This may be Sam Upton’s feature film directorial debut but you would never know by his upcoming film, Gun. Sam Upton has been in some of your favorite movies including The Lincoln Lawyer alongside Matthew McConaughey, Runner Runner with Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake and Stand Up Guys with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken to name just a few of his accolades. With everything he has done in his career so far, Sam is only just getting started and is striving for more.
A former athlete, Sam Upton knows what it’s like to have passion about what he is doing and he has turned that into his acting and directing career. When Sam was 19 he had $500, a drum set and a 1998 Acura and made his dream of acting a reality. That is the type of story we all love to hear about. Everyone wants to be that shining star that just says screw it and moves to L.A. to make their dream come true. Well Sam Upton did that and he has done it in spades.
Sam Upton’s new film Gun is about redemption for a drunken father/ former boxer whose son was blinded in the ring. A lot of what occurs in this film is a life imitates art scenario, where Sam has lived through a lot of these emotions personally and wanted to get them down on paper. He has taken those experiences and turned it into a film for the ages, which debuts tonight at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. And we didn’t say sports film because this film is about so much more than sports and it’s something that we can all relate to in one way or another.
Wingman Magazine: Congratulations on your feature directorial debut. How does it feel to be behind the camera in a film of this caliber?
Sam Upton: Honestly, I have never felt more artistically fulfilled. I am deeply inspired by every aspect of the filmmaking process. In life, when one can transform an idea into reality, there is something quite powerful that happens. This process is on full display when writing a screenplay. In writing a screenplay, one is forced to create such an elaborate jigsaw puzzle that must contain so many vital pieces. Without the script, there is nothing. I was behind the camera way before I was “behind the camera”, because in writing the screenplay I was already directing it. Shooting the film was almost like the desert.
Wingman Magazine: You wrote, directed and starred in this film, Gun. How did this idea come about for you and what made you want to express it this way?
Sam Upton: Well, this film is really a journey into my soul. I read an incredible quote the other day by this very talented director, Daniel Espinosa, and he said “The stories you have in the very core of your heart are actually the only stories you can make. And when you have cultivated one of these stories in a film you will be able to feel your soul in it.”
Wingman Magazine: From what we have seen of the trailer, Gun looks more like a father demonstrating the love he has for his son and getting back in the ring. Can you elaborate on that a little for us?
Sam Upton: The film is about overcoming addiction. It’s about a has been that never was. It’s about family, and how alcoholism can tear it apart. It’s about how our innermost demons can either lead us to greatness or devour us. It’s about overcoming obstacles. It’s about never giving up. It’s about becoming a real man — a man whose thoughts and actions define him. It’s about burning from the inside out to get to the gold.
Wingman Magazine: What kind of training did you personally go through for this film? Did you get knocked around the ring while training or while filming?
Sam Upton: I took real shots to the face by golden glove champions. Real shots. You can see them in the film. We shot these in super slow motion. No tricks. Just a slight concussion.
Wingman Magazine: What kind of change did you go through for this role? Not just physically but mentally?
Sam Upton: To portray a prizefighter with honesty and truth, I had a tremendous mountain to climb. I have such a deep appreciation and sincere admiration for Boxers and their art. Ever since I was a kid, I have been infatuated with martial arts and boxing (which is a martial art, by the way). I can still vividly remember my old man taking me to “Big Red’s” house to watch Mike Tyson fight on Pay-Per-View when I was around nine years old. We ate fried chicken and drank coke and it felt like the world stopped. I had never seen such power, speed, violence. He was the UFC before the UFC even existed. My love for the sport spans over 30 years, so my need to have a deep sense of truth, and to honor fighters in a truthful and real way was at times probably borderline obsessive.
I’m glad you are asking about the “mental” change needed. Its super refreshing, actually, because that is where the real magic lies. Of course, the physical transformation is key, but honestly the most challenging part of this film was to journey into the depths of my pain. I needed to dive deep down into my feelings of loss, regret, failure, failure, and did I say failure?
Wingman Magazine: Were you particularly hard on yourself when you didn’t nail a scene of your own film?
Sam Upton: Who said I didn’t nail a scene? 🙂
Wingman Magazine: You had pro boxers Laila Ali and Derek Zugic throwing punches in this film. Can you talk about what it was like working with them, including the daughter to one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Sam Upton: Derek really shines in the role of Miguel. We auditioned a ton of guys in LA, and nobody came close to him. He has such a swagger and street to him. I think he’s been stabbed a couple times. He’s a real fighter (3-time golden glove champ from Chi Town), and he’s so damn ugly.
Laila is a dear friend, and she has been such an incredible supporter of the film. Her willingness to always throw punches for me and our little movie is something I will never forget. She is pure Alpha, and such an inspiration.
I LOVE YOU LAILA! LET’S DO THIS!!!!
Wingman Magazine: What were your first and last days on set like for you? How surreal was it to see your work come to life right in front of you?
Sam Upton: My boy Frankie Flowers said, “You make a movie three times: there’s the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you edit.” This is beyond true. So, my last days on set were really just the beginning, because then we went into post for almost 2 years, and I found the movie all over again.
Wingman Magazine: I have read that you were an athlete just like your character. How much of this was an art imitates life type of situation?
Sam Upton: All of it.
Wingman Magazine: You are working some fantastic talent in Jared Abrahamson, Mark Boone and Kate Vernon. Can you talk about what it was like to have them on set and the charisma and attitude they brought to their parts?
Sam Upton: Kate Vernon gave the best audition I have ever seen in my life. No lie. She was the barometer to which all others were measured. She made me cry in the room, and I don’t cry.
It’s easy to brag about Jared. He’s a star man. Every single person that sees any of our film, the first thing they say is “Who is that kid?” He just has the “it” factor that everyone talks about. I will never forget the moment I saw his audition tape — he literally blew the entire field off the map. I told our Casting Director Mary Jo Slater “Holy shit balls! That’s the guy!”
Lastly, working with Mark Boone Junior was the highlight of my career. He was like a lightning bolt that crashed down onto our set for a brief time, and lit everybody up with his sheer tour de force performance. He is by far one of the most incredible talents I have ever met. He makes the film in my opinion. There is no movie without him.
Wingman Magazine: It looks like you have a few more projects waiting in the wings, can you talk about this a little bit as well?
Sam Upton: Yeah man, nobody likes a one hit wonder, so I’m back in the wood shed, chopping it up, and working on two screenplays that I hope people will really dig.