Canada-based filmmaker Tim Brown turns Nicolas Cage into a beach bum in the Cayman Islands for The Retirement Plan (in theatres Sept 15), also starring Ashley Greene, Ron Perlman, Jackie Earle Haley, Ernie Hudson, Grace Byers, Rick Fox and Lynn Whitfield.
At the beginning of the story Ashley (Greene) gets mixed up in some trouble in Miami and in order to protect herself and her daughter Sarah (Thalia Campbell), she has to reconnect with her estranged father Matt living in the Cayman Islands, played by Cage.
While Ashley's father may initially just seem like an old, oftentimes drunk, retired man, he's actually a former government assassin. When Ashley gets tracked down by crime boss Donnie (Haley), she's followed to the Cayman Islands by Donnie's lieutenant Bobo (Perlman), and Matt becomes instrumental in Ashley and Sarah's safety.
"The seed of the idea came from a question I asked myself and that is, 'What if John Wick finally retired and just became a drunk on the beach for 30 years? And if he was pushing 70, could he still do anything?'" Brown explained to Yahoo Canada.
The filmmaker added that the writing process happened quite "organically" from here, but there was particular interest in having the audience jump right into the action at the start of the film.
"I like to write the beginning of a movie like you've come in during something that you don't know about, and then eventually you find out," Brown said. "We open on a robbery gone wrong, but we didn't open on the planning of the robbery or what happened, or who's involved and who got robbed."
"But we do know a MacGuffin is on the loose and now we've got to follow the MacGuffin, in this instance a hard drive."
The fact that a hard drive is what these "bad guys" are after taps into Brown's comedic sensibility.
"The hard drive is probably the most overused MacGuffin in action films, whether it's a $200 million budget and it's Tom Cruise jumping off a motorcycle, he's still out there trying to get his hands on a hard drive," Brown said, adding that he liked to make fun of some of these common action film tropes.
Working with Nicolas Cage
As part of developing The Retirement Plan, Brown wrote backstories for a lot of the characters, most significantly for Cage's character Max, revealing that it was about five or six pages.
"Nic said he was grateful for it, whether he read it or not, or used it, I couldn't tell you, but I think he did," Brown said.
According to the filmmaker, Cage was particularly attracted to two elements of The Retirement Plan, the comedy and the family story.
"He thought it was really funny, which he thought was a bit refreshing," Brown said.
"He's a big fan of family genre in Japanese cinema and I think that the dynamic between a guy who's given up on his family, who's forced to get back in with his family, was interesting for him."
Brown described Cage as a "completely collaborative" actor and someone who is always "exorbitantly well prepared."
"When we'd first met and he had the script with him, it looked like it had been through World War II, ... it was coffee stained and worn, folded," Brown said.
"He knew not only his own lines, but he knew everyone's lines. ... He just got nuances of the script that maybe not everyone got. ... I believe that there's been a lot of actors that can do little nuance things, but Nic does it and it's a flavour you can't quite describe. It's not salty, it's not sweet. It's hot, but it's not too hot."
Cage actually came up with a nickname for Brown on set, calling him Letterman.
"He said, 'you're like Dave,'" Brown shared. "I said that was the greatest compliment you could ever give me, by the way, because I'm a huge fan."
"But that was sort of the nuanced relationship with he and I, it was just really easy, shorthand."
'No one was going to hire me as a director so I had to find a way to hire myself'
While Brown works as a writer and director, he also has extensive experience in movie distribution and global sales. When it came to making the shift to create movies himself, he said it largely happened "out of necessity."
"No one was going to hire me as a director so I had to find a way to hire myself," Brown said.
"I understood the financials around what I could sell in a market, what the value in Europe was, or the value in Eastern Europe, or Asia, or in the Middle East or Southeast Asia, North America. I understood how to earn revenue through film sales. So I could monetize a script, I could monetize a finished film, territory by territory."
Brown started in children and family content, knowing the value of those films, and then moved into a different genre, like action-comedy with The Retirement Plan.
"Nic Cage in an action-comedy falls into a different category where it has a value and I know who to call to try and get that value monetized," Brown said.
"Ideally, one day, I'll stop having to worry about the business of film and executive produce, and understand the nuance of the financing. There's not a lot of directors that are talking about how much interest is going to be building out a loan against production, against sales and things of that nature that I would have an understanding of. But thankfully, once we got on set, that was out the window. It was the creative and all about the process."