Interview with The Black Demon director Adrian Grunberg
by Bobby Blakey
Director Adrian Grunberg has been putting his mark on the film industry for years working as second unit director, writer, actor and director. In the director’s chair he has delivered some great flicks including Get the Gringo and Rambo: Last Blood. Now he is taking on the killer shark genre with his latest film The Black Demon focusing on a fusion of the Mexican legend and environmental issues. I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with him about bringing this new film to life as well as a little about stepping into the world of Rambo.
Bobby: How did you get involved with The Black Demon?
Adrian: Producers Javier Chapa came to me with a script. He’s a Latin X producer and I'm a Latin X director and he said, “Hey, I think this would be great for you”. I looked at it, maybe not being the first thing I would jump off of, but I liked the whole Latin and the whole mythology of it. And I said, hell, dude, let's go for it. And that's two years later, we're here.
Bobby: Cool. So obviously, it's a killer shark movie and a Creature Feature kind of thing, but there also seems to be this underlining thing about the environment. Was that written that way intentionally or was it something that kind of just happened as you develop the story?
Adrian: There was always that hint in there. I definitely tried to bring as much as I could more into it. Both the environmental and the family dynamic. All the pieces were there, I think, hopefully, you know, I managed to bring more out of it. Because yes, I think, to me, the more important thing than the shark itself, which is a tool used to right or wrong, is how we got there and where we're going to.
Bobby: My wife's Hispanic, she's Guatemalan and Mexican and she was bringing up the point of how, much culture was kind of brought into it as well, when it's in this kind of movie, it didn't really have to have that because you could just anybody could have gone there and dealt with the same legend. But it was interesting how you kind of fused that culture into not only that, but the environment. How important was it to really try to infuse that Latin culture aspect to the story?
Adrian: Tremendously. I mean, it was the main reason I came on board. I don't I don't look the part, but I am Mexican and it was very important for me to bring as much of the dialogue and the mythology into it, and how that Mexican culture for it's been there for 1000s of years. This is not new, this is not something we just brought up on ourselves, it's been happening for a while. So to see it through the eyes of both this western family, and this, you know, pre-Hispanic world and zoom vision was very important to me. I'm passionate about the subject and I know enough about it. So you
know, bringing the prayer into it and making sure Chatto spoke it properly and that there was this sense of community of where these people came from. So very important.
Bobby: I know in we've been dealing as a society, we're dealing with a lot of representation and trying to get more out there. Even though this is obviously through Hispanic legend, was there a lot of push pull about going that deep into the culture for the film? Because you know, there's some people well, this may not sell, because no, who wants that? We can pass that. But did you find a lot of that butting heads on that?
Adrian: On the country. I think that one of the beauties of this was that, like I said, the producer, Javier Chapa, he's deep into bringing that Latin X to a mainstream. So on the contrary, it was you know, and I think that was a perfect match for me, because me wanting to bring all of that in I on the receiving end, we had a producer who was completely set in those ways. Then behind that we had The Highland and The Avenue who were completely open to whatever it is we were trying to do, because that was the original script, that was all there, we just exploded it even more. Zero resistance. Absolutely none.
Bobby: Obviously, dealing with a legend like that in the culture that's dealing with the legend, you know, you can easily kind of bypass that and just do enough just say this is what they say, was what normally happens. So I applaud you for pushing forward and the people that helped you get that because it is something that even though I'm Caucasian, my wife being Hispanic, I see how it affects them differently and opens those discussions.
Adrian: I'm obviously Caucasian. Nobody would pass me for Mexican, but to hear that from Hispanic people brings joy to me because that's where it comes from. Again I don't look the part and I don't sound the part in English, but I am Mexican and I am Hispanic. So it was very important to me to bring all of that in.
Bobby: If it helps I keep getting told I look Hispanic, even though I'm not but I think it's just because I'm with her.
Adrian: I don't. (laughs)
Bobby: (laughs) The discussion did come up after we watch the film. My wife was asking who the filmmaker was and I was telling her about and that you did Rambo: Last Blood, which by the way is awesome and I think it's highly under appreciated. Gringo, which I love and, and I'm like, there's got to be something with his connection, because there's so many things as Hispanic culture infused in everything, and I love it.
When you're dealing with this kind of film going into the filmmaking side, and you're dealing with a shark, we've had so many different shark films from animatronics and CGI. I thought what you did with this one was really well done. How hard is that to infuse the CGI or however you shot that to make it work and not come off kind of cheesy?
Adrian: With the budget constraints that we had, we decided to go full CGI on this animal. So we designed the shoot that way. Then it was in the hands of the VFX Department. It was very important to get somebody on board who could do this and hopefully pull it off so that everybody who sees it and at least believes it. I think they did a really good job. It was hard to achieve and they put hours and blood and sweat into it. Hopefully it pays off, but I do think it looks it looks really good.
Bobby: How hard is that to direct something that's dominantly CGI, with actors having especially underwater?
Adrian: It was actually a lot of fun. If there's one thing I am is a hard worker. Once we sort of make the decision, what is the best way to shoot this event, it's just a matter of designing it properly. That's where also the talent like Josh, not only as an actor, but his ability underwater because it's only him underwater. So understanding how to move and act underwater is very hard, but if you get it if you understand what it is that's needed and know what it is you want, then you just need to commit and go for it. That's where I think everything sort of came together in a sense here.
Bobby: I don't want to spoil any of the ending when I say this, but the way that ending is it's not overly happy, per se. Was there any kind of variations to way the end of the film was going to happen or was it always just this?
Adrian: I always wanted that ending. The producers were always behind me, at one point, we did have the intent of shooting the other version, right, the happier version. At the end of the day, we just didn't have time to shoot an alternative version. So we committed and said this is the way it has to be because this is the way it has to be. Period. It's what works. Once we decided everybody was on board, and we got no pushback from the studio or financiers. So kudos to them for allowing us like you said to jump in that direction.
Bobby: With this kind of movie, if it does well it's the kind of movie that opens up the world of sequels and prequels. With the environmental side of it also feels like it's a very standalone thing. Is it something that you've thought about of wanting explore more stuff you didn't get to explore this time around?
Adrian: Not particularly. I do think it's a project that was born as a standalone and in my mind, it was it was shot as a standalone. Having said that, you never know. Right? Like you said and knock on wood, if it does well, I'm sure things will come up and then you need to understand where you move it to, but I think it has potential to move elsewhere.
Bobby: I don't think I'll ever get a chance to ask you about Rambo again. So hopefully, it's not inappropriate to ask you about that right now. How hard was it heading into a pre-existing franchise, but in this case, really changing it. I know it's a story with Stallone kind of involved in of itself, but how nervous or hard as a filmmaker was it to step into such an iconic thing, and then do something completely different with it?
Adrian: At the end of the day it was, but it wasn't. I grew up with John Rambo, so I was always a fan of the character and of Sly. For me to be to have an older and wiser John Rambo, and try and close the circle and make it a little more intimate was fantastic. I can't say enough about the project and about Sly.
Bobby: Again, I got a heap you all kinds of praise because that movie didn't get enough love. I've watched it numerous times. My wife loves it when it's my favorite of the franchise. So I love it. I guess if there's anything you could tell us about what you have coming up past this or anything you're allowed to even talk about.
Adrian: As much as I can say I'm involved in a shoot right now in Mexico series for Netflix, which is the reason why we're here on a Sunday. Thank you for taking time off on a Sunday. It's the only day I could do this. So hopefully by the end of the year, we'll have something coming up, a cool Latin adventure series.
Bobby: I am a fan of your work and didn't even realize how much of a fan I was until I've researched back and realized every movie of yours I have loved. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Adrian: Thanks, Bobby.
Check out The Black Demon in theaters now from The Avenue.