“It’s about telling great stories,” Mark Wahlberg says in reference to filmmaking as he leans back in his chair, resting his weight on its two hind legs from a St. Regis hotel room. And on the story of his latest cinematic venture, independent film Broken City, the producer and co-star remarks, “It reminded me of the movies I grew up watching with my dad in the 70s. It has a real story and real characters and the screenplay was so good that’s what attracted the likes of the Jeffrey Wright’s and Barry Pepper’s and Kyle Chandler’s and Russell Crowe’s and Catherine Zeta Jones’ of the world; because they had meaty roles.” As an independently financed film the crime drama had a small budget and short filming period, but it was these factors that actually contributed to making the movie what it is – a throwback to the American neo-noir detective films of the 60s and 70s whose multi-layered stories were the force that drove the pictures. (Wahlberg will later cite Chinatown and Serpico - which, despite a limited budget of $1 million, grossed $29.8 million at the domestic box office - as archetypes.)
Directed by filmmaker Allen Hughes (half of “The Hughes Brothers” duo known for co-directing ultraviolent films like From Hell and The Book of Eli), Broken City tells the tale of ex-cop turned private detective Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) who is hired by the mayor of New York City (Crowe) to trail his wife (Zeta-Jones) in suspicion of adultery, and then finds himself immersed in a city-wide conspiracy of corruption, sex and murder. It was Hughes’ first time directing sans brother Albert, but Wahlberg sort of filled that role, though working with the actor was another first. “He’s the youngest of 9, so I think that combination maybe filled in some of those voids that I might have felt. There was a kinship there instantly that worked for this movie and worked for me,” Hughes said. “He spoiled me because he is very collaborative, very open and understands a lot about making a film…It was the best experience I’ve ever had with a mooovie staar,” he added looking to his buddy Mark as he jokingly emphasized the extent of his celebrity.
Wahlberg can now add indie-producing powerhouse to that movie star title. His filmography includes roles as producer of HBO series Entourage, In Treatment and Boardwalk Empire in addition to 2010’s Academy Award winning film The Fighter, last year’s Contraband and now Broken City, among others. “Having more success allows you more freedom to take more risks,” Wahlberg eloquently explained. “If The Fighter hadn’t happened, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to make this movie for the amount of money that we got. That was a $70 million movie that we ended up making for $11 million. Contraband was a $50 million movie that we made for $25 million. And that all came from our experience in TV figuring out how to do more with less time and less money.”
Producing television essentially prepared Wahlberg to produce films, “in this day and age when the studios are crying poverty and they don’t want to spend the money.” Wahlberg continued to critique the film industry with an anecdote and an excited tone recalling, “Ya know there are certain people that are just so used to the way things were and all this excess that its like they don’t understand how you can make a movie in 40 days…I remember one director who wanted to direct The Fighter, I won’t say his name, but we said okay we have 33 days to shoot the movie, and we have 3 days to shoot the fights. And he goes I need 35 days just to shoot the fight. I’m like what are you gonna do for 35 days?” Wahlberg said and went on to describe what he would imagine 35 days of filming one scene would consist of: “Take one. One punch. Cut. Alright lets flip the camera around…”
The fight scenes in Broken City were designed to be “real,” and not just because of time or budgetary limitations. “They’re all now these fast 'Bourne Identity-type' of cuts,” Wahlberg lamented about modern cinematic fight scenes. “And I said we don’t want to do that. Put the camera there and just watch the dust kick up and you don’t need no sound effects or nothing.” (The scenes were even more realistic than the moviegoer may realize: Wahlberg asked some of his friends to play roles in a couple of the key fighting scenes, including a “former Israeli military guy,” recalled Wahlberg. “I flew him in just to beat the shit out of him. But he loved the part because he gets to be with this young chick in the beginning of the scene,” he added. “It sounds fun but that dude took a blow to the face. I mean he really got his ass whooped,” Allen interjected before Wahlberg assured that, “he can handle that sort of thing. He’s a trained professional.”)
Wahlberg and Allen both know a bit about fighting in real life: Wahlberg was in trouble with the Boston Police Department throughout his youth and once served 45 days in jail for assault charges while Hughes has also been known to be involved in violent altercations, the most notable of which involved Tupac Shakur during a music video shoot in 1994. Both men have moved past the mistakes they have made previously in life and, according to Hughes, may be better for it. At least where filmmaking is concerned. “I think you got to have real life experience to be a great storyteller,” Hughes asserted. And like Wahlberg said, telling great stories is what filmmaking is all about.
Broken City is out in theatres tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 18.