In Bullet in the Face, the city of Brüteville is immediately introduced as a "melting pot of crime."
Violence rules the streets and is perpetrated by stylish thugs. A facial transplant can give a notorious criminal a new identity, but it can’t change his German accent or, possibly, his personality. Bullet in the Face presents a world where the action is constant, the violence is over-the-top and the themes are rather bleak. It’s also a half-hour comedy.
If you missed Bullet in the Face when it originally ran on IFC, you’ll be able to watch all six episodes as of January 21, when it’s released on DVD through Shout! Factory. The series, which stars Max Williams as Gunter Vogler, the criminal who must face some big life changes, is worth your time. It’s fast-paced, weird and a little disturbing. It’s also written by Alan Spencer (right), whose name you might recognize from Sledge Hammer!, the cop show spoof that earned cult sensation status in the 1980s.
“Some people call Bullet in the Face, ‘Sledge Hammer! 2.0,” says Spencer over a recent phone call. In Sledge Hammer!, the protagonist was a police officer with a violent streak that lead to lots more violence. There are definite similarities between the two shows but, as Spencer notes, times have changed. “I remember that in Sledge Hammer!, I had two hitmen try to shoot at Sledge Hammer. He ducked and they shot each other. It was clear that they were killed. They were lifeless,” Spencer says. “It caused a bit of an uproar because sponsors didn’t want to deal with a half-hour where people get killed.”
Of course, that was decades ago on ABC. Things have changed, Spencer notes. “With cable, people don’t blink,” he says.
Bullet in the Face started out life as something different. IFC had been working with a Canadian production on a police spoof, but the scripts weren’t turning out quite right. That’s when they brought in Spencer. He had the experience for what was a very tricky sort of show to produce, a half-hour of action and comedy. “It was kind of like a Hail Mary pass,” says Spencer.
At first, Spencer was called in to supervise writers. “It was kind of funny because they were talking about different writers that I could supervise. I wasn’t paying total attention to it,” he says. “I think I had just put in an overhead fan and I was looking at that.” Spencer suggested that he write the show.
The original idea was a send-up of ’80s police shows, “like a Miami Vice with a German cop,” Spencer explains. “I wasn’t interested in doing anything set in the ’80s because I lived through it,” he says. So Spencer essentially started from scratch. All that was left of the original, he notes, were the German elements.
“For lack of a better word, I indulged myself,” says Spencer. “I was kind of pushing the envelope for me personally because I had a whole lot of liberties that I didn’t have back when I was doing Sledge Hammer. That was a much more conservative time.”
Spencer didn’t expect anything to happen with the script he wrote. Soon, though, executives were sending him friend requests on Facebook. Then he got the call. IFC wasn’t going to make a pilot. Instead, they were ordering six episodes. They also wanted him to write all the episodes. Spencer spent a few months writing and re-writing.
For casting, the team had to find a certain amount of Canadian actors to qualify for the tax break that comes with shooting in Canada. “If you want to get great Canadian actors, you comb Southern California because they’re all living here,” says Spencer. That’s how they found Williams, a hockey player-turned-actor, along with co-stars Jessica Steen and Kate Kelton. They brought in a few non-Canadian big names to round out the cast, namely Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts. The series was shot in Montreal. “I could see my own breath in the hotel room,” says Spencer. “That’s never happened before.”
Spencer describes the process as closer to making a movie. They shot the episodes concurrently and out of sequence. That allowed the team to budget the appropriate amount of time to nail those action sequences. It also has its drawbacks, though. Spencer mentions one instance when they were filing a shoot out as night fell. “We had a really great DP who was opening apertures and bouncing light around,” says Spencer. “You can’t really tell that we were shooting at night and it actually started to snow. He was able to disguise it all.”
Once the show hit the air, Spencer watched as people mentioned it on social media sites. It was an immediate kind of feedback that he didn’t have back in the Sledge Hammer! days. He says that he enjoyed seeing that response, mentioning that even the tweets marked #WTF didn’t bother him. “It’s a fascinating perspective for me to look at doing a show then and now,” he says.
As for the future of Bullet in the Face, it’s a “never say never” situation, according to Spencer. “We’ll see how it does on DVD,” he says. Spencer’s deal was for six episodes. He wrote the series so that it would have an end, but also so that he could pick up on it again should there be a need for it. “If this is all to be made, that’s fine by me,” he says. Right now, he seems most excited about the DVD release, something that he didn’t expect to happen.
Images: Shout! Factory