If you are looking for a film to provide that perfect dose of escapism, look no further than director/writer/producer Dimitri Logothetis’ latest film, Jiu Jitsu. Now streaming on Netflix, the film stars Nicolas Cage and depicts the battle between Jiu Jitsu experts and a skilled alien fighter. With expertly choreographed fight scenes and a talented cast, Jiu Jitsu keeps the action flowing from its first minute until its very last. Blast Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Dimitri earlier this week about his respect for the martial arts, his commitment to authenticity, and his first foray into comic book writing.
Blast Magazine: During your career, you have made a number of martial arts focused films, including Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxer: Vengeance. Why do you think people are so interested in watching these kinds of films?
Dimitri Logothetis: In my teens and 20s, I watched a lot of Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, and Walter Hill films. When you break all of their films down, there is a clear Western plot. It’s always about the underdog who is going up against these unbeatable odds. The likelihood is that they will get killed and yet somehow, they overcome these odds. The genesis for my characters is that they are characters who are loyal, have a righteous code, and are willing to lay their life on the line for the greater good. All of us remember the bully, the one who pushed you around and got away with all kinds of nonsense. My characters don’t put up with bullies. They take them out and ultimately, they win. Everyone can live through my characters.
I try to put together the best martial artists on the planet. I try to live in authenticity so when you watch my oners [complete action sequences that are 2+ minutes], you see my lead take out about 28 people. I don’t have the budget to compete with Marvel or a studio that spends a couple hundred million on special effects but when you watch the athleticism of my martial artists, you ask how they did it. These movies are entertaining, fun, and at the end of the day, they have a strong core value that hopefully hits home.
Blast Magazine: Prior to directing your most recent film, Jiu Jitsu, you wrote the story out as a comic book. Did you create the comic book with the intention of turning it into a film or was that a decision made later on in the process?
Logothetis: So I am not a comic book writer but I told my writing partner of 25 years, Jim McGrath, that we should write a comic book together. He thought that was crazy but I thought it would allow us to get a good idea of what the movie would look like so we jumped in and did it. I wanted an original concept where science fiction and martial arts combined. I came up with this concept where every 6 years, a comet comes to our solar system and opens up this portal, releasing a skilled alien fighter. When this occurs, a group of martial artists have to fight the alien to keep him from annihilating the planet.
Blast Magazine: Now that you’ve had this experience writing the Jiu Jitsu comic, would you be interested in writing more comic books in the future?
Logothetis: I am in the process of writing Jiu Jitsu 2 right now because the studios want another one. Nic Cage and I have found something else we want to do together, which we will make an announcement about soon. I also have a project called Man of War that Gary Scott Thompson wrote that I need to get ready. I’m just doing my thing. I feel very grateful and lucky that things are working and audiences are getting it. Critics slam martial arts films and they did that with Jiu Jitsu, but Kickboxer got a 92% rating from critics and everybody got it so that was exciting. Ultimately, though, the audience is what I care about.
Blast Magazine: Since you have a martial arts background, are you normally pretty involved with choreographing the fight sequences in your films?
Logothetis: Absolutely. I have a wonderful group of martial artists in Thailand. Thai martial arts are different than anything else. I write out the scenes, they pre-shoot it in their gym, and then they will send it to me for us to discuss and make any necessary changes. We do this over the course of 2-3 months so by the time we get to the set, we have already shot it and know what we are doing. I try to take the best martial arts and let them do it themselves. I want to utilize their talents and athleticism.
Blast Magazine: I imagine that with a film as exciting as Jiu Jitsu, there were a lot of memorable moments on set. Are there any in particular that you’d like to share?
Logothetis: We were looking for a village to set a oner with Tony Jaa where he breaks through a group of military people to save Alain Moussi’s character. I looked at Tony and asked him if he would mind running along rooftops for the scene. The stunt coordinator said no, but Tony said he was up for it. I designed a sequence where Tony would run along the edge of the wall and leap from one roof to another, taking out 23-24 guys. If you take a look at the sequence on film, it blows your mind. We decided to use first person camera back to third person camera and had to figure out how to hand the camera off 5 times during the sequence. When you watch it, you don’t know that. It worked out so well.
Blast Magazine: Jiu Jitsu is now streaming on Netflix, providing audiences around the world with the opportunity to watch the film from their living room. What are your thoughts on the rise of streaming services and their effect on the future of film?
Logothetis: When I came out of film school and went to work for a cable tv company, cable was brand new. I thought cable tv would screw up theaters. I think everything just shifts in other ways to deliver entertainment to audiences. I think the more ways there are to deliver content to audiences, the better. Accessibility is everything. You want people to watch your stuff and enjoy it. So, I think it is great. Who knows what is next? You just have to make a story that is fun and entertaining to watch.
Blast Magazine: There are many young people out there who would like to have a future career similar to yours. What is your best piece of advice for an aspiring filmmaker?
Logothetis: Don’t ever try to do anything because you think someone else will like it. Stick to your guns and do something you love and are passionate about. The chips will fall where they may. Never think about audiences or critics because that is a fruitless endeavor. Write what you are passionate about and if you’re entertained by it, hopefully when you show it to people, they will also be entertained. You are going to lose and make mistakes. People may not get you but you just need to get up off the mat and fight some more.
Stream Jiu Jitsu on Netflix now!