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With ‘Vanquish’, George Gallo finds a unique take in the action genre

April 21, 2021
4 min read time

When a retired police officer kidnaps the daughter of his caretaker, who used to be a drug courier, he forces her to spend one long night taking out a series of gangsters and collecting cash.

Vanquish is an action film from start to finish; it stars Morgan Freeman as the former cop and Ruby Rose as the caretaker who must go on this quest to get her daughter back. Written by Samuel Bartlett and George Gallo, Vanquish finds a fresh way to tell an action story.

In Hollywood, it’s often said that it’s not what you know, but who you know. In this case, a series of who-you-knows brought Bartlett and Gallo (who both very much know what they are doing) together.

Bartlett wrote the original story and was able to pass it onto a producer he knew, who then got it to Gallo.

“Richie, the producer, asked if I wanted to take a look,” Gallo said.

“He knew I liked compressed-time movies; movies that take place in small amounts of time.”

Vanquish takes place over a single night.

“It was a terrific script and it was somewhat different,” he said, adding that he presented it to Freeman — a "buddy," according to Gallo — who agreed to join the project.

One of the changes Gallo made to the script was making Victoria (the caretaker) less of a victim, which was how she was presented in the original version.

“We had no clue who would play Victoria but after meeting Ruby Rose, we liked her.”

Regarding Rose, Gallo says, “She had something interesting, like a duality; tough yet vulnerable. I didn’t want the classic one-note action hero who never quite seems human.”

He found that Rose excelled in this role.

Writer and director

Gallo has written screenplays taken over by other writers, directed his own work and has helmed films written by other writers. He’s been on all sides of the business and understands the anxiety a writer might go through when handing over their script to a director and then having no idea what the outcome is going to be.

According to Gallo, the experience served him well when skilled directors took his script and turned it into something fantastic.

"Because I come from a writing background, I know my strengths and weaknesses. I have a lot of respect for writers, being one myself, so I don’t take a lot of pride in rewriting," he said.

"I always ask the writer if it’s okay and if I can reinvent a couple of pieces of it. There are scripts I’ve taken and did almost no rewrites with."

Gallo can also see that there are many things in a script that you really don’t need in a movie. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, he admits.

"When the script turns to images and once actors begin to add inflections into their characters, you might need more or less explanation based on what’s going on. A lot of times with a movie, especially a thriller or mystery, you realize the audience is getting it," he said.

"In order to make the script intriguing, the writer needed some of the material within the screenplay, however the audience can get ahead when transferring from script to screen.”

It’s a great lesson in how a story doesn’t end on the page but rather continues evolving when it’s transitioning from shooting and editing.

“It’s a weird situation when a script becomes a movie because it becomes another thing,” Gallo said.

"You have to always ask yourself as a filmmaker, 'what attracted me to this material in the first place? What made me interested in it?'"

Gallo prefers directing his own material because he knows the intentions of the characters in the script. He admits that when he’s doing a movie he didn’t write, he has to constantly read and reread it to get to know the material, understand the characters’ behaviors and figure out how they’re speaking to each other.

“If I invent it, it comes instantly,” he said.

To make Vanquish unique, Gallo would constantly ask himself how he could make it different and more visually interesting than what’s been seen. He credits the actors’ performances in their way of making the characters real as well as creating a movie where the audience is always surprised by what they’re looking at.

“I think we accomplished that,” Gallo said.

Building a prolific career

For any career, 40 years is a long time. Gallo was taken aback when he realized he had been writing screenplays and making movies for so long.

“I’ve probably written 100 screenplays,” he said, reminiscing about his career.

“I still love the notion of telling a story and hooking an audience. As a writer, you’re the first audience member who’s going to see this thing. When you go on a journey of writing a screenplay and taking people on a trip, you’re the first one going. I try to approach it so you’ll be mesmerized, beaten up emotionally, have fun and infuse the joy of bringing it into the work.”

The level of his success doesn’t make him immune to pitching and hustling.

“I still have to do it, but thank God I have a body of work,” he said.

As for budding screenwriters, Gallo believes they should stick to their guns, up to a point. There are certain ideas worth fighting for, so long as you have a good reason as to why you’re doing something. Oftentimes, he believes that if a writer can explain their reasoning, they can get their way.

He finds that scripts are a strange writing medium because ultimately, what screenwriters create is going to become something else.

“All these words on a paper, someone’s going to invest millions of dollars into these 110 pages, actors are going to become those characters, and a director has to stay true to it and chase what the movie is. It’s a magnificent process,” Gallo said.

Vanquish is in select theaters on April 16, Digital and On Demand on April 20, and on Blu-ray and DVD on April 27.

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