Exclusive: Director Chris Fisher on Street Kings 2

Ray Liotta stars in the sequel to the 2008 film

Silas Lesnickby Silas Lesnick

Arriving on DVD and Blu-ray this week, Street Kings 2: Motor City applies a similar neo-noir take that the original offered to Los Angeles to the city of Detroit, exploring police corruption and declining morality in an American city undergoing the same decay. Behind the lens is director Chris Fisher, who balances his time between film and television work. CraveOnline spoke exclusively with Fisher about the project and the decision to set the action in Michigan this time around.

CraveOnline: How did Street Kings 2 come your way?
Chris Fisher: I had done another sequel for the same group of executives and the same producer. That was "S. Darko", the "Donnie Darko" sequel. We had done that and all enjoyed working together. When this project came up, I think they came to me because they were after a similar visual language. It ended up not being that, but that's what got me in the door. The project then took on its own sort of life from there. 
Crave: What's the first step in bringing this to the screen? Yes, it's a sequel, but it doesn't really have any narrative ties to the first film.
Chris Fisher: No it doesn't. Those decisions were made before my involvement in the project. The producers pitched the script to Fox way before I was involved. It was really a project that was developed in the traditional studio sense. There were a number of different drafts made and I think it was a decision made very early on to really let it have its own life and its own sensibility. Which I thought was great. There were some mistakes that I thought we had made on the other sequel where we tried to stay too true to the source material. That kind of limited us. I didn't feel limited by this project whatsoever. One of the things that really appealed to me is that it felt like a standalone movie. I know that, as far as the marketing goes, they're hoping that the fans of the original "Street Kings" will turn out, but there was no worry about, narratively, tying it in.
Crave: Is it a situation where you sit down and try to re-watch the original film or do you push it as far away as possible?
Chris Fisher: The honest truth is that I never saw the first one. That is probably as definitive an answer as you're gonna get. It was a simple process for me. I read the script. I really responded to it. I really responded to it being in Detroit, which is something that they wanted to do very early on. Once I read the script, I really had a clear idea of what the movie should be. I felt like it should be a classic noir and we tried to give it a timeless feel. I think that there's great architecture which helped mesh with my visual language. It can be a beautiful place, the city of Detroit.
Crave: How early did that come about? There's a lot of films that shoot in Detroit for the tax breaks, but they don't all embrace that for the setting of the film.
Chris Fisher: It was mentioned to me at the very first meeting as one of the places they wanted to look at. New Orleans was another spot they wanted to consider, but we never actually scouted New Orleans. The only place we scouted and the only place we really considered was Detroit. When we got there, I was just elated. It was, by far, the most cinematic city I've ever worked in. The architecture was really amazing. It was a dream to shoot in. It had this timeless, turn-of-the-century vibe. All these art deco buildings. Detroit is this masterpiece that has been sort of left to wither. We searched really hard to find some beauty in it and I think we did a really good job. One of the things I'm most proud about is how we shot the exteriors.
Crave: There's something to be said for paralleling the declining morality of the cops with the decline of the city itself, as well.
Chris Fisher: Yeah. The architecture and the cityscape, it's almost literal. Certainly it's a parallel allegory and a parallel metaphor to the conflict within our two characters. The corruption. But it's such a perfect setting that it's almost its own literal character. It offered so much and inspired not only me, but inspired the actors and everyone who worked on the production. It inspired the wardrobe. It was the biggest game-changer for what the film should look like and be like. We were only in Detroit for a few hours when I fell in love with the city. Even without the tax break, it would have been the perfect place. Detroit lets this be a sort of neo-noir and that thought really played into how we shot the city.
Crave: Tell me what goes into location scouting. What was the first element for "Street Kings" that made you say, "Well, we absolutely have to have this."
Chris Fisher: Well, we headed uptown and sort of took it all in. What does the building tell you? Does the location speak to you? Does it juxtapose the story in an interesting way? Does it parallel the story in an interesting way? Can you see our characters existing there? We shot in a marble and limestone building that was one of the most beautiful buildings I'd ever seen. At first, the producers thought it was a little too much gloss for our story, but it really inspired the way we treated the rest of the story. It raised the bar of the epic tragedy that we tried to create in the storyline. It inspired every other element of the film. 
Crave: Tell me a little about the casting. Ray Liotta is the big one. How quickly did he come aboard?
Chris Fisher: Ray was on board before I got on board, I think. The trajectory of the film was such that the financing would be secured if they had somebody of a certain stature. Ray Liotta certainly fit that bill. I don't think anyone thought we were going to get someone that great, which is obviously a testament to the script and to the writers. So he was attached when I interviewed with him. Obviously, everyone loves "Goodfellas", but "Something Wild" was the one that really blew me away with his performance. There was a handful of actors that I always dreamed of working with and Ray Liotta was a big one of them.
Crave: Who came along next?
Chris Fisher: After Ray was cast, everyone else came pretty quickly. We then decided to shoot in Detroit and made some other decisions. We looked at budget and decided how many actors we were going to bring. The script is a big movie. It totally belies its budget. We hired a Detroit casting agent and we hired an LA casting agent. The first point of business was finding the Chris Fisher character. I think we did an amazing job in getting Shawn Hatosy. With those guys, we really knew we needed some powerful character actors. Ele [Bardha] is really a phenomenal force of nature. 
Crave: You've done a lot of TV work as well. How does something like this differ from that?
Chris Fisher: They're very different. If you drew concentric circles between directing tv and directing movies, there would be very, very little overlap. Directing television is very much about craft. It's about not taking too many chances. About making sure every shot works. Time is really your enemy. Time is the enemy, too, on a movie shoot, but great movies come from taking risks. Big movies come from taking chances and they come from failing. Not every shot in a movie is going to work. Not every storyline is going to work. You have time to shoot things that may not work. You have time to edit the storyline. That luxury is really what I feel makes film more than just a how-to exercise. There's different levels of that, depending on project. But some tv shows feel like more films depending on the level of production involved and what the studios expect. But shooting "Street Kings: Motor City" was truly an artistic experience for me. I felt like I was given everything I needed to really make a strong film. Everyone was able to take chances. Everything was really special and unique. We really laid it all on the line to make what I hope is a great crime noir.
Crave: Is it freeing at all to know that you're going direct to video? Because it seems like a lot of directors don't get their full cuts until home video simply because of the MPAA.
Chris Fisher: Absolutely. I mean, I'm always trying to do the very best I can with everything I do. Distribution has never been something that I've ever had any control over. I just put it out of my mind and tried to make the best movie that I could. How it was going to be distributed never came into play. Except, as you mentioned, we may have had even a little bit more freedom. A little bit more opportunities to take risks. Certainly, the film can be made for less money. It lets you appeal to a less-broad audience. Maybe you can make something that is a little more controversial. That is more edgy. It's a very edgy, very controversial film. It's a storyline that is really tough. Two very strong characters in our two leads and their paths take them on a collision course. What's very interesting that both characters and both actors who play the characters believe in the integrity of the characters. There's no clear good guy and no clear bad guy. A lot of grey areas. To the studio's credit, they were never really interested in making that grey area black and white. They wanted an interesting movie and they wanted a smart movie.
Crave: What's next for you?
Chris Fisher: I'm currently in Toronto. I'm the producing director for a series called "Warehouse 13" for SyFy. I'm here till July and I'll be directing three episode this season. I wrapped a movie over the holidays called "Meeting Evil" with Sam Jackson and Luke Wilson. It's a true independent based on a novel that I adapted. After that, I don't know. Maybe I'll take a little vacation. 
Street Kings 2: Motor City hits DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, April 19th.