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Exclusive Interview with AGE OF THE HOBBITS Director Joseph Lawson!

Without a doubt, one of the best Asylum films to date - not just this year, but ever - is Nazis at the Center of the Earth. This mindbending adventure-sci-fi flick commanded international attention and is often the first film mentioned when people (like me and my friends) talk about the Asylum-renaissance that's been transpiring this year: a blend of better stories, better effects, and better direction.

In the case of NATCOTE, the director in question was Joseph Lawson - supervisor of the studio's in-house VFX department - working off a script from Asylum producer Paul Bales (Sherlock Holmes, Legion of the Dead). The film was Lawson's first at the helm, and was quickly recognized as the work of a great new director. Lawson returns this December with the hotly-anticipated Age of the Hobbits, an old-world tribal epic from the pen of Eric Forsberg (MegaPiranha, Almighty Thor). He was kind enough to take time out of his scarily-hectic schedule to talk to Committed about his career, passion for filmmaking, and AotH.

COMMITTED: First of all - my readers are dying for any tidbits you can give about the concept or plot of Age of the Hobbits.

Joseph Lawson: Think Apocalypto meets Frank Frazetta by way of David Lean and Steve Spielberg with a healthy dose of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi... a fantasy and creature battle epic somewhat inspired by the true scientific paleontological Homo Floresiensis living in Indonesia of 12,000 years ago. It's all through the Asylum filter, of course, including scientifically accurate winged and flying Komodo dragons. It's a very exciting Eric Forsberg script with gorgeous cinematography by Richard Vialet and it was an adventure to shoot!


C: What drew you to visual effects? What steps did you take to turn your interest into a career?

JL: I've been interested in both VFX and directing since I was 10, easy. The kids in J.J. Abrams' Super 8? That was me. The first thing I committed to Super 8 film was a visual effect Star Trek Starship, rechristened The Hood, NCC 1707, and I directed the one reel film with friends in it as well. It was the first of many including a jungle war movie in the depths of Okinawa. Over the years, everything has been grist for that mill... making choices that allowed for opportunities to write, direct, act, edit, do visual effects. Commercials at KRTV-3 in Great Falls, Montana... my own animation business... working for Foundation Imaging on and CG directing an episode of Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles... so many great opportunities to work with hundreds of people far more talented and capable than I to learn as much as possible.

The first thing, though, is you have to commit to the path. I truly believe that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet for those willing to grasp at the brass ring. It's not just about being at the right place at the right time... it's about training enough so that when you DO say "hey, give me a chance, please..."  to folks willing to take a chance on you, you've both earned it and are ready for it.

My wife forwarded me another saying shortly after taking on this film... "Don't just follow your dreams, lead them." I've been blessed to get that opportunity more than a few times.

C: How did you come to work with The Asylum?

JL: I was brought aboard in 2010 by another great artist and VFX supervisor, Mark Kochinski (now at Disney) to help start up the facility in-house. At the time, my only familiarity with Asylum was Pirates of Treasure Island, which I'd rented about a month before even KNOWING there was an Asylum. It took a bit of convincing to get me aboard. It was a challenging start with lots of technical and time hurdles to overcome but over the years we've been able to build an amazing little group of folks who accomplish far more with the resources and time than I think they'll ever get fair credit for. The producers, Latt, Rimawi and Bales, have given us a lot of support and patience as we've learned and grown with each new challenge. We strive to get better every show and, on the whole, I think our trend has been upward hopefully with good entertainment results.

C: What's been the hardest part about transitioning from VFX supervisor to director? What's been the best part?

JL: The hardest part is leaving behind such a great group of people in the department. We have a lot of fun in VFX while hunkering down to meet the deadlines. It's also hard to switch gears from juggling up to five films at once to suddenly concentrating on one exclusively and away from everything you know. And being away from my personal family on Age was a challenge, though my wife and kids, God bless them, are the biggest supporters of this crazy dream.

The best part, besides just the absolute "this is what I was born to do" joy of directing, is getting to know and respect even more than ever the folks in production and what THEY have to do to get an Asylum film done. Watching the dedication and artistry of people like line producer Anthony Fankhauser, the make-up work of Haley O'Neil, the stunts of Jerry Earr, the various folks on our Cambodian cast and crew and the amazing things sound man Alex Hutchinson has to do to get great audio is humbling and educational. It's probably one of the best and most challenging film schools on the planet, for those with the iron will to take it on. 

In post, working with Rob Pallatina a second time in editorial has been great because we've developed such a fantastic shorthand as a team. The Chris Ridenhour score is an emotional, orchestral and auditory powerhouse. The sound departments' creations are a wonderful ear loving canvas, the color correction by Mark Quod and his crew is rich and gorgeous, and the disc work by David Courtice is really cool.

One should also always remember behind the scenes folks like Judith, Kala, Courtney and Kendall who handle all the heavy lifting of getting the film distributed, seen and sold. There are so many more good folks at The Asylum giving them all their deserved kudos could fill THREE of these interviews!

So, it all comes down to storytelling and characters or situations you enjoy spending time with... and co-workers you enjoy spending even MORE time with.

C: How do you select the projects you direct? What draws you to a project?

JL: I select being involved with any project based on two sets of things... is the story cool/fun/exciting/emotionally compelling and does at least one part genuinely make me cry (and not out of pain) or laugh. If that happens... and my wife Kelly has been there when I cried as a result of character situations for both Nazis, Age and the next one... then I feel like maybe something can be drawn out that will similarly touch the audience. Ultimately, whether a film has an Asylum budget or a two hundred million budget, if you care about the characters then people will be entertained. 

What draws me to it in the first place is the ability to create good, strong visuals and weave a story no matter what the limitations. That and for Age, Latt handed me a piece of notepaper with this list: 1. You  2. Direct 3. AotH  4. Cambodia. Both Rimawi and Bales also seemed pretty excited by the prospect. Who can resist that? 

C: Who are some of your favorite/most inspirational directors?

JL: David Lean. Steven Spielberg. Peter Jackson. James Cameron. Robert Wise. J.J. Abrams. John Landis. John Carpenter. Robert Rodriguez. Peter Weir. Ridley Scott. I could honestly go on and on but those would be the folks whose films have most affected my vision and approach over the years. Ultimately, every director has had an effect whether it's in the inspirational vein or the Mystery Science Theatre school of how NOT to make movies. I just hope when my turn comes at the bigger bat, I'm qualified to hold even a tiny little candle to their amazing creations.

C: You shot AotH on location in Cambodia; what sort of challenges did you face shooting in a foreign country with a presumably small crew?

JL: Snakes. Land mines. Goats. Dangerous pot-hole filled travel. Rugged hikes.  Monsoons. Sketchy food. A very long plane flight. Lots of shots. Wait, why DID we do this?  Simple: at age 49 David Lean shot Bridge on the River Kwai just north in Burma... so while it's a huge bar to aim for in 15 days, it's also the fulfillment of a personal lifelong dream... to shoot with epic scope in a far off land not seen by many western cameras for a feature style film. Cambodia is one of those last best places so we have a GREAT and enthusiastic crew with a mix of Asylum vets and new eyes. We've gotten some fun stuff to see and the hope is that the end result of a cool action movie makes all the challenges worth it.


C: Anything you can tell us about the release?

JL: It's a feature packed disc, this DVD/Blu Ray.  There's a gag reel, a really sweet making of by Cody Peck, the really-sells-it-but-doesn't-tell-it kick-butt cool trailer by Brian Brinkman, four deleted scenes and a commentary where I get to sit in with editor Rob Pallitina and the wonderful Christopher Judge (who played Amthar) to have a lot of fun... with a surprise appearance by Richard Vialet, our DP. It'll also be on VOD and at Redbox (under a different title, I believe) all on December 11th.

C: Any Joe Lawson dream projects or people you're dying to collaborate with?

JL: I have a ton of personal story ideas and projects I'd love to do, as any writer/director does, and world building of places we HAVEN'T already gone would be a great opportunity and challenge. Playing in other folks realms, though, I'd be thrilled to get to direct a Game of Thrones episode (or five or ten), or to be part of a Star Wars live action series... and I'd actually love to have the chance to revisit a very familiar place with a different take on NATCOTE... but beyond that, someday I look forward to having the chance to pitch, write and direct the ideas and stories that I've gathered over the years.

As far as collaborating, well...  it can be the most fun part of the job and there are so many talented and creative folks in so many disciplines here at the Asylum and elsewhere. To work with any of the living folks on my director list would be a dream of a lifetime.

Heck, if Peter Jackson saw fit to take some time to watch this latest little film, THAT would be truly amazing... and he could return the favor of putting an arrow through MY chest in some future film. Consider him humbly and respectfully invited to do so. 

More importantly, though, in the spirit of encouraging folks to take a chance on their own dreams: get out there and get that ball rolling because the filmmakers I most look forward to collaborating with someday are, Mr., Miss and Mrs. Reader:  YOU!

Lawson's next feature is Age of the Dinosaurs: "Age of Dinosaurs, which is now in post, stars Treat Williams (Prince of the City, Deep Rising, 1941, Hair and TVs Everwood), Ronny Cox (Robocop, Total Recall, Deliverance) and Jillian Rose Reed (Awkward, Weeds) and was written by northwesterner Hank Woon. Set to release in May, 2013, it's the simple tale of a father and daughter rediscovering their love for each other in a city filled with rampaging dinosaurs. For his third film in one year Joe reteams with cinematographer Richard Vialet (AotH), editor Rob Pallatina (NATCOTE and AotH) and composer Chris Ridenhour for this action adventure through the streets of Los Angeles. We like to think of it as Jurassic Park 3.5."

Age of the Hobbits, as Mr. Lawson said, is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD December 11th. Get your hands on a copy for what promises to be a truly epic adventure.

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