The Movie Waffler Waffling With...Stuntman turned director MIKE MAYHALL | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With...Stuntman turned director MIKE MAYHALL

We chatted to the Jake's Road director about performing stunts in major Hollywood productions and making the switch to directing.

Interview by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

After an illustrious career involving theatre, live choreography, and stunt work in many Hollywood productions, Jakes Road is your first full length feature as a director. You are clearly something of a Renaissance man! I was wondering if youd like to talk a little about your varied experiences in entertainment, both before the camera and behind it; is there much different between the disciplines of, say, performing and producing?

Hi-ya, Movie Waffler. Thats a great question. And, I have no idea how to sum it all up. But, Ill try. I started on the stage performing theatre. I wrote and directed my first stage play in high school. And, to this day my old theatre instructor will call me and tell me it was the best student one act play shes seen. So, with my ego fully inflated I went to college to study performance, directing and acting. My college was an extremely competitive place. It was run like an Actors Equity House (the professional theatre union) and I just emerged myself in learning everything I could. I think I spent 70 plus hours a week at the theatre either performing, rehearsing or back stage, and most of the times all of the above.
At some point in time a guy showed up to teach us stage combat and swordfighting. I fell in love with it. It was basically stunts for the stage. By this time I was writing, teaching playwriting, directing, acting  doing everything and anything I could to make myself better.
From college,  the stage combat and sword work led me to live stunt shows in Orlando.  Orlando was just a bigger training ground. I threw myself into the entertainment world out there. Live stunt shows, improv, theatre and film. I was always hustling and always working on the next project. It was out there I really started to direct and produce. I formed my company Mayhem Productions and we did improv comedy sowrdfighting shows. It was a great time in my life.
Then I set my eyes on filmmaking. I moved to L.A. and again just started hustling. After a few years I moved back home to New Orleans with the want to produce film in my home town. And, that lead me to write Jakes Road
Being on camera  performing is my first love. I really love to dive into a character and then try to take the audience with me on their journey. I like to perform for myself, but honestly its really for the audience.
Behind the camera I look at it the same way. I love to do it, but its all for the audience.  Thats why we do what we do  for them. To me there is no real difference between being in front of the camera or behind it. I am there to tell the story.  As a director and producer I am in charge of a much larger vision than as an actor  but when it's all said and done, its just about telling a good story to the best of your ability.

From my research prior to watching Jakes Road, informing me of your crucial role within Disneys live shows and stunt work in Hollywood, I was expecting Jakes Road to be an all-out action film but was instead pleasantly surprised to discover it is a slow burning, character focussed thriller. There are truly kinetic moments in the latter half, but the film certainly takes care to fully develop its characters. Was the decision to move away from elaborate stunt work a conscious one? I understand that you were involved in theatre production; does Jakes Road draw from your background in such a dialogue driven medium?

Yes. Jakes Road and all the scripts I write reflect my background in theatre. I love dialogue. I know film is a visual medium. So, the challenge for me is to merge the two. I draw inspiration from David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino, and Sam Shepard. All of whom love dialogue. Well crafted dialogue can take you on journey just as effectually as a picture. You know? Dialogue sticks with you. And, when the visual and dialogue line up  its amazing.
As far as the stunts were concerned it was a conscious choice to not do an all out action film. I wanted to get back to my roots of story telling  which meant theatre. Create solid characters. Get you to like them. Have the slow burn. Get you involved in the story then turn up the intensity   I also wanted to give a nod to the '80s horror films I grew up with. And, those all had the slow burn.

Speaking of drawing from experience, youve worked with such luminaries as Rian Johnson (on Looper) and Martin Campbell (Green Lantern), among many others. I would imagine that this was the best sort of film school ever, witnessing such a variety of artists at work. Were there any specific methods or tricks that you picked up from other directors that you applied to Jakes Road?

Well, when not writing and directing, my bread and butter comes from acting and stunt work. Ive been fortunate enough to be part of some amazing productions. I just wrapped on Deepwater Horizon and the TV show Scream. Ive had the chance to work on American Horror Story and Salem. All great experiences. But, the best part is I am working side by side with the industry's top Actors, 2nd Unit Directors and Directors. I am learning shots and techniques from these guys. Its like a master class in directing and acting. One minute I am prepping for a stunt and the next I am talking shots and character breakdowns with someone like Rian Johnson or Joseph Gordon Levitt.  Rian liked the slow burn. He got into the characters and story. Martin had a huge project to oversee. He was like a general leading an army. I take everything they say and put it my pocket for later when I am directing and producing my projects. And, I took all this with me when I filmed Jakes Road.

Speaking of luminaries, Jakes Road features the great Eric Roberts, who I am quite the fan of: hes hard working, and gives each project hes involved with the same classy energy. How did Mr Roberts come to be involved in Jakes Road?

Hes always great. Best of the Best, Batman Begins  you name it. Totally brought his A game for Jakes Road. One of our producers had worked with him before and got the script into his hands. He liked it and wanted to do it. Then it became more official. And the next thing you know I am all like, try the scene this way Mr. Roberts. And he did.

I enjoyed Jakes Road a great deal. However, now over to you: in your own words, why should TMW readers take a chance on Jakes Road?

Oh man  I am the worst at plugging my own projects. Because we worked really really hard on it  hows that?  Okay  I think because Jakes Road comes from the heart. I think that shows through. We, everyone involved, set out to make a solid film. I wanted it to have its own pace, its own voice and give tribute to the genres I love. I wanted to create characters you really, really feel for so when the bad guy shows up it's heartbreaking. I would say take an chance on Jakes Road because, in the end, its a good story and I think thats what we all want from a film. A good story.