Director Art Camacho chats with Tommy Burke about his career and parts of their shared history working together on films. An award-winning action film director, fight coordinator, and stunt performer, Art is best known for his work on Half Past Dead, Half Past Dead 2, The Power Within, Assassin X (aka The Chemist), and Banshee.
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Art recently directed the film Assassin X, and the film is getting good reviews. It’s a perfect example of the importance of being ready to leap at an opportunity. Art was approached by a friend who wanted to make a film and had money, but no script. On the spot, Art pitched a story, and that’s what ended up getting made.
Pleased with his work on the film, Art feels pride at the quality of the story, the acting, the characters, and the twists. Most films can be predicted in first five minutes, but he likes to defy that. Assassin X was nominated for 12 awards and got 7 of them, including awards for action, effects and editing.
Martial Arts and Movies
When he was young, Art admits he was cocky. At the age of 16 Art got beat-up by some rival guys in the next neighborhood. About the same time, he had seen Bruce Lee and was very inspired. So he got into martial arts to seek revenge. Fortunately, through the practice of martial arts, Art started evolving and moved away from that kind of thinking.
He had his first break in movies when his teacher invited him to work on a film. He told Art that he could get beat-up on film for $50. At first Art thought he had to pay to be in the film, rather than getting paid for it. Without any pads, Art took a pretty bad beating in the shoot. A kick to his throat knocked him down. The crew thought he was dead and Art thought his was fired. But they loved Art, because he took a kick and did not complain.
Art has trained in many styles. He’s choreographed 60 to 70 movies. At some point all of the different martial arts disciplines come together. Art was admitted to Legends of Martial Arts, Masters of Martial Arts and others. While these awards may not mean anything objectively, it does help with marketing of his films.
Moving Up the Ranks
Soon after his start, Art got more and more non-union shows. He was having fun, and started to take it seriously. As a result, he had one good break after another. He got into the Screen Actors Guild.
Later, when working on a film with Lorenzo Lamas, the director liked Art’s work so much, he invited Art to choreograph on the next film. A few films later, Art was shooting at the Sands Hotel, when the director asked Art to shoot the scene. That’s when he started shooting the scenes that he choreographed.
Art gained more skills when he started producing out of necessity. He would be approached to by people with money and then would figure out how to make something happen. That’s how he started writing. Art hired a writer for a script. Even after getting paid, the writer did not deliver. So, Art took responsibility for the situation and wrote the film himself. He has done more and more writing since.
Art Saved Tommy’s Life
Art and Tommy were working together on a low budget film called Martial Outlaw with fighter Benny “The Jet.” Benny can be a beast in the ring, but outside the ring he’s spiritual and very deep into the martial arts. However, he was still intimidating.
At the time, Tommy was a young first AD and Art was the stunt (or fight) coordinator. They worked long and grueling hours on this shoot, and it was not the best-run production. At one point Benny said to Tommy, “Tonight we finish all fighting.” Tommy began to mouth-off in response. Art was standing behind Benny, giving Tommy a look and gesture as if to say, “Don’t provoke him, he’ll kill you.” Tommy understood and backed-off. Tommy jokingly credits Art with saving his life in this instance.
Low Budget Movies
One time, when Art was making an ultra low-budget movie, he asked the Executive Producer for an additional $20k to make the film better. His executive producer told him, “You show me how that extra $20k will help me make more money.” Art got the message and did not ask for more money again.
Another film was pre-sold and Art was taking extra efforts to make the film better. However, the producers just wanted him to crank out the film and get it to market quickly. Quality was not as important to them as it was to Art.
Advice on Getting Started in the Business
The best way to get into the business is through networking. In some ways, it’s easier than ever to network and connect with people. While the business can be cliquish, it’s important to keep at it and support others. You also have to back-up that networking with skills. Work hard at the craft.
Follow Art’s example. Always be ready to take opportunities as they come along. Also, if you have an idea or story and want Art to be involved, bring the money to make it work.
Safety on The Set
Tommy and Art talk about production safety, and how important it is to follow safety rules, especially when dealing with weapons. Tommy always personally checks every gun used on the set to make sure they’re safe.
Art shares the story about how Brandon Lee died, while shooting The Crow, because the safety rules were not followed. They took a close-up of gun in one shot with real bullets instead of dummy bullets. Later, they removed those real bullets and put blanks into the gun. However, one of the real bullets was still in the barrel. Sadly Brandon Lee lost his life because of this mistake. Always double-check and never a gun aim at anybody, even when you think you have blanks.
In addition to Assassin X, Art has some other upcoming films. One is tentatively called Six Bullets, which has a female lead around a Lara Croft type of story. Art believes in God, so he put biblical motifs into the film for the main character. He also has a film, called Knuckles, which is his take on an Oceans Eleven type of film. He’ll be shooting that in Las Vegas.
Art Camacho on IMDB
Follow @ArtCamachoFilms on Twitter
Connect with Art on Facebook
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The Not Just Sunglasses & Autographs podcast is hosted by Tommy Burke, who has been working in TV and film production for more than 25 years as a First Assistant Director. Download the podcast, listen on iTunes, and write a review.