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The Wonderful World of DTV - The films of director William Kaufman

Darren Murray
The Wonderful World of DTV - The films of director William Kaufman

It is true that the DTV market is mainly known as being a dumping ground for thousands of bottom of the barrel productions. One only needs to visit their local DVD store to see what cheap horror or action movie is on offer.

In the past there would at least be a recognisable star to make these films standout from the crowd, actors whose best days were perhaps behind them but were at least still making a living.

In the current DTV market the majority of films produced are made with a limited budget, trying to emulate what is the current trend i.e. found footage films, or copying the most recent Hollywood blockbusters like famous B movie production company The Asylum.

Still, there are those film makers currently working in the DTV market that have managed to stick out from the crowd, making their films something to look forward to. Some of these films are even able to stand shoulder to shoulder with their big budget counterparts.

Previous A listers like Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren have fared increasingly well in the DTV arena, making what has become some of their best work. There are also the new breed of DTV stars like Scott Adkins who have managed to work their way through the ranks of DTV to now appearing in A pictures, albeit in smaller supporting roles.

The same is true of a number of DTV directors, who have gone on to make films that truly betray their DTV origins. Of the current trend there are directors such as Isaac Florentine, Steven C Miller, Jesse V Johnson and William Kaufman, who have consistently impressed with their various productions, with each of them seemingly getting better as their careers have progresses.

With this article I will  be looking at the work of Kaufman, who may not be as well known as the likes of Florentine, but has consistently being producing exciting action films in the DTV arena, and hopefully shouldn’t be long until he moves on to bigger things.

Kaufman lived his early life somewhat of a nomad, always on the move, due to his father’s career in the military. He has spoken in interviews that when he lived in Bangkok that he got a job working on the Hollywood production of Good Morning Vietnam (1987), which was his first taste of the movie business.

After returning to America, he studied film at the University of North Texas, where he ended up working for a special effects and weapons co-ordinator. He took these experiences and ended up going on to direct his own short movies as well as some commercials.

In 2005, Kaufman would eventually move onto direct his first feature, The Prodigy (2005). According to certain reports, the film was made on an extremely low budget of one hundred and fourteen thousand dollars,

As well as directing The Prodigy, Kaufman co-wrote the films screenplay along with leading man Holt Boggs. The screenplay isn’t exactly the films strong suit, but is better than some of the more well known films in the DTV market.

There is some nice touches, such as having the main villain being based around the invisible man, even going as much to name him Claude Rains. Boggs makes for a decent lead but is overshadowed by the more interesting Glen Vorhis as the evil Rains.

The main issue with the film is its excessive length. Clocking in at around 2 hours, the film can’t help drag at certain points, and would have been better if it was pared down to a shorter running time.

At least The Prodigy would help establish Kaufman as a filmmaker and his ability to construct well choreographed action scenes with the most basic of resources. Each of the films action scenes are surprisingly well choreographed and suitably violent.

The quality of the films action scenes are both down to director Kaufman and action choreographer Ron Balicki, who also has a role in the film. Balicki had been working in the film industry since the early 1990’s, mainly as a stuntman with the odd un-credited bit part thrown in. He is also the husband of Diana Lee Inosanto, who plays Ash in the film.

The daughter of famous martial artist Dan Inosanto, Diana does well in the film, although is hired more for her action credentials than her acting.

Like her husband, DInosanto is no stranger to stunt work. She has worked as a stunt double on the likes of Face/Off (1997), Blade (1998) and Wild Wild West (1999). Recently most of her credits have been in numerous television shows.

The Prodigy could never be mistaken as being a great film, but it can’t be denied that Kaufman showed definite talent behind the camera, with the film being a calling card for the director’s future work.

It would be another five years before Kaufman would get behind the camera, but it was clearly worth the wait. Sinners and Saints (2010), was a major improvement on his previous work and to date one of Kaufman’s finest achievements. Not bad considering that it was only the director’s second film.

Unlike The Prodigy, Sinners and Saints had him working with a fair amount of established actors such as the great Tom Berenger, Jurgen Prochnow, and Sean Patrick Flanery to name a few. Their screen time is limited, but gives the film an added touch of class.

The lead role was given to Johnny Strong, who is excellent in the role. Audiences may have spotted the actor previously in the likes of Get Carter (2000), Fast and the Furious (2001) and Black Hawk Down (2001), but there was nothing in these performances that would show how good an action hero he could be.

Strong it turns out has a number of talents. With a background in martial arts, as well as being an accomplished musician, it is a surprise that Strong hasn’t been in more films. It would seem that Strong is happy with his lot, as he has stated in interviews he likes the freedom of working on DTV productions as it gives him time to work on his other passions, mainly his music, with him releasing several albums.

As well as his albums, Strong created the musical score for Sinners and Saints, with it being a fitting accompaniment to the on screen action.

It was apparently through Strong’s music that Kaufman originally came into contact with him, as Kaufman made out he was looking to use Strong’s music for his film The Prodigy. This gave him the opportunity to present him with the script for Sinners and Saints.

As well as handling the action, Strong is equally impressive in the more emotional aspects of his role, with his character having to deal with the death of his son as well as the failure of his marriage. Additionally he works well with Kevin Phillips who plays his partner Will.

The two of them end up getting involved in a number of exciting shootouts on the streets of New Orleans. As good as the acting is the action in Sinner and Saints is truly what sets it apart from other DTV offerings.

The shootouts are reminiscent of the works of Michael Mann, being gritty, violent and realistic. It helps that the majority of the action was performed by the actors instead of them being doubled by stuntmen.

Ron Balicki who had carried out the action choreography on Kaufman’s The Prodigy returned to do the same for Sinners and Saints, as well as being one of the film’s producers. His work overshadows anything he had done previously for the director. The action could put some bigger budget studio films to shame. Similar to The Prodigy Balicki has a small role in the film.

Balicki had the assistance of his wife Diana Lee Inosanto, helping co-ordinate some of the films stunt sequences. Like Balicki, Inosanto was one of the film’s producers.

Like The Prodigy, Kaufman was one of the films writers. Luckily his work here is more professional than his previous effort, creating worthwhile characters and scenarios. Kaufman co-wrote the script with his friend Jay Moses, who had acted in The Prodigy.

This would mark the only full length script that Moses worked on. His only other writing credit was on the short movie Mickey Finn (2012), which he starred in.

It would take almost two years for Sinners and Saints to be released; even then it wasn’t given the attention it deserved. It even had the misfortune of being renamed Bad Cop is certain counties.

Thankfully there wouldn’t be as long a wait for Kaufman’s next feature, with The Hit List (2011) coming only a year later. Unlike Sinners and Saints, The Hit List was more of a character driven thriller, although there is a fair amount of action involved.

The Hit List would be the slickest looking film from Kaufman yet, but still made on a considerably low budget. The plot is based around lead actor Cole Hauser meeting the mysterious Cuba Gooding Jr and making the mistake of drunkenly creating a hit list.

It turns out that Gooding Jr is a Hitman who decides to make Hauser’s hit list a reality. Hauser is then on a race against the clock to stop him, whilst at the same time a detective (Jonathan LaPaglia) believes he is behind the killings.

Both Hauser and Gooding Jr are excellent in their roles, especially Gooding Jr who seems to relish playing a bad guy for a change. Towards the finale he is almost like a human Terminator, with him going up against an army of cops. Known more as a dramatic actor, Gooding Jr is still no stranger to action films; with him being quite impressive in the action scenes he is given.

Some critics have complained about Gooding Jr’s descent into the DTV market, with them judging these films before even viewing them. Of course some are better than others, but the actor still manages to turn out quality work in this market, some of which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Kaufman manages to keep the film fast paced after the initial slow start to introduce the characters. The characters are well written for the most part, with Gooding Jr’s Jonas being especially memorable. The Hit List would mark the first of Kaufman’s films not to be written by him, with writing duties being taken over by Chad and Evan Law.

The writers had already written another memorable Cuba Gooding Jr vehicle, the overlooked Hero Wanted (2008). The two had other credits on another two Gooding Jr films, working as writers on Linewatch (2008), which they were un-credited for and being story consultants on Sacrifice (2011), released the same year as Hit List.

Chad Law has continued to work with Kaufman throughout the director’s career, writing some of his best films. Evan Law still continues to write, but has only worked with Kaufman one other time since, with him doing an un-credited rewrite on One in the Chamber (2012).

Hit List marked the third Kaufman film in a row that Ron Balicki contributed towards, with him doing stunt work on the film as well as having a bit part. Fans of The Prodigy should also keep an eye out for that films star Holt Boggs, who has a small role here. 

Both Kaufman and Gooding Jr would reteam the next year on One in the Chamber, with them bringing action legend Dolph Lundgren along for the ride.

Those who were disappointed by the Hit List being more of a thriller than an action film should have no complaints this time round, with there being some well thought out fight scenes and shootouts.

Cuba Gooding Jr is again on lead duties, doing his usual good work. His character, like the Hit List, is another hit man. but one with a  stronger moral code. He works in Eastern Europe, being employed by rival gangs to carry out various hits. It isn’t long until a gang war erupts, with another assassin (Dolph Lundgren) being brought in to take care of the situation.

The addition of Dolph Lundgren stands One in the Chamber out from the crowd, with the big Swede giving a fun scene stealing performance as Russian assassin Alexey. With a wardrobe to go with his personality, Dolph makes the most of his memorable character, and it is just a shame that he isn’t given more screen time.

The rest of the supporting cast is made up of the usual reliable faces like Louis Mandylor, Billy Murray and Leo Gregory.

Claudia Bassols plays the only real female role in the film. She is mainly here to make Gooding Jr’s character feel guilty for a past deed until she is used as the usual damsel in distress. Sadly Bassols is the only real sour note, with her acting not up to par with her more experienced co-stars.

A change from previous Kaufman pictures, One in the Chamber wasn’t shot in America, with the majority of the films being filmed in and around Romania. Kaufman works well with cinematographer Mark Rutledge to make the locations look good and have them be a good setting for the films action scenes.

Rutledge had already been cinematographer on Kaufman’s last two films, but One in the Chamber is the standout, possibly due to being shot in Eastern Europe. He would continue to work with the director on his future films such as The Marine 4: Moving Target (2015), Jarhead 3: The Siege (2016) and his upcoming Lazarat (2017).

The script does offer up some interesting characters, especially Dolph Lundgren’s Alexey, even if it isn’t the best script Kaufman has worked from. It may be credited to Benjamin Shahrabani, but the film went through some un-credited rewrites with brothers Chad and Evan Law working on the script as well as Derek Kolstad.

Kolstad would go on to write another Dolph Lundgren feature, Jesse V Johnson’s The Package (2013), but is probably better known now as the writer of the classic John Wick (2014) and its sequel.

After the release of One in the Chamber, it would be another three years until Kaufman would step behind the camera. He would return with The Marine 4: Moving Target which would be the first time the director had made a sequel to another director’s work.

The Marine franchise from WWE entertainment has proven to be one of the company’s more popular film franchises. Starting back in 2006 with The Marine (2006), The film was an enjoyable star vehicle for WWE superstar John Cena but was hampered by its PG13 rating.

Cena didn’t return for the sequel, but this didn’t stop if going on to becoming one of the best in the series. The Marine 2 (2009) starred Wrestler Ted Dibiase Jr in the leading role, with DTV and action specialist Roel Reine directing a cinema worthy feature betraying the films relatively low budget.

With the third entry, the reigns were handed over to another WWE wrestler, this time Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. The Marine 3: Homefront (2013) was directed by Scott Wiper, who had previously helmed another WWE production, The Condemned (2007).

The Marine 3 was a slight downturn in quality from the excellent second part, but was still a decent action movie that helped establish The Miz as a credible action star.

Luckily the fourth part in the series served the Miz better, with him being the first actor in the series to return for the sequel. The Marine 4 : Moving target is an almost non-stop series of action scenes, with the actor getting involved in numerous bone crunching fights.

The Marine 4: Moving Target is probably the most straight forward film of Kaufman’s career, being pretty much a long chase scene, with the Miz having to defeat multiple opponents in the films many well choreographed action scenes.

The majority of the film takes place in a woodland setting, no doubt so the production can cut down on costs. This results in the Miz coming up with various traps to take down his prey, with him getting to show the characters Marine training, something the last film was somewhat lacking.

As well as the MIz, the film sports a supporting role from female wrestler Summer Rae, a.k.a. Danielle Moinet. Her screen time is brief, with her playing another in a long line of mercenaries that the Miz had to take down, with the only difference being that she is female.

Kaufman does his usual stellar work behind the camera, using the limited budget to his advantage. There is more hand to hand action in the film than previous Kaufman films, not surprising considering that it is wrestlers starring in the film.

There are still shootouts involved but are less impressive than previous Kaufman films due to the gun fire all being added digitally in post. Still the many fights make up for this, being well choreographed by Dan Rizzuto, who takes full advantage of the Miz’s wrestling background.

Rizzuto had previously worked on earlier WWE entertainment production 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded (2013), but The Marine 4 gives him a broader canvas to create action scenes. He would continue to work for the company, creating memorable action scenes in the likes of Vendetta (2015), 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown (2015) and Countdown (2016).      

The script for the film was the work of Alan B. McElroy, who had written the first film in the franchise. Being a veteran of the action genre, he had written such films as Rapid Fire (1992), Spawn (1997) and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002).

It could never be claimed that McElroy has written the best examples of the action genre, but on the whole his work has been at the very least enjoyable. The Marine 4 is no different although the majority of the characters are underwritten, with the films plot being only an excuse to get to the next action scene.

McElroy would carry out similar work for WWE entertainment in the same years The Condemned 2 (2015), which has a similar structure to The Marine 4, with the script being more interested in getting the characters to the next action scene. Still, both The Marine 4 and Condemned 2 could never be blamed for not giving the audience what they want.

The Marine 4 was enough of a success for there to be another entry, yet again starring the Miz. Kaufman didn’t return this time, with director James Nunn taking over. Like part 4, The Marine 5: Battleground (2017) was another fast paced action movie that had its fair share of fight scenes.

Like the 4th part, the low budget is evident with the majority of the film taking place in one location. Yet again the Miz throws himself into the action, with the film having the bonus of featuring his fellow wrestlers Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, Heath Slater and Naomi.

Director James Nunn had already worked with WWE entertainment the year previously, directing the superior Eliminators (2016), which starred Scott Adkins.

Speaking of Scott Adkins, he would feature in Kaufman’s next directorial offering, Jarhead 3: The Siege. Once again Kaufman would be making a sequel to another director’s film.

The original Jarhead (2005) couldn’t be further from an action movie if it tried. Well directed by Sam Mendes, the film was a realistic glimpse into the lives of Marines during operation desert shield and desert storm. The film focused more on the performances of the actors, with very little action to speak off.

This of course didn’t stop Universal attempting to continue the series with an in name only DTV sequel, Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (2014). Sharing little to no similarity to the earlier Sam Mendes film, Jarhead 2 is just another quick DTV actioner that fails to stand out from the crowd.

Director Don Michael Paul at least makes the on screen action look good, with the film additionally having the benefit of some good supporting performances from the likes of Cole Hauser, Esai Morales and Stephen Lang.

The poor reviews didn’t stop Universal from proceeding with a further sequel, and this is where William Kaufman came in. Kaufman easily surpassed the second in the series, with Jarhead 3: The Siege being an exciting action movie, with only some minor drawbacks, one of which is the unfortunate title.

Unlike Kaufman’s previous film, Jarhead 3 has no shortage of gunfights, with there being very little hand to hand combat to speak off. The plot is pretty straight forward, with a group of Marines having to protect a US embassy in the Middle East.

The film shares some similarities with Michael Bays 13 hours: the secret soldiers of Benghazi (2016), even if it doesn’t quite have the budget to match. Still Kaufman does good work with the limited finances he is given, and action fans shouldn’t be disappointed.

As mentioned previously, martial arts legend Scott Adkins appears in Jarhead 3. Unfortunately it is only a supporting role, with him not given a chance to show off his martial arts skills. He does still get involved in some of the action, but his screen time is sadly limited.

Lead duties are left to Charlie Weber, who actually equips himself well during the films action scenes considering he is best non for non action roles in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2000), 90210 (2013) and How to Get Away with Murder (2014).

Dennis Haysbert shows up in a small supporting role to add some gravitas to proceedings. The only other supporting cast member of recognition is Dante Basco who viewers will probably know best as Rufio from Hook (1991).

Basco isn’t a bad actor, but his character is increasingly annoying throughout the film and other than its poor title is the only major drawback to speak off. His character seems as if it was written for someone much younger than the 40+ Basco.

Viewers should keep their eyes open for The Prodigy actor Jay Moses, who is amongst the supporting cast.

Kaufman’s regular cinematographer Mark Rutledge returned to work with the director, doing his usual solid work. He shoots the action well, making the film look suitably professional. Only the cheap look of some of the sets let things down slightly.

Another of Kaufman’s usual collaborators, Chad Law, worked on the films screenplay. He has done better work for the director, but the script gets the job done. There isn’t much room for character development due to the hectic nature of the plot, and the inclusion of the Dante Basco character loses him some points.

Law didn’t write the film alone, with Michael D. Weiss sharing a writing credit alongside him. Weiss is no stranger to a DTV movie having written the likes of Octopus (2000), U.S. Seals 2 (2001) and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006). Jarhead 3 would turn out to be one of the better films that the writer has worked on.

Moving on we come to what is William Kaufman’s final completed film to date. Daylights End (2016) seems like a labour of love for the director and his efforts don’t go unnoticed, with the film being the best example of his work since Sinners and Saints.

With most of the director’s work, he has worked with a limited budget, and the same is true of Daylights End. Working with a reported budget of $2,000,000, Kaufman manages to stretch it no end, making the film look as if it cost many times that.

Technically Daylights End is a vampire movie, but the creatures here aren’t the romantic type shown in films like the Twilight series. They are mindless blood thirsty monsters that have more in common with Zombies than your typical vampire.

The world of Daylights End is dirty and desolate. The streets may be deserted but there is always a palpable level of threat, with sudden attacks always around the corner.

Like Sinners and Saints, Daylights End has another great lead performance from Johnny Strong. Playing a mysterious drifter, Strong gives a typically physical performance, being involved in pretty much every action scene in the film.

Similarly to Sinners and Saints, Strong created the musical score for the film which is one of the best aspects of the film and gives the film a certain mood and tone.

Backing Strong up is the likes of Lance Henriksen, proving that at his age he still has some fight left in him. The only drawback of his part is that he isn’t given more screen time. Louis Mandylor is good value as Henriksen’s son, and is better served here than his previous Kaufman film One in the Chamber.

Another actor worth mentioning is Hakeem Kae-Kazim. The actor has been working consistently since the 1980’s, mostly in supporting roles, usually playing the villain. Lately the actor has been getting more substantial work, playing one of the main characters in the television show Black Sails (2014).

Like Black Sails, Daylights End gives the actor a considerable amount of screen time, with him getting to play a good guy for a change.

Once again Chad Law was on scripting duties, with this being his finest work for Kaufman. The majority of the characters written are, if not likeable at least relatable, with Strong’s being suitably mysterious. The plot manages to work in a number of influences, with John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and George Romero Zombie movies being clear inspirations.

Kaufman brought back Ron Balicki to choreograph the many action scenes. The action is equally on par with his previous work in Sinners and Saints, with it being suitably violent with a fair amount of gore thrown in for good measure.

At the time of writing, Kaufman is currently in production on Lazarat, which is apparently based around a drug village and its war with the police. The majority of the cast are made up Eastern Europeans so it will be interesting to see how this films fares with no major star to carry it.

He has also been talking about further work with Scott Adkins and a proposed sequel to Sinners and Saints, which hopefully is his next project

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Cole HauserCuba Gooding JrDolph LundgrenDTVJohnny StrongLance HenriksenLouis MandylorScott AdkinsWilliam KaufmanWWE

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