Director of the forthcoming “The Hunting Party”
I’ve known Richard Shepard for quite a few years. Through Moviehole, we helped him get the word out about most of his earlier films – including “Oxygen” and “Scotland P.A” – and cheered as he nudged Pierce Brosnan into starring in, and producing, his most recent pic, “The Matador”. In this Exclusive Interview, Shepard tells the ‘hole about his latest magnum opus, “The Hunting Party” (formerly known as “Spring Break in Bosnia”) starring Richard Gere.
Mr big-time now?
So my mom says.
Man, you’ve done very well for yourself. Just a few short years ago you were making small for-the-love-of-it movies like Oxygen and Mercy and now you’re working with the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Richard Gere. I’m stoked when a buddy does so well.
Thanks man. No, it is fucking awesome. Suddenly it’s like I’ve been invited into some elite club and I can now get my stuff done. There’s no way that someone would’ve given me like twenty million bucks to go and make a movie set in Bosnia, five years ago. I would’ve been lucky to get fifty thousand bucks. Hollywood would’ve end up making the movie anyway but not the way it’s done now and not with the cast it has. It’s pretty fucking awesome.
So you were able to get The Hunting Party up because of The Matador. Simple as that?
Without a doubt. I had met Terrence Howard at Sundance when he was there with Hustle and Flow and he really loved The Matador, he spoke about it publicly which is cool of him, and Richard Gere was able to see it too… You see, it’s a different thing to have now done a movie which people have heard of and seen and they know it’s good and that the acting in it was good … The actors aren’t getting a lot of money to be in this movie so they really need to know the movie is in capable hands. So, on that level, Matador helped but also the fact that I can now get into a room with people – people that I can now talk on the phone with, or sit down with, that otherwise I would’ve been speaking through their fourth assistant to. As you know yourself, if you can talk directly to the power you have a lot more chance of getting something greenlit rather than meeting with someone lower down.
Paul Rudd was saying the other day that he really likes The Matador. It’s amazing the fans you’ve got out there.
That’s so cool. It’s amazing the people you hear that love it. The movie didn’t exactly set the box office on fire here in America, or anywhere else in the world, but it did well enough on DVD. Theatrically, I think most of the box office came from people in New York and L.A – which is just the people I ultimately want to work with and all that stuff.
I was cheesed with what they did with it here in Australia though. We tried to get right behind it, as you know, and fly the flag for it here but no one was much interested on the distribution side of things. They were happy to release it in one or two theatres, for a week, and then send it straight to DVD. They didn’t give two shits about any publicity we could’ve drummed up for it.
Right. Hmm. Amazing.
And I think it deserved more. I mean, its Pierce’s best movie in years and the one I thought was really going to break him – break him outside of the Bond circles, anyway. People should have been able to see this movie.
You’re right. I thought it would do really well in countries like Australia, England or New Zealand, because of both the language and the history of loving James Bond, but the problem was, nobody could quite figure out how to crack the marketing. It was sort of a black comedy but not so much that it could be treated as a spoof, and it was action but not actiony enough, so it was a tricky sell. It got love – in certain places – but… it’s good that you can get different movies like this off the ground but the problem is getting people to see it in the first place. That’s the fuckin trick of it. It’s so hard to get a movie made – and that’s only the first part of the battle. They don’t teach you any of this shit at film school. At NYU I spent more time learning about lenses and lightning – I’m glad I learnt all that stuff, but – I’ve never picked up a lens in my life. The business – as a writer/director/producer – of getting the money, getting the actors, getting the movie made and then, most importantly, getting it seen is something we’re never taught. It’s an art – but you never quite learn it. You think you’re learning it, but you never quite.
Now ”The Hunting Party” was originally called ”Spring Break in Bosnia”. Is this an old script of yours that you dusted off?
It was something that came along after The Matador. I had a bunch of meetings with people who were like ‘What do you want to do next?’ I wanted to do a third man type movie – in a post-war environment. Someone gave me a copy of this article, which was in Esquire, about three – five in the article, ultimately – journalists that go to Bosnia to hunt for their biggest war criminal and along the way they got mistaken for a C.I.A hit squad. It just had enough dark humour and… it was sort of exciting… I thought it could fit in to what I like to do, which is films that have both humour and thrills, and this one had some action elements… so it was intriguing. It was certainly the heat off the Matador that allowed me to actually set up a movie like this up. Its not an immediate slam dunk… well, I guess it is if you just do it as a straight-ahead action movie but that was never what I wanted to do.
Did you have to get Richard Gere attached to the film before it got the greenlight?
The way we set the film up financially was through foreign presales and also getting an American distributor – which was ultimately the Weinstein Company – and nobody was going to let us make the movie before Richard or Terrence [Howard] had signed on the dotted line. Thing is, these actors wait till the last second to sign because they want to make sure they’re not going to have to turn down a ten million dollar offer. And you can’t get your money until they actually sign. I was lucky though because the actors were into it – they were so into it, in fact, when I said ‘I wanna film this in Bosnia’ they were like ‘Ok, let’s go to Bosnia’. I told them it was on the ‘United States do not travel list’ and they were like ‘Let’s go’.
And let’s talk about the rest of the cast. Did you just go out to other people once Richard was onboard?
You know, a movie takes on a momentum… once it looks like its going to happen you get access to people you never would’ve before. Did you see Squid and the Whale?
You know what, I never did. The review disc was sent to me but it was faulty.
Well, Jesse Eisenberg is in that movie and he plays the third journalist in our movie. And then we have Diane Kruger, James Brolin and Dylan Baker – who has now done three of my movies; he’s a great character actor. It was great. It was great that I could go off to Bosnia and do it the way I wanted to do it – and with the people I wanted to do it with; we had the same VP as The Matador, the same editor as The Matador, same composer as The Matador. It was great.
Did you ever consider casting Pierce Brosnan in this one, too?
Very early on I had mentioned it to him but he had some kind of personal reasons why he didn’t want to leave the country at the time I wanted to make this movie. It just seemed like ‘no’ for a myriad of reasons. But the fact of the matter is, I love the guy and we wanna do a movie together again. Maybe it’s good that this isn’t the one we ended up re-teaming on, especially because it’s the one straight after The Matador, and it would’ve just seemed like we were chasing ghosts or something. And this way it gives me a fresh start on Richard Gere who is, ya know, completely fantastic and such a great guy and its something he hasn’t done in a long time. He’s really edgy [in it]- like Internal Affairs edgy and I love that part about him and it was fun to be able to see him do something different. Now that the movie’s done I can’t think of anyone else other than Richard.
How did the title change come about?
The whole time we were making the movie I kept saying ‘[Spring Break in Bosnia, the title] is going to confuse people more so than have them wanting to go see the movie’. The Hunting Party is something I came up with a long time ago and it seemed much more in keeping with what kind of movie it was and, lets be honest, a film with ‘Bosnia’ in the title? It might as well be ‘Auschwitz the comedy’. People don’t want to know about Bosnia at all. That title seemed to limit the movie more than broaden it. Some people loved the title, some people hated it. At the end of the day, I won. It will be interesting to see how the Weinstein Company will precede to get people to go and see this movie – again, it’s not a comedy, its not a thriller, its not a drama and yet it has all of those elements as well as an adventure story in it. I have high hopes for it – and it’s been testing really well – but you never know.
Have you got anything in the works at the moment?
There are a few things I’m interested in. I’ve also been doing some TV stuff – I did the pilot for Ugly Betty and I’ll probably be doing another pilot at some point. There’s this book called Panic, which the Weinstein’s had bought a year and a half ago for me, and we had one writer whose now replaced another writer and this guys is now cracking it. If the script keeps going along it’d be a nice thing to be doing next – it’s a big international thriller, sort of a Bourne Supremacy type film … with maybe a little more heart to it… or something. I don’t know though. The next few months will be telling as to a) how this movies does b) you’re a writer, you never quite know where your head’s going to be at.
Watch the trailer for THE HUNTING PARTY at Yahoo! Movies.
– CLINT MORRIS