December 31, 2020 Interview – Andrzej Bartkowiak
Immigrating to the United States from Poland when only 20 years of age, Andrzej Bartkowiak has made quite an impressive career for himself in film. Humbly beginning working on commercial, Bartkowiak’s talents lead him to become an esteemed cinematographer with credits that include 1993’s Falling Down and 1994’s Speed. A résumé that is long and impressive, he would also go onto direct a slew of popular flicks including 2000’s Romeo Must Die, 2001’s Exit Wounds, as well as 2003’s Cradle 2 the Grave.
Still very active today, Bartkowiak finds in the director’s chair once again for the new Action Drama film Dead Reckoning. Released on demand/digitally as of November 13, 2020, the filmmaker recently sat down to talk about his career inspirations, how his latest project came about, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been directing and producing movies for nearly 50 years now. From working as a cinematographer on 1994’s Speed to directing 2000’s Romeo Must Die, you have done a lot. Now you have this new film Dead Reckoning. What brought this project about?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – I and the producer have a house in Naugatuck. Naugatuck was historically the whaling capital of the world, and the financial capital of the United States before the discovery of gold and oil. Naugatuck never had slavery and it was an exit point for runaway slaves who were smuggled to Africa on ships from there; the house that they were kept is still there. Naugatuck has been a big mixture of culture through today. As you know, I am an immigrant from Poland – I came here when I was 20 years old. Everything was beautiful and Naugatuck was the dream place to be.
As you also know, Boston is very close to Naugatuck, and the Boston bombing was very close. Although, the movie does have nothing to do with the Boston bombing, but it is inspired by it. Kristin Alexandre wrote the story, came to me, and said, “Look at this boy, he was assimilated and worked with his brother.” I told her my young daughter goes to this place where all the kids go to party, and she is dating a taxi driver who is an Eastern European migrant.
You would never think of anything like this, but the conflicts of immigration is very close to me – the conflicts between religion, family, and blood ties. So I became really interested in telling the story and leaving viewers analyzing things. There are no clear answers, but there are clear obstacles. We then hired a writer and developed the script. I was very passionate about the subject of immigration, starting a new life, and the dilemma of a young boy and his loyalty. That’s how the movie came about. We had very little money and it was a project of love for everybody.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. Dead Reckoning is a good balance of drama, action, and suspense. Is it hard to strike that balance with a film?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – It is very hard. I was actually re-writing as I was shooting. Law enforcement, FBI, all of these guys have a hard job. We are human, we are not machines, so people react different. I didn’t want to make a comment on it, I just wanted to show the process; what people go through, and how difficult it is for everybody.
Cryptic Rock – Right, it is a good observation. You worked with a very good cast of veteran and younger actors/actresses. What was it like working with everyone on the film?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – Like I said, we had no money. I was friends with Scott Adkins. I was going to make a film years ago with him, so we stayed friends. As a young man, Scott went to acting school to be a dramatic actor, but he is a number one martial arts guy, so he got boxed into Action. He wanted to perform, so I told him, “This film you can shine dramatically and we have lots of action.” I told him also you will have a good actor to act with you in James Remar. I got these two, and then Nancy, my casting director, introduced me to K.J. Apa. He did a movie before he did a show, and now he’s a star. Everyone worked extremely hard, including India Eisley and Sydney Park.
Cryptic Rock – That is great that you were able to snag them all. What about the music for the film, because the soundtrack is very solid.
Andrzej Bartkowiak – I love music in movies. I have been so lucky, starting with Romeo Must Die (2000), where I had Aaliyah, DMX, Timbaland, Stanley Clarke, and Destiny’s Child on the soundtrack. Here, there was no money, and I was casting in Boston and met this woman, Devon Diep. She told me, “I also write and perform my music.” All the music she sings in the movie are songs she wrote and performed for it. I was blessed for finding such a talented actress that was also actually a singer and composer. That was a totally unexpected benefit.
Cryptic Rock – It is wonderful how everything fell into place. You have worked on some big budget projects throughout the years. How would you compare working on big budget projects opposed to a passion project such as Dead Reckoning?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – Work is work, but you have a lot more support as a director when you have a studio behind you. On a movie like this, the reason it took so long, after we finished the movie we ran out of money in post production. Kristin had to raise more money and finally we did. It took many years; something that normally took me a year to make a movie and post produce it, took three years. Everything had to be a kind of favor; the boat in the movie is a friend from New York who brought the boat up as a gift. In a movie you don’t get favors, you pay for everything. That is the difference basically.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting to hear. Being involved in film as long as you have, what initially inspired you to get involved in filmmaking?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – It is a very silly story. I was born and raised in Poland; my father’s family came from the Germany side of Poland, my mother’s family came from the Russian side of Poland, and I was born in the middle in Łódź. Here I was 17 years old and my mother told me to run next door to borrow potatoes from our neighbor, who was a midwife who delivered me. It was the first time I walked through the house, there was blow-ups of film frames hanging on the walls and in the corner a camera on a tripod. I asked, “What is this?” She told me her son is in film school and he’s in Sweden now making a film.
At the time I was writing poetry, I was in a Rock-n-Roll band playing bass guitar; I loved music and all the arts. I was taking pictures, so I said, you know what? Film school! I went to the film school and found out that of 2,500 they were only admitting 11 people a year! My family cried; they wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer, or a dentist. They thought I was throwing my life away with some crazy idea, but I applied and I got into the school. That’s what got me to the movies – get potatoes from a midwife! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) What a funny story. Well here we are today. Beyond Dead Reckoning, what are some other projects you have coming up?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – I have a picture I am working on, but I don’t want to talk about it yet and jinx it.
Cryptic Rock – Understood, let us hope everything pans out for that film. Last question. What are some of your favorite films?
Andrzej Bartkowiak – I would say Citizen Kane (1941) and The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather II (1974), those are movies that influenced me a great deal. There were also movies like Miloš Forman’s anti-communist movie The Firemen’s Ball (1967) and Medium Cool (1969) by Haskell Wexler. You have to see them! They are very inspirational movies. Another movie which hugely inspired me was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969).