With the challenge of directing the modestly-budgeted follow-up to Universal Studios’ 2008 version of Death Race, itself a remake of a 1970s cult classic, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2000, director Roel Reiné knew that he had to wear many hats: not only director, but also cinematographer, and lead camera operator.
“Many years ago, where I come from Holland, where I made two movies and many TV series and movies, when I directed, you want to hold the brush,” Reiné said. ”Designing, blocking the actors, and knowing what you need for editing is all one thing in my directing style. For me, it was very normal to do that, and I noticed that all of the actors I work with really like that. I am there with them experiencing the movie, so they get way more attention from me. I don’t need to communicate with the DP or operators because I am doing it myself.”
Serving as his own cinematographer and camera operator also allowed Reiné to shoot very quickly as a director. “I do 80-90 setups a day and maintain the energy on set,” he said. “I use multiple cameras – shooting stunts with 4-6 cameras. But I also have four cameras on set – two cameras are prepping the next shot while I am shooting with two cameras with the actors: I tell the crew how to set the next two cameras. Thus, the actors are always there making the movie. I don’t know how to do it in a different way. This is the way that I make movies.”
Shooting quickly, Reiné shot Death Race 2 in 30 days using the Sony F-35 HD digital camera and the Phantom Camera. The material is shot directly onto a hard drive after which HDSR tapes are struck from the hard drives and digitized into the Avid.
South African Location
The production team of Death Race 2 made an economical choice to shoot in South Africa out of several potential locations. “Everything that I needed was there – great infrastructure and crews who are really fast and motivated,” he stated. “In America, you have to deal with unions and union rules, and it changes the way that you can shoot. I am a union director, but for me, it would be impossible to touch the camera in America because of the rules. In the States, you have a separate DP and operator. In South Africa, I could do it in my style and the way that I want to shoot.”
Because of budgetary concerns, Reiné claimed that to have shot an opening bank robbery car chase in Los Angeles would have cost the entire budget of the eventual movie shooting in South Africa; in that country, he shot the chase in two days.. “Also, we re-wrote the script based on what we could extend, shooting in that location,” the director explained.
Making a Prequel
From the outset, Death Race 2 was designed as a prequel to Paul Anderson’s 2008 movie, going into the backstory of how the “death races” started and the creation of the Frankenstein character. “It was for me to use what Paul had done in his style and bring my own style to it, going a little bit further,” stated Reiné. “ I wanted to have a little bit more drama and emotions in this movie.”
As a director, Reiné professed to enjoy every facet of the process. “I like being on set, working with the actors, putting the camera on them, and coming up with ways to shoot them,” he said. “The star, Luke Goss was so much fun to work with – he is a kid like me. I also loved working with Sean Bean, Danny Trejo, and Ving Rhames. When you start a movie like this, going straight to video, you don’t think you can get these names. We managed to get them because they all loved the script.”
Undoubtedly, the movie’s many action moments serve as visually intoxicating set pieces throughout the story. A high point is when Reiné delivers climatic scenes in super slow-motion. “With the Phantom camera, you can shoot 1000 frames-per-second in 2K,” he described. “When we shot the flipping of the car on the street, we shot 400 fps. I also used it for my main hand-held camera for 24 fps. The F-35 is too big and clunky to do the hand-held stuff. “
Home Entertainment Audience
According to Reiné, the ideal audience for Death Race 2 is “anybody who likes action movies with a good story and thrills with no CG tricks, like movies from the 70s and the 80s. They were cool, raw, and everything felt really real; it was all done in camera. Our movie has the same energy, the same feeling, and the same kind of style.”
He concluded by offering that though his movie will not hit theaters, it does not matter what your budget is if your intention is making a really good movie. “It’s all in preparation and how good are the ideas you have,” he said. Reiné’s Death Race 2 directing blog can now be viewed on YouTube.