It’s not often that the release of any film is as expedient as it is for director Jesse Quiñones‘s newest feature, Cagefighter: Worlds Collide. Indeed, the project had a much longer journey to tread up to this point, and so an online streaming premiere less than a month away feels certainly well earned here.
Quiñones is taking his story to Film Combat Syndicate this week as Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, revs up for its exclusive online streaming premiere event and Q&A and fan chat only on FITE.tv on May 16. He talks the respective challenges of all phases on the project, along with the extenuating circumstances of post-production as Covid-19 leaves the global economy at a standstill.
Jesse, it’s great to share a Q&A with you this month in lieu of your new achievements currently in bound. You have a new film on the way called Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, and before this it was called ‘Cagefighter’. Tell us about the film and what the name change means for the overall story.
Cagefighter tells the story of Reiss Gibbons, a five time MMA champ fighting for a fictional promotion called Legends. He’s on top of the world and is about to climb the ladder and cement himself as the all time greatest. But then his promoter, Max Black, pitches him a fight with Pro Wrestler Randy Stone, played by real life AEW champ Jon Moxley, and it ends up being Reiss in the biggest and toughest fight of his life.
We shot the film in Regina, Saskatchewan which was an incredible experience, some of the hardest working cast and crew I have had the pleasure to work with. In terms of the name change, it’s pretty much down to the fact we couldn’t clear ‘Cagefighter’. But I actually prefer it, Worlds Collide alludes to a number of the themes in the film.
I would think, somewhat clearly there’s maybe an underlying influence in your film interests regarding MMA and sportfighting. You did two documentaries on cagefighting, and your 2013 film is called Calloused Hands. Talk about the role martial arts has had in your life and general pursuits, movies and whathaveyou.
My two loves are movies and martial arts, so this movie is kind of the perfect thing for me to do. I’m a BJJ black belt, I’ve been training since 2009, and I just love what it instills. Humility, patience, ridding oneself of ego, being calm under pressure, those are the lessons I have learned from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A lot of what I have learned in Jiu Jitsu, I have applied to life, and to filmmaking. Making this movie was not easy, it was five years in the making and a lot of bumps on the road. And at times it felt I would never get to that finish line. But I’ve learned to just stick with things, and if you do you’ll get there eventually.
You have Alex Montagnani making his lead debut on the project. He’s a pro-MMA fighter who’s already done a handful of projects and this will ultimately be his second starring role in the last five years. Talk about casting his character and the process you underwent, because there were some casting switches sometime last year, I remember.
Alex is one of my closest friends, he’s actually been involved in the project since day one all the way back in 2014. At that time, I was writing the script and wanted to create a proof-of-concept teaser, and he stepped in and played the lead in the teaser. Fast forward a few years later, and as I was pulling the finance together, I had to go with someone with a ‘profile’. But Alex was still on board, he was and is the fight choreographer for this movie.
We spent a year together pre-visualising the fights. We’d workshop them together, then film them, then analyse. So he knew the fights inside out because he constructed them. Then as we started getting closer to filming, the actor we had in mind for the lead wasn’t able to do it due to a schedule conflict. So we were in this spot where we were like four weeks away from shooting and no lead.
It was a pretty nerve wracking time, because not only did we need someone who can act and look the part, they’d also need to learn the choreography for four fights within the space of a month. And it just became a no-brainer. Alex was our guy. Deep down, I always felt he was the guy for the role. Things work out the way they needed. And he has done a tremendous job. He gave his mind, body, and soul for this role. It was a very demanding role, and he killed it.
I understand he’s also worked alongside your stunt coordinator who is Daniel Ford Beavis who I’ve been quietly following as of this year since his recent work in San Diego. Talk about the collaborative measures and efforts of putting the action together to cuff with the narrative drama you’ve scripted.
Alex was integral to designing the fights. We spent about a year working through the choreography so he knew those fights inside out. But once we started filming, I didn’t want him to have to worry about the choreography, I just wanted him to be present in the moment and act, and so having Daniel on board was great. He has loads of experience in fight scenes for movies, and he really gave me that sense of security that we were getting what we needed.
Also, his discipline is striking, so it complimented what I’m more experienced in, which is ground fighting. If I’m looking at a sequence, say a fighter trying to hip escape from bottom side control, I’ll spot if there is a mistake. And I can just jump in and demonstrate exactly what I’m after. Because I’ve been training so long, it’s built into my muscle memory thing. But striking, I wouldn’t pretend to know that art form. And I have a lot of respect for how Daniel worked with them to sell their striking, I’m really pleased with the results.
You have a bunch of athetic talents on this one. Chuck Lidell, Jay Reso, Jon Moxley and Jason Truong out of Regina, and that’s quite the muscle to put together!
It was a total trip being able to work with these MMA and Wrestling super stars. I mean I used to play with Christian’s (Jay Reso) character in Wrestling video games! So to be directing him in a movie is just nuts. It was awesome, and you know of course I had to share the mats with Luke Rockhold! He was looking to get some training in while in Regina, and I kept begging him to spar and eventually, he gave in.
I mean, as a big MMA fan, getting to spar with a Luke Rockhold, it’s like the equivalent of a golfing fan getting to hit a few rounds with Tiger Woods. He’s an incredible grappler. Let’s just say that that one arm guillotine he’s famous for ain’t no joke! He whopped me good! [laughs]
I think this would be an interesting pick of the brain for some of the martial arts fanboys reading this, and I sort of find it essential myself: Favorite fighting films in no certain order, GO!
Man there are so many. All of the Rocky films, I think Stallone is such an underrated filmmaker. He’s such a gifted writer and director. I grew up in the nineties, so definitely a Van Damme fan, love Bloodsport! A few others are Warrior from Gavin O’Connor, The Fighter from David O. Russell, The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky, and a French/Belgian film called Rust and Bone.
We’re in a pandemic now, and to say the least its pretty much stifled any marketing, releasing or planned festival circulation for many films that were intended for this year. How have you managed during this incredible Spring season with the post-production process as all this is playing out for you.
I have to credit my producers Shayne Putzlocher and Sara Shaak on this one, we finished shooting the film right before the pandemic kicked off and lockdown began. And we were faced with a situation where we had this movie and wanted to figure out how to find a way to release it. And that’s when they began putting the deal together with FITE TV.
We really lucked out with our movie because we pretty much wrapped shooting right before lockdown took place. So we were able to keep the post production moving along by working remotely. Our Editor and Post Supervisor, Tim Thurmeier, has been amazing coordinating all the work flow, and we’re working with an amazing post house Java Post Productions that are handing our online and the VFX. Honestly, there have been so many amazing people throughout the team that were willing to get stuck in and get us to the finish line.
And in a way, the time is perfect to get this movie out there now. With all the big MMA and Wrestling events getting cancelled, we felt now would be a perfect time to give all the fight fans a great movie with plenty of action and heart.
Do you have any hopeful premiere plans in the near future?
Yep, May 16, exclusively on Fite TV! https://www.fite.tv/watch/cagefighter-worlds-collide/2p715/
What would you say your biggest career takeaway is, going forward, now that you’ve insofar managed to survive what’s been, effectively, a career-crippling pandemic for a lot of people, including actors and even major Hollywood players at this juncture.
I think the big takeaway is that we as an industry have to be pretty light on our feet. These are unprecedented times we’re living in and I think we have to operate in unprecedented ways, and really be able to adapt and tenaciously go after things.
And again, I have to credit my two producers, Shayne Putzlocher and Sara Shaak. This was not an easy movie to get made. It was fight every step of the way. In development. In raising the money. In pre-production, production, and then in post, Covid hit! We had to fight to make this movie. It was willed into existence. And as producers Shayne and Sara both fearlessly took this on, and had as much passion as I had to get it to the finish line.
What can fans expect from Cagefighter: Worlds Collide?
Fans can expect a real cinema experience. We really tried to pour everything into this film, and make it feel like a big movie, big fights, big emotions, big score. Heart on the sleeve. I hope you all enjoy it!