I’ve had the chance to interview Roel Reine a few times now for The Man With the Iron Fists 2and The Condemned 2. Each time I knew he’d directed a Dutch movie called Admiral, about the historical naval battles in Holland. Michiel de Ruyter led the Dutch naval fleet against the English, French and Germans in the 17th Century.
Admiral is released in the U.S. this weekend so I got an opportunity to reconnect with Reine by phone about his passion project. We also spoke about his work on Hard Target 2 which will be out later this year.
Nerd Report: There are so many great moments in the ship battles, like when they run the ships aground. Did all of those things happen in those specific battles?
Roel Reine: The things that were happening in the battles are very historical. I think overall the movie is 70% historical fact. The main thing I did is that, you want to follow these historical events, this all takes place in a 27 year period. But you don’t want to use actors that need makeup or have two different actors play younger and older ages and do makeup when they’re getting older. I wanted to avoid that because it will make you feel less because it’s difficult to grow into these characters if you change their appearance every 10 minutes because historically it’s 10 years later. So what we did, we put the story in kind of nine months that basically took place in 27 years. So these battles were historically correct, but there were a lot of years in between them. All these things were real. They came up with the idea to ground the ships on the sandbanks and it was a very clever way to stop this incredible armada at the time.
Nerd Report: When you’re shooting those battles, with complicated shots where men are climbing the masts as the ship sails by, can you do a second take where you back the boat up and they climb down to do it all again?
Roel Reine: [Laughs] We had eight million dollars to do this movie and I shot the movie in 42 days. I only had two and a half weeks to shoot the sea battles, which is a crazy amount. Not two and a half weeks for each battle scene. I had two and a half weeks to do everything. So you don’t get a second take all the time. When someone is falling into the water, you better have some cameras on it that are in focus because you’re not going to do it a second time. Reloading that will cost you hours, hours you don’t have. But what I did is we never used any green screens or blue screens. We had three real ships on real water and we had a dock where one of the ships was docked so we could strap onto it and shoot very easy. There was 180 degrees of water around it. And then the other ships would sail by, but they can only sail by and we blow cannon fire every two hours because they needed to reset the cannons, sail in a big circle around because of the wind directions. So it was very complicated to orchestrate these big massive shots, but we pulled it off by just being smart, having really good sailors who could sail these ships in the right direction, at the same time as another ship is passing by. And then have enough cameras to get the shots.
Nerd Report: You only had three ships?
Roel Reine: Yes, we had three ships and a small ship. We had three big ships. Of those three, only two sailed and one was a ship we had to pull. The machine ship had all the interiors we needed for all the scenes. The other two ships had modern interiors so we could not use the interiors. Then we followed that with thousands and thousands of photos and film of these ships in different angles so then in compositing the world, if I shot two ships and had them firing at each other, then all the ships in the background surrounding them are compositing in by the same ships but then we doubled them in computers.
Nerd Report: So when we see 50 ships, they’re still real ships but it’s the same two ships.
Roel Reine: Yes, in shots that are close by. When you look at the Google Earth shots, I call them Google Earth shots, where you see there’s hundreds of ships lined up, that is full CG. For that we had seven 3D animated ships that were based on real 17th century drawings. They remake them in the computer and then those seven ships will become 50 or 100 ships in the CG world. In the movie, there only I think 20 of those Google Earth shots that were very important to me because I wanted to show how logistical these [battles] were. Then all the other shots where you see 20 or 30 ships or you see ships in the background, these are all composited shots. Composited ships based on those three ships.
Nerd Report: You probably can’t fake cannon fire. You have to really shoot cannons, right?
Roel Reine: Yes, you shoot the cannons for real but there are no bullets inside. It’s actually a big gunpowder that brings out a lot of smoke and fire, and those you do for real, yes. The special effects people do that.
Nerd Report: But it’s still a big explosion in a small space.
Roel Reine: Yes, they are. Especially when you see explosions and you see wood splinters flying around and people flying around, those are air cannons that we put on the ship that are basically compressed air where you put a lot of sprinkles in it and sand and dust. Those then blow up with big pressured air so it looks like an explosion, but they’re pretty safe. There’s no fire involved because these ships are real. They’re made from wood, so you could not have any pyrotechnic explosions with fire on the ships. It would burn them down.
Nerd Report: Was “cheese head” a racial slur against the Dutch?
Roel Reine: No, that is kind of a modern twist. In Holland, it’s a Dutch saying. You say “cheese head,” it’s called kaaskop. It’s whenever somebody has like a crazy attitude. So yes, it’s a Dutch expression. When somebody has crazy ideas or is very stubborn, you say they’re a cheese head.
Nerd Report: Did they really cut off the Prime Minister’s penis and cut out his heart?
Roel Reine: Yes, they did. That whole scene is completely historically correct. Even the order of things are historically correct. There’s even a museum in Holland in The Hague where they show the one finger and the tongue of the Prime Minister, because they sold it to the mayor of a small town in Holland after they cut it off and then he put it in a little box. That’s the only one that’s been preserved after 200-300 years. But his dick was cut off and they tried to sell it. It’s all historically correct. I even have a deleted scene where we have this box on the set, and they brought it in with two guards, because I wanted to have, in the ministry hall, I wanted to have one of the people buying this thing, his tongue and finger. They are really the historical tongue and finger, but that scene was deleted in the cut. Yes, it’s in the museum and you can admire these things.
Nerd Report: Is the U.S. version of Admiral shorter than the international version?
Roel Reine: Basically, the U.S. version is the international version. It’s a two hour version. The version that went in theaters in Holland is two and a half hours. The reason for that is if you grow up in Holland and you have in history books a lot of details about what the wife of Michiel de Ruyter did, how she was managing his company, those scenes are very interesting for a Dutch audience who’s grown up with these stories. But for an international audience, it didn’t help the story. So I took out these scenes to have more international story that is focused on the main characters. For the Dutch version, we gave them some extra stuff that you remember from your youth.
Nerd Report: It would be like if we had a movie about the Civil War, there might be a lot of specific things more for us than other countries.
Roel Reine: Yes, and I like both versions equally. I think they’re equally good. It’s not like a director’s cut. They’re both my cuts. I did both of them with the same editor and I’m really proud of both versions.
Nerd Report: When we last spoke you had just arrived in Thailand to shoot Hard Target 2. I’m really excited your lead is Scott Adkins. What sort of cool martial arts were you able to do with Scott?
Roel Reine: A lot of things. We had some crazy fighters and Seng [Kawee], the fight choreographer with Tony Jaa’s fighting team, we had them on the movie. So we have Scott fighting with them. Jeeja Yanin is the female Tony Jaa in Thailand. She’s also fighting with Scott. It was pretty cool. We just locked the movie and just before we locked, I showed Scott all the fight sequences, because of course he needs to sign off and give his notes. He was very proud of the fight sequences. There’s a scene in one shot with him that’s really cool. He’s fighting this underground fight in one shot. He’s kicking this guy a lot of times and then he kicks him so hard, he flies through the air and falls into a big hole. We did it in one shot. It’s really cool.
Nerd Report: Was it any similar or different than any of the other sequels you made?
Roel Reine: This time I really did an homage to John Woo. I’m a big fan of him so a lot of shots and things that I did are the way that John Woo shoots. I really liked doing an homage to him and I hope the fans will like that as well. It’s the way we shot Death Race or Dead in Tombstone, we made Hard Target 2. I’m really proud of it.
Nerd Report: I know you believe in the Malcolm Gladwell theory of 10,000 hours of practice. How many hours do you think you’ve spent directing now?
Roel Reine: [Laughs] I think I’m past the 10,000 hours. I’m not sure but I think two years ago I felt like yes, I now have the 10,000 hours. I’m capable of directorially controlling my vision and executing it on film. That was basically the reason, the start of Admiral because I really felt in that moment now I’m ready to make something that nobody else would. Normally people would say it would cost $80 million to do Admiral. I did it for eight. I could only do that because I’ve directed movies for 10,000 hours.
Nerd Report: What are you going to do next?
Roel Reine: I just came from the set of Black Sails. I did an episode for them. They saw Admiral and they were really, really shocked by how good it looked. They asked me all these secrets how we did it. Then they offered me an episode so I did it. It was a lot of fun to do. My episode is big. It’s a huge episode, huge action scene. Now I’m working on another Dutch epic historical movie. It’s kind of a Dutch Braveheart I’m hoping to shoot next year. It has big field battles in it with 1000 orses and fighters. It’s set in 800 AD. It’s about Vikings fighting the French, the Christian French. I’m working on his American action movie called Pursuit. It’s kind of a Speed meets Die Hard kind of movie set in Los Angeles. I hope to be able to cast that soon and that will be my first American theatrical feature. It’s a classic action movies from the ‘80s with cool characters and a lot of great set pieces. So different stuff and I’m also working on a big epic TV series for the American market that’s historical. I’m really happy. I’m enjoying my life and I’m going for the next 10,000 hours.