For Antoine Fuqua, every day as a moviemaker is training day.
Since making the leap from helming music videos for the likes of Toni Braxton, Coolio, Stevie Wonder, and Prince to his first feature, the Chow Yun-fat and Mira Sorvino-starring The Replacement Killers in 1998, the 52-year-old veteran has earned his seat at the studio system table, but not without some trials by fire. Before, and even after directing Denzel Washington’s Academy Award-winning performance in 2001’s Training Day, Fuqua lost some pivotal creative and business battles and was forced out of big-budget productions; each of his failures proved formative when faced with the demands of other projects he would later complete and release to critical and commercial success. Fuqua stepped out of the edit bay while in post on The Equalizer 2—his fourth collaboration with Washington to date, and the sequel to their 2014 adaptation of the ‘80s crime series of the same name—to tell MovieMaker his survival tactics acquired over 20 years in the game.
As told to Max Weinstein
1. Try to look back on the work you’ve done. The mistakes work out more than the right takes.
2. Understand everything you have to do before you even say “Action.” Sometimes you think you’re going to go make a great movie, but you don’t really know all the complications, the scheduling, the compromises you may have to make. If you don’t understand all that, you may not ever get to make that movie.
3. The audience doesn’t know your dreams, or what went on behind the scenes. The audience only knows what’s on the screen. That’s it. That’s all they know.
4. Movies are there to study, to challenge what you think or how you think. The Godfather, Scarface, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter—those movies showed me how to handle pressure in different situations. They ask profound questions and redefined what a “man” is, or is supposed to be.
5. When an independent moviemaker jumps to a big studio movie, there’s different politics, different money, different responsibility. You have to know how to navigate your way through that, or make the decision that you’re not going to navigate through that—that you don’t have the means, so you’ll work on low-budget movies and stay passionate about that. It all comes down to execution.
6. If someone with more power than you doesn’t see your vision, it won’t work out. You’re pushing a boulder up a hill. I was fired from directing Entrapment, and later from directing American Gangster. People will say “creative differences” force people to “walk away from each other,” but at the end of the day I call that being fired.
7. You have nobody but yourself to blame. If you compromise on something you didn’t look out for, you may hate yourself forever, but you still have to make the best of the movie.
8. My late friend, the DP John Alonzo, gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: Don’t listen to how so-and-so did it. You’re not so-and-so. People come with a lot of advice about how you should make a film and most of the time it’s bullshit. How do you know, really, how to make that film? Each one is completely different. There’s no “old wise man” in moviemaking.
9. You’ve got to shed all the bullshit. I build a little boxing ring on set and put a desk and a monitor up nearby so we can discuss scenes. Denzel Washington boxes too, and we’ll get up early in the morning, box, and talk ringside. It helps, because in boxing you’ve got to be humble. In the ring, you’re not a “star”—you’re just a guy with your head wrapped up, sweating it out. It gets the blood flowing and you can start to relax, talk, laugh, and really build relationships that way.
10. My best advice on moviemaking is that it’s hard, so you’ve got to love it. You’re an employee, really. You get one night to see your movie. Celebrate! You finished the movie! Now get back to work. Take off the suit, get off the red carpet, go through the back door and on to your next job. MM
This article appears in MovieMaker’s Summer 2018 issue. The Equalizer 2 opens July 20, 2018, courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing. Featured image photograph courtesy of Glen Wilson.