A couple of weeks back I shared a trailer (you can find it here) with all of our readers for a film called ATOMIC EDEN. It will star genre veterans Fred Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas as well as Mike Möller, Hazuki Kato, Everett Ray Aponte, Wolfgang Riehm, Dominik Starck, and Josephine Hies. My excitement level was so high, I had to reach out to the man responsible for birthing this beast, Nico Sentner. Nico resides in Germany and has made a career out of producing, acting, and now directing films. He appeared in the action film ARENA OF THE STREETFIGHTER, co-wrote SIN REAPER (a film released by Fangoria), and produced several others (as well as the ones mentioned). ATOMIC EDEN marks his first foray into directing a feature film and we spoke at length about putting this film together, working with his cast, and even learning a bit about East Germany’s recent history. Our talk (and subsequent chats) have only fueled my interest in the film and after ready this, hopefully you all will be as interested as I am.
CD: What sparked your interest in the world of film?
NS: It all started when I was thirteen, I discovered my parents’ home video camera and started to shoot short films with my friends. In the German education system, in high school, you have to train two times in a corporation during the course of your education. When I was sixteen, I actually trained at a production company and for a sixteen year old boy it was quite interesting and amazing. By the end of my internship I met the owner of the company and he was nineteen. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong but because of the experience when I was seventeen I founded my own company Generation X Group. For the first year, my parents had to sign for it because I wasn’t legally considered an adult. They probably thought I was just trying myself a bit to find my way. I’m sure they thought I would end up doing something more grounded like be a dentist or something. That was fifteen years ago and I’m making a living out of this business. I’ve never had another job besides it. We started doing corporate films then moved into doing features. A very important step for my career was when I did a short film called DARK LEGACY. It was an experiment to see if I could work with actors. It was a horror short and no one really wanted the film here in Germany. Nobody was interested in it at all then out of the blue a festival in Scotland discovered the movie and wanted me to submit it. I started to think maybe people would be interested in the film outside of Germany and I started to send it to festivals around the world. The New York International Film and Video Festival selected Dark Legacy, they had four festivals a year back in 2005 (New York, Las Vegas, Florida, and Los Angeles) and it was shown in Los Angeles and New York. We actually won an award and that jumpstarted my venture into feature films.
CD: Did you go to a film school or were you self-taught?
NS: I never went to film school, it was basically just learning by doing. You learn by doing things step by step and the fun thing is now I’m booked at private film schools to teach production.
CD: What has been the most fun or rewarding for you, working in front of or behind the camera?
NS: It’s hard to tell but I think it’s behind the camera. I act occasionally but I’m not acting for a living. I’m very happy I don’t have to make a living from acting, it’s a tough business and I hear it from my colleagues every day. I’m doing it more like Tarantino or M. Night Shyamalan, so I appreciate playing characters in my own films but I would not consider myself an actor. A fun story though, I have a bit part in Mike Möller ‘s ARENA OF THE STREET FIGHTER and I went into a little diner owned by Turkish people to get some takeout and a young Turkish boy, maybe eighteen or nineteen, was working and he looked at me and asked, “Are you an actor?” I said, “Why are you asking?” And he said, “I saw you in ARENA OF THE STREET FIGHTER.” It was a fun moment for me. When you’re working on the production side of things you can make dozens of movies and no one will recognize you. By taking bit parts in these movies it’s my way of getting reactions on the streets about my films.
CD: So tell me about ATOMIC EDEN, where and when did it all begin? Was it inspired by anything in particular?
NS: It does have a bigger back story behind it and is inspired by several different things. In 2011, I was doing location scouting for a post-apocalyptic picture that never really happened. During the unification of Germany, a lot of the state owned companies were closed. Behind the Iron Curtain, these companies were like little cities and had their own apartments for employees, their own bars and restaurants, everything they needed and never really bought anything from outside so these are really large areas. We found one area that was so outstanding and creepy. Usually when you find these ruins you go in and everything is empty, just empty buildings. This particular area was closed right after the unification and they left everything behind. All the documents were still there, you had telephones on the desks and curtains hanging on the windows. You even had flowers that were dried and dead still standing there. At the bar, we found beer that was unopened and the bottle cap was all rusted and falling to pieces with a date saying “Best used before 1989”. I got the impression this was how things would look if everyone had to just up and go, leave everything behind. I figured this was what it would like back in Chernobyl. That’s when the story idea came into my head when we found that place. As far as influences, I grew up on John Carpenter movies.
CD: I knew you were going to say that.NS: (laughs) Yes, he was my idol and one of the reasons I wanted to be a filmmaker. My favorite film of his is ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13. I also really liked mercenary films, something like PREDATOR where each mercenary has their own distinct personality and character. You really didn’t want to see them die because you liked the characters so much. To go earlier, movies like THE MAGNIFICANT SEVEN was also an influence. Behind the Iron Curtain, there were very few films from the west allowed and movies that were quite commonly green-lit by the East German government were Westerns. So THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was a huge influence on me. So it starts out as a mercenary movie then it ends up in a single location as an Alamo scenario much like ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13. With these new EXPENDABLES movies, I was disappointed by all the CGI effects. I was excited to see all these great action stars in one movie then you have all these CGI effects that take away the magic from them. Nothing against Randy Coutre or Terry Crews but I was never sure why they were in them since they’re not of the same caliber as Stallone or Willis. It was important for me with ATOMIC EDEN to do everything using practical effects to give it the retro look and feel of the action films from the 80’s and early 90’s we all have watched and loved. We only have one visual effects shot in the film and that’s only because we couldn’t do it for real. It’s quite a task to take on using real explosions and real guns shooting blanks here in Germany. There’s a lot of red tape to go through in order do this. We had to get permission from the government to do what we wanted and it was important the police knew what we were doing there and that we’re not robbers or anything. The weird thing is we needed to get permission from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries all because we were shooting (with guns) at night and they could disturb bats living in the wild. We actually had regulations we had to follow in order for us to shoot the weapons. Overall it worked out well and we have a great level of action in the movie. ATOMIC EDEN is my homage to films like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13. A German movie site calls the movie based on the trailer “a modern day mix between THE EXPENDABLES and ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13”. That was a huge honor for me.
CD: My original attraction to the film was when I saw Fred Williamson’s name. How did you get him involved?
NS: I’ve known Fred since 2010, I met him at the American Film Market. We did two movies and a commercial together. We became very close friends and when you work with people you can call them friends, or you have Facebook friends, but you don’t have many close friends. Fred I would consider a very close and good friend. During the shooting of ATOMIC EDEN he became my mentor. As far as getting him involved, I gave him the script and asked him if he wanted to be in it. He liked the script so much he became attached as an executive producer. I let him be “The Hammer” in the film, I didn’t mess with his image even though he’s Stoker the Mercenary in the movie. It allowed him to do the things his fans expect him to do. Have you ever met Fred?
CD: I’ve never met Fred and he’s one of my heroes.
NS: Oh really? He’s such a really great guy, you have no idea. He has a great sense of humor, a couple years back we went out to dinner with him and he brought a friend who was an actress. When she found out we were from East Germany she started asking some really silly questions. Stuff like, “Do you have electricity there?” or “Do you have McDonalds over there?” Fred could see this was making us uncomfortable he interrupted and said, “No, they don’t need that shit, they’re happy to be free.” That is Fred. Also, he’s in his late 70’s and in really great shape, much better shape than most of us. We were shooting a scene with a stunt guy, he was taller and more muscular than Fred. This guy had protective gear on under his clothes and highly trained so we did two takes where Fred hit him twice then threw him against the wall. We only did it twice and the stunt guy came to me and said, “Wow, that old man hits really hard.” When I first met Fred, I knew him but wasn’t a huge fan or anything, but now I’m a huge fan. The thing I didn’t realize was just how large of a fan base he has in Germany. Our shooting location in the middle of East Germany was completely deserted and in the middle of nowhere. Even in the daytime this place is difficult to find. We were shooting at night and people were finding us trying to get an autograph from Fred. And he’s such a nice guy he would take the time to sign autographs and take pictures then would get back to work. Earlier this year I did a commercial with him for a home security company, after the shoot we went to a secluded restaurant in the middle of the woods. There weren’t many people at this secluded restaurant and when the waitress came to our table she stopped and just said, “The Hammer!”. That’s just an example of how widely known he is and I had no idea he was this famous in my country. Just out of curiosity, how do you know about Mike Möller?
CD: For the last two years I’ve been doing work on a book that’s a celebration of action stars past and present. Through the research my writing partner and I have done we discovered films like ARENA OF THE STREET FIGHTER and THE CHALLENGE. Last year I did an interview with Mathis Landwehr.NS: Oh yes, I know Mathis! Mike is a very good friend of mine. We’re both East German so there’s a bond that brings us together. He’s one of the best martial artists and fight choreographers the world has to offer. I’m not over promoting him, he’s the real deal. After working with him on ARENA, I could see the massive potential he has. He’s very unique and I wanted to help promote his name because not many people can do what he does and I’m positive he has a huge career ahead of him.
CD: He also did the fight choreography, did you just let him go or did you have something specific in mind for the action?
NS: I had a few ideas for what I wanted him to do and Mike made them a reality. For the majority of the choreography, I gave him free reign, with a couple of exceptions. I had some ideas I really wanted to see in there so he made sure he incorporated them.
CD: What can we expect from the action? Is it ultra-violent and bloody?
NS: It doesn’t get much bloodier than what you see in the trailer. We do however have an enormous body count because the mercenaries face an army of eight hundred men. I never really counted but we easily kill around a hundred people in the movie, a little bit like RAMBO II.
CD: What was it about Lorenzo Lamas that convinced you he needed to be in the film?NS: When I was a teenager, I was a huge fan of RENEGADE. I have a good friend who is a Hollywood producer, Leman Cetiner, who worked with him on LETHAL and was still friends with him. So when we were putting together ATOMIC EDEN, I had a role I had him in mind for so I called out to Leman to get in touch with him and he came aboard. I became a huge fan of his after working with him, he was highly professional. His performance is really incredible and left a huge impression on me. I would work with him again in a heartbeat.
CD: Can you tell me a bit about your character, John the Sniper?
NS: For all the characters in the movie I was trying to reach the level of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN or the first PREDATOR, I wanted each of the characters to be unique and sympathetic in their own way. So John is an expert sniper who has gone on several missions with Stoker (Fred Williamson) in the past. He’s humorous, a womanizer, and a very sympathetic guy.
CD: Can you talk a bit about putting together the rest of the cast?
NS: First, there’s Hazuki Kato who I first worked with on SIN REAPER. She’s a Japanese model/actress, highly professional, and she always delivers. She also has a talent for the martial arts, she learned from Mikey and Mikey’s team, she has a bit of a fighting performance in the film too. Also, she has built a name for herself in Japan which is beneficial to us when selling it to the Japanese market. Everett Ray Aponte is a newcomer, he plays Darwin the Texan. We first met at the American Film Market in 2010, I can’t tell you what it is but there’s something about him. I wrote the character specifically for him and I think he’s a great discovery, he’s outstanding. I’ve worked with Wolfgang Riehm (Heinrich the Priest) twice before, in TAIKETSU and SIN REAPER where he also played a priest. I guess he just has that look. I like to give people chances so with the other two characters played by Dominik Starck and Josephine Hies, they were newcomers as well. Dominik had a small role in another project I had worked on and I was curious to see what I could get out of him. With Josephine, she is from East Germany and Everett is from Texas, they met on the set of the film, fell deeply in love, and now they’re married and have established a life for themselves in L.A.
CD: What sort of work do have left to do on it before it’s complete?
NS: Sound design, music, color correction, and marketing/social media. Besides that, everything else is done.
CD: Do you have any sort of release date or plans for it when you’re finished?
NS: The movie will be completed in early 2015, and depending on exactly when it’s done, we’ll premiere it either at the European Film Market in Berlin or at the Cannes Film Festival. One of these will be the first screening for an audience outside of the crew.
CD: How do you describe the film to get people excited about it?
NS: It’s an action/adventure inspired by classic action movies we have all grown up on. We use practical effects, with a great story, and plenty of action.
CD: Do you have anything planned for the near future?NS: ARENA OF THE STREETFIGHTER was highly successful for us around the world and I want to continue on in that genre for awhile. There’s not enough indie action films being produced and not with the level of action we can produce here with Mikey and his people. We want to do more in the classic style without those ridiculous CGI muzzle flashes we see far too often. We have two possible projects in the pipeline at the moment and it depends a bit on which story we can convince our financiers into doing. One is a mix between TAKEN and DIE HARD and the other is a mix between INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and THE RAID. So we’ll see which one we get to do. I would love to do a prequel and a sequel to ATOMIC EDEN and I have the scripts all ready to go.
CD: Nico, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and I wish you the best of luck with the film.
NS: Thank you and take care.
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