FROM BEIJING TO Z (Part Two): My Interview With Fabien Garcia

Martial arts action fans are up to their necks with excitement and anticipation for the latest action packed thriller, Die Fighting. Its cast and crew all hail from a young legacy of ambitious artists, athletes and filmmakers who have all managed to find their niche online.

For this, we look at Z-Team, whose previous shortfilm work have drawn plenty of acclaim from its fanbase as its members have also managed to find their way into the world of film and stuntwork. And if this happens to be your first time learning about Z-Team, consider this a chance to redeem yourself, and now is as good a time as any to do so.

Well over a decade into their craft, the team has pushed through the years into its newest evolution into feature film territory with the recent launch of Z-Team Films. Die Fighting marks their first endeavor into feature film territory with a story about small group of martial artists forced against their will to survive a deadly game under the watchful eye of a shadowy gamemaster behind the cameras. Z-Team founding member Fabien Garcia has made this his directorial debut, in addition to starring in the film alongside team members Lohan Buson and Dider Buson, and actors Jess Allen, Dave Vescio, Gray Michael Sallies, Jose Rosete and many others.

Film Combat Syndicate recently earned the opportunity to talk to both Lohan and Fabien simultaneously as they were both waist-deep in the middle of another new webseries project. In lieu of this, I humbly thank these two amazing individuals for taking the time to share a dialogue with me about their evolution as filmmakers and actors, and so much more.

On that note, I hope you enjoy reading my interview with Garcia as much as I have in conducting it.

FCSyndicate: Tell me about your beginnings with Z-Team and how it all started?
Fabien Garcia: I met Yannick and Lohan the first day that I arrived at the Shaolin monastery in 2000, and we became friends very quickly. We spent one year training there and we were went to two different schools, but we we still met up from time to time. From there, we all moved to Beijing where Lohan’s brother, Didier, joined us. 
I was always a big fan of martial arts movies, and so when I went back to France to see my family, I met with my friend Arnaud who was an aspiring filmmaker at the time, mostly doing comedy short films. I asked him and other martial artist friends if they would be interested in shooting an action short. That’s how we shot my first short film, and incidentally, how I started directing and acting in movies. 
From there, I went back to China and showed the film to Lohan who was impressed and thought that it would be nice to make a team of our own and do short films together.
FCSyndicate: What is it that you enjoy most about filmmaking?
FG: I have always had a lot of imagination. I can sit in an empty room for hours with eyes closed and would start just imagining entire scenarios in various ways, like fighting my way out of a room full of SWAT guys, or visualizing a period era in France, visiting a castle and everyone is dressed in old clothes, riding horses and speaking in the old tongue, etc. 
My dreams are generally action packed as well, which is primarily what I like about filmmaking - Translating my imagination into reality to share it with the world.

FCSyndicate: Can you share some examples of the challenges and memories you have experienced over the years?
FG: The main challenge I get confronted as a director is of course the limitation of budget, it is frustrating when you have something you believe is great in your head and have to tune it down to something cheaper to make. I wish one day I can make a film without thinking about the budget and just go for it, but we all know only a very few directors have that privilege. Also the other challenge of independent filmmaking is that you need to be multi-tasking a lot and that makes it hard to really focus and spend the necessary amount of time on each tasks, for example when you are actor and director it is tough to really take your time to become your character when you have 10 people who are asking you questions about the scene and are relying on you to do your job as a director. But that’s part of the process, you always learn things, meet a lot of talented and passionate people trying to achieve their dream too.
FCSyndicate: I can certainly imagine some of the difficulties behind making independent films and the numerous roles you have to fill as cast and crew. I'm also guessing some of these challenges also occured during the production of your newest movie, Die Fighting, which took quite a few years to see finish, yes?

Die Fighting - Trailer from Z Team Films on Vimeo
FG: Oh yes indeed! For Die Fighting, I wrote, edited and directed the film, as well as worked on color corrections and even added some editor, colorist and I even did some video effects. It was truly challenging, but it was a very good experience. I've learned so much in all those departments, and it will most certainly be an asset for my next film(s).
FCSyndicate: What are some memories you share from making Die Fighting?
FG: Filming the movie was an adventure. It has been four years since we started shooting, but much of this experience still feels like it happened only just yesterday. Actually, one great memory for me was during the auditions, seeing the actors reading the sides of the movie that I wrote, seeing what I had in my head become a reality and watching characters take real human form. It was truly a great feeling. 
Fabien Garcia (left) and Gray Michael Sallies (right) at the AOF 2014 premiere of DIE FIGHTING in August
I have so many other memories as well! For example: During one of the fight sequences in an abandoned hospital, actor Gray Michael Sallies, a very talented actor who also happens to be an excellent stuntman, was on set dressed in SWAT gear and supposed to go through a breakaway glass window made of sugar. 
Unfortunately, the window melted due to hot weather and we had no time to make another one. So, we asked Gray if he wanted to try using a real window instead, which is much more difficult. He insisted he could do it - his career roots all the way back to Russia and he said that's often the way they do it there. 
So, with glass window on hand, we patched, him up as much as possible to ensure he was protected, although we were still very tense and worried when I yelled "Action!". He went full force with his head first and the impact was strong, but the window didn't break. Instead, Gray's head bounced back! It looked like what you would expect to see in a cartoon. [laughs] 
As we realized what had just happened, we released all the tension by laughing while some of the crew who wasn't aware that it was a real window stood there in disbelief. Gray was courageous enough to try a second time, hitting it even stronger and he did great, breaking the glass quite nicely. Of course, we were lucky he didn't hurt himself or that no one got seriously injured during all those fight scenes. We were very tired and ended up with a lot of bruises, even as we were starting to shoot the final fight where Lohan asked me to hit him a bit harder for a specific take so we could get a stronger impact. As a result, it broke his rib, but he didn't complain and kept going through the entire fight while being injured.
FCSyndicate: That is absolutely incredible! In your perspective, how often do injuries occur in your line of work?
FG: Unfortunately, injuries happen a lot in a martial arts movie and it's very hard to avoid them, especially when you do all your own stunts. So in a movie like Die Fighting, with 52 days of shooting mostly fight scenes, it was a miracle that we only got one broken rib, some small injuries and bruises. There were a LOT of bruises too, and I had some lower back pain for three months after we wrapped. 
The best way to prevent big injuries is to warm up a lot before each fight scene and stay warm between each takes. Prepare for all stunts and movements, whether easy or hard, with the same attention. I've noticed we often hurt ourselves by doing the easiest stunts or kicks because we are less careful thinking they don't require much priority. Big mistake.

FCSyndicate: I understand you and the team brought the film to this year's events at the Action On Film festival. Describe how it was to be in the room and share your film with the audience.
FG: It was very stressful in the beginning because I didn’t know how the audience would react to the film. It was actually the first time that it was shown to the public, and while some people seen it already, it was mostly people that we worked with. 
So when I saw the movie on the big screen, hearing the audience laughing when it was funny, and applause at some parts of the movie like at the end of the dojo fight scene, and also at the end of the film, I knew at that moment that people loved it and they had spent a very good time. That was an incredible gratifying feeling, full of happiness and emotion.
FCSyndicate: Talk about unlocking an achievement! [laughs] So are you considering any more festivals down the line? And has the film been acquired by any distributors yet?
FG: We have submitted the film to the 2014 Toronto After Dark Film Festival but we don't know if the film will be selected yet. Yes, Die Fighting has distribution deals in place, the U.S. distributor is Gravitas Ventures and for international we are working with Jamie Thompson from Lighthouse Pictures.
FCSyndicate: I am also aware you are working on a webseries as we speak. Can you tell us about it?
FG: Yes, we already shot the first pilot and we are currently making the music for it, and it should be on the web very soon. Most of the scenes were shot in France. I have two childhood stuntmen friends named, Maxime Demba and Vincent Gatinaud who live there and were a part of it. You might have already seen both of them in one of our earlier shortfilms, "Virtual Vision", as well as Maxime in "La Sonate d’ikea" with Antoine Piquet and other numerous talented short films. They know almost all of the stuntmen in France so they asked a lot of them for help and many of them came, and they were all incredible. 
It’s a post-apocalyptic story set in 2080, many years after the end of the Third World War which saw the near-eradication of the human population due to constant violence and conflict. Those who’ve survived live in continuous strife. Money holds no vice. Clean water and edible food serve as the new barter, and people do not hesitate to end lives to survive. 
The action sequences will differ from those we put together Die Fighting, as our series will have a lot more violence in it.

FCSyndicate: Who are some people you hope to work with in the near future?
FG: There are so many people that I would love to work with, just to name a few. For starters, Gareth Evans, who I met not long ago. He is very nice and very talented. Also, of course directors like Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and all of those geniuses who inspire directors like myself and made what cinema is today. 
As for actors, two major people in my line of work I would love to perform with are Iko Uwais and Scott Adkins. But also, I would love to share a set with actors like Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Chiwetel Ejiofor who I just watched in 12 Years A Slave. I wish I could name everyone I have in mind but there are so many! [laughs]
FCSyndicate: I saw 12 Years A Slave a few months ago for myself and I loved it. I'm glad that is one thing you and I have in common so far! [laughs] I have a few more questions and one pertains to the state of independent online action, and the roots you share with folks like Zero Gravity and The Stunt People. What are some improvements you would like to see for the independent industry? Are there any issues you feel need to be confronted?
FG: I haven’t been working in the industry for very long, so my opinion on the matter is as limited as my experience. It's very hard to make a feature film which has a chance to generate profit if you are not doing what has already been done; It seems that in order to make a living, filmmakers have to develop projects based upon the success of pre-existing films instead of coming up with new ideas or new genres. Also, for a first time filmmaker, it is even harder if you don’t have the financial means to attach any recognizable actors and actresses to your project. Not to mention that advancements in technology make filmmaking much more accessible which, in turn, increases the number of independent films produced every year, while decreasing in average quality and often reinforces the market's saturation. Hence, it gets even more difficult for filmmakers to be noticed and taken seriously without any known actors to support the film. 
It's a double-edged sword, really. Technological advancements are also the reason why filmmakers like myself are able to work in the industry in the first place and complain about it. [laughs] But thankfully, there are more ways to self-distribution than ever before, and a very fast growing VOD market which makes distribution possible for a lot of movies that would have never gotten a release a few years back.
FCSyndicate: Do you any final thoughts you would like to add, in general? Or any advice you might be able to offer to those looking to tap into the martial arts genre from either side of the camera?
FG: The advice I could give is don’t give up , If you are passionate about a project, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. If you have a story to tell, even if you have just a crappy camera and a handful of friends to help out, just do it, and if you fail then congratulations you are on the right way. Learn form your mistakes and then try again. Make the film that you want to make and don’t listen to people who say that you can’t do it or it is impossible. There are always limitations in independent filmmaking, you just need to be more creative and resourceful. You can even try what big studios wouldn’t have the imagination to do in the first place. And if you can work with the minimum you would also be able to work with the most later on. So learn, have fun and don’t give up.
Thank you Fabien, and I absolutely look forward to your new series, and a chance to see Die Fighting for myself when it is released.

As previously stated, I also got to interview Lohan Buson in this two-way interview, so feep free to check it out now. For all other matters and all things Z-Team, their official Facebook page has all your needs.

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