Joe Carnahan loves to talk movies and doesn’t mind being candid about his journey in Hollywood.
At different points in his career, Carnahan has been attached to direct “M:I 3,” “Bad Boys 3,” the recent remake of “Death Wish,” and “A Walk Through the Tombstones,” the latter with Harrison Ford attached.
“They have a script kind of based on mine,” Says Carnahan regarding “Bad Boys 3.” “If you read my original script, it was dynamite, they will never have a script as good as that. In my opinion, It addressed everything — the age, what is bravado and ego when you’re past your prime, decisions made in the past.”
“I’m still here, I’m not doing community theatre in Culver City,” he laughs. “I had the same conversation with Tom Cruise that I had with Will Smith. It’s your face on the poster, you should make the movie you want to make. That’s not going to work for me. When you compromise yourself; well, I didn’t have the grit for that.”
Carnahan’s newest film, “El Chicano,” which he wrote and produced, opens this weekend. Ben Hernandez Bray directs, with great performances from Raúl Castillo, George Lopez, Aimee Garcia and Kate del Castillo, the latter of whom, while hugely popular in her native Mexico, made headlines when she produced the Netflix documentary “The Day I Met El Chapo.”
Bray has worked for years as a stunt coordinator for Carnahan on films like “Smokin’ Aces,” “The A-Team” and “The Grey,” as well as shooting second unit on select films. Bray had written the initial script for “El Chicano” following his brother’s death, and Carnahan helped him polish it over during a period of months.
In “El Chicano” twin brothers grow up on opposite sides of the law. When one turns up dead, the other uses his police connections to investigate. This leads to the discovery of a masked vigilante trying to prevent a violent cartel takeover of Los Angeles.
“My best friend Ben Bray directed the film, he’s been my stunt coordinator for years and years,” said Carnahan at an interview conducted at last year’s Austin Film Festival. “He was always telling me how Latinos aren’t represented in film; he grew up in East L.A.”
For Bray, the concept of the white billionaire super hero, like Batman or Iron Man, didn’t represent his worldview. “El Chicano” revolves around the titular character, a kind of masked vigilante more like The Punisher than an actual hero with super powers. “He’s like a father figure who watches over his community,” says Carnahan.
“Bray lost his brother to gang violence about ten years ago. And then a couple of years ago his daughter died at birth. It was one of those incomprehensible tragedies. I have four children myself. I never want to be here if they’re not here,” says Carnahan.
“At the time I was on ‘Bad Boys 3,’ with a greenlit script in November 2015,” continues Carnahan. “At that time, I figured Bad Boys is going to be Bad Boys, it didn’t need my attention — this does. We teamed up, and eight weeks later had the script. Financiers who had helped me to make ‘Wheelman’ [a Netflix film with Frank Grillo] asked me ‘What else do you have?’ And we were able to finance the movie. By hook or by crook these guys found the money to make the movie.”
The initial budget of “El Chicano” was $7 million, which was mostly funded by “Canadian oil and gas investors.” Parts of “El Chicano” were shot in Calgary doubling for Los Angeles.
“It’s one of those things you do for the right reasons, and I’m intensely proud of the film,” says Carnahan. “Twenty-five percent of movie tickets in this country are purchased by Latinos. There’s not a drive towards material for that audience. In Hollywood unless something is red hot and an inch away from their face, they don’t see it.”
Briarcliff Entertainment is releasing “El Chicano” in theaters starting this weekend.
“For me it was using the police procedural as a device for this guy finding out who his brother really was. But then you meld that with the themes of the super hero genre,” says Carnahan. “Artists don’t age; it’s not like a blown rotator cuff where you’re never going to play again. As an artist, you can always get better and better. ‘El Chicano’ certainly represents everybody’s best effort.”
Carnahan on Twitter
Carnahan has 36.6K followers on Twitter and at times uses the platform to sound off on current issues.
“When you’re apolitical I think you draw more followers. More people voted on the finale of ‘American Idol’ than voted in the last election, and that to me is a danger state,” says Carnahan. “It’s like we’re living in this grotesque cartoon of alternate reality. Yet people will follow this moron off the edge of a cliff. I don’t want to give Trump unintentional credit, but he’s exposed down to the soil the wicked corruption of the GOP.
On his Twitter page, Carnahan posted a list of unproduced screenplays that includes: “Siege,” “Oddball,” “Darwin’s Trophy,” “Archangel,” “Mr. Sandman,” “Road Scholars,” “Buddy Boy,” “Deuce’s Wild,” “Live Bait,” “Town,” “Miami,” “The Surrender of Washington Hansen,” “The Divide,” “Undying Love,” “Mission: Impossible 3” (with Dan Gilroy), “Road Work,” “The Umbra,” “White Jazz” (adapted from James Ellroy’s novel), “Nemesis,” “Killing Pablo” and “Uncharted.”
“That’s 21 total scripts, and it’s still an incomplete list. Figure six to eight months per script — sometimes more,” writes Carnahan.
“Christian Bale passed on ‘The Grey,’ so I got Liam Neeson,” adds Carnahan.
“I learned a lot about myself, all the guys did,” admits Carnahan in regards to shooting “The Grey,” which was shot in British Columbia in sub-zero temperatures. “We were having this adventure, but we had to shoot a movie at the same time. It turned actors into reactors. It was so cold, they just said their lines. All the pretense, all the motivation goes right out the door; it laid bare a lot of the bullshit that goes into making a movie.”
Most recently, Carnahan wrapped on “Boss Level,” starring Mel Gibson as a special forces officer caught in a “never ending time loop” on the day of his death. It’s set for a late summer release.