Movies

‘Ambulance’ Producer Bradley Fischer On How He Got This Wild Movie Made

Micheal Bay’s previous movie, 6 Underground, was a Netflix movie. At the time it kind of seemed like that was a movie where we could see the seismic shift in what defined a streaming movie versus what played in theaters. If a Michael Bay movie was a streaming movie, well then anything was a streaming movie. And if a Michael Bay movie wasn’t playing in theaters, then theaters did seems destined to be a place where movies featuring only existing IP would play.

Well, now there’s Michael Bay’s Ambulance (which is wonderful), which is both playing in theaters this weekend and is not based on any existing IP. Bradley Fischer has produced movies like Zodiac and Shutter Island, so he has experience getting movies into theaters that are, on paper, maybe a tougher sell. So it was interesting to hear from a producer what the landscape is like right now. And, to be honest, Fischer seems pretty positive about where theaters are right now. He thinks with both the pandemic happening at the same exact time streamers all had money to spend, sped up the talk of the death of the theatrical experience but, from his perspective, that’s not quite the case. In fact, from his perspective as a producer, trying to sell ideas to studios, having even more companies looking for products is a great thing. Anyway, let’s let Fischer explain…

I’m going to start off with the only complaint I have about this movie.

Okay, go for it.

My experience with this movie, the human body can only produce so much adrenaline in a given amount of time, and it eventually just runs out or gives up, and then you are exhausted.

I feel like that’s the best complaint we could ever get, so thank you. And you’re welcome, I guess? There’s a lot that happens between the time that the lights go down and come back up, but yeah, that kind of feels like mission accomplished then.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie with an hour and 45 minute car chase?

Yeah, well, it’s funny. Even at the script stage, when you think there’s nowhere left for the story to go, it levels up, it finds another way, to kind of just – I mean, bad pun – shift the gears. And I mean, look, Bay obviously knows how to keep everyone thrown back as far as possible in their seat, and then continue to edge forward as it all starts to unfold.

So, his last movie was on Netflix.

Yes.

Because the way movies have changed so much, especially since the pandemic started, a lot of people kind of assumed Micheal Bay would continue making movies for streamers. Everything is IP and franchises in theaters, so how did you get Universal, a company that still makes movies for theaters, to put this in theaters?

Well, look, I’ll give you my whole philosophy on it if you want.

I do.

I produced two films during the pandemic, this one, and then a film called The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is also Universal and Amblin. Ambulance was, I think, about 7 years to get made? Demeter was 20.

Wow, okay.

Look, here’s the thing. I think that people tend to be very quick to jump to extremes, just in general, when there are changes in our industry. I think it’s a cyclical phenomenon. It has happened ages ago when television first emerged. That was one of the other times that the demise of the theatrical experience was being proclaimed from the rooftops. I think in the fog of war of the pandemic, the timing of that, combined with the timing of the rise of the streamers, I think also hastens this sense that either everything was moving away from theatrical and to the home. Or, that the theatrical experience will only be for the $150 million-plus movies.

And I don’t think either of those are correct. Look, no one has a crystal ball, and I certainly don’t profess to know more than anybody else, but my instinct in just having done it for 20 or so years – if I see something that I’m excited about, whether it’s an intellectual property that I have a particular nostalgia for, that I want to go back and see or experience, or it’s something that just feels like a great night at the movies… especially now, now that we’re kind of coming out of all of this…

Fingers crossed, because I don’t want you summoning some new variant.

Good call, I’m knocking on wood. I think people still love to go to the movies. I don’t know about you, but being cooped up at home for two years, anything I can do to leave the house and be safe, I’m in.

Well, let me ask you this, could you get Zodiac into theaters today?

Okay, well, so let me turn the question. So my company, New Republic Pictures, my partner, Brian Oliver, produced and we financed, 50 percent, with Amblin for 1917.

Okay.

So, 1917, I think, had it not come out theatrically, that easily could have been a streamer play, right? There’s no $20 million star, it’s a World War I trench warfare story.

But it’s also such a visual experience. Obviously, Zodiac is, too, but 1917 has a whole one-shot concept.

Look, you’re right, 1917, it felt like it had more spectacle, I guess, in a way. But does that matter now? I mean, in terms of this question of what goes to streaming?

I don’t know. I want to be clear, I don’t know anything that’s going to happen.

Well, no, but I mean, you do, because you work in the business, and you go to movies. Look, Netflix and Apple and Amazon and all of the streamers, the premium streamers, right? They’re all competing with theatrical studios for the same movies. They’re all in the mix together. So here’s the way I look at it: I see it as an opportunity because there are more companies that are willing to write those checks. And it’s not just like six doors that we can knock on, there’s now other places that have a different kind of model for what they need to justify spending a certain amount of money on a certain kind of movie. So, I really only see it as a positive. I’m sure there are plenty of theatrical movies that some could say maybe should have gone to streamers, or would’ve been better at streamers, and some streamer titles that maybe left a lot on the table by not going theatrical. I mean, look, it’s impossible, you can’t predict.

The reason I mentioned Zodiac was because Fincher’s last movie, Mank, was on Netflix.

Could you have ever, before streamers existed, or today, gotten Mank made? Black and white?

I’m guessing not since he’d been trying to do that for what, 25 years or something? I think Netflix was like, “We want to be in business with you, and you want your passion project made. Let’s do it.”

And that’s why I think it’s a good thing, because that movie now gets made.

Roma is a very similar situation.

Exactly, 100 percent. Look, I hope what is going to start to happen if, as we – knock on wood, things continue to get better, and we’re not pulled back by some horrible variants – is I do think that the theatrical offerings to audiences will start to open up again a little bit more. I think there were a lot of studio movies that ended up going to streamers, because everyone was in lockdown, and theaters were closed.

And they had to bring an income in somehow.

Exactly. So it was an opportunity, and it made business sense to do that for those companies that made those decisions. But I do think there was this collision in timing between these streamers having increasing budgets for content on the level of billions of dollars, just at the time that everything kind of closed down. And AMC stock went down to like two bucks. What does that mean? It means that people think AMC’s going to go out of business. Well, now it’s like, I don’t know, what is it, at 30-something? So yeah, again, I don’t think the theatrical experience is going anywhere.

It’s $23.30. I just looked it up.

Oh, okay. Well, yeah, there you go. It was like up at like, I don’t know, like 50 or 60 at one point?

Right, but that was like a whole thing on its own.

Yeah, there was that, what was it, with GameStop?

Right, because hedge funds were shorting AMC and GameStop, assuming they were going to make money off of it failing. So all these people got together and tried to stick it to them, which was interesting.

Yeah, yeah, exactly. But listen, if you pull back from the fog of war of the last two years a little bit, I think it is true that the kinds of movies that lend themselves to theatrical, the target has gotten smaller. Even, I think, before the streamers started to spend the money that they’re spending, the refrain that began to be common was: You really need to have an event, quote-unquote, to get people to leave their home and go to the theater. And I think there’s truth to that, I think that you do have to have something that is special. Now, what does that mean?

I think, in some weird way, that everyone being stuck in their homes over the last couple of years will actually help Ambulance. Because everyone was watching older movies for two years straight. I’ve been re-watching action movies from the ’90s, and I forgot how much I enjoyed them. They don’t make movies like that anymore, with actual stunts and actual car chases, but here it is.

Exactly, exactly. No, I think you’re 100 percent right. And I think it goes back to nostalgia. For me, Bay was the perfect director for this, not because of Transformers, but because of Bad Boys.

Or Armageddon.

Or The Rock. It’s like the way that he shoots characters, actors, they become larger than life along with the tapestry of explosions, and helicopters, and chaos and madness and tension all over the place.

But the other thing is those ’90s movies weren’t using a lot of CGI, and Ambulance looks so real. A person’s brain can tell when it’s actually a real stunt versus a cartoon.

No, absolutely. And yeah, I mean the helicopter stuff, Fred North, who does all of Bay’s helicopter and aerial work, he’s the best in the business. I mean, I’ve done movies where those would be CGI helicopters. But when you know, you know. I mean, if the backdrop of the movie, if the canvas that it’s painted on is real, is in-camera, then it sticks out. You’re right, if it’s not. I do think it’s a different experience, which maybe does bring that sense of nostalgia back a little bit.

And going back to what I first said about the adrenaline. When I’m watching CGI, I don’t get that adrenaline. When I’m watching this, my body’s like, “This is real!” And then it gives me that burst.

Exactly. I’m glad that your only complaint was that you ran out of adrenaline. Your body gave up.

That should be the challenge.

I’m going to float that one.

‘Ambulance’ opens in theaters this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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