A chat with filmmaker Ben Combes about his UAMC-approved action sequel.

Filming of Commando Ninja 2 has recently wrapped, so we thought it might be a good idea to have a chat with creative mastermind Ben Combes on all things Commando Ninja 2 and action films in general!

Cover photo taken by Ludvig Oblin.

UAMC: Hi Ben, thanks a lot for taking the time to do an interview with us. It’s been five years since you made Commando Ninja, and I think it’s not an understatement to say it has become a classic of indie action cinema.

Ben Combes: Thanks, I actually still don’t know the audience or how many people we reached. It has been seen 7 million times in 12 languages on youtube, and I hope you are right, because it was a true love letter we wrote for other fans of the 80’s blockbusters like us, and we didn’t even try to sell it or make money with it.

UAMC: Those are impressive numbers indeed! When did you decide to make a sequel, and when did you start working on it? 

Ben Combes: After the first film, French producers (I’m French) approached me to direct TV shows and stuff. I turned it down because I moved to Canada (Vancouver BC) the morning after the French premiere. I swore to myself to never do a movie alone and without money again, it’s really, really hard, it chews you and your family up. The producers also told me it was cool one time, but don’t do another one like that.

Unfortunately, nobody wanted to produce a sequel (or at least I don’t have the contacts), Covid happened, and everybody wanted one! I was working for Sega, work was slow, we went home for remote work. So in November 2020 I decided to launch a Kickstarter for the sequel, as crazy as it sounded, secretly hoping it wouldn’t work. It worked (if you can say making a 2h20 action adventure movie with 30 characters and sets for 50K works), and we started production in July 2021!

UAMC: It’s great to hear that the Kickstarter campaign was successful. Will we see characters from the first part return? Are the stories connected? And another important question: Will we see the raptors again?

Ben Combes: Yes! Most of them will return, and the stories are connected, I hope fans will appreciate that. There will be a lot of new characters. We only had to change one actress from the first movie. The Dinosaurs will be back, imagine Commando Ninja was Alien 1. This is Alien 2.

UAMC: The first part was chock-full of awesome references and homages to our beloved action classics, can you give us a teaser of what we can expect in Commando Ninja 2 in that regard?

Ben Combes: Yes, Commando Ninja was my love letter to the 80s, with Commando Ninja 2 I focused more on the 90s! I’d say, you are going to dive into a Rambo 2 mission, set inside a Jurassic Park, following an Apocalypse Now river, jumping to Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Hard Boiled, Dawn of the Dead, James Bond. Also it will be inspired by modern adventure movies: Suicide Squad 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Kong: Skull Island.

UAMC: That sounds like a totally wild cross-over, and a lot of fun! Did you work with the same crew as for the first film?

Ben Combes: I never really had any crew, so my best friend came back to help, then he had to move and I was fortunate enough to meet someone who replaced him. Three different make up/SFX artists helped. Then a stuntman friend created a little stunt team, that followed us during production for the action scenes to play all the villains. The big change is that we had a studio, used for filming interior scenes, meetings, and a HQ for the movie props, workshop, and team.

UAMC: Can you tell us a bit more about the filming process for Commando Ninja 2? And what did you enjoy the most, and what the least?

Ben Combes: So again it was a DIY/Guerilla movie. 50K for what you are about to see was a very, very microscopic low budget. Everybody worked on their free time, either for free, or for the smallest rate possible. We ate BBQ’s and McDonalds. We shot during 3 full summers, 2021 to 2023. Each time I had to come back from Canada, it was really really hard psychologically for me. But it worked, and when I look at it now, I don’t understand how we achieved this.
Then during the fall and winters, I was editing/doing VFX, so when production wrapped last September, the movie was already all edited.

What I enjoyed the most was this third and last year of filming, it involved a loot of practical SFX, masks, prosthesis, and I love this shit. Two really good SFX artists came to the studio and it was a blast seeing all those creatures alive. We also spent all summer together, working out, shooting, eating BBQ’s, surrounded by guns and dinosaurs. It was kind of a surreal life for 6 months. Also, it’s the first “real” feature film I wrote, and I had a great pleasure seeing my characters develop and organically evolve through the actors during those 3 years, it was crazy, I hope you will enjoy the interaction between the 5 main characters. 

What I enjoyed the least, is that doing a project like that creates tensions, even if you would be the nicest (or richest) person in the world. At some point some people left the project. I totally understand, and after 15 years of career I realize it’s not money that will make a difference. Projects need to be short for people to keep motivated.

UAMC: That’s sounds a wild rollercoaster ride you experienced in the last three years, and it’s admirable that you pulled through all the way to the end! What got you into making movies, and where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there film-makers and actors that you hold in high esteem?

Ben Combes: I grew up with movies, my dad had a collection of thousands VHS (only action, adventure, sci fi and horror). At 14 I started making movies with a little camera and some friends. It was the start of home made movies thanks to miniDV cassettes and Adobe Premiere. One of the major french TV channel held a DIY movie week each year, and that really got us into making more and more, until my youtube channel and Commando Ninja.

I started making a video games related fan films youtube channel at the same time as FreddieWong and CorridorDigital in L.A., so watching their stuff was keeping me motivated, one of my shorts even ended up in a festival with them in LA. 

In terms of filmmakers and actors, of course I religiously admire Spielberg, Mc Tiernan, Cameron, Verhoeven, Arnold, Sly, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver, Nic Cage, Keanu Reeves, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe. Big up for France with Luc Besson and Jean Reno! 

Today, I have a big, big admiration for Neill Blomkamp, for me he was the new James Cameron of the 2000’s, I’m sad he didn’t continue into Sci-Fi. (crazy thing: I was working in front of his studio in Vancouver and my partner worked with him). I also think Michael Bay is an alien, and Taylor Sheridan’s work blew my mind. But there are so many talented directors, movies or TV, I couldn’t pick one. 

And I love modern actors like Adam Driver, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pedro Pascal. In France we have a big ACTION comeback, with actors like Alban Lenoir, movies like Lost Bullet 1&2, AKA. It’s really good, we come from the same town with the director!

Photo taken by Ludvig Oblin.

UAMC: What do you think is the state of action cinema in 2023? What’s good, what’s bad about it? 

Ben Combes: I think it’s been 20 years since the good things, new things are now happening in TV shows. I don’t enjoy remake attempts and superheroes. I don’t like blue screens, all CGI action and sets, it doesn’t move anything inside me when I see it. I don’t like studios washing up IPs until you hate them. 

I also don’t like that movies must be serious and, and that we lost all the humor from the 80s and 90s. I think it’s really representative of today’s society. In terms of action today I don’t like the very realistic fights, I preferred when it was all karate, helicopter kicks and unlimited ammos. But I think practical effects, SFX, really good stuntmen, and real explosions are coming back, I think they understood it was uninteresting otherwise.

UAMC: Let’s hope they do, and I couldn’t agree more with what you said. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your journey as a filmmaker? And do you have any advice for aspiring indie action film makers? 

Ben Combes: It was really all about being able to organize this crazy pharaonic project. It was absolutely huge, and I was alone to prepare everything (from shots to breakdown, to lunch, and finding the right shoelace for a 90’s setting). Keeping people motivated was also hard, it was 50% a creative challenge, and 50% human. 

For aspiring action film makers, I would advise to focus on short action scenes, short films. It’s the best thing, write, shoot, repeat, and it’s actually what I did from 2008 to 2016. Someone very good does that, FilmRiot on youtube, they did crazy short action films.

But for me as a director, I honestly never loved filming action scenes. What I prefer and what I wanted this time was to develop characters, a story and a mood with this project. My dream would have been to have an action director for the shootings and fight scenes, so I could focus on art direction, writing, set dressing, costumes, jokes and actors!

UAMC: Ben, thank you so much for sharing your thought on insights, and for your passion as a filmmaker! There’s just one question left: When will Commando Ninja 2 be released into the universe?

Ben Combes: I would have loved Christmas but it’s impossible. So for now I will have this objective: Big Reveal Trailer for Christmas, and release 2024 first trimester, or summer.