Leading up to the release of Expendables 4 (Expend4bles), Dorkaholics spoke with the film’s producer Les Weldon. He shared his experiences growing up in Orange County, going to school at USC, how those experiences prepared him for the film industry, first as a writer and then a producer, the essentials of the Expendables franchise, as well as how to expand from there with Expendables 4.
Do you have any words of encouragement for young students interested in the entertainment industry?
Les Weldon: For me, the entertainment industry is all about putting in the hours and there is some luck to it. But, you know, you just need to set your goals for yourself. I started off as a writer in the business, and I was working at another job 9 to 5, and I basically decided every night Sunday through Thursday night, I would write eight till midnight until I would get a script, and then I would do that for a second script and then give myself Friday night and Saturday night off because I was young but that’s what you have to do. You have to put in the time. It’s very difficult to take any shortcuts. It’s dedication. And even if you’re from Orange County or originally I was from Brazil, you can still, with hard work, get somewhere.
How did your studies at USC prepare you for the world of filmmaking?
Les Weldon: Well, it’s very interesting because when I was applying for USC, my thoughts were, ‘I’m going to go into the film program.’ Of course, my parents and grandparents who were helping me out with school said, ‘well, yeah, you’re going to go to USC, but you’re not going to be a film graduate.’ So that’s why I became a business major. And to be honest with you, it was the best decision I ever made because it did help me when I graduated, at least to feed myself and pay the rent and I just piled on a bunch of electives, a bunch of night school classes in the entertainment business, everything from acting to writing to directing, because that’s really where my passion was. But later on when I went, I actually went from writing to producing the business side of it really helped and kicked in, just everything from budgeting to to certain decisions to planning out a project. It was for me, it was a very practical and useful background to have.
Speaking of your role as a producer, as a producer on all four of The Expendables films, what has been essential to the franchise? In what ways did you expand this time around with Expendables 4?
Les Weldon: Well, what’s really essential for the franchise is to keep it fun, and in a way to keep, as you mentioned, refreshing. And the first one was such a unique get together of all of these guys that everybody wanted to see, but maybe not individually. But when you bring them all together, it’s suddenly the sum and becomes so much bigger than even the individual parts. But moving on beyond that, we have to refresh it. It can’t be just the same guys again. And the reason it needs to be refreshed is that whenever you bring a new character in that interacts with one or all of the characters in it, you discover new things about that character. In the latest example we have Megan Fox coming in and going toe to toe with Jason’s character, which is really nice because Jason’s a very strong presence on screen and he’s a very good fighter. And the last thing you would expect is someone like Megan Fox coming in and being his equal. And that’s the way you refresh a franchise like this is you introduce new things, different twists, and then you can really have fun with some of the same guys.
Speaking of Jason Statham, I think from what I’ve heard, I heard that he’s taking more of a lead role while Stallone is taking a step back in a way.
Les Weldon: It was sort of half planned, but half as the script and story evolved. On this one, we want it to be very story based without bringing in a bunch of actors and then trying to write new characters. We wanted it to be a hard R this time. We wanted to sort of go back to the roots, if you will. We were a little disappointed with the reception from the PG-13, and so we wanted the fans to know, ‘Hey, you know, that was an experiment gone very sideways’ but we understand what they want. You know, we can’t be dictating that. And I think now this is our chance to get back on that horse and just go full steam ahead for the fans.
How does one ensure that the action feels visceral as it does in the franchise?
Les Weldon: Well, what we like to do with these Expendable movies is we try to make it as real as possible. This isn’t Marvel. This isn’t some fantasy movie. This is a movie where as an audience member, you want to really feel the heat of those explosions and the sound and the thunder and the gunshots. And you really want to go on this trip, which is a very real trip. It’s not, you know, a sci-fi fantasy where you kind of go, ‘Well, that was cool,’ but you’re really not in that world. And I think that’s what anchors a lot of the fans to action franchises is you’re with the character. You’re feeling that heartbeat. That’s something to that adrenaline rush that the characters are having. And that’s very important in our franchises. And we really, really focused on that on this last iteration.
Growing up, whether in Laguna Beach or back in Brazil, what were you a dork about, whether it was a character book, film, you name it. What made you a dork essentially?
Les Weldon: Look, I really, really became a film dork when I was 15, 16, somewhere in there. After the Rocky and Star Wars movies came out, I just watched them over and over and over and over again. And I said, ‘Man, this is what I want to do.’ This is just the type of movie that I want to dive into. And even though those weren’t pure action, it’s more like I’d seen pure action than those who had had such good characters and such a relatable story that I thought, you know what action for action is just that when you put in good characters, now you’ve really got an action hit.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have grown up loving the Rocky films and then you’re working with Stallone.
Les Weldon: It was a pleasure. And he’s always a pleasure to work with. He’s probably the only actor who’s created and directed and written three franchises, so I have to give my nod to him. He’s really super that way.
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