‘Hardcore Henry’ Producer Timur Bekmambetov on Head Explosions, Cameraman as Lead Actor

Russian filmmaker discusses technical challenges of shooting a movie like a FPS video game and his next movie, “Ben-Hur”

Ilya Naishuller’s “Hardcore Henry” storms into theaters this weekend courtesy of STX Entertainment with an inventive gimmick: It’s shot entirely from the first-person point of view of its unseen title character, who goes to violent lengths to rescue his wife (Haley Bennett) from a telekinetic albino warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) with the help of a human chameleon played by Sharlto Copley.

The buzzy new film has an unseen force of its own, Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), who produced “Hardcore Henry” after watching Naishuller’s innovative “Bad Motherfucker.”

Here, Behmambetov shares his thoughts about the new film, as well as his own upcoming big-budget remake of “Ben-Hur” and additional split-screen projects that experiment with narrative moviemaking.

How did you stumble upon “Bad Motherfucker” and link up with Ilya?
I found it on Facebook somewhere and immediately called my [production company] Bazelevs colleagues in Moscow to ask them to find me the person behind it. He lives in Moscow and yet I’d never heard about him. Everything happened quickly. I called him and he told me his backstory and what he was doing as a musician. It was a very nice conversation. I asked him, “Do you want to see this on the big screen and make this as a movie using this language?” At first, he was not sure it was possible. I promised him that I understood it’s an experiment, and if there wasn’t enough material, we would just fill it out to get to 90 minutes.

So it’s fair to say there were some initial concerns that the concept may not be able to sustain itself for a feature-length movie?
It was clear from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be an easy project. We’re developing a new language. It’s not just about how to shoot it technically, it’s about storytelling, music and casting. Every part of the film language should be reinvented for this format. From the beginning, there was an agreement between us that he should do what he feels, and if he makes mistakes, he will fix them. It was like R&D, and it took three years to be where we are now, but I think we both made the right decision.

What were some of those technical challenges?
There was no precedent for how to do a whole movie without the main character on the screen. The cameraman and the actor is the same person, and then the question is, how much do you act and how much do you focus on capturing the world around you? There are a lot of questions about sound and editing, like, how much we can cut? Because on one hand, it’s logical that every shot would not have any cuts, but then how do you make it dynamic and cut, but still create the feeling that it’s not cutting?

Do you have a favorite stunt or kill scene in the movie?
Yes, I like the head explosion, which we shot on the most famous street in Moscow. And I really like the scene on the bridge, which we did with no CG and no wires. It was just a Russian guy running on the top of the bridge.

I saw the film when it played Toronto as “Hardcore.” What’s your take on the new title?
“Hardcore Henry” sounds more specific and more personal. Since we don’t have a protagonist on the screen, the title helps the audience connect to him and makes it more personal.

You’re know for inventive action scenes and eye-popping visuals, but what do you think is your signature as a storyteller?
I think it depends on the movie, but generally, when the action is an extension for the drama. It could be as crazy as you can or cannot imagine, but it’s part of the drama. It’s a metaphor for the story.

The “Ben-Hur” trailer recently debuted online and revealed that Jack Huston has a very modern haircut. Can you explain that decision?
It’s not me cutting his hair, he does it on the screen. It’s very uncomfortable to be in the chariot with long hair, because to win the race, you have to be able to see around you.

What’s next for you and your company, Bazelevs?
For the last few years, me and Bazelevs have been developing new film languages. We made the shared-screen horror movie “Unfriended” last year and the first-person POV movie “Hardcore” this year.

There are two more shared-screen movies that are almost finished — an R-rated teen comedy called “Liked” and “Wizard of OS,” where the Dorothy-type character loses her desktop and data and she has to get it back in a story that’s like “The Wizard of Oz.” We’re going to continue to experiment with shared-screen movies and thinking about the next experimental ideas like virtual reality and some I can’t tell you about.

For now, I just really want people to trust our “Hardcore Henry” experiment and test it themselves. I cannot guarantee that everyone will love the movie, but I can guarantee that people will never forget it.