Watching slews of shortfilms continues to put me in the throes of many a filmmaker, and one such individual has since graced me with a fabulous project several years in the making. Enter Circle Of Ninja, a title with franchise potential based on the inner-workings of Resilient Pictures and martial arts stunt and film group, Team 9 Lives over in Australia where aspiring filmmaker Sam Gosper is still laying out the framework for this latest foray into the genre.

Thus, first on deck of his Circle Of Ninja franchise is Hunt For Hiroshi, a new shortfilm now making the rounds among private eyes before heading to the Cannes Film Festival in May. I had the opportunity to screen the shortfilm my self last month, and I stand by my review proudly under the distinct notion that it'll certainly be a feat worth enjoying should this awesome project be granted the necessary nurturing it needs to spread its wings and flourish. And as with many shortfilms that bare the tropes of proper decorum and quality in storytelling and action design, I sincerly hope Hunt For Hiroshi reaches new heights all the same.

And at the center of all this is Team 9 Lives who I've recently discovered for myself online following its lengthy history on YouTube where they've grown and flourished little by little in shortfilm, stage performance and stuntwork. They're a team dedicated to their craft and that's one of the most important things anyone could ask for when venturing into a project as ambitious as Circle Of Ninja, and with none other than Gosper at the helm, and I managed to have an email conversation in the last several weeks in order to gain further insight on his efforts, the shortfilm and its current trajectory.

Film Combat Syndicate: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Sam. How has your year been so far?
Sam Gosper: It's my pleasure. It actually feels refreshing taking time out to talk about the film. For so long I was stuck in post production sourcing creatives, and it tested my patience for sure. 
We just wrapped up everything end of last year, so literally just got started on the campaigning bandwagon. For the first 2 months we've been compiling the press kit and product pitch to take to market. Your site is the first to officially review the film. Marketing is a whole new challenge but feels good to emerge out of my cave!
FCSyndicate: Well I'm glad to be a part of your beginning! You're off to a great start with this project. How long have you been filmmaking? And what got you started?
SG: This is my first foray into the filmmaking world, but one that I have been chipping away at for the past 3 years. It's surreal how this is my first film yet I was so heavily involved in every aspect of the process, it was like going to film school at the same time. Producing, grading, VFX, sound mixing, even getting behind the camera every once and a while. I'm a big believer of you understand a bit about each craft involved you can communicate with your crew in the language they understand whilst pulling out the best that you know is technically possible. 
I always had a love for martial art cinema, growing up on Van Damme and 90s action flicks. The sheer creativity of Asian action flicks also inspired me to get into stunt work and do the physical stuff. As I matured I started really appreciating quality stories and got over the whole 'oh let's get to another fight scene' trend. So I decided to give it a crack and found out the hard way a good script is hard to write. The more I learned about writing characters the less I cared about the action. So I just really love the idea of connecting people to a story emotionally not just visually. It's what drives me. HFH was a challenge though on that level because it just introduces the characters.
FCSyndicate: Tell us about the writing process. What are some favorite films or books that influence you, if any?

SG: I call on real life experiences to try and resonate the themes or messages I feel are important for audiences to connect to, or at least something to learn or question themselves about. I went through many hardships as a kid in terms of identity and not having a father, so I inject such themes into my writings. That is what I feel for me builds drama and the human condition, because it comes from a real place. I find films I really enjoy, like the Shawshank Redemption, show me the power of when you connect emotionally to something that is real, whereas films like OngBak and The Raid show me the power of brutal realistic fighting scenes. So when I write I work in story first / action scenes second, as I believe the action should happen based on where the story is taking the characters rather than design your action sequences and try and piece a story to connect them.
FCSyndicate: Tell us about your martial arts background. And is this your first foray into fight choreography as well with directing?
SG: Ever since I caught images of martial arts on screen I was hooked. I remember copying Van Damme's moves in the lounge room as a kid. My mum would never let me take up classes though as she thought it would get me into trouble. Once I got older I took it upon myself and started in Taekwondo, then Kufu kung fu around the Sydney area. Martial arts just came natural to me. I ended up joining Team 9 Lives, a start up parkour and stunt team in early 2000 that was essentially a bunch of like minded guys that wanted to express physical movement. This led to many fight scene tests where we could practice chore for film since that's what we enjoyed so much and thought would be doing. Eventually creativity led to behind the camera, but certainly my experience in fight acting is what makes it feel natural to direct it. At first I was reluctant, but now certainly prefer directing as I can have so much control over the translation of the chore to the audience.
FCSyndicate: I'm glad that you mentioned Team 9 Lives as I'm aware that you made this shortfilm proof as part of helping bolster your film community out there in Australia. Tell us about your team and about the indie scene over in South West Sydney.
SG: There's a lot of great talent in western Sydney, doing all sorts of guerilla work. I find its probably the only region in Sydney with a particular focus on the martial arts genre. Team 9 Lives is a great stunt team and one that has produced some of the best trickers and freerunners in this country. I was very lucky in the sense that some of the biggest stunts that would cost someone else ridiculous amounts was just daily training for us. So jumping over a car or flipping through the air was the easy stuff. So team 9 Lives was essential in getting the action top notch. Of course, were making a film though not a showreel, so I kickstarted Resilient Pictures (my own production company) and assembled the rest of the crew. I was able to work with amazing sound designers, composers and VFX artists, and bring on passionate people in their respective craft that were also up and comers. I'm very proud of everyone involved and the results show.
FCSyndicate: Let's talk about Hunt For Hiroshi and what it took for you to make this proof of concept a reality, and mainly with respect to the action. How did you go about casting this project?
SG: I really wanted to put a Christopher Nolan darker tone and seriousness to what is in essence a ridiculous premise. After I penned the script, I realised we were going to need a bigger budget than what I had to get this made. So I felt if I took the first chapter (HFH) and infused it with all types of action elements it could serve as a pitch movie, a show reel of my abilities and a crash course in what it really would take to get the vision to life. 
I approached Team 9 Lives with the script, and the guys were excited. We were fortunate to be sponsored by powerhouse youth theatre in Fairfield, so had access to space. We also conducted our casting auditions there. I knew Hiroshi would be key, and found Taki Abe on Starnow.  As soon as I saw his pictures in a business suit I saw Hiroshi. He just had that screen presence, and when we brought him in we were all bowled over by how accurate he portrayed this foreboding crime lord. Laurent I sourced through a fellow colleague of mine, and David from Team 9 Lives won out as the ninja, due to dedicating himself to ninja movement better than most. 
We went through 6 months of pre-production, 3 months of fight rehearsals. Ali (cinematographer) and I would create the choreography then scout for angles on an slr camera whilst the guys ran through their drills. I took into account how these characters fight, so the SWAT captain would have more of a tactical hands on style and be a bit rough around the edges vs the clean powerful yet fluid motions of the ninja. Apart from David, the others had no experience with this level of fight acting. So we taught them how to screen fight and take hits, so I could choose shots that really showcase the impacts. 
During filming I was working full time which was kind of nuts, fortunately this chapter took place at night so I would get into it after work and shoot to around 1:00am in the morning. We were a tight crew at times, most nights only having 4 or 5 pairs of hands available. 
Doing the helicopter and highway scenes was extremely ambitious. I did some VFX tests and figured we would still need real assets but could blend with artificial elements. I really wanted to widen the scope of the film and show we can do it all, so the highway scene took around a week to shoot. When you see the ninja surfing on top of cars it's 100% real.
FCSyndicate: The helicopter shot was epic. Bravo for that! And the car stunt with David, also epic. Were there any injuries or accidents while filming this apart from any other hurdles you might have faced during filming?
SG: I am pleased to report there were no serious injuries or accidents. Safety was a top priority, so all crew had safety vests and we were incredibly well planned. We rehearsed a plenty so on the actual night of shoot it was a well-oiled machine. Crew wore safety vests, we had witches hats on the road, and I myself did a lot of the stunt driving.
The only slight injuries was in the fight scenes, sooner or later our actors would have sore bones from the impacts. 
FCSyndicate: Well I'm equally happy that this was a safe and very well done product you've put out. What were some of your favorite and memorable moments throughout this process for you? Funny or otherwise.
SG: There's so many to list....I will throw out a few. 
● Police squad and dogs ambushing us on top of a car park thinking our ninja was going to break into the bank next door 
● Faulty generators cutting out right on the epic moments of ninja in highway  
● Seeing Taki improvise and portray Hiroshi in the flesh, the crew were all scared of him and we called him Hiroshi even off camera 
● Getting the helicopter sequence all done in one take, and finally booking it in after months of waiting for a slot 
● My first ever night of directing, the feeling of being with my actors and seeing the scene come to life off the page was magical 
● Method exercises that got our actors really hating each other before shooting 
● Bumping into randoms and putting them in the movie for a humorous moment with our ninja 
● Seeing the crew all work so hard and never questioning the late cold nights. They gave their all. 
● Networking with new and talented people, learning more about score VFX and sound design
FCSyndicate: Ninjas on the loose in Australia! Film at 11! Hilarious! So tell us, what are the most important lessons you now take with you in the course of your career in film from here on?
SG: Never underestimate how much lighting you need at night :-P. In all seriousness, I think what I learned is that a limited budget forces you to use your ingenuity, and you can wind up with better scenes than what you originally would have pursued. So even with a big budget I would think about what I would do if it wasn't there. 
I also believe it is important to know what is technically possible and stay on the cutting edge of technology, to have a firm grasp of what's possible. There were many times when sourcing talent that I was disappointed in the results or quality of work, because I could recognise the realistic standard I could achieve from my own tests. So a director in my opinion should have an understanding of all aspects of filmmaking to get the best out of his crew.
FCSyndicate: What's the next step for the Circle Of Ninja project? And are you working on other concepts right now?
SG: The plan was always to complete the story and finance the full feature. So now with Hunt for Hiroshi in tow, we are going to market this year with the hopes of finding that backing. Hunt For Hiroshi only scrapes the surface of these characters and I'm interested to see what people think when they get their hands on the script. I would want to finish this project first before thinking of any other concepts, but I'm open to other types of films in the future. I've always wanted to do a sci-fi. 
Speaking of which, we are open to enquiries so investors, etc. can contact us through the contact form on the website.
FCSyndicate: Well, you've got your work cut out for you this year and I know you're neck deep in it. Having seen the project for myself I know it's gonna turn heads. Thanks so much for this and for taking the time to talk to me, but before we end things, I know you'll be busy...BUT, 2016 has a lot going for itself in film and so I'm wondering what your movie calendar looks like so far.
SG: I watch movies every week, it's always been a favourite past time of mine. The superhero genre has really taken off the last few years and I'm glad to see its got its glory days, so naturally this year I'm looking forward to suicide squad, batman v superman and the next avengers. 
Aside from that I'm looking forward to more movies that give you an experience, such as gravity and the revenant. I'm really looking forward to the next planet of the apes film as I think that is the best franchise to have come out in a long time. I haven't had much time to catch up on what's coming up in martial arts films, but I hope to see more pleasent surprises like ipman 3 that I felt was way better than what I expected it to be!
FCSyndicate: Ip Man 3 was a gem, and I hope to see more of Circle Of Ninja making the rounds and gaining the traction you need. Thank you so much for chatting with me!
SG: Thanks for having me!


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