The making of the Oldenburg graduation film “Uppercut” with Ving Rhames in the lead role – The Hollywood Reporter

“It’s really a fairy tale, an Oldenburg fairy tale,” says Torsten Rüther about his new film Uppercut“How this film came together feels kind of magical.”

Two years ago, Ruether was in Oldenburg, Germany’s leading indie film festival, presenting his debut film, Liver hooka low-budget boxing film with a clear Million dollar baby Mood: Newcomer Luise Großmann plays a promising young pugilist who tries to convince a disillusioned coach (Hardy Daniel Krueger) to take her in as a student.

“We had the premiere, opening night, and at the party afterward, some US producers came up to me and said, ‘This is the kind of story Americans love.’ Almost 20 years have passed since then Million dollar baby. “We want to repeat this for the United States.”

Promises made at an international film festival party over a few gin and tonics aren’t usually the kind you take with you, but Ruether set to work on a script. He kept the basic plot, but moved the action from Berlin to New York and transformed Luise Großmann’s character Toni (she repeats it). Liver hook come in Uppercut) to a first-generation German immigrant and made the coaching figure an African American. The US version also included a second timeline: years later, we see that Toni has become one of the very few successful managers in professional boxing.

“So we can see even if we compare the film Million dollar baby“Ours ends up in a completely different corner,” says Ruether. “At first my American partners were very irritated because I was taking a completely different approach. Instead of making the racial and social conflicts between this privileged white girl and this working-class African-American man the focus of the story, I wanted to create an inclusive story in which each side’s curiosity about the other is the main driving force. ”

The script was sent around and famous casting director Michelle Lewitt (Transformers, Angels and demons) has arranged a meeting to find a name for the role of African-American coach Elliott Duffond.

“We were at Soho House and she said, ‘What do you think of Ving Rhames?'” Ruether remembers. “I started laughing. I told her I wanted a big name, but I wasn’t thinking about a superstar.”

A short conversation with his supporters – UppercutHow Liver hookwas financed completely independently, without advance sales, funding or studio money – and Ruether had that Mission impossible And pulp Fiction Star in a pay-or-play deal for a nine-day shoot in LA

“We shot all of the scenes with Ving and Luise there, in an old warehouse in LA that we converted into a New York gym,” says Ruether. “Ving was nervous at first. After making blockbusters for 20 years, he was used to writing two lines a day. Here we created eight pages every day. It was a monster. He left his comfort zone. And I think he liked it.”

Ruether set up with two cameras, filmed “theatre-style” dialogue and improvised elements such as the training sessions between Toni and Elliott. The chemistry between the two main actors was immediately there, he says.

“There was a real curiosity between the two of them that carried over to the screen,” he says, “in one shot we were filming a boxing session with the heavy bag.” I actually wanted to do a 30-40 second shot, but she “We were so excited, it was so fascinating, it took me 40 minutes to scream ‘cut’.”

Ruether took the material from the first shoot back to Berlin to edit it while preparing for the second shoot in the US, in the segment without Rhames, in which Toni’s character is a successful boxing manager.

“There was so much footage from the Ving shoot and it was all so good,” says Ruether. “My editor Nora Lüders said, ‘I can make a whole film out of this for you.’ Which got me thinking: In music there is the idea of ​​plugged and unplugged versions of a song. Why couldn’t we do plugged and unplugged versions of our film?”

That’s exactly what Ruether does. “We call it the still and sparkling version because MTV has the copyright to plugged and unplugged,” he says, “but the version that Nora cut and which will premiere in Oldenburg is the still version.” It is a quieter, more dialogue-focused art house film. With a score by Sting’s guitarist Dominic Miller.”

The “sparkling” version of Uppercutwhich Ruether describes as a “more mainstream, box office hit,” features co-stars Joanna Cassidy and Jordan E. Cooper, features a score by music collective Brass Against, and was edited by Savannah Bayse.

“She started from scratch with the same material as the still version, but without ever seeing it,” says Ruether. “And she didn’t choose a single take that was used in the first version. That’s why I want to say that these films are not twins, but siblings.”

The US version of Uppercut was shot in the middle of the twin attacks with a tentative agreement from SAG-AFTRA. “I’m so proud of that, we had someone from SAG on set every day and I think they do a fantastic job,” says Ruether. “And we’re the kind of truly independent productions, with no studio, no big financiers wanting to support them.”

Uppercut, the sparkly version, will hit festivals later this year. Ruether is currently purchasing both films from global distribution companies.

“We don’t have any pre-sales, we own them completely so we can do whatever we want,” he says. “I think it could be a very good place for independent films now because at least until winter there will be a gap in the market with fewer films being made and the blockbusters being postponed until next year. People will miss films.”

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