One-on-One with Charlie Picerni (Part II)
TM: What did he ask you? How did the interview go?
CP: Well, he said, “When these terrorists come into the movie – that’s where I want the pace of the movie to go. Once these terrorists arrive, the pace should really move fast.” And he gave me an example: like “Robo Cop” at that time. And I got into the story of the characters, what they were like, Bruce Willis (what he was going for) and the kind of fights I’d choreograph (I laid all that action out). It was fantastic, and Joel Silver gave me the shot when Joel was producing it. Joel and I went to “Die Hard 2, Roadhouse.”
TM: As Second Unit Director?
CP: As Second Unit Director but I did a lot of big first units with Joel too. You know, I mean, second units that were really big (like 200 people on my crew as Second Unit Director). So I was doing a lot of first unit stuff, too.
TM: What kind of money does that pay?
CP: Well, in those days I was making $500,000 – $600,000 a year. My biggest year was $875,000.
TM: As Second Unit Director?
CP: And Stunt Coordinator. In 1990 when I did “Hudson Hawk,” I made $875,000. So I was doing pretty well, and I moved up. Joel was terrific; I really liked working with him. I had a lot of fun with him; he was a fun guy. I did “Demolition Man” with him, and then I just kept on moving up. Then, after I guess 1995, was the last movie I did with Joel. Then I did a couple of movies with Jean Claude Van Damme in “Maximum Risk,” which was terrific. Those guys were all great. Duke Vincent really started me off; he was the guy that kicked off my directing career. Anyway, that was after I worked with Van Damme, around 2000.
TM: Wait a minute, let’s go back. How did that happen? Who’s Duke Vincent?
CP: Duke Vincent was the No. one guy for Aaron Spelling.
TM: How did you know him?
CP: He knew me from coordinating “Starsky & Hutch.” I did a pilot around 1980 in Hawaii, called “Waikiki.” It was a two-hour pilot. At that time, they had just finished doing “Hawaii Five 0,” and every studio was looking for a new show to get into Hawaii – Universal and Aaron Spelling. I was on as Second Unit Director and Coordinator. Well, after the first three or four days, I guess Aaron didn’t like what the director was doing, which was unfortunate because I thought he was great, and they fired him for some crazy reason. Duke Vincent said, “I want you to direct the next three days, First Unit, with the guest stars. We’re replacing the camera guy, we’re replacing one of the main actors and you’re going to direct all the guest stars.” So I directed about three or four days of First Unit. Duke gave me a shot, and it turned out great. The film went back to the studio and Aaron Spelling said, “Gee, who is the new director? The stuff looks great.” Duke said, “Charlie Picerni.” And Aaron said, “He’s a stunt coordinator…” and Duke said, “Well he did it.” After that, they gave me Vegas shows to direct. They also gave me “T.J. Hooker” to direct, and I was on my way to directing. But Duke started me off. So that was a strong period of my life, and then when I met Joel, that was another strong period because I worked up to doing the big, big second unit directors. I was in all the big action movies and Joel said, “After ‘Die Hard 2,’ I’m going to give you a movie to direct. You saved the movie, you did fantastic.” I was doing all kinds of stuff like snow mobile chases. He said, “This stuff looks great. Without this Second Unit, we couldn’t have done the movie.” I felt terrific. In fact, he gave me a movie to direct around 1990-91. It was a movie called “Ricochet” with Denzel Washington. Unfortunately, when tragedy strikes in your life, it struck me and my second wife, Nancy, who I was married to. She was 35-years old, a trial attorney. She got into an accident on Sunset Boulevard and was killed. I was in terrible condition to direct a movie. So Joel said, “Come to Rome with me, and we’ll do ‘Hudson Hawke’. Then you’ll come back and do the Second Unit on ‘Ricochet’, if you’re in shape.” I said, “Joel, I’ll do it – I’ve got to work.” So, I went along with him. And after that, I did a few more movies with him, and then getting back to the present time, after Van Damme movies, I started doing directing for John McTiernan at Paramount. I went back to television, and I directed a thing called “Seven Days.” It was a T.V. series, science fiction, about eight shows. I did that in 2000. Then, I got into my own company. I started doing producing and directing, and I did a movie with Peter Falk and George Segal called “Three Days to Vegas.” It was shot in Miami, New Orleans and Vegas. We raised some money. A good little movie that’s on DVD now.
TM: So are you capable of making “Spaghetti Park” all on your own?
CP: I know a lot about packaging, breakdowns, scheduling and stuff like that. Like I say, I just about finished high school but when I came out here, I observed. So I know editing and cutting, etc. – it’s like going to school. If I went to UCLA, I couldn’t learn as much as I did on the set because I watched. I went into the cutting room. I know how to put movies together. I don’t care what movie it is – a big multi-million dollar movie or a T.V. show. I know how to work with lighting. I know how to work with a camera. I know how to work with different things. A lot of years – 42 years. So the budget on “Spaghetti Park” has been broken down below the line. I could probably shoot for about, you know, without cutting myself short, maybe $5 or $6 million below the line.