With the latest installment, Never Back Down: Revolt arriving on Digital and Blu-Ray November 16th, the wonderfully talented director Kellie Madison takes the helm for a film that at its core fits right in to the series lexicon, but definitely stands out for multiple reasons. We’ll let you watch for yourselves and you’ll quickly understand what we mean!
Kellie is no stranger to this genre as she gained worldwide acclaim for her short The Gate, which starred Amy Johnston and Cecep Arif Rahman, who is best known for his work in The Raid franchise.
We sat down with Kellie to talk about her new film, how she landed the gig to direct the film, what it was like filming during COVID and if there will be a fifth installment in the Never Back Down franchise.
Pop Culture Principle – Fans of the martial arts genre know you initially for your short The Gate. Did that project open the door for your involvement with Never Back Down: Revolt?
Kellie Madison – That was the door to this project! I am really proud of The Gate and working with the Indonesians, especially Cecep Arif Rahman and now we have a beautiful lifetime friendship and working relationship. A little bit of trivia, Cecep choreographed three of the fight scenes in Never Back Down: Revolt. I would have brought him to London to do the choreography there, but because of COVID, Indonesia was locked down and they were really inflexible on the process of the VISA situation. So, Cecep works with his son now and they were able to do the choreography in Indonesia and teach it to everyone in London over video.
Pop Culture Principle – We read that before Craig Baumgarten and David Zelon offered you this project, you had approached them about making The Gate into a feature?
Kellie Madison – Yes, I’ve been trying to make The Gate into a feature. We had a hot minute of time where The Gate was getting some momentum as a feature with Gina Carano. She was maybe going to play the lead and we were also in talks to have Gary Oldman to be a part of it as well. What happened was that we lost Gina to The Mandalorian and that took her schedule up for the next six months and then Gary got busy. The Gate was so close to being made and I still haven’t given up on it, but it’s just a backburner project at the moment.
Pop Culture Principle – Since this is a female empowered script, where they adamant about finding a female director for the project?
Kellie Madison – I definitely think they were looking for a female director. I didn’t write the script for this project. The process was started a couple of years back where the producers on the project Craig Baumgarten and David Zelon wanted to do a fourth film in the franchise, and I think it was a Sony executive who suggested that they switch it up a bit and see if we could make a film about female fighters. So, they hired a female writer and hired a female director, so I think that was the strategy.
Pop Culture Principle – How would you say this film compares to the other entries in the franchise? Are there any tie-ins from the previous films?
Kellie Madison – That’s a great question and the answer is… there are zero connections to the previous films, and I hope that doesn’t disappoint some of the fans because we want to get those fans to come on board and support this film as well. But there are no connections and it’s kind of exciting because it’s fresh. We’ve had those characters before in the first three films, which we love, but now to rebrand the franchise and go in a different direction is exciting.
Kellie Madison – The storyline to this film is so unique! You have these women that are being trafficked into an underground fight ring in Rome. They are forced to fight each other, and you end up really caring about these women and it’s very touching and endearing. The women were scouted because of their skill sets and their fighting and they are put in the underground fight ring by these horrible human beings and they end up rising up and revolting. So, hopefully you are rooting for these women to fight back against these oppressors. It has more of a darker undertone than the original Never Back Down but should be fun at the same time.
Pop Culture Principle – You have UFC Champ Michael Bisping as one of the main villains in this film. What was it like working with him?
Kellie Madison – I have to tell you, Michael Bisping, who has a lot of fans, is just a lovely human being full stop. He lives in Los Angeles and flew to London and was excited to wake up and work on this film every day. He was always just having a blast and had this beaming smile. You yell action and then he becomes this horrible villain which he did such a great job, but in real-life, he is nothing like that. He was just a joy to work with. He had very little rehearsal time, but because of his fighting background, he was able to pick up the fight choreography really fast.
Kellie Madison – Olivia is such a lovely and fresh talent. I think this film is going to be really good for her career. In the movie poster, you also see Brooke Johnston who is also fantastic. I think the movie highlights Brooke’s colors and her skillsets in the best possible way, and you are going to enjoy Brooke’s performance. Olivia is just spectacular and for me as an action director, it’s important for me to choose actors that you can root for. Another really great up and coming talent you will see is Nitu Chandra, a lovely actress from India. She really delivers an outstanding performance that is a stand-out in the film.
When people ask me what kind of career I want to have, I always tell them- a career like James Cameron. He creates the best, most profound action films that are seminal and will live throughout all of history. Movies like Aliens and The Terminator are so fantastic because he’s able to create these lush characters that you fall in love with instantly, so you are rooting for them. Therefore, when the action sequences happen, you are invested, and I think that is what’s vital in the action space.
I find that some of the films in the fight world and the martial arts world fall short sometimes or get a bad rap for being “fight porn,” where you don’t care about the stories and the characters, you just fast forward to the fight sequences. I don’t want to make films like that. I’m hoping to continue to make films where you are loving the drama and the story just as much as you are the fight scenes, in fact more. The drama and the story should server the fight scenes so that you are rooting for the characters when they are in danger or peril.
That’s why I always mention someone like James Cameron because he does that exquisitely. Also, he creates amazing female characters that are super empowered. They don’t have make-up on and fans blowing their hair, they’re just real women. They end up becoming icons in a sense where people are attracted to them because of their strength and not just because they are beauty queens.
Kellie Madison – It was a challenge, but nothing that wasn’t a major hindrance. We had a very strict COVID team because we were filming during the height of the pandemic. We had to get tested every two to three days. We had a totally clear cast and crew throughout the production, so we were really lucky.
In regard to stunts, I felt bad for the stunts team because all the people that were training and the cast had to wear masks all the time while they were fighting, and it was hard for them to breathe. I had to wear a mask as well and it was super-challenging and it wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but we followed all the rules. We wore the masks all the time and that’s why everyone ended up being clear while we filmed. It definitely wasn’t ideal, but we followed the protocols.
Pop Culture Principle – If the movie is a success, is there the possibility of a fifth installment and would you be interested in directing that project if it happened?
Kellie Madison – We are already in talks about a fifth installment. At least the producers have a take on it that they are excited about, and I would love to be involved. So, depending on how the release goes, we could get started on that project pretty quick.
Pop Culture Principle – Where did your love for martial arts films come from?
Kellie Madison – You know, I think it’s because I have a dance background. I was a dancer until I was twenty-three and then I left and got involved in the film world. It’s just the love of the physical artform and that’s why you hear me refer to the martial artists having beauty, grace, and style. When you watch these martial artists move, there is something so stylized and exciting about it and my passion for it comes from the physical skill and prowess of these talented artists.
Pop Culture Principle – We saw in an interview that you would love to direct films in the horror genre? Is that something you hope to do in the near future?
Kellie Madison – Yes, that is so true! I consider myself a storyteller and if anyone saw some of my earlier work, I’ve done a lot of drama. It’s all about the story for me. I’m just so moved by story- period. I don’t want to be boxed into being just the “fight” director. I want to direct all types of films.
When I say I am moved by horror, who isn’t moved by The Shining and The Exorcist and Poltergeist? There is so much great horror out there to be told. Also, science fiction, referring back to James Cameron with Aliens and The Abyss. Living in that world of exploring aliens and the beyond is so exciting for me. I am moved by stories. Stories in all genres.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you feel Hollywood is starting to take the right steps towards more women behind the camera and if not, why is it still a hurdle for more women to direct?
Kellie Madison – I still think it’s so difficult and a challenge. We are moving in the right direction, but the numbers are still egregious. Where they are giving women and people of diversity more opportunity is in television. I haven’t crossed the television threshold yet and it’s not because I don’t want to, or I’m not interested. Of course, I’d love to do a series like Dopesick or Chernobyl or True Detective. I’m a feature girl and right now, about 4 percent of features are directed by women. I’m still fighting the good fight and hopefully this movie coming out now will be a steppingstone for me. What’s sad is that the studios literally have to be sued or legally pursued in order to give women an opportunity to direct and that is just insane to me.
Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Kellie Madison – We are in the middle of casting a project called Reue. It’s an original horror film that I wrote. I am super excited about it. It’s kind of a modern day take on Jacob’s Ladder – one of my favorite films of all-time.
I’m finishing up a rewrite on a science fiction project called Kexburg. It’s based on the true story about the Kexburg crash that happened in 1965. It’s sort of a revisionist history on what happened after the crash in 1965. There’s a massive hook to it that’s never been done before. It’s one of my favorite projects that I’ve ever worked on, and I can’t wait to get that out there. I’m happy about everything I am working on, but development takes forever. I look forward to getting back behind the camera as soon as possible. That’s my home.
A huge congratulations and thank you to Kellie Madison for taking the time to talk with us about Never Back Down: Revolt. You can catch in on Digital and Blu-ray on November 16th!
**Behind the scenes photos courtesy of Kellie Madison**