FIGHT LIKE A MOTHERF**KER: An Interview With Actor And Filmmaker Phillip Ray Tommy
In the grand, largely improvised scheme of things here at Film Combat Syndicate, I eventually came across a concept trailer for a nifty looking project called Sacrilege. The trailer was action-packed, substantive and had everything I looked for in something of a potential film product and so naturally I ultimately began sharing space with the man behind the concept, actor, martial artist and filmmaker Phillip Ray Tommy.
Phillip Ray Tommy: Greetings Lee, it's my pleasure and thank you for giving me the opportunity to ramble on about films. 2017 has been amazing brother - I have been riding on the wave of positivity from last year, and things are finally falling into place.
PRT: Well I'm a film fan. In fact I'm obsessed by film. In 1995 I snuck out of school to watch Desperado (it was an 18 cert and I was 15, so it was a big deal at the time ) It shocked me to my core and I became a huge fan of Rodriguez.
This led me to watching his first movie El Mariachi and then his 10 minute film school. That shit blew my mind. With limited resources he made an amazing movie that launched his career. However it all still seemed so far away, but it had lit a small fire. Then many years later I went to a Comic-Con in London around the time The Raid came out. I had just broken up from my wife and was looking for inspiration. Gareth Evans was there giving a talk about the making of The Raid which was great.
I had an idea for a screen play I wanted to make, so I thought I'd speak to Gareth if I had the chance, in order to find out a little more about his journey of getting into film. He was amazing, and gave me so much inspiration. He had never met me before but at the end of that 10 minute conversation I felt like I could do anything. I saw in him what I saw in Rodriguez all those years ago. Both he and Rodriguez seem to be powered by some kind of high octane creative fuel and I love how they work. I got a little side tracked after this and thought I'd train to be a stuntman instead.
This came to an end about 4 years ago when I suffered an injury which required surgery. I also found out I was going to be a father and this triggered me into action. After he was born I'd come back from work and take over from my sons mom so she could get some rest. As anyone who has had a kid can attest to, the first few months of 2.5 nano seconds of sleep per week are torture. So as I spent most of my time awake, and whilst my son slept I started to write. Out of this zombie state I wrote my first screenplay, which is called Sacrilege. And thus the journey to be a film maker began.
PRT: We met many years ago through a mutual friend called Venard Fong. We were at this martial arts show called Seni and I got a small glimpse of some of the stuff he was capable of. It was insane. So powerful and graceful. His speed is inhuman. We were at opposite ends of the martial arts spectrum. I loved fighting and he was into tricking, but we both loved martial arts. Anyway, we always kept in touch over the years as we have the same mindset about many things. We often spoke about getting into the industry and different methods of establishing ourselves, so when I decided to make Sacrilege I wrote it with him in mind to play the lead role of Ash. It wasn't just because of his martial arts ability. It was because I knew he could act. I never want to make films that are focused on martial arts. I always want substance first and action only when and if its needed.
I need actors who are able to generate emotion and bring the words i write to life. Fortunately for me, he is such an actor. In fact I don't think he realises how good an actor he is. And the fact that people will only expect him to kick ass and nothing more is appealing to me. I can't wait for the day that people see what he is capable of.
PRT: So the tag line for Sacrilege is "When the power of god is given to a human, all hell breaks loose!". I'm a massive Shakespeare fan, and this was my Midsummer Nights Dream in terms of the tangled web that is woven throughout the piece. As with most of what I write, the line between good and bad are blurred and the whole thing just felt refreshing to me. A friend of mine funded a short scene from the movie and it came out great.
The performances from the actors were amazing. Anyway I took those scenes plus the full script and various bits of media to Cannes last year, where it was well received by everyone I spoke to. The first company I spoke to out there thought it was already finished and wanted to discuss its distribution! All of this, gave me confidence that I was on the right track. When I came back to the UK I managed to get some potential investors lined up for the project and everything was looking rosy. However it soon became clear that the investors weren't who they said they were and to cut a long story short I felt it best to cut ties with them.
Anybody who knows me well, knows I'm a stubborn bastard so when one door closes I keep searching for another one. I initially made the Cain & Abel short because I didn't want to stagnate whilst looking for investment for Sacrilege. We dropped a 40 second teaser trailer and people loved what they saw. After the reaction, one of our producers suggested making Cain & Abel before Sacrilege as it would be smaller and cheaper production. I agreed, played with script a little and put sacrilege on the shelf. I have 4 scripts that I want to make into movies, and Sacrilege will def come after Cain & Abel. I guess I'm probably looking at getting it out in 2019.
FCSyndicate: Would you say the search for investors was the most difficult part of your endevaor with Sacreliege? I would opine that productions have their own hurdles as well, but give us your perspective on independent production and the sort of obstacles you face as an director and film multi-hyphenate.
PRT: Funding can be problematic, but in the U.K. we have great tax incentives available to investors which puts us ahead of many countries as far as I can see. That doesn't obviously mean that money is growing on trees, but there are ways and means to try and find financing that are more accesible in this country then many others . Again this doesnt mean its easy to get funding. Its a slog like anything worth having.
The biggest issue initially was actually my own mindset when it came to financing. If I'm being honest, I didn't realise that I was hindering myself by undervaluing my work. So I would never have thought it possible that I could obtain funding of a size that would do the project justice. This all changed when I met a lady called Sindy Campbell. She is the head of Film Birmingham and basically any high scale production shooting in the city goes through her. She read the script and believed in my ability and told me that I should definetley aim for a higher budget. This in turn made me believe in myself and I went out there to secure it. As I said, we thought we had gained what we needed but alas it wasn't meant to be.
I'm a massive believer in the universe and things happening the way they are supposed to. The issues with Sacrilege, led to the advancement of Cain & Abel. Sometimes things seem like they are going wrong when they are actually just pushing you onto the course ...hmmm what was the question again? Oh yes, funding....in short funding is a bitch, but I feel as long as your product is good eventually you will get what you need. And if you don't get exactly what you need you can refer back to the 10 minute film school I mentioned earlier, and get inventive.
In terms of the problems I faced during this production... well they were numerous. And this kind of ties in to my last point. When you haven't got a lot of money, you have to be very inventive about how you spend and where to save. There are certain issues that could be solved by throwing money at it if you had a massive budget. This isn't an option for many indies, so what do you do? Quitting isn't an option. So you just find a way to get around any issue that arises whilst maintaining the integrity of the project. I've been homeless before, I've had hard times before like many others, and that gives me a unique perspective on any issues that may arise. Things can always be worse, and I waste no time getting int a mess about how things could be better. It's a waste of energy. that same energy can be put toward solving whatever issue has arisen. Shit happens, it's what you do after shit happens that defines you. I heard a quote the other day that said film making is about stamina. Pushing forward, trudging up that hill one step at at a time until you get where you need to be. Plus the team around me are awesome. Grant has been a god send. You can't do anything on your own, but once you have found the right team of people who are passionate about the project you are half way there. So together we make it happen one way or another.
I also have some people that I can call on when I need a boost - my producer James Anderson Brown, and about three other people in particular have been so amazing during production: Pete Pedero, Richard Dwyer and Xavier Kantz. I don't message them a lot by any means. However whenever I do, they give me the right thing I need to hear at that time. Surrounding myself with positivity is the key to happiness. It's also the key to optimising my output.
PRT: It was amazing dude. We had 2 showings, and had around 140 people attend in total. We had people attend from all walks of life. Producers, stunt guys, filmmakers, martial artists and everyone in between. It is so humbling when so many people come out to support you. Part of the main roads to the cinema were closed due to the cities annual marathon being run the same day. This makes the fact that so many found a way to get there even more impressive. My first martial arts teacher came as well, which was amazing. He was such a positive influence on me growing up and it was so nice to be able to say thank you. We had another showing in he next few days for those who didn't manage to catch it the first time around.
PRT: Okay so Cain And Abel is a story about two supernatural entities vying for control of the city they reside in. Abel comes into possession of a weapon that is capable of killing a god, and upon hearing about this, Cain decides to try and enter into a partnership with Abels company. They arrange to meet at a location in to carry out an arms deal in order to usher in a new alliance, but things go down hill fast and the ensuing shit storm leaves a high body count alongside a dark stain on the earth as long forgotten primordial powers are utilised in order to gain an advantage.
FCSyndicate: How often do you think it's possible for ancient stories like that to be re-embraced in a contemporary setting? I read like the first two pages of the bible back in high school and got bored, so I couldn't tell you the first thing about this particular tale unless I looked it up on Wikipedia. And you seem to have a knack for it and so adding a sort of modern corporate, gangster element with guns and martial arts is something of a delight now that you've made it happen.
PRT: That's great of you to say that dude and I'm glad! You see, I was raised a Jehovahs Witness so have read the bible may many times from cover to cover. I left the religion around the age of 15 and have studied many religions out of interest. I have noticed that many people feel uneasy when issues around god or religion are present, even if the viewer isn't necessarily religious. As a writer I want to make the viewer feel a wide array of emotions. I want them to feel uneasy at times and empowered at other times. I want them to end up cheering for characters that they would normally hate, and find themselves agreeing with actions that they might usually find repulsive. I think ancient stories can be retold in a contemporary setting if you truly understand the source material. Research is essential. then once you have lived with the characters long enough you are able to place them in situations that are authentic to their nature.
PRT: What lies ahead? Insanity! If sacrilege was my Midsummer Nights Dream, Cain & Abel will be my Titus Andronicus with hints of Julius Caesar. Intrigue, power struggles, deceit and deities going all out to prove their superiority over the next. It's going to be insane!
PRT: It should be available online toward the end of the year. We hope to be at TIFF in September so it will definitely be toward the latter part of the year. As soon as I have an update on this, you will be one of the first to know.
PRT: I don't train nearly as much as I should. I still hit the gym about 5/6 times a week, but I'll be training with Grant soon in order to get my martial arts skill back at the level they should be.
I initially started in Taekwondo in which I hold a 2nd degree in. Various issues meant I left Taekwondo and started to train across styles. I started to train in BJJ, Boxing and Muay Thai before competing in MMA where I fought pro. I had a semi-pro record of 2-0-0 and a pro record of 3-0-0 before stopping to focus on other things. I was constantly getting little niggling injuries that was stopping me from doing other activities so I called it a day. As any fighter will tell you, the issue is that every time you "quit" you eventually get called back to do it all over again. I had to have a look at myself long and hard and accept the fact that this wasn't my calling. It was fun whilst it lasted though.
Here's some old footage from back in the day. God, watching this shit makes me look forward to training again even more.
PRT: Yeah it did, but the main buzz came in the changing room right before your name gets called.
You can feel the energy from the crowd which is very exciting. Plus you are aware that there's a guy in the other changing room that intends to beat you down, and that's exciting also because even though you think you're going to win deep down you know anybody can get knocked out. Then you are aware that people have paid their hard earned cash to come and watch you, and that is immediately humbling and spurs you on to put on a show. I think all fighters are performers. We want to put on a show that sends the crowd into a frenzy...in fact I don't think that just applies to fighters. I guess it applies to anyone who is in a competitive sport. The love of the sport obviously comes first but i definitely think that the desire to entertain is a part of that.
PRT: Cheers buddy. I know one thing for sure and that's the fact that things could always be worse. I had a car to sleep in so it wasn't too bad. Imagine if I had to sleep in a shop doorway or on a park bench!! Or what if I had an illness, or was blind or a myriad other things that could affect my life? I think the most Important thing to remember is that there's always something to be grateful for.
It's not always easy to see what that thing is, when shits hitting the fan and you are struggling to see a way out. But there always is something to hang on to...and that morsel of hope will always let you know that you aren't done.
I'm a believer in the universe and the law of attraction. Sometimes things that happen to us, have to happen in order to teach us a lesson. Maybe it's a lesson that makes us realise our true potential. Or maybe the lesson is to show us that we are on the wrong path. Or perhaps we need to experience some shit in order to prepare us for what's to come next? All I know is that you have to fight like a mother fucker regardless of how dire a situation may seem. This may sound really Disney-esque, but seeing a good sunset or sunrise is one of the best things in life. My son is 2, and I always make a point of sitting and appreciating everything. A storm, a beautiful day, a beetle walking along the fence, a sky full of stars ..whatever it is...to quote Brandon Lee in The Crow "Nothing is trivial" Many years ago I bought a canon 7d. I took it everywhere with me and took photos all over the city. I was working on the door at a strip club so would always finish in the early hours of the morning. On my way home id go to different parts of the city and take photos. It as then I realised I had been in this City for years but never realised how beautiful things were. You can always find beauty if you look at things from the right angle. All of this is the fuel that can carry you through.
View every hardship as temporary. Know and trust that there will be better days and you will find a contentment.
Lastly I think it's essential to remove anybody and anything that brings unnecessary negativity into your life. It's draining and ultimately increases the amount of time it will take to get back on your feet. I'm so far from where I want to be, but so much better off then I was, and that gives me contentment.
PRT: I've been out of the loop whilst trying to get the film finished...but now I'm looking forward to Alien, King Arthur, sleepless, Wonder Woman, Justice League...there are too many to list. I have a card that lets me watch unlimited films at the cinema (only costs £17 per month) so when I have the time I always try and catch something. I also have my Netflix and Amazon Prime watchlist to work my way through.
PRT: I saw Guardians earlier. Soooooo funny. Baby Groot reminds me of my son! Oh yes I forgot about Thor 3. Have you seen the new Netflix original movie starring Will Smith? It looks intense!!
PRT: But dude these are good problems to have. I love it when theres so much awesome content that youre spoilt for choice. Do you guys get BBC iPlayer over there? Check out Tom Hardys Taboo if you do.
PRT: Well, first of all thank you very much for the interview. Your work is awesome and I always enjoy reading the Hit List. To your readers, thank you very much for taking the time to read this article. I really appreciate it. Once Cain & Abel is released I shall let you all know. Until then, please feel free to follow us on our Instagram pages to keep up to date with the latest goings on, and please keep following Lee and supporting his work. I know he puts in a monumental amount of work into everything he does.