meet Sam Firstenberg?

Marco Siedelmann: I never met him or any people related to him before I reached out to him on the phone, just out of the blue, and Sam was open to talk. Luckily, Sam came to Germany during the time we were working on the book, so we could meet in person, but that was already after many conversations on the phone and on Skype.

BK: When did you know that you wanted to co-author a book with Sam Firstenberg?

MS: Immediately when I saw him in Mark Hartley’s documentary about Cannon, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, I thought to myself, “Firstenberg had an interesting career and he seems to be an extremely nice, kind and easy-going guy.” And what can I say? I was right, it was a pleasure to work with him during the whole process.

BK: How did you decide on the “long interview” format of the book? Was that always the format that you intended to use or did it turn out that that was the best way to get Firstenberg’s story out in the world? Describe your co-writing process with Sam Firstenberg.

MS: It started out as a regular interview about Nu Image and how it was different working for them compared to the legendary Cannon Group, but we quickly decided to go on and have a career-spanning interview in many sessions. So we sat in front of the computer and talked on Skype for hours and hours. Some of these interview parts didn’t go into the final book but were modified by Sam into personal anecdotes – this way they have a more personal touch and honestly they didn’t fit very well into the interview format, so they stand better on their own, especially the anecdotes about his early years as an Assistant Director and technician on the films of Ephraim Kishon, Boaz Davidson, and Menahem Golan.

BK: How did you come up with the title Stories from the Trenches?

MS: It was Sam’s idea. Actually, he explains the background of the title in the introduction of the book. The “making movies is like going to war” metaphor is a recurring topic in the book, so I gladly went along with it. I think it’s a title that fits very well to the book. And I love long subtitles, so… (Laughs)

BK: How difficult was it to get people for the guest interviews in the book? Did you always intend to have guest interviews?

MS: It was not very difficult. Some of the people I found personally, but most of the connections were made by Sam Firstenberg, so it was just a matter of scheduling all of the guest interviews. This was sometimes a little bit difficult, because film people are usually busy people, and that’s even truer for some of the crew members and producers than for some of the stars. And there’s the time difference between Europe and the United States, so I had to have one or the other night shift for that. (Laughs) Other than that it was easy. Almost everybody said yes without the slightest hesitance, just because Sam made so many friends over the years. I can honestly tell you that everybody always had the nicest things to say about Sam, up to a point it became almost annoying. For example, Sam told me, “Don’t go just for the positive stuff, don’t spare the ugly stuff as well.” It was never my intention just to have everything in a glorious light, but as far as I can tell everybody loves Sam. Simple as that. And there’s a reason for it. You hardly find a more likeable guy. That makes the work easy and comfortable, but I wasn’t able to dig out negative or ugly stories. Oh, yes, and sadly I wasn’t able to bring Sho Kosugi and David Bradley into the project although I would have loved to get guest interviews with them. Sho Kosugi wasn’t interested in doing a conversation for the book, and David Bradley… what can I say, he’s an enigma. Seems that no one gets him to talk about his past in the film industry, and I didn’t have any luck either. Thanks to Mike Leeder and the good people of Impact Magazine we were able to bring in a guest interview with the late, great Steve James which brings an important voice into the book that is sadly forever silent now.

BK: How long did it to take to finish writing the book/putting the book together?

MS: It’s hard to say, because we started around five years ago, but sometimes there were months without any work on it just because we didn’t know how to go on, etc. Let’s say it took two and a half years for everything – and a lot of tears, desperation and anxiety in between (Laughs) It was a long process, but I worked on other projects as well. As a publisher you need a certain amount of projects that are ideally all in a different stage of production.

BK: What was the hardest aspect of putting the book together? The easiest?

MS: Obviously the hardest part was putting all the material together into a consistent layout that makes sense, is entertaining and not confusing. We had to deal with countless pictures of different quality, source and age – and it was a tough cookie to bring everything together. We had many proof prints and I have to thank the wonderful Mirjam Pajakowski for bringing the book into shape and giving it a layout that’s amazingly well-crafted considering the circumstances we worked with. The easiest part was working with Sam himself because he gave one hundred percent of support into the project, he never lost his temper or patience, even when things really went desperate. Honestly, before Mirjam agreed to do the layout there was no chance at all of putting it together that beautiful. We spent hundreds of hours in front of the computer.

BK: How was writing this book different than any of your previous books? How was it the same?

MS: The books I’ve done before were still quite amateurish and I think the Firstenberg book reaches a new level of professionalism. I don’t want to mention any names, but in the past I worked with some people (co-writers, graphic designers, interview partners, etc.) that were… difficult. This book – despite all the difficulties – was a joy to work on, because everybody involved gave their heart and soul to pull out the best possible result. And I think it shows.

BK: What do you hope readers get from Stories from the Trenches?

MS: I hope they’ll get a lot of fun, excitement and joy out of reading the book and all those different stories and perspectives. It was my goal to publish something that will be considered a mandatory read if you are a fan of action films, Cannon, Sam Firstenberg, ninja movies, etc. I hope we achieved that, and the first reactions are extremely enthusiastic. And I hope everybody finds something in the book. It’s not only for insiders or fans. I think it’s an interesting read for everybody who has the slightest interest in low- and mid-budget filmmaking.

BK: Any future projects that you can tell us about?

MS: Actually yes – currently I’m putting together extended interview books with martial arts director Isaac Florentine (Undisputed 2 & 3, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, Close Range) and special effects wizard Gabriel Bartalos (Basket Case 2 & 3, Frankenhooker, Leprechaun, Cremaster, and many more). Both of them will follow the same concept – extended interviews with a lot of images all over the book, numerous guest voices and a low-brow aesthetic style between fanzine, magazine/newspaper and high-end coffee table book.

BK: What is your favorite movie directed by Sam Firstenberg? What Firstenberg movie do you think deserves a second look?

MS: Well, that’s a tough question because after all this time working with Sam on the book, I clearly have a soft spot for almost all of the films – definitely one feels a personal connection after watching the films multiple times and talking for hours and hours to the man who made them. Anyway, I think Avenging Force is probably his “best” film, just because its very well done, it’s different, it’s the best role for Dudikoff and it stills holds up today, last but not least because of the great use of unique locations. Ninja III: The Domination is probably my favorite because of its weirdness and wild style. The Day We Met is a totally overlooked testimony of Sam’s magnificent talent in combining melodrama, entertainment, and humor. And I think Riverbend should be re-discovered – not only because of the great performance by Steve James, also because black action films and actors are still not getting the same recognition as the white and the Asian guys. I have to say I love both Cyborg Cop films and I strongly recommend to action film lovers to check out the Nu Image production The Alternate for its strong writing, the tight pace and a wonderful Eric Roberts as a lead. Obviously all the other Cannon films (Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja 1 & 2, Breakin’ 2, etc.) don’t need my support – they are already accomplished cult classics and mandatory for all Cannon, action and breakdance movie lovers all over the world. I can honestly say that I love ‘em all, although I don’t necessarily think all of them are “good” movies, whatever that means.



A very special thanks to Marco Siedelmann for agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for setting it up.

Pick up a copy of Stories From The Trenches: Adventures in making High Octane Hollywood Movies with Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg here

Check out the Stories From The Trenches: Adventures in making High Octane Hollywood Movies with Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg Facebook page here

All images courtesy of Marco Siedelmann.