Today I want to present you the real man who brought us a lot of cool action movies of 90s with such a great martial artsists like Keith Vitali, Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock etc. He started with widely known martial arts movie No Retreat No Surrender where van Damme started his career, and continued with The King of the Kickboxers, American Shaolin, SuperFights and many more. Keith W. Strandberg is a writer, producer, founder and chief instructor for the Action Film Making Camps and I was lucky to interview him.
Keo: Thank you very much for your time Mr. Strandberg, I know you are travelling a lot and always busy, so let’s save our time and get to the first question – How and why did you decide to start training in martial arts?
Mr. Strandberg: I decided to start training because of two things: My older brother, Kris, was tormenting me and beating me up, so I needed to be able to stand up to him. My high school started a karate club, so it was convenient and a great opportunity.
Keo: Do you remember your first club and your first day in dojo?
Mr. Strandberg: My instructor, Wayne Welling, was a Jesuit brother and he taught us Isshinryu Karate. I do not specifically remember my first day in the dojo, but I know I loved every minute of the training. It was great to be working out and learning how to defend myself, and I felt in love with the spirit and philosophy of the martial arts. In fact, I went on to major in Chinese Language because of my study or the martial arts and minored in Oriential philosophy. I had some success as a fighter, winning the AAU Championships in my home state of Ohio and I really enjoyed competing in the tournaments in my area.
Keo: You are the man behind a lot of popular action movies on which we all grew up. How and when did you step into a film industry?
Mr. Strandberg: When I was taking groups of americans into China as a tour guide, I decided to try to brake into movie business as a writer. I had already been writing some for martial arts magazines and I figured I could easily write as poorly as the movies out than (in the early 1980s). When I had a week in Hong Kong between tours, I visited all the Hong Kong companies. I really hit it off with Ng See Yuen, the head of Season Films. He told me that if he was going to do a US film, he’d call me. I got a call about six months later, quit my job and that was the start of it all.
Keo: You first film what you wrote was No Retreat No Surrender, but originally it was named Ring of Truth. Why did you change the name?
Mr. Strandberg: I changed it because NRNS was catchier. I got the idea from the Bruce Springsteen song. Also, NRNS was already a line in the movie.
Keo: When did you come up with an idea and had you got in mind which actors you want to see in you first movie?
Mr. Strandberg: I had no idea who would be the actors. I of cause had what envisioned in my mind, but we had to do castings in LA. I remember walking down the line of actors waiting to audition, there were more then 200, and picking Jean Claude van Damme out of the line (along with a few others). Kurt McKinney, who ended up as a lead, what a real find, as he is a great actor and a martial artist, and he was wonderful in the role. We are still friends to this day. Regarding the idea, Ng See Yuen and I branestormed the idea of Bruce Lee ghost coming to help Jason. I am a huge fan of Bruce Lee, he was a real inspiration to me in training in martial arts, and I thought t would be fun to explore what would happen if Bruce Lee came to help this kid. The actor we used for that role was Korean and did not speak English or Chinese, so it was a real challenge to make it realistic.
Keo: After NRNS you started the second part named Raging Thunder. I know that JCVD was replaced by Matthias Hues from Golden Gym, who a famous actor now. How did you find him? Was it hard for him to study all movie production tricks?
Mr. Strandberg: We were lucky Matthias Hues, who is one of the greatest guys I know and supremely talented. He and I have become fast friends, even though we never actually worked together. I step away from martial arts movie Raging Thunder because one of the producers rewrote my script in a way that I did not like, so I told Ng that if we were going to work together, I would write and produce from then on.
Keo: Queen of Martial arts Cynthia Rothrock played Terry in Raging Thunder, was it hard to make a fight between her and Hwang Jang Lee?
Mr. Strandberg: Cynthia is such a great fighter that nothing is hard to do with her. She can do anything – kick, punch. She can throw dwon with the best and she looks fantastic doing it.
Keo: Hwang Jang Lee is a the ultimate bootmaster, everybody knows him, he is the second popular bad guy after Bolo Yeung, but he finished with movie in 1996, how do you think why?
Mr. Strandberg: I do not know. I never worked directly with him.
Keo: In No Retreat No Surrender 3 you invited Loren Avadom again, could you tell how did you meet him?
Mr. Strandberg: I knew that he had done Raging Thunder and I met him in LA with Keith Vitali, who was already a good friend of mine. I hit it off immedeately with Loren, who is a fantastic martial artist and one of the best on-screen fighters.
Keo: Keith Vitali, great martial artist, who played in NRNS3 was injured during the sets, do you remember this and how it effected on the film?
Mr. Strandberg: Keith Vitali has such a great attitude. When he and Loren were working out with the fight choreographers, so they could see what which of them could do, Keith showcased his beautiful form and his incredible power, especially with his round house and side kicks. After the session was over, Loren showed them a double kick into the heavy bag which was very impressive. They turned to Keith to see if he could do it. Always game, Keith gave it a try, landed awkwardly and broke his wrist.
Keith came to me when he got back from the hospital, worried that it was over for him. Ng and I decided to write his injury into the script, so it only required a small change, he ends up getting short in the openning scene in the bank, then he can wear the cast the entire film. In fact, he was healed by the end, but still had to put the cast onto film. Keith is one of the greatest fighter of all time and one of the true good guys in the film and martial arts industry. We are really good friend and he might tell you that Keith can beat me in basketball and tennis, but it’s not true.
Keo: I know you are writing for different magazines and as a watches fan I want to ask what is your favorite brand and what you usually reckon in your articles?
Mr. Strandberg: I have a lot of favorite brands. Some of the watches that I currently have and wear quite a lot are: Zenith Chronomaster Open XXL, Bovet Sportster, TAG Heuer Monaco, Tissot T-Touch and others. Today, I am wearing a special limited edition Victorinox Swiss Army hand wind mechanical that I assembled myself.
Keo: As the founder and chief instructor for the Action Film Making Camps can you tell more about your classes?
Mr. Strandberg: We started the camp out of a need for trained fighters for the fight scenes in our movies. Together with Keith Vitali and Michael DePasquale, Jr., we designed a curriculum that would train people over three days in fighting for the camera, simple stunts (low falls, high falls, tumbling, etc.) , firearms and more. We also focused on getting people ready to break into films by teaching them how to prepare their resume, their reel, their headshots, how to deal with agents, how to act on the set, etc.
We ended up using more than 150 people in our own movies, and it was great. Before, we had to train the martial artists we hired on the set, which took tons of time. With the camp, we had trained people to choose from, which saved time and money and resulted in better fighting on the screen.
Keo: What fight scene from your movies is the best on your opinion?
Mr. Strandberg: I like the fight between Prang and the guys who are after Loren Avedon’s character in King of the Kickboxers. Keith Cooke Hirabyashi is a phenomenal fighter and this fight showcased his ability to the max.
Keo: You have written over 30 scripts, and 10 have been made into feature films, is it a good score? What is your favorite script which more close to your heart?
Mr. Strandberg: I think I’ve done pretty well, but I am by no means done. I think the script that is closest to my heart has yet to be made. I have a couple of movies that I think would be fantastic, if I can find the money to make them. As far as my produced scripts go, I think my favorite script is American Shaolin, because it was a story that I wish I could have done myself – I would have loved to have gone to the Shaolin Temple to train.
Keo: You received different awards, which one is more valuable for you?
Mr. Strandberg: I think just having people like my movies is award enough.
Keo: Currently you are preparing an action film making camp in Europe in the Summer of 2011. Please tell more about it?
Mr. Strandberg: Right now, the economy is not right to do a camp, but it is something that I certainly want to do.
Keo: I know you are doing free presentations at schools, how people can contact you to arrange it? Can you do it outside US?
Mr. Strandberg: I like to talk to elementary, middle and high schools about film making and writing. People can contact me through my website, www.keithstrandberg.com. As long as my expenses are covered, I am happy to talk with school students about writing and film making.
Keo: You are the captain and QB of the Geneva Warriors American Flag Football team. Please tell more about your team achievements.
Mr. Strandberg: We are havinga a lot of fun. We play in a five on five league of Flag Football here in Switzerland. We have won the championship three years in a row. We have a mixture of Americans (2), Canadians (1), Irish (1), Swiss (3) and Portuguese (1) on the team. It’s a great time. We have also taken part in several international tournaments, winning two and finishing in the top five of the other two.
Keo: Our traditional question – which 3 martial arts movies made in US became a classic on your opinion?
Mr. Strandberg: Rapid Fire, Rumble in the Bronx, Big Trouble in Little China
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