Choosing to focus on films that have a more raw and realistic edge, the American director Ric Roman Waugh hopes Snitch will push audiences to revaluate their own lives.
Snitch: extraordinary action in an ordinary life
It is early morning in Austin, Texas, and the American director Ric Roman Waugh is taking a short break from editing his latest movie, Snitch, starring Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
The action/thriller, inspired by true events, dives deep into the world of drug trading and centres on a desperate father (Johnson, who also produces) risking his life going undercover for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) when his teenage son is wrongfully jailed after being set up in a drug deal.
Under US drug laws, the son receives a mandatory jail sentence of 30 years, which can be reduced only by helping the authorities to make another arrest, which is where Johnson’s character steps in.
Snitch is a co-production from Participant Media, Image Nation International – which is owned by The National’s parent company, Abu Dhabi Media – Exclusive Media Group and Spitfire Pictures, and is due for a 2013 release. It also stars Benjamin Bratt and Susan Sarandon, with a script rewritten by Waugh from the original by Justin Haythe.
“This is not a typical popcorn movie,” says Waugh. “These laws are meant to catch drug traffickers but there are cases where some are wrongfully accused and that’s the sad part. The father asked ‘what if I do it?’ to help catch the real criminals. It’s amazing because most parents do everything to protect their children, so it raises the question of ‘how far would you go?’?”
Waugh, the son of the legendary Hollywood stuntman Fred Waugh, began his career following in his father’s footsteps, lending his action skills to movies such as Gone in 60 Seconds, The Last of the Mohicans and Lethal Weapon 2.
Having grown up on film sets where he feels very much at home and therefore familiar with all the dynamics, his progression behind the camera was one that was “natural”. Other movies under his direction include 2008’s Felon, starring Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff.
Choosing to focus on films that have a more raw and realistic edge, Waugh hopes Snitch will push audiences to revaluate their own lives.
“Here, we have Dwayne who is larger than life – the most formidable and major action star,” says Waugh. “And this movie is a great departure for him because, much like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, he is ‘an ordinary man’ in action.”
It was important, he says, to have an actor who could believably play a father who had the “heart of a lion” instead of focusing on his physical strength.
Bratt plays the Mexican drug cartel leader whose power takes a hit during the undercover operation, while Sarandon signed on to portray an ambitious US attorney. In real life, the attorney was male but Sarandon was chosen because Waugh wanted an individual who could represent the “power of the position”.
Michael Garin, Image Nation’s chief executive, says Snitch has a “could happen to anyone” feel to it, which is what made it an attractive project.
“The scenarios presented to the main characters are all very plausible, and the film takes you on a journey where we see just how far a father will go to save his son,” he says. “It is both entertaining and eye-opening. It feels like the real world. These people could be your friends or neighbours, or even your family.”
The film does not rely on CGI graphics, focusing instead on the dynamics between characters – a process that was shaped during a 35-day shoot in Louisiana that wrapped up in late January.
“I think audiences will be able to put themselves in the shoes of each one of these people and ask themselves what they would do if this were to happen to them,” said Garin.
The relationship between Image Nation and Participant has also seen the development of films such as Contagion (Matt Damon) and Fair Game (Sean Penn, Naomi Watts).
The man who flew motorbikes
A film about the late American danger junkie and entertainer Evel Knievel could be making its way to the big screen with the American director Ric Roman Waugh behind the camera.
Knievel was a cape-wearing 1970s motorcycle daredevil born Robert Craig Knievel. He died in 2007 at the age of 69.
“It’ll be based on a very interesting biography,” says Waugh, who began his own career in film as a stuntman. “It’s really about wanting to achieve the American dream and how it cost him his morality.”
Waugh is also working on developing a film with the US production company Participant Media, which has been a partner with Image Nation International on various projects including The Help and Contagion, about how to help members of the military integrate back into society after war, not just individuals from the US but from around the world.
“Most movies are about the battle but no one is really looking at what happens next,” he says.
His documentary The Return of the Shadow Warriors is due to be released worldwide this summer. It follows a Delta Force operator, wounded in action in Iraq in 2005, as he tries to fit back into civilian life. Waugh is also considering filming future projects in the Middle East.
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