Dean Devlin’s name may not roll off your tongue unless you’re WildAboutMovies or part of the Hollywood elite. However, that might be about to change.
After years of producing, including both Independence Day movies, Devlin’s own movie studio, the independent Electric Entertainment, released its second film, Bad Samaritan, starring David Tennant, on over 2000 screens this weekend, giving audiences who have already seen Avengers: Infinity War something else to chew on. The studio’s first release was last fall’s Rob Reiner film LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson.
Devlin sums up Bad Samaritan in one sentence. “It is a story of a small time thief who is robbing homes while working as a valet parker at restaurants and one day robs the home of one of the most dangerous men on the planet.”
Bad Samaritan was written by Brandon Boyce, who wrote Apt Pupil. “Roland and I had almost financed Apt Pupil,” reveals Devlin. “Brandon and I have stayed friends for all of these years. A few years ago he asked me if I would look at his latest script and make notes for him. I had one note; don’t show this to anyone else. I want to make the movie,” Devlin says, explaining how he ended up financing and directing the picture.
“By 2004, I decided to go independent. For 12 years I have been doing independent films. I got talked into doing the Independence Day sequel and Geostorm for the studios. But it became clear to me that I did not at all have the personality type to work at modern studios today. I had take stock and say, if I am going to stay in this business, I need to keep working at my own company, where frankly I do much better work. When I saw the script for Bad Samaritan, I was so in love with it and said, I don’t want to screw this thing up, and was terrified if I had done this with a studio, it was all going to go to hell. So I said to the guys at my studio, we are writing a check and making a movie.”
Devlin was not shy to reveal how crazy the casting process is at some studios. “I’ve been involved in some really bizarre conversations about casting, such as how many Twitter followers someone has, or what reality TV are they guesting on. All kinds of things that have nothing to do with skill or performance. With me I have loved both of these actors (David Tennant and Robert Sheehan) and there was no one to tell me I couldn’t cast them. So I did. And they are both such great actors and such genuinely nice people. I think we got to make something very special.
The first time that I sat with Devlin was almost 20 years ago for the Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger movie he produced, The Patriot. I spent an afternoon at the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills talking to Gibson and Ledger, but Devlin was also there promoting the film. He was and still is such a charismatic man. So many Hollywood producers are so full of themselves. With Devlin, it is the complete opposite. When I talked to him about The Patriot, I had no idea that he had gotten his start in acting and that his becoming a producing partner with the prolific director Roland Emmerich was something that dreams are made of.
In 1990, Roland Emmerich cast him in the little known R-Rated sci-fi/action/thriller, Moon 44. It was originally intended for a theatrical release in the United States. Instead, though it was released theatrically in other parts of the world, it ended up going straight to video in the U.S.
“I had a very unusual relationship with Roland,” Devlin tells me, six days before the release of Bad Samaritan. “It started out as just acting in one of his movies, Moon 44. H e barely spoke English at the time and was shooting that movie in English. So I kept saying, can I rewrite this dialogue, the dialogue for my lines? After a couple of days of that he said, ‘We have a problem. All of the other actors are angry, because you have all the best lines. Would you mind rewriting their dialogue?’ And that started my partnership with Roland. Roland not only allowed me write films with him and later produce with him. He also let me direct all of the second units. Later, when Roland and I ended that part of the partnership, I moved into directing television.”
Devlin’s first brush with Hollywood arrived in 1980, when he appeared in a walk on role in the movie My Bodyguard. For a few years after that, he had minor roles in classic TV sitcoms such as Alice, Fame, Too Close For Comfort, Happy Days and then in a number of the 80s most popular dramas, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and Hardcastle and McCormick.
“I gave up acting. I don’t like to think of myself as a former actor,” Devlin says, laughing. “I like to think of myself as a reformed actor. But as far as writing, producing or directing, it is all about storytelling. Sometimes it is better for me to write it and let someone else direct it. Other times, like with Bad Samaritan, I get a script so much I want to direct it.”
As for Bad Samaritan, Devlin explains, “We have less than half the money that a studio would have for a movie of this size, and by this size, I mean being released on 2000 screens. It is a grassroots effort. I have been going to every sci-fi film festival and Comic Con there is and shaking hands and kissing babies and trying to convince people to be ambassadors for our film.”