Agent Recon: Exclusive Interview with Writer-Director Derek Ting

Agent Recon: Exclusive Interview with Writer-Director Derek Ting

©Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

The project is the third installment in filmmaker Derek Ting’s action trilogy, which began with 2017’s Agent, and continued with 202’s Agent Revelation. The filmmaker, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in all three entries, and is based in both Hong Kong and the U.S., also works a tech journalist. He combined his knowledge and passion for action, Eastern and Western culture, and technology to craft the franchise, which is driven by aliens, robots, zombies, conspiracies and military life.

In Agent Recon, a covert military task force tracks a mysterious energy disturbance at a secret base in New Mexico that is suspected of experimenting on alien technology. Once there, the team encounters an unknown being of extraordinary strength and speed, and the ability to control an army of mindless warriors. The trio must fight through the unstoppable hordes to prevent humanity’s demise.

Agent Recon is now available On Digital and On Demand, courtesy of Quiver Distribution. Ting generously took the time to talk about scribing and helming the drama during an exclusive interview over Zoom the week of the feature’s release late last month.

Derek Ting

©Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

Q: You wrote the script for the new sci-fi action film, Agent Recon. What was the inspiration in penning the screenplay for the drama?

Derek Ting: Well, Agent Recon is part of a trilogy. I had written a small indie film called Agent, and it was my first foray into action. It took off and went well, and it got under Hulu.

Then from there we built the sequel, Agent Revelation. That was with Michael Dorn. That went well, as it was on Paramount.

Then from there, I was writing the third installment, which is Agent Recon. We’re in this world of aliens and zombies, and there is a lot of action. These Marines go on a mission, during which they encounter this being of unknown power. So the team has to fight their way through hordes of these infected aliens.

Q: Besides scribing the script, you also directed this third entry in the series, like its two predecessors. How did writing the screenpplay influence the way you approached helming the franchise’s second sequel?

Derek Ting: Casting was a pleasure. Obviously, we have Chuck Norris, who’s a legit action hero and legend. We also have Mark Singer, who’s also amazing.

Honestly, it was stressful and tough. But it was also a dream come true. I had an amazing team. They made it seamless. It was a great, comfortable set, and it was also very positive. There were even some days when we wrapped early, so it was awesome.

It was quite easy in the sense that because we had a great team, I didn’t have to do as much. When you’re working as a director, there’s a danger that you try to keep an eye on everybody.

I’m a control freak, so I had to consciously tell myself not to do that. There were times where I wanted to say something, but I didn’t, and I would hide instead. I think that’s empowering to your team. That’s how we were able to finish really well on a good note.

When you go through things with people and get to the end of the journey, you ask yourselves, do we want to work together again, or do you not? I think everyone felt like they want to work together again. At least, that’s what I think, as that’s what they told me to my face! (Ting laughs.)

Q: Speaking about the actors, how did you decide who would star in Agent Recons ensemble cast?

Derek Ting: I was very lucky I got to choose the entire cast. But they obviously also had to choose me back.

Chuck and his wife specifically told me that when they put the script in front of him, he loved the film’s story and the message it was going to tell. After he read the script, he immediately told his wife that he had to do this movie, and he felt strongly about it. Honestly, I am very honored and grateful for that.

Similarly, Mark Singer, who’s an amazing thespian and we know from The Beastmaster, read the script and wanted to sign on right away. We got the script to his agent, and I think that night they were like, “We want to do it. Let’s talk.”

I hadn’t met either before. I had different experiences meeting both of them, but both were amazing. It was a dream come true to meet them.

Chuck brings an energy that I think is true star power. When he walks into the room, the whole room not only lights up, but there’s this gigantic ball of energy that just gets sent off. You’re just like, wow, this guy is so cool and very positive. He makes you feel good about yourself while you’re working. He empowers you.

On a different end of the spectrum is Mark Singer, who’s like a mentor. He has a lot of wisdom and is collaborative.

He has a lot of ideas. He wrote me a handwritten letter in pencil on an 8×10 piece of paper with the blue lines. He told me about movies that I might want to watch that he’s a fan of that he grew up on. He also gave me insight into how he had built his career as an A-lister.

He was on V, which was one of the biggest-budgeted TV shows in the ’80s. It was so expensive to make, especially at that time, and he was leading it. So I was just in awe of both of them.

I had amazing cast directors, Valerie McCaffrey and Mark Tillman, who helped me to fill out the cast. So kudos to them for giving me this great cast, and mentoring and guiding me on how to navigate the casting process. They suggested who was the best choice for each role, and they were right.

Agent Recon

©Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

Q: Once the actors were cast in the movie, how did you work with them to build their characters and the overall storyline?

Derek Ting: Well, with Mark, what is interesting is I wrote him a letter of what I was thinking. I told him, “While this movie is sci-fi, it’s really about the relationship between you and the other character.” But I don’t want to spoil it for your audience, in terms of the person he’s going out on this mission to find and see if she’s still alive.

On V, they explored what it’s like to be invaded by aliens. But ultimately I said, “No, we’re not really exploring that with this movie. We are exploring the father-daughter relationship, what that means to you and the decisions you’re going to make in this film, as a result of that relationship in this film.”

So I wrote him an email about my ideas. So then working with him throughout the production was fun. We became friends, and he’s easy to work with.

Actually, working with Marc, Chuck and the entire rest of the cast was great. Everyone was really nice. It was just a good set.

In terms of working with Chuck, he does one take, and it’s amazing. Then you’re like, should I move on? But I get to work with him. So do I ask and do a couple more takes, even though I don’t really need them? (Ting laughs.)

He’s just so prepared, and he’s solid on the first take. So you’re like, well, that was really good, so we should move on. But maybe I’ll do one more take, just for fun.

Q: One you began shooting Agent Recon, how did you work with the actors specifically on creating their action sequences?

Derek Ting: I love watching action, but I’ve also practiced it throughout my life. I started with Tang Soo Do

My granduncle was a Tai Chi master and I learned a little bit from him. I haven’t mentioned that to people – I totally forgot about that. He made me do Horse Stance for like half-an-hour.

I said, “Teach me some kung fu.” But since he’s a Tai Chi master, he was like, “Stay in this stance for like half-an-hour.” I was like, “Why are you doing this?” I was sitting there with my fists at my sides, almost half squatting for about half-an-hour. That was the end of the lesson.

Since I’ve studied Hong Kong Kafu and timeboxing, I can visualize it. So I write them in my scripts.

But part of my ambition was to show some action and horror elements that are quite gratuitous. Filmmakers put those elements in their projects because they’re what audiences are looking for right now.

But I think the best action elements are those that have motivation. Like, for instance, when the character’s trying to figure out, how am I going to get out of this? The audience is also thinking, oh, how is he going to get out of this? What’s going to happen next within just this one match? So. As a filmmaker, those are the things that I’m thinking about for the for the action, as well.

Since I’m doing a lot of action, that forces me to add a layer of emotion, too. That’s probably why people love Chuck so much – when he’s doing it, he’s doing it with so much emotion.

He’s also doing the action well. He’s a legitimate professional karate champion, so he’s doing the moves himself in the movie.

Anyone can do a move or a kick. But adding a layer of character on top of that can be difficult. Ask any stun person.

My stunt team is amazing. They can do some of this stuff in their sleep. They can easily remember the choreography, even a chain of 30 moves. But then adding the layer of emotion on top of that can be difficult.

It’s the same thing with acting; some actors are like, “Oh, I can’t remember my lines.” Some actors have trouble doing that, so it requires training.

That’s similar to stunt teams remembering the choreography while they’re filming action sequences. You might have a good ability of remembering the moves. But then adding a layer of emotions to all the moves makes it very easy to forget the things that you’re doing. Just like in acting, you’re working opposite someone else when you’re doing the moves, and you’re playing off their energy. So it’s quite interesting.

Q: Agent Recon is now playing On Digital and On Demand, courtesy of Quiver Distribution. Why did you decide to release the film digitally, and how do digital platforms help promote this type of movie?

Derek Ting: There’s no doubt that the big stock market takers, like Apple, Amazon and the On Demand platforms, are pretty much controlling what gets released theatrically.  They’re the new theaters, essentially.

I don’t think theaters are doing enough to entice us to get in, and I think having a theatrical release is quite expensive. So unless you’re a Christopher Nolan or a Ridley Scott, it’s very hard for anyone, even at my level, to pursue a theatrical release.

So I think our goal is to let people know this is our film, and they may want to watch it if they like aliens, zombies and action. Our film also has Chuck Norris and Mark Singer, which to me, is an easy sell.

But what I would recommend, though, is that maybe audiences can watch part of Agent Recon first on their phone and see if they really get into it. If they do, then they can watch it with their best friend or family.

Then there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes features and videos that we’re launching on my socials. There’s a lot more to see.

Mrs. Norris actually recommended that I also do a comic book. She’s like, “You know, you have a trilogy. You could do a comic book.” I was like, maybe I could. So I’m thinking about it.

So that’s the exciting thing that we’re trying to build right now. I’m not trying to just build just one movie, but a whole saga filled with cool characters that I’d like to explore. So if you’re reading this interview, that’s what you’re supporting – creating more of this world!

Agent Recon

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Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.  

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