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Montreal-raised filmmaker says working with Rob Lowe and Jean-Claude Van Damme a career highlight

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Director Ernie Barbarsh on the set of the Canadian-made film Cube Zero | Photo: Sophie Giraud

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Having worked with Hollywood names such as Rob Lowe, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ernie Barbarash has in the past two decades become one of the most prolific and eclectic men working in the film industry, with more than forty feature credits, as director, producer or writer.

He was co-producer of American Psycho (Christian Bale in the lead), director of Assassination Games (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Hard Wiring (Cuba Gooding Jr., and Val Kilmer), among scores of others.

Originally from Odessa, Ukraine, he lived in Montreal between ages nine and 18, and eventually moved to the U.S., where he built a career producing and directing a variety of films — action, horror, romance, and even Christmas movies. Many of them are available to watch on Netflix and other streaming platforms. In the past year, three films he directed were released: Abduction, Christmas in Rome, and Holiday in the Wild (Rob Lowe, Kirstin Davis).

TheJ.ca recently spoke to Ernie about his career and his early start in theatre.

What role does Judaism play in your creative process?

It has played a bigger role in theatre. The last play I directed was called American Maccabee which was about Jewish identity in this family whose son goes on a year-long trip to Israel, and becomes kind of a right-wing radical. The family is made up of left-wing liberals. They are dealing with this, asking themselves, “what is the Jewish identity?” It’s actually a play by a friend of mine who just passed away lately, Jim Henderson.

I directed plays with strong Jewish themes. With film, I think I can’t help being Jewish. I hate to analyze my own work, because I find that very pretentious. But, for instance, in Cube Zero, the guy pulled out to be questioned is asked, “does God exist?” I find the questioning of those things is very Jewish. I think Jewish faith and traditions are rooted in questioning things.

How did you move from theatre to film?

I never went to film school. My film school was by fluke being an in-house producer for Cinepix which was a Canadian company that opened an office in New York, and eventually became Lionsgate when it went public. I worked for them for eight years as an in-house producer. They were closing down their New York office, and they said, “you can either move to Los Angeles and we can guarantee you a certain number of years of work, or you can go freelance, and produce three movies in a row for us.” Since I really wanted to be more of a freelancer and start directing myself, I took the freelance option. 

I started filmmaking out of New York, but when I first got to direct, it was in Canada. The minute they find out that you have a Canadian passport, they want to go there for the tax credit… Even though the first movie I ever directed was shot in Toronto, by then I was already living in the U.S.

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The Cube series is a well-known Canadian film series. How did you get involved?

There have been three Cubes movies. I wasn’t involved in the original Cube. I watched it and I loved the movie… One of the movies Cinepix gave me to produce was the sequel to Cube. That’s how I got involved in Cube. I co-wrote and produced Cube 2: Hypercube… Then, while we were sitting in the sound mix for Hypercube, I remember turning to Mike Pasternak and saying, “Mike, I have an idea for a prequel to this that goes back more to the original Cube. Would you let me pitch it to you guys? If you like it, will you let me write and direct it?” He said, “yeah, sure.” In three weeks I put this pitch together and they liked it. That’s how Cube Zero came out — the first movie I ever directed.

How do you move from sci-fi/horror to Jean-Claude Van Damme?

You get a call from a producer that you just did a horror movie with and he says, “hey, do you want to meet Jean-Claude Van Damme? He is going to be in a movie that we are going to produce, but we want you to be director…”  I ended up making three movies with Van Damme over about five years (Assassination Games, 6 Bullets, and Pound of Flesh). We got along well. It’s Van Damme, and I find that to do low-budget genre movies with people who have done much bigger roles, the key is not having an ego, and making them part of the process. You can argue it out forever, but that’s not filmmaking — that’s arguing.

Ernie Barbarash on the set of Assasinaton Games with Jean-Claude Van Damme (left) | Photo: Cos Aelenei

What was it like working with Rob Lowe?

I worked with Rob Lowe in Toronto on my second movie, the sequel to Stir of Echoes. Over 10 years later, we did Holiday in the Wild. Rob is a very talented actor. He’s very smart. When we did Stir of Echoes together, I met him for the first time in Los Angeles and he had all these notes on the script and then he said, “I think I’ve crippled the project with all these notes.” I said, “No!” So, I went back and actually rewrote the script, and we went to his house and read through it. He becomes part of the process a lot… Like a lot of people who care about their work, he’s a demanding guy. I’ve been lucky to work with some really good actors. It’s never a conscious thing but I work really hard. I come from the theatre. Film is much easier, because in film you can say, “Let’s try a take this way, and let’s try a take that way.”

Ernie Barbarash posing with an elephant on the set of the Netflix film Holiday in the Wild | Photo: Ilze Kitshoff

You work extremely hard on your films, yet many consider these action films as B movies. Does that discourage you from making them?

I have no problem with it being called a B movie. Pretty early on, I realized that if I’m going to make a living as a filmmaker, I would need to say, “it doesn’t matter to me what the final market for this movie is, I’m going to make the best movie possible. I’m also going to make something that is important to me.” There’s no point in saying, “Oh my God, we are working so hard and it’s only going to have a 3,000-screen release…” I just try to make the best movie possible. Right now with online streaming, the lines are getting blurred between theatrical and non-theatrical. COVID exposed this completely.

Igal Hecht is a documentary filmmaker and journalist who works all over the world. 

For more info visit www.chutzpaproductions.com

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We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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