Home Film ‘Bad Boys For Life’ Directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah on the Highest Grossing Film of 2020 and What’s Next – Exclusive Interview

‘Bad Boys For Life’ Directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah on the Highest Grossing Film of 2020 and What’s Next – Exclusive Interview

by Michael Slavin

Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, often known collectively as Adil and Bilall, are a pair of rising stars who have burst onto the scene with Bad Boys for Life – their first Hollywood film and the surprise hit of 2020. Belgium born directors, the two found success with their independent film Black, screening at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015 and catching the eye of Bad Boys producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Parachuting a pair of relatively unknown directors into the third movie of a trilogy which had seen 17 years pass since its second is a move so risky most Hollywood executives would break into a sweat just imagining it. The two not only had to face budgetary issues, adjusting to the Hollywood machine, and finding a way to turn a wintery Atlanta into a summertime Miami, but they also had to follow up Michael Bay. They were tasked with continuing the Bad Boys legacy Bay left behind while still leaving their own fingerprints on the film.

They faced up to all these challenges and overcame them with flying colors. At the time of writing, and for the foreseeable future due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the pair’s Hollywood debut sits as the top-grossing film of 2020 – a spot you would be surprised to see them lose at all due to the ongoing crisis. Even considering the pandemic, the movie has still beaten out a Pixar, DC, and Sonic film to the title, pulling in a whopping $400+ million worldwide.

Regardless of special circumstances, this a huge achievement, and one that has turned heads all around the industry. The two showed a deft directorial touch in the film, taunting an ability to create jaw-dropping action and compelling character stories all within a pre-existing universe with rules to follow and creative freedoms to curb. Unsurprisingly, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and virtually every major studio have come knocking – and we spoke to them about their hopes moving forward.

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In an exclusive interview with the directorial up-and-comers, we were lucky enough to speak to Adil and Bilall about their creative process and the unique issues they faced on the set of Bad Boys. We went on to discuss their ideal Marvel film to helm and their desire to be the ones to finally make a good film about football.

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Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah courtesy of Sony

DF: Thank you guys so much for coming. Obviously, you must get every question in the book about directing as a pair. However, we were wondering what the actual practicalities are in terms of who’s in charge of what? How do you guys decide on any given day, who takes the lead on specific parts of production?

AA: Well, it depends actually on the day itself or the scene. Like the normal day you would say, we would do everything together. We really like the monitor and then we go together to talk to the actors or cameraman. But sometimes it becomes chaotic and that’s where we start to split. Sometimes I would be more with the actors and Bilall would be more with the cameraman, with the visual aspects of it. But it can also switch. Sometimes there’s one actor I click more with and Bilall clicks more with the other actor. In the case of Bad Boys, of all the other movies, sometimes it was like “f*ck”! We had to direct two scenes at the same time with me with one crew, him with the other crew. So it just depends.

DF: Would you say that’s part of your success? The fact that if one of you is clicking with an actor you can switch to the other and dealing with practicalities where you have to do multiple scenes at one time, you have that flexibility.

BF: I definitely think it’s an asset. Because we were two, there is more productivity. You can do more. Also just to know that having somebody you trust and you can always, when you were doubting yourself, have somebody next to you that has this same vision, the same feeling. You can always check and kill your doubts if you have any.

DF: You mentioned that you are usually on the same wavelength, creatively. Did you ever have any big disagreements when it came to like Bad Boys for example?

AA: The only disagreement that happens is when he has an idea and I have another idea and we convince each other too much. We would say, “Yeah no, you’re right! No, you’re right”! That’s the only moment where it doesn’t match. But overall it’s the same vision.

DF: Bad Boys For Life was your first major film and obviously there are slightly different circumstances which have led to this, but it’s currently the highest-grossing film of 2020. How do you guys feel about that?

AA: Well, it was blood, sweat, and tears to make that movie. It’s a big movie with huge stars and even the producer is a huge star. We were just, you know, praying to God that the movie would be a success. Then when the whole virus thing happened, it happened after the release of the movie. The movie was more than what it was expected to do. We were happy and then we saw that if the virus outbreak would have happened before, it would have been game over. We were like, “Oh sh*t”!

DF: The timing was really good.

BF: I was even complaining in the beginning. Because normally, we would go out to China too, and the virus was there and I was like, “Oh sh*t, the movie isn’t coming out and there’s this thing going on”. But afterward, I realized, thank God that we didn’t go.

AA: If somebody would have told us last year, “you know your movie is going to be the highest-grossing movie of the year for a long time”. We would have been like get the f*ck out of here man! It’s strange. It’s really strange. We know that if other movies would have come out, they would be number one. But we are blessed.

DF: As a result of that, there’s been a really early VOD release of Bad Boys For Life. How do you guys feel about that? Is that how you see things going forward?

AA: In normal circumstances, we would have hoped that it takes a little longer than that because we love cinemas. So for us seeing the movie on a big screen, especially this one because it was also our first IMAX movie. It was like, “whoa sh*t”! You want to have a little bit of a gap between a theatrical release and video on demand. We would prefer that in normal circumstances, there’s always a reason why people go to theaters because it’s another experience than just having it in home entertainment. But in this case, it was the right thing to do. Do it just as quick as possible for in home entertainment, which from what I believe or hear from Sony, they’re really happy because it’s very successful now!

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Martin Lawrence & Will Smith courtesy of Sony

Adil and Bilall took over the keys to the Bad Boys franchise from Michael Bay, the now iconic action director. Nearly 25 years on, Michael Bay has gone on to direct some of the world’s biggest and most successful films, but Bad Boys was his debut feature-length film. The Bad Boys franchise has been about taking a chance on directorial talent from day one, so it is fitting that the third went to unknown quantities such as Adil and Bilall. 

Bay seemingly gave the film his stamp of approval however, with a cameo in the film Bay shot himself. The pair may have had creative control over the film, but as they said in the DVD extras for Bad Boys for Life “you don’t direct Michael Bay, he directs himself”. 

DF: So obviously the Bad Boys franchise is huge, but it’s also one that’s beloved and the creative vision of one man – until you guys came along. It was a Michael Bay series. How do you guys handle that pressure going into production?

BF: Yeah, well I couldn’t sleep. When I was young I grew up with the Bad Boys. We were gigantic fans of the movies, Will, and Martin. We didn’t want to disappoint the people that love the franchise and Michael Bay. At the same time, we had to find a way to keep our stamp on it. Finding that balance between giving respect and homage to the Bad Boys movies while keeping it fresh and give our twist to it. That was a long journey to find out where the balance was.

DF: So did you guys speak to Michael Bay much before the film?

AA: No. The first time we spoke to him was the day that we shot his cameo in the movie. That was the very first day and we spoke to him after that in post-production because he was editing 6 Underground. We were editing Bad Boys, we were doing some re-shoots in Miami where he lives. So we talked a lot and it was great to have a lot of his stories of the first two movies. Every time we explained our experience he said, “you remind me of me when I did my first movie”!

DF: Has he seen the movie, have you got a reaction from him?

BF: Yeah, he saw the movie and texted Jerry Bruckheimer saying that he really loved it. That’s a great blessing.

AA: Because before we were shooting the movie, he said, “don’t f*ck up my baby”.

DF: You mentioned Jerry Bruckheimer and you’ve said in the past that he’s a really big inspiration to you guys with the work he’s done. Later in his career, he’s moved very much into TV. Have you guys thought about potentially moving into TV like that or are you just very much focused on film at the moment?

AA: For us, we love movies. This will always be our first love. There’s something different when you make something finite, you know? You just want it to be two hours and it’s on the big screen, this means a lot to us. At the same time, television has now evolved. Jerry Bruckheimer is also one of the reasons why television started to change in quality. People were more eager to watch TV and the actors from high quality started to work in television and also successful directors, movie directors. If you see a TV show like When They See Us or Chernobyl, limited series which are like movies but longer, or Euphoria, well then you see a quality of television that appeals to us. It has a really distinct style and maybe that kind of television, we would love to do. But it will still be our ideas.

DF: Perfect. You guys have previously mentioned in an interview that when you were directing a big film, it led to very similar issues as to working on a small film. At the end of the day, it all comes down to budget. Whether you’re working with 1 million or 70 million, what was a huge unexpected or previously unencountered issue you faced when filming Bad Boys For Life?

AA: Okay yeah, go for it Bil.

BF: There’s a lot of things…

AA: But there’s one big thing, one dramatic thing!

BF: Which?

AA: The location!

BF: Okay yeah! For this movie, the biggest challenge was making a set that looked like Miami… in the day… during the wintertime. Making it look like it’s really the total opposite. The wintertime doesn’t have Palm trees, water, or sunshine!

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Courtesy of Sony

DF: How did you guys approach that?

BF: We had to work with visual effects on the one hand, on the other we had to try to find ways to keep the actors warm, the extras warm. Because sometimes we did big action scenes in the night while it was like f*cking freezing cold and they had to play as if they were sweating in Miami, in the hottest summertime. So we had to try to find ways with visual effects and the right approach with the camera, limiting some takes not to keep everybody outside the whole time. Having heaters on the set, making fake palm trees. We had a lot of fake palm trees we put in the streets…

AA: Shooting at nights with a lot of neon!

BF: Yeah shooting at night with a lot of neons. If you watch the movie you don’t see that it was shot in the lab I think.

AA: But a lot of the budget went to that sh*t!

DF: So obviously the stars, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, huge names. You also mixed in a lot of new names with these iconic action stars. What are some other big names that you would like to work with in the future?

AA: Well…

BF: Denzel (Washington)!

AA: Denzel, that would be great. You know, Halle Berry, DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Daniel Day Lewis, but he doesn’t make movies anymore, Tom Hanks.

DF: You could get him out of retirement for Bad Boys 4 I’m sure.

AA: (Laughs) Yeah for Bad Boys 4 that would be great! You also have icons like Bruce Willis. There’s a lot of people that we would love to work with. There’s a long list, so we’ll see.

DF: You guys have said that given the opportunity, you would be interested in directing Bad Boys 4. Has there been any more movement there, or are you just waiting to see if Michael Bay wants to come back on?

AA: That’s a good question. You have Chris Bremner the screenwriter, who did a wonderful job for Bad Boys 3. He is now hired to write the full screenplay. He’s working on it as we speak. People seem to want to continue with us. At the same time, Michael is going to work with Sony. I don’t know if he wants to play a big part in making the movie, but we are standing by and really eager to come back for a fourth movie. So far they seem interested in us, which is good.

BF: If Michael is making it, I’m going to him with “don’t f*ck up our baby” you know?

DF: Do you guys have a story planned out? It’s being written, but in your head do you have a story as to where the characters go next?

AA: There are some elements to it. It’s still going to be very personal, very closer to the things that we set up in the story that we would continue in terms of the villain and all of that. There’s really a connection with the third movie. Besides that, we would love to explore more of the ammo team. People really enjoyed them and it will be cool to do a little more with them as well. But these are like the phase ideas. We still have to wait for the screenplay.

DF: This was your first big Hollywood press tour and now you’ve got a bit of distance and can look back on it. What was your biggest surprise and takeaway from that?

BF: I didn’t have to stress too much. I had to enjoy the moment more. I’m missing so much of the old times. I’m like sh*t why didn’t I just enjoy it!

AA: We were so scared. Are we going to say the wrong stuff? Is it going to be a total catastrophe? We were surprised that it went smoothly. But of course, you have Jerry, Will, and Martin who are experts. So being the smooth operators was the terrain for us.

DF: Was it a lot easier than being able to have these experiences, had you done it a hundred times before?

AA: Yeah and also the pressure was a little bit less on us. The people wanted to see these three legends. So we were just tagging along, which was cool.

DF: We were wondering, you guys have spoken about working with Sony and that’s who you did Bad Boys For Life with. Would you be interested in working with a streaming service in the future? With the lockdown, they have become a lot more prominent.

AA: For sure. We’ve been talking with Netflix, obviously, everybody talks now with Netflix and there’s a great opportunity to do a lot of different stuff. For us, it’s mostly important for television shows. But if they have interesting ideas for movies, that would be great too. At the same time, you have Amazon and Disney Plus. It might be cool to explore what the possibilities are working with Marvel for Disney Plus. I think there is a big opportunity now to go creative in many different ways. Especially now, you see how important online platforms are and they need content. We’re there for that.

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Courtesy of Sony

When picking directors, Marvel have been known to go for up-and-comers. They are attracted to directors with vision, and though action chops help, they seem to prioritize directors who make sure that character comes before everything else. The Russo Brothers were picked for their work on paintball episodes of Community, blending beautifully shot action set pieces with fantastic character beats. James Gunn was picked for his independent superhero deconstruction Super, Chloe Zhao for The Rider, Taika Watiti for Hunt for the Wilderpeople. If Adil and Bilall go on to be welcomed into the Marvel universe, you can bet that we’ll all be pointing to their work on Bad Boys for Life.

With the two having previously mentioned they were in conversation with the creators of the world’s biggest movie franchise, we sought to find out just how real these discussions were, and what their dream Marvel project would be. 

DF: You mentioned Marvel there and have actually said before that you’ve had a conversation with them. Has anything progressed since then?

AA: It’s still obviously in the talking phase. I think also with the situation around the world, you know everything is up in the air. But I think that they enjoyed the movie. We love comic books as well. If we find something cool that corresponds to our personality, it would be great to do something in that universe. We have to find something.

DF: Do you have a dream project, a dream character from Marvel that you guys have always wanted to do?

AA: There’s so much. You know, we love Deadpool.

BF: We love Deadpool!

AA: Definitely. I mean there is more of an edge. If there was a Marvel character in the Bad Boys world…

BF: It would be Deadpool.

AA: Then Blade is cool too!

DF: So is this your open call for Blade and Deadpool movies in the future?

AA: Well, if you do something like that it’s a high responsibility as well. If they say, yeah you’ll do Deadpool. It’s not as if we’re going to just say yeah – we’ll say “Oh sh*t”! But we love these characters. They’re also rated R characters.

DF: Not obviously a deal-breaker, but would it be semi-important for you to not take away your vision and make it PG? Would that be quite important if you were to work Marvel?

AA: Well, it depends. There are stories that are PG and correspond to the world that you don’t need to do an R rating if it doesn’t fit. Deadpool is good for an R rating because it’s part of that personality. But I don’t think that Spider-Man needs to be rated R, so it depends.

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Adil and Bilall are multi-faceted in their interests, showing a keen interest in football (soccer) and sports in general. The duo was interviewed by Belgium juggernauts Anderlecht a few years ago, where they confirmed they were working on a football film. They went on to say how “they have never really made a good soccer movie in Hollywood history. We’re hoping this is gonna be the movie!” We spoke to them about this potential film and why football is such an interesting topic to cover for them. 

DF: So you guys are known to be R.S.C. Anderlecht fans and Bilall played football at a reasonably high level before (for Diegem, in the third division of Belgian football). You’ve mentioned before that you are interested in creating a film to do with football. What’s happening with that project and where do you see the difficulties in making a movie about football? Because there hasn’t been a good one yet!

BF: Well I used to be a soccer player and I was…

AA: Say football! It’s not the same in England.

BF: Football yeah! Football I was really into. What would be really interesting is to see what’s behind the scenes. There’s so much going on in the football world and to see something, whether it’s a movie or series, that shows that world behind the scenes, behind the football field, how players go through emotional drama, the life behind it. That’s something that would be really interesting to see.

DF: Are you guys speaking to anyone about that idea at the moment or?

AA: We read some scripts for either TV shows or movies. Some interesting stuff. There’s a project that we would like to see more in development and see what it gives when it’s really time to go. They all know we’re interested. If it’s football, we’re up for it. We hope that in the coming years, we’ll be able to either do a really cool TV show or movie, or both. That’s like the next phase, after the action thing. We might do some other stuff that is more in the action world and then we go to the football world.

DF: I’m glad. We could finally have a good football film…

AA: Yeah we have to man!

DF: Did we get it right? You guys are Anderlecht fans right, we don’t want to put it out there if you’re not!

AA: I’m from Antwerp, so I have to be more of an Antwerp fan. But Anderlecht is usually the best or better team in Belgium.

BF: Certainly back in the day, now it’s a different story!

DF: So you’ve taken over Bad Boys, you’ve discussed Marvel. If you had a keys to the kingdom sort of deal, where you could take any other huge action franchise and either reboot it or take over… what would you guys pick?

AA: It would be Star Wars man, number one. In a perfect world, ideally, we would love to have our own Star Wars, like George Lucas. You come up with your own mythology with your own stuff. It’s not based on anything that already exists. But if it’s something existing, Star Wars is like the Greek mythology of today. The biggest kingdom, the biggest universe ever. The possibilities are endless. Of course, there’s a lot of fans that are crazy. I think we are also crazy fans, so we understand them completely. That would be super awesome if we could do something in that world.

DF: Have you maybe tried to speak to Disney Plus about The Mandalorian at all with future seasons planned?

AA: Obviously when you do a movie like Bad Boys, after you’re successful, you go to all the studios. One of the studios was also Lucasfilm and they just asked, “So do you like Star Wars?” We turned into real fanboys about it. The same thing with Marvel, let’s keep the conversation open. Let’s see if there’s something that fits us. It was not necessarily Mandalorian, but it can be anything else. We’ll say, if you have something and we think it’s cool, we’ll go for it.

DF: Perfect, thank you so much guys. Do you have anything else you would like to make our audience aware of? Obviously, you have Bad Boys but is there anything else?

AA: I think we’re good, we have Bad Boys. We’re blocked here writing a lot of stuff, reading a lot of stuff. We just hope that it won’t take too much before we can start going on movie sets again. Movie theaters too!

Bad Boys For Life is now available on home release!

Follow writer Michael Slavin on Twitter: @MichaelSlavin98

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