War movies involve a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and Ambush is no different. Directed by Mark Earl Burman, Ambush is now in select theaters and can also be viewed on digital outlets. Ambush is also part of a larger endeavor on the part of Burman when it comes to his approach to his overall plans in genre filmmaking.
Set during the Vietnam War, Ambush focuses on an American military unit that comes under attack. Forced to retreat into the underground tunnels beneath them, the soldiers face a harrowing battle for their survival.
We speak to Mark Earl Burman on the making of Ambushhis influences in the making of the movie, and how the film fits in with his larger plans as a filmmaker.
Mark Earl Burman on Ambush
Screen Rant: How did Ambush come about for you?
Mark Earl Burman: Ambush is my 30th film. I started a company about five years ago that’s focused on making dramatic action films, which really influenced me growing up. I was very fortunate that my youth was growing up in the late ’60s and ‘ 70s, which had some of the finest cinema ever. And the films that influenced me the most I call dramatic action, which are movies like The French Connection, Deliverance, The Wild Bunch, and those are the kinds of films we’re making where The hero or the anti-hero at the end might lose or die, and they’re in a character-driven narrative with extreme action.
I call it ‘Extreme men in extreme circumstances’, and I was reading about the tunnel routes in Vietnam. One thing I thought was ‘Right before the tunnel routes were developed, who were the first soldiers in Vietnam who went underground in tunnels?’ Basically, you have a combat movie that starts above the ground where the American forces were dominating, to below ground, where the American forces have no idea what to do. So, it goes from a combat film to a Hitchcockian thriller when we get into the tunnels.
What would you say were some of the most memorable experiences or aspects while making Ambush?
Mark Earl Burman: Wow, so we shot it 18 to 20 days in Colombia. We had a fast shoot, and when we shot on the stages in Bogotá, it was very controlled. Then, when we went into the jungle, that was just crazy. We’re in the jungle, and it can rain for an hour like you’ve never seen rain before, and then five minutes later, its 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity, and you just shoot through it all. That was crazy , and then you’re dealing with insane bugs, you’ve got pumas running across the field right next to you, it was wild shooting conditions, but I have to tell you, I had the greatest experience with the crews down in Colombia. They were very highly skilled, they were absolutely motivated, and it was like one big family of almost 200 people on this film between the crew and the cast.
How did Ambush feel different for you compared to other movies you’ve done in the past?
Mark Earl Burman: Well, this is the first film I’ve directed in almost 30 years. I directed my last movie when I was 28, so with 30 films after that, I felt like I had a lot more experience, and I was going to more old school filmmakers to influence me. The Sam Fullers’, the Don Siegel’s, the Howard Hawks’, and it goes from a combat film to the Hitchcockian element.
Speaking of the Hitchcockian side of Ambushyou mesh a few different styles in the film. How did you approach marrying such disparate genres in the film?
Mark Earl Burman: I think it is has to do with the transition from when you go from topside, because we used a lot of practical effects. I tried to minimize the visual effects as much as possible, which I always find that even in today’s age where CGI is at its most advanced stage, I just find practical effects always look better. And so, 95 percent of our explosions were practical, and we did a lot of stunt work without CGI to really give it that type of look.
With Ambush Being shot in 18 to 20 days, were there any major injuries or accidents working at such a fast pace?
Mark Earl Burman: No, I run a really safe set, I’ve never really had any injuries. There was one guy who cut himself accidentally on a pole, but that was it and he was fine, he didn’t have to go to the hospital or anything. So, it’s always safety first, always, always, always.
Who would you say were your biggest influences in the making of Ambush?
Mark Earl Burman: Well, I’ve got my core influences, the Kurosawas, the Don Siegels, the Fullers, the Hitchcock. With our cinematography, I really was going back to early ’90s Jan de Bont cinematography. Movies like The Hunt for Red October and Flatliners, they had this very, very interesting type of dynamic with the lenses he used and the lighting techniques, so that’s what we really brought, especially in the tunnels, which were very stylized.
What other projects do you have coming up after Ambush?
Mark Earl Burman: Dramatic action films are our book of business now, because I don’t see companies making that out there on a consistent basis. In today’s business world and film world, when you’re doing it as an enterprise, in my opinion, it’s better to specialize rather than be everything to all people. That’s what the studios and streamers do, and you’re competing against them.
We have a film I’m producing with Antoine Fuqua is directing and Roger Avery wrote called The Devil’s Soldier, based on the book by Caleb Carr, which is the true story about the Lawrence of Arabia of China, Frederick Townsend Lord. Then the next film I’m directing is called Eye for an Eye, which is a multiverse criminal film, and it’s the leading hero at the end maybe either loses or dies, which you don’t see a lot. The studios won’t do that anymore because it’s not a four-quadrant type of movie.
With Ambush Being the beginning of making dramatic action movies, what were some of the biggest lessons you took away from it as a director?
Mark Earl Burman: This is for any filmmaker who has to go shoot in the wild, because we shot in the jungle quite a bit – shoot in chronological order! Because one moment it’s sunny, the next moment, it’s raining, then it’s sunny. When you’re outdoors and especially where you have no control, shoot in chronological order. Any filmmaker out there, take that tip, it’ll help you in the editing room, I can promise you that!
More About Ambush
A group of young elite commandos, led by Captain Drummond are tasked with collecting highly classified information that can change the fate of the war.
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Ambush is now in select theaters and available on digital platforms.