Interview: Dimitri Logothetis Talks Directing, New Movie ‘Jiu Jitsu’August 15, 2019
Recently we had the chance to talk with Dimitri Logothetis, who talked about life as a director and his new action movie Jiu Jitsu, starring Nicholas Cage.
When you got into this business did you always want to be a director or did you discover that later on?
Dimitri: I actually got into this business as an actor. My family wanted me to go to business school so I was taking business in a junior college, and I had an option of either taking a speech class or an acting class, so I took the acting class. The guy who was teaching it, it was El Comino College in the South Bay of Los Angeles, and he said you’re a pretty good actor, you should star in this play I’m directing. So I started out as a young actor, I was about 19 and I worked as an actor until I was 24. Then I had a small part in a big movie by Martin Scorsese called New York, New York, and Marty was the one who suggested that I go to film school. I didn’t even know what film school was, he kind of liked my writing, saw me writing some creative papers for a college and he wrote me a letter of recommendation to go to film school.
You’ve done writing, producing and directing. Do you have a favorite or do you like mixing things up?
Dimitri: I think all of it is storytelling and I think I was always a pretty good writer in school and so for me, in order to tell a good story I have to be able to start writing it, or at least be able to tell it to myself.
Are action-oriented movies something that always interested you and if so, why?
Dimitri: Well, action is fun. I think action characters, for the most part, are representative of something everyone wants to be able to do. You can get lost in an action character, I think most people go through life, they’ve got a boss who is doing things that are inappropriate or forcing them to do things they don’t like. They’ve got some people in their lives, or many people in their lives, and they’re just not the type of person who would take action and when you see an action film you can get lost in that character. I grew up watching Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, I watched all these kinds of characters, Bruce Lee, and it was just fun.
You did Kickboxer: Retaliation, it had a great cast, great characters. What can you tell me about that experience?
Dimitri: First, I agree with you, it was a great cast and great characters. I try to approach that particular genre with authenticity, so with that said, there’s an awful lot of people in this film like Mike Tyson, or UFC World Champion Fabricio Werdum, and because you’re doing kickboxing you want to have that authenticity. My leading man, Alain Moussi, he is a sixth degree Jiu Jitsu master and the kind of things he can perform on camera is amazing. He’s 205 pounds, 6’1, he does front aerial, back aerial, he does some of the most amazing kicks you’ve ever seen, kind of like a martial arts surgeon if you will, so that’s just a lot of fun to watch. I think if you’re going to make a martial arts film and you don’t have an authentic martial artist, I think the audience is going to be let down.
Did the success of Kickboxer: Retaliation lead to doing Jiu Jitsu or was that movie already in production?
Dimitri: It was something in the works in my mind. I wanted to see if I could pull off martial arts science fiction, so the first thing I did was I wrote a comic book with my writing partner, so I could see the film and have somebody actually draw it out, so I could almost storyboard it, conceptualize it a little bit. Then when I saw it I thought, you know, this could be kind of cool, so it was something I’d been working on for quite a while.
Was Nicholas Cage someone you wanted to be in the movie from the beginning or did he come on board later?
Dimitri: He actually came on board later. I’m a big fan of Nicholas, he’s an exceptional actor, a consummate professional on set, he also happens to be a guy who’s studied Jiu Jitsu and he’s a genre fan, he loves genre and the fact that he’s an Academy Award winner doesn’t hurt either.
As the director, what were your biggest challenges in filming a movie like Jiu Jitsu?
Dimitri: It’s difficult enough to shoot an action film, it’s even more difficult to film a martial arts action film and make it authentic. I don’t have the kind of money to work with that the Marvel movies do so I have to be able to pull off stuff that is real, and I do. However, to layer on there the science fiction, as well as the martial arts, just made things extremely difficult to pull off. Fortunately, I’d been a showrunner and executive producer on several science fiction television shows in the past so I was able to figure out how to do things, but yeah, that was the biggest challenge.
Time and money are always an issue when you are making a movie. However, in terms of the fight scenes, did you have a particular style or look you wanted or did you let the actors and stunt people change things up as they went along?
Dimitri: I try to focus on the strengths of my martial artists and my martial arts performers. Tony Jaa is a legend so I just know him, I know his work and I focus on covering his material a certain way. Alain I know, this is my third picture with Alain and I know the kind of stuff he can do and perform is something that will be legendary with more pictures that he does, one after the other. I just approach each sequence, I prepare it, have the stunt guys that I work with, who by the way are Thai. I fly them over from Thailand, my stunt guys, and stunt coordinator and we conceptualize what we’re going to do. They shoot the sequence themselves, based on notes that I’ve given them, they send it to me, I look at it and they’ll cut it, redo it, re-conceptualize it until we like it and then they’ll bring it to set and work it out with the martial arts performers about two weeks before we shoot it. We have an approach for each film that is pretty systematic and I try to get as much entertainment, as much creativity into that I can.
So what other projects do you have coming up?
Dimitri: I’ve got a project I’m very excited about called Man O’ War, it was written by Gary Scott Thompson, who wrote The Fast and the Furious and I’m preparing that for the fall. I’ve got a few other things in the works, the fan base is trying to get me to do Kickboxer 3, I’ve got a wonderful script for that so I might put that together, that will be about a year and a half out.
I want to thank Dimitri for taking the time to talk with us.