When Sam Akina’s film “Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash” premiered at a private cast and crew screening at Neptune Theater on Nov. 10, Seattle’s sleepy film community transformed into a big night in Hollywood.
Producers of the film spared no expense: red carpet entrance, SUV limo, video cameras, paparazzi photographers and even larger-than life cardboard cutouts of all the film’s main characters.
“Bullets,” the film’s colloquial name, is the first feature by Akina and his producer Vu Le. With a tagline of “The most ruthless independent film ever made,” the filmmakers hope that this ambitious project will put Seattle’s film community on the map.
Le became familiar with Akina’s talents when he attended a showcase of projects from Seattle Central’s Community College film program, of which Akina was one of the graduates. Impressed by Akina’s breakthrough short film, “Get the F-cking Cash,” they discussed future projects.
At this time Akina had developed the script for “Bullets” and had been shopping it around to different investors. Akina managed to land a potential deal for $3 million, but the stipulation was for him to shoot in Rumania with name talent as the lead roles.
Akina declined the offer because not only did he want to shoot the film in Seattle, he had written the roles for specific local actors in mind — Roy Stanton, Jerry Lloyd and Tom Doty.
Le, who had been making music videos, had set aside $25,000 to attend film school. Instead of enrolling in Seattle Central’s program, Le decided he could learn more from Akina and put his money into investing in “Bullets.”
“I always wanted to learn from people who are better than me,” said Le, who thought that Akina’s short film had a “Tarantino-ish” quality.
“Sam is the person I look up to now. He’s my idol right now as far as filmmakers go.”
With eight ethnic gangs, six foreign languages, 60 murders and 30 locations, Akina knew it was a bigger project than anything he had done before, let alone anyone he knew had done, especially on such a low budget.
“I like to do things that are very hard to do,” 27-year-old Akina said. “Things that are easy to do I find boring.”
Akina set out to prove that filmmaking was not about big budgets or big names, but bringing talented people to make something challenging.
Akina calls the film “non-formulaic,” with a disorganized timeline and characters that are real versus caricatures of people. He says it’s not a revenge film – the audience doesn’t know why the lead character Cash does what he does until the end of the movie. Cash doesn’t speak to his antagonist throughout the movie, save for the final scenes, which Akina says never happens in mainstream movies.
As minority filmmakers — Akina is German American/Hawaiian and Le is Vietnamese American — they purposely set out to make a film that was commercially viable. Akina says he’s not like other minority filmmakers making stories that are more culturally significant to their own cultures.
Le, who came to America when he was about eight years old in 1986, grew up watching Hong Kong gangster movies. His love of film came from being a refugee with limited English skills and not having activities like mainstream youth had.
“I always thought movies were cool because it takes you to a different place, away from the reality you’re dealing with,” Le says.
Akina and Le are currently talking to top executives of distribution companies for “Bullets.”
Le says, “To make a movie is hard, to make a good movie is even harder, and then to make a movie than can potentially go far is the hardest.”