The Ninja : Immovable Heart stars action movie legend Danny Glover, but he leaves the dangerous stuff to Australian martial-artist Rob Baard, who handles it quite nicely as you can see.
Baard also directed the film, which is coming to DVD and digital Tuesday, March 3 from Uncork’d Entertainment. We recently chatted with Baard to find out more about the film and the filmmakers’ plans to make it a major franchise including comics, clothing and TV.
Thank you for agreeing to the interview, Mr. Baard.
To start off, fill me in on your martial arts and film-making background.
Bujinkan licensed Shidoshi ho (Ninjutsu arts) 4th degree black belt. (current)
12 yrs old Kyokushin Karate
12 yrs old Taekwondo
Seido Karate (high school)
Kukshin Ninjutsu 13 yrs old – 25 years old
I also consider the healing arts and mind studies a part of martial arts of which I’ve done Reiki, energy work, complete mind therapy, NLP and much more.
Over all 22+ years of martial arts training.
Wrote my first play in grade 4, performed it for the school.
Did this throughout high school
Produced/ wrote/ directed stunt shows
Worked at Village Cinemas for over 10 years, was a manager, did a lot of financial auditing, rostering, staff training, succession planning and won film marketing awards.
Also developed screen writing and visual FX courses for the Gordon Tafe University
Helped coach actors on performance
I advise a lot on the business end of films in various stages including marketing and the business of being a brand as an actor.
While most of my time is spent teaching and helping others with complete mind therapy I was able to bring together all of these passions into what is THE NINJA UNIVERSE.
What was the genesis of the Ninja: Immovable Heart idea?
My company is the Ninja Universe, that is made up of films, TV shows, teaching, training, comics, books and other franchise elements which come under the banner of inspiring and empowering others.
The Ninja Immovable Heart is the third story told following two short films, each focus on a core element of training. “Fudoshin” (The Immovable Heart) is a core element of training in Ninjutsu. I speak more on this a bit further on.
Much of the story for this film, came from real life going through an extreme situation where myself and others helped a person out of an extremely bad situation. It exposed me to the impact that trauma can have on a person physically, mentally and spiritually. The story is based on very real elements and comes from many experiences I’ve had in helping others with my other line of work.
How do the short films connect to the new film and how did they come about?
I began the franchise in 2005, as a multi platform series, which started as short films and books and grew into feature films.
The Ninja Immovable Heart came around in Dec 2012 and was financed 3 months later in March 2013, we had already begun auditions in Feb 2013. We shot the film over seven weeks and finalized it around Christmas 2013. In 2014 finalized our distribution, so all in all, from finance to completion it took only a year.
Sometimes people confuse the company with the films. I’ve been developing the company for quite some time.
Tell me about the process of shooting this film. Where was it made and over what time period? Tell me about your journey through conceiving, funding and making it a reality.
I think I answered most of that in the above, oops! We shot in Geelong, Victoria Australia.
I could talk for hours on my journey, I’ll summarize it for now as it took a lot of sacrifice, hard work, tough times and belief in the series concept when no one else would, or could understand what I was doing with the concept. It’s great now to finally see people understanding what it is about. All those ups and downs I’ll save for the biography, there is certainly some intense moments that each would lead to in depth discussions. The reality is this, I had to be a hero and help people in real life through some very serious stuff before the “ninja” concept and what he is about could be realized. It’s all based on having to be responsible in very serious situations. I like that, because it means we are about something real and I certainly know about the topics that we preach about in the film.
Which brings me to trolls and the funny point that I’ve heard some really random inaccurate things about me, one that I never trained in a dojo! I’ve still got strong connections and mates that I trained with for many, many years, split knuckles, blood noses, broken collar bones, running through mud, kicking up hill for hours even salt and peppered water stories, what we remember most is the friendships, discipline and respect you gain for those you train with, they becomes lifelong friendships.
The guys and I laugh at some of the things we read from people making up their own realities about me, but like they say, come train with me and see if I know my stuff. I’ve studied hard for a long time and taught many things for many years, I’m more than happy to share and speak about what each piece of various elements within the art are delivering. I guess where I’m going with this is that the journey has never been easy, each step gets easier but it brings new challenges, right now the films and franchise is having great success and with that has come a new challenges.
What was it like producing, directing and starring?
It’s all I know. I’ve done this since I was writing and producing plays in grade 4. I’ve done it for stunt shows, TV shows, short films and feature films. Feature films are harder because the shoot is often quite longer and involves a lot of people. I’d start around 4 A.M. and train, then do the business end of producing until around 6 A.M., then head to the set manage the crew and schedule while in makeup, then get into filming all day.
Head home, hit the emails and follow up things, troubleshoot and so on. While I produced, directed and starred in I was also the financial controller, the fight choreographer, the post production supervisor and so on. I’d spent a lot of years training others up and succession planning their skill set so that I could give some decent opportunities to others on this film, which we did.
This type of thing isn’t normally done at our budget level, or even in our country, it was all fresh and new, having a good crew who are able to work in a team and stay on the same page is essential and sometimes you find a few egos and those in it with their own addenda.
It’s busy, it’s full on, it’s challenging but that’s half the fun. If you don’t love it and aren’t in it for the right reasons you won’t make it very far.
What was the mix of practical to computer generated effects and stunts? Which do you prefer?
I prefer whatever tells the story best. Everything is story driven, we’re taking the audience on a journey that they must invest in and care about, I prefer whatever assists them in being absorbed in the world. As a producer budget comes in to play, and this is the film business, or entertainment business while it’s film and entertainment we can’t forget the fact that “business” is also an equal factor. You balance and you adjust accordingly.
How do you strive for authentic martial arts in the film? Your press release mentions “authentic” Ninjutsu. How is this different from the sometimes fake or exaggerated martial arts we sometimes see in action movies?
I am a licensed shidoshi ho through the Bujinkan, a 4th degree black belt of which the grandmaster of Ninjutsu is Soke Masaaki Hatsumi. This is my predominate study in martial arts while I do have an earlier background in other arts. Ninjutsu, taijutsu, Budo, whatever the name that suits is my life path. It transcends martial arts training and is a way of, as the film teaches, “stripping away all that is limiting”, awakening yourself. My current teacher is Shihan Richard Van Donk, a 15th Dan and personal student of the grandmaster.
Most of my time involves teaching, training and working on other healing arts and counseling such as complete mind therapy. I consider that to be where my real focus is, the films give a great character that can help inspire and empower people worldwide, and that is what my company is about. It extends from film, TV, books into helping others. They all work together. It is the coming together of a life time of training and a passion for the film industry.
In one paragraph, explain what the film is about.
The film is about the “Fudoshin” (The Immovable Heart) a core aspect of Ninjutsu training. It is the method of stripping away all that is limiting, while maintaining a good heart. “The polishing” of the heart. This is most evident in the hero characters journey, as he literally must piece together elements of his background and let go what no longer serves him in order to help others and become a hero. Each character has their own mini journey their either maintain their morals or they don’t.
Tell me about the main character, Reeve, that runs through the series. Who is he, what motivates him and what sets him apart from other action heroes?
What sets Reeve apart from the other heroes is his humanity and the training he has. He has no super powers, but he has been mentored, trained and developed his senses much further than what is considered the “normal” level. What that represents is an awakening in itself for humanity, it is a re awakening of the real abilities we have. What that means to you will change in itself as you grow and change with the film. We see Reeve at various stages in his development, everyone will be able to identify with him at some stage, we’ve all been through tough times and learned the hard way. What is exciting about the hero is that he represents abilities we can develop much further. And that’s the idea, to get people rising and awakening their hero with in.
By the end of the Immovable Heart the hero is in a real place for the next film to really explode with his abilities, which at times are very esoteric and energetic in nature.
Reeve bears the burden of responsibility, unlike other heroes that do things we don’t often get to see the fallout, with Reeve we do, we see the real weight and consequences of what he does. That changes a person. Much of Reeve is me at different stages, as elements of the story are my real journey through growth and change on many levels.
One day I’ll do a directors commentary and explain a bit more of what’s going on in the Immovable Heart, the film creates great shifts in people’s perception and reality. It’s been great to see the film and series help so many, but also reminds me of the real weight of what it means to help someone.
How did you get Danny Glover to come on board? What was working with him like? What role does he play in the film?
We had a connection to Danny and through discussions of what we were intending to do that grew into him being in the film. Danny plays director Reynolds, an ex-government boss who worked for a very special group of people. His character awakens trapped in a room where he must piece together the events that unfold before time runs out and people die. This involves him reconciling his past as well. It is a character we intend to continue on into the next films. It was surreal working with and directing him, he’s a legend and I grew up watching Lethal Weapon.
I read that you have ambitious plans to create a franchise built around this concept. Tell me about that and what it will entail?
The company is The Ninja Universe, with is a multiplatform franchise following the style of Marvel films, with films, comics, TV shows and spin off films in the series.
We’ve already got two short films in the series, a clothing line, a sterling silver necklace, the feature film is done, there’s books, the first spin off film is happening right now, we shoot in a week. Then we move into the next feature film. The Ninja Universe will grow into what you would expect of franchise, it’s already happening and it’s getting bigger as we speak. Much work, much sacrifice but the cause is to inspire and empower. We’re doing it!
Fill me in on any other info about the film you’d like people to know.
Its important people know the film is part of the franchise “The Ninja Universe” it is an independent film, not a studio film. It is not a martial arts film, it’s a super hero origin story. Itt’s a self-help film in a way for those who can see it. There’s much bigger things coming very soon for the series, it’s nice to see it’s early days for now even 2 years has passed since the Immovable Heart was made and much has happened in that space.