Movies & TV / News

Sheldon Lettich On Directing His Short Film Firefight, Favorite Vietnam War Movie

March 25, 2023 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Firefight Image Credit: Sheldon Lettich

The 411 Interview: Sheldon Lettich

Image Credit: Sheldon Lettich

Sheldon Lettich is a writer, director, and producer who has been involved in the movie business since the 1980’s. Lettich has written or co-written such movies as Russkies, Bloodsport, Rambo III, and Max and directed such action classics as Lionheart, Double Impact with Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Last Patrol with Dolph Lundgren, and Only the Strong with Mark Dacascos. Lettich is also the subject of a new book, Sheldon Lettich: From Vietnam to Van Damme by Corey Danna (you can purchase the book here. Lettich’s first effort as a director, the Vietnam War set short film Firefight is now available to watch for free on the Viking Samurai YouTube channel (check out the short here or scroll down to the bottom of the interview below). In this interview, Lettich talks with this writer about making Firefight, how it started his career as a director, and more.


Image Credit: Sheldon Lettich

Bryan Kristopowitz: Why did you want Firefight to be your first movie as a director?

Sheldon Lettich: I was in love with the story, which I initially wrote for a stage presentation titled Tracers, I felt it deserved a cinematic treatment. I also felt it could serve as a demo reel for me as a potential feature film director, which it did.

BK: Where was Firefight made?

SL: We filmed it at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

BK: How did you cast Firefight?

SL: We put an ad in Dramalogue, which was a weekly periodical for local actors, back in the pre-Internet days.

BK: How long did it take to actually make Firefight, from finishing the screenplay to completing post-production?

SL: A couple of years. The principal photography took place over two long weekends in the summer of 1983. Then the post-production took quite a long time, mainly due to lack of money and resources.

BK: Was it difficult to obtain the use of an actual helicopter for Firefight?

SL: It would have been very difficult, had I not been a former Marine. The Marines went out of their way to help me. Years later they also gave me some assistance with my military dog project, Max.

BK: What was the hardest part of making Firefight for you as a director?

SL: Just bringing order to the chaos, all on my own. I didn’t have any Assistant Directors to help me out. I didn’t have an Art Department either, so the actors had to dig their own foxholes, which made them feel like real “Grunts,” and actually helped them get them into their characters. While they were digging those holes, they may have forgotten that they were mere actors.

BK: Was Firefight always meant to be a short film or did you hope that its creation would lead to making a feature film with the same setting and sort of story?

SL: It was always intended to be a short film. Although a few years later I wrote a feature length screenplay titled Firebase, a war story which took place in Vietnam, but did not utilize any of the same characters.

BK: Did Firefight ever get a release back in the 1980’s?

SL: No, I showed it to the cast and crew, and gave each of them a half-inch VHS copy, but there was never any kind of “release” otherwise.

BK: Are there any plans for a Firefight physical release in the future?

SL: No, but I’m hoping to screen the 35mm print if I do any screenings for some of my other films. However, there are actually a limited number of theaters that even have the capability to screen 35mm material nowadays.

BK: How did you get involved with the Viking Samurai YouTube channel?

SL: A friend of mine named Justin Hawkins hooked me up.

BK: How did Firefight prepare you for your future career as a writer/director of action cinema?

SL: It helped me in countless ways. For one thing, it taught me to be very cautious about mixing actors with stuntmen in action scenes. Phillip Rhee wound up with a broken tooth while doing a fight scene with Brian Thompson. Phillip knew how to fake a fight, but back then Brian was an amateur at this kind of stuff. So, of course, the stuntman is the one who got hurt.

Image Credit: Sheldon Lettich

BK: How has the movie making business changed since you made Firefight?

SL: These days everything is done digitally, which for the most part is quicker, easier, and cheaper. Nowadays I would have shot Firefight with an iPhone, rather than renting expensive 16mm equipment, then paying to get the film processed & printed, and then paying for countless other expenses.

BK: What do you hope audiences get out of watching Firefight?

SL: Just a good story, with some heartbreak and irony, and some better appreciation for what soldiers had to endure in Vietnam.

BK: Why are Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi thanked in the end credits?

SL: They were both fans and supporters of the film. Sam screened the movie for Dino DeLaurentiis and his daughter, Rafaella, and managed to get me a directing deal with Dino’s company, DEG.

BK: Do you have a favorite Vietnam War set movie?

SL: Platoon is the best and most accurate Vietnam War movie made so far.


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

Check out my review of Firefight here!

Check out Sheldon Lettich’s Facebook page here!

Check out the Viking Samurai YouTube channel here!

All images courtesy of Sheldon Lettich.