Writer turned director George Gallo has had a long and active career in Hollywood spanning 35 years. In that time, he has written the script for the classic comedy MIDNIGHT RUN starring Robert DeNiro and had a hand in creating the characters of the wildly successful BAD BOYS franchise which helped launch the film career of mega-star Will Smith. He has also directed and written for actors such as Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis, Luke Wilson, and Tommy Lee Jones in various comedies during that time as well.
Gallo’s latest film though is a big departure from his mostly comedic oeuvre. That film, VANQUISH, finds him fully stepping into the world of action filmmaking with a gritty tale of corrupt cops, criminals, and deadly assassins. Here is the film’s official plot synopsis:
Victoria (Ruby Rose, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK), is trying to put her dark past as a Russian drug courier behind her, but a retired, corrupt police officer (Morgan Freeman, SE7EN) forces Victoria to do his bidding by holding her daughter hostage. Now, Victoria must use guns, guts, and a motorcycle to take out a series of violent gangsters — or she may never see her child again.
I had an opportunity recently to have a brief chat with George Gallo about VANQUISH, his influences as a filmmaker, the secret to successful character dialogue, and more!
Where do your script ideas originate from?
Most of my ideas come from… I love movies. I’m always watching movies. I watch American movies. I watch foreign movies. I’m also a painter. I love visuals. I’m always thinking about, well, would this be a good story? Would that be a good story? The idea for my new film, VANQUISH, sort of grew out of another screenplay that Samuel Bartlett wrote. . He wrote a terrific script. It changed a little bit from its original inception. You see, I’ve always wanted to do one of these kind of “tough” action movies. I love Korean gangster movies and stuff like that. They’re so passionate, those movies, and a lot of times I think the American counterparts are a little bit by the numbers. So, I wanted to try to do this a little bit more in that kind of vein, in that the movie had a lot of passion and interesting visuals and just not make it feel like you’ve seen it a million times before.
In trying to avoid that “by the numbers” familiarity, what were some of things you actively tried not to do in VANQUISH?
We’ve seen so many of these [shoot ‘em up-type] films. There’s a very frivolous visual way to make them, but I kept thinking, well, what’s a different way? Like in terms of lenses, in terms of camera placement, in terms of set design, what makes this unique? The first thing I kept thinking about was, “well, you know what, I don’t want any extras in the movie.” I wanted the people in the movie to just be the people we focus on. So, that they’re almost in a universe all by themselves.
You’ll notice there’s no traffic in the streets, the streets are always empty. There are no extras in any of the locations. It’s just those folks. So that was the first decision. Everyone was very isolated, and it feels lonely. And then I wanted to create a different color palette for all the different characters. Morgan’s house is an icy blue, and that the cops were a little bit like “night-vision” green. We built outward from there, like each location has a different color palette, a different vibe. While still looking like it was still taking place inside the same film. We really experimented with a lot of interesting cutting stuff- a lot of dissolves in almost inappropriate places. I wanted to try new things. I love French new wave movies. Those guys always broke all the rules. So, we were like, “let’s keep trying stuff, let’s not stand on any kind of ceremony, let’s see if there’s a new way to do this stuff.”
I think good or bad, it’s always important to try new things and learn new techniques. In that same vein, what was something that you learned from tackling your first directorial action-oriented picture?
For me, because I came from a background of doing a lot of comedies, even though I had some smattering of action in those movies, they were always centrally comedies, which are driven by dialogue. In a movie like this, you’re going to have three, four minutes where nobody says anything- so I couldn’t lean on a dialogue. I had to rely on the image telling the story, alone. To be honest with you, it’s quite freeing and liberating to just tell a story of a person walking from one place to another, with a potential threat of harm looming. Then I just say, “okay, how do I do this visually? How do I tell a story with just a series of images and cuts, to make it compelling?” I don’t have dialogue to help me.
if you look at the films of directors like Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone, that’s one thing they were big on- silence and letting the visuals carry the narrative.
Two of my all-time favorites, you just mentioned!
I can definitely see the influence in VANQUISH.
If you think of Peckinpah’s THE GETAWAY. Look at that wonderful sequence with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw swimming in the water- that’s a beautiful moment. And the way that’s all cut and then at the end of the sequence, you’re not exactly sure, was it a dream or did it really happen? And then they come through the door to the hotel and they’re both soaking wet. So you know, that it did happen. I mean, just that kind of storytelling it keeps you constantly engaged. And so, like I say, it was a chance to try some of those sorts of things.
To wrap up, you’ve had a lot of scripts produced into features, what do you think is the secret to interesting character dialogue?
That’s a great question. I would say when two people have highly opposing points of view, like one’s an optimist, the other’s a pessimist, those are great fights. Ones a romantic, one is a cynic. You’re going into a complete war. And if both people are highly intelligent and can defend their positions, you could get phenomenal dialogue from those points of view.
Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me, George. What’s next for you?
I’m going to be doing a film in the Fall that’s quite a giant one about a multi-generational feud involving the wine business in Napa. And right now, Ruby Rose is going to play the lead and we’re talking to Antonio Banderas to play the patriarch of the family.
Interesting! I wish you nothing but success with that project and the release of VANQUISH this week.
Thank you very, very much. I appreciate it!
Lionsgatewill release VANQUISH in select theaters on April 16, 2021, on Digital and On Demand on April 20, 2021andon Blu-ray and DVD on April 27, 2021.