INTERVIEW: Writer/Director Ric Roman Waugh Talks SNITCH, TIPPING POINT, And Tony Scott
Special thanks to Summit Entertainment and Participant Media, a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity do interview writer/director RIC ROMAN WAUGH who had his start in this business as a stunt man.
Waugh has a new movie opening this weekend, called SNITCH starring Dwayne Johnson. It’s along the lines of Bullitt in terms of pacing and feel and look but it’s also about family and integrity and how far is too far and the drug war.
But I also got to ask Waugh about his other projects including Relativity Media’s new sci-fi, TIPPING POINT, which he will helm. And having been mentored by the late great Tony Scott, Waugh also shared his memories of Scott.
Check out the entire interview below..
RS: You were a stunt performer, a stunt coordinator, and now you’re a film director, how was that transition?
RRW: “It’s a hard transition because I think one of the things that we face in the film business, it’s also in any culture, they only see you as what they want to see you as. So as a stunt performer and then moving on to coordinating and then directing action, and even in the commercial world, even though I might have wanted to direct a little more dramatic stuff, they’re pushing me on the action stuff but that was ok with commercial. But when it became about pushing me as more as a true filmmaker, I read scripts and they were exactly what I thought they would be, straight action-fare. So I kind of.. I said maybe the easiest way for me to do this is write my own script. I was that fucking naïve (laugh). I was fortunate enough to have a prolific writer that I worked with for a number years, mentored me and I said ‘Look, I’ll do all the work, if you will just indulge me of reading whatever draft I give you and just tell me if it sucks and if it does, tell me why it sucks and give me that working writer’s knowledge base.’ Luckily they did that for me. I wrote a script called Hammer Down at DreamWorks. And went on a writing care for a number of years. What I did was I took my tool kit, having a tremendous amount of production experience from stunt to stunt coordinating and directing commercial, and it gave me a narrative sense as well, I got to understand and really write a lot of different stories, understanding character arcs and tones, story structure and scene structures and put that whole war chest together.
The one thing that scared me the most, the different stereotypes, so an independent producer at the time, a good friend and said, ‘I’ll write this thing on spec if you’ll produce it and let’s go make our own mark’ And became an undercover parole agent in the state of California and basically went into the prison system to really learn it and understand it and that’s how FELON was made. So it became about putting that whole war chest together of the production side, the narrative side, and then really let that influence what is my true voice, what is my passion about.”
RS: Now that you’re a feature director, do you wear multiple hats on the set and are still involved with choreographing the stunts or do you let other guy to do the work for you?
RRW: “I’m smart enough to know that you need a team. I don’t do everything myself, I’d be a fool to do that. The hats that I wear on a movie now is a writer and a director, I do operate camera a lot and get involved in the cinematography a lot with my camera man, but no, I have an incredible team around me, I want them to bring their own ideas to raise the bar. I do have a first hand knowledge and the fundamentals of shooting action. But when you’re trying to take it to another level, you need a team to support you on that.”
RS: I’m a big fan of stuntwork, one example was the car flipping scene in Casino Royale. What were some of the favorite stunts you did in the past?
RRW: “I think one of my favorite sequences because we did it all live and for real and there was no green screen. In LETHAL WEAPON 2, with Mel Gibson, there was a big sequence where there was a car that was hung up on a tow truck; Mel jumps up on the back of the car and has to make it all the way up inside the tow truck to battle one of the bad guys. We did that all free hand.
It was actually a guy that’s been a brother to me for a number of years, that was driving the truck, wheeling down the road at 70-80 miles an hour, I’m hanging’ off, and dragged underneath it and everything else and did all free hand, it was kind of the last old school way of doing things versus breaking it all down with CGI and cables and everything else.
Another movie that was a racer’s dream come true, I race motorcycles and cars, so when DAYS OF THUNDER came about, turn laps on Daytona Speedway and all these different race tracks, and just go 200 mph everyday for months, that was a dream come true, that was so much fun.”
RS: I know stunts have Taurus Awards, but do you think it’s unfair that stunts are not recognized or stunts don’t have category at the Academy Awards?
RRW: “I honestly think it’s a travesty what is happening. I don’t know why the Academy is taking this type of stand. I’m not necessarily talking about stunt performer, but if you’re going to give the key make up artist an award, and you’re going to give the visual effects guy award, and you’re going to give the production guy award, the stunt coordinator should 100% have an award category. You just brought up Casino Royale. The action that these stunt coordinators and these stunt performers are doing nowadays is the bread and butter of making these movies. And they’re raising the bar to a different level. And they’re so creative, so creative in what they’re doing. To not have a category is a complete travesty. I completely don’t comprehend it.”
RS: I want to ask you about the documentary, RETURN OF THE SHADOW WARRIOR following delta force operator and special operations soldiers and issue of PTSD, is this documentary politically motivated?
RRW: “What’s interesting about that one. And then I’ll tell you about the project that I’ll direct next. I was really fascinated with the special operations world a number of years after doing FELON. It was something I was looking at, getting into. I was fortunate enough to meet a delta force operator who was blown up in 2005, could not be an operator anymore, and going back to the society, and how hard it was, how difficult it was, when you’ve gone through thousands of mission, and tremendous amount of violence and war and you come back to society and how hard that is. So we became very close friend, in fact, his name is Tyler Grey, and Tyler was my technical advisor on SNITCH, I’ve been bringing him on movies with me. Bringing in his knowledge and experience. Letting him use it in a profound way. I’ve bee wanting to do a documentary because he’s been talking about all these things and how he’s mentored other soldiers. He would mentor other soldiers who are getting out or who got hurt or injured or had PTSD. So I said, ‘why don’t we do a documentary’ and he went for it and he’s been brave and we thought we’d get a lot of backlash from the military but they’ve actually supported it, so that’s what RETURN OF THE SHADOW WARRIOR is all about. It’s non-political, I don’t care what side of fence you’re on, this is about our men and women coming back home, how hard it is to reintegrate back into society and how far society is and what their point of view is in life, so there’s a project that I’ve been wanting to do called CURRENCY, which is in the counterfeiting world. But we really didn’t have a bigger hope for it. So Tyler and I were talking one night, on SNITCH, and he was saying, ‘One of the things that Special Operation guys always feared was if a few of them went bad, you’d be screwed’ You’re talking about the guys with the highest level skill set on the planet. So we said, what if you did a movie where the war is over, Afghanistan is done and all these men and women have come home, some of them are going to try to reintegrate the right way and then some are not and who can take them down but their own brethren. It’s about guys that used to be tier one on the law enforcement side going down against the guys that are doing criminal acts that they think is morally righteous. But it’s not as far as our point of view. What you get is the stakes of that, the cost of that, the cost of hunting your own brethren, the moral ambiguity of that, the moral jeopardy of it.”
RS: Your other project, DEEPWATER HORIZON, is that based on or inspired by the BP oil rig disaster?
RRW: “Yes. That’s another movie that I’m also doing for Participant Media that’s been pretty much my new home. SNITCH is with participant media; CURRENCY is with participant media and also DEEPWATER HORIZON. It’s the story that has nothing to do with the aftermath, it is all about the 115 people that were stuck on that rig, 40 miles out at sea where that thing blew up, the 11 people that died in the initial explosion, the rest of what happened is now you’re stuck 40 miles at sea, and this wasn’t the navy seal, this wasn’t the coast guard, this wasn’t anybody coming to the rescue, there happened to be an oil tanker that was parked next to the deep water horizon, and instead of pulling back and letting these people burn to death, these blue collar individuals got out on the rescue crafts by themselves and started pulling people from the fire water. I say what a heroic story, nobody’s talking about that. Where we’re all worried about class warfare right now and yet when the shit hit the fan, and lives were at stake, they all rallied together and save themselves.”
RS: In your profile, it states that Tony Scott was one of your mentors. This past year, we tragically lost the great filmmaker Tony Scott. Can you say a few words remembering Scott and his influence on you career?
RRW: “I was very fortunate to work on a number of movies with Tony. He mentored a lot of people, you’ve heard a lot of filmmakers of my generation that have spoke highly of him because of his work ethic, it was because of his personality. He was never one of these raging assholes on set, he was a leader, he took care of his crew, he took care of his people. And when at the final hour to get that shot, he started crackin’ that whip, people rallied behind him, because they knew that his heart was in the right place, and that he was just going to work and we went to work with him and I try to carry that. My voice is a lot different than Tony’s but it doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. What’s important is that we understand our own voices as filmmakers and we stay true to that. But what I take to heart is the values and lessons I learned from Tony as a filmmaker, the process, and to be passionate, and to treat people fairly.
And the other person I need to talk about that was even more influential than even Tony obviously because he was my own father, Freddie Waugh, my dad who passed away, of cancer. One of the most legendary stuntmen in the business, he had that same work ethic, treated people fairly on the set, and he was on of the good guys. I know that he’d reach down from heaven and kick me in the ass if I ever treated people badly. That legacy I want to carry on, the way my dad and also Tony led his life.”
RS: Let’s talk about SNITCH. Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal. Impressive little cast there, how did you round them up?
RRW: “When Dwayne Johnson came onto the movie. What happened was Dwayne and I was talking about something else together. And when I finished the script for SNITCH and we started talking about the usual suspects and I kind of looked at the studio and said, ‘I got an idea, what if we spanned the whole genre instead. What if we put the most forgettable guy in this movie and showed that when a bullet hit you in the head, you die. It’s not going to matter how big you are, it’s going to be about how much heart you have. We just thought, what a great departure for Dwayne to not be an action hero in this one but be an every day man of action. The way Mel Gibson was in RANSOM after being in LETHAL WEAPON franchise, the way Harrison Ford was in The Fugitive after being Han Solo and Indiana Jones. This would be Dwayne’s chance to flex those muscles. Susan Sarandon is a big fan of his.
But also this story, the fact that a father went into the drug world to save his son, how everybody was coercing everybody, the art of coercion all the way down to how the father had to coerce the people in his path, one of them was the guy that I wanted to work with, Jon Bernthal who plays a guy named Daniel. And what’ fun about SNITCH is that it shows not only the family aspect but also the way that the drug world works. These things break social class, it breaks demographics, it breaks ethnicity, and it’s across the board. So you have a suburban father like Dwayne Johnson from a blue collar guy owning a big construction family, has a great wife, comes from a divorced family, has an estranged relationship with his son and then in a weird sense tries to save his son’s life, and that’s how he reconnects with his son.
And on the opposite side of the track, you have a guy named Daniel, who Jon Bernthal plays, who’s a two striker, he’s a guy who’s been in prison a number of times, has been a drug trafficker before. And he’s finally hung it up and he wants to do it right and he’s busting his ass in this construction yard to better his family. Saving up money to get this own kid out of the inner city and not fall to the pressure the he fell to and give him a better way of life. What it does is these two men go on this journey, these two fathers, just shows you doesn’t matter what side of the track you come from, doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, we’re all in this together. This demon of this drug world, they don’t care who you are, they’ll come after anybody.”
RS: I chatted with Dwayne before and that man looked like a semi truck. In SNITHC, did he do all his stunts?
RRW: “He didn’t have a chance, I duct taped him in the truck (laugh). No, he really trusted me, he knows I come from that world and know how to get that stuff done. And literally the entire movie, Dwayne did all of his own stunts; he was never doubled until the one shot, the final crash, which was only one person in the world that could do that, when you see the movie, crashing the semi truck, we did all the action live, it was all real. And every shot you see with Dwayne, in that semi truck, he was behind the wheel, he’s in that thing.”
RS: Justin Haythe is credited as co-screenwriter of SNITCH. How was that collaboration or did you just rewrite his script?
RRW: “I never worked with Justin, he’s a fantastic writer, and he put me in a very good spot in this movie. I had read his script and also looked back of the frontline special of the original story. And then put my own muscles into it as far as my research and knowledge of the drug world from FELON and the criminal world, the gang world. And then infused that in the story.”
RS: You are also set to direct Relativity Media’s new sci-fi project, TIPPING POINT. Set in the near future where in order to control the population, you have to have license to have children or it’s death penalty. And the protagonist is a population control officer named Solomon Cage.
So how do you describe this movie? Is it like Logan’s Run meets Blade Runner?
RRW: “I think it’s the opposite of CHILDREN OF MEN. I was a big fan of CHILDREN OF MEN, it was the story of women becoming infertile and we think life is going to end up ending because there’s no new life being born until one child is born and what are the complications of that and the very far-fetched thing of ever happening.
So when I read TIPPING POINT script, it was a complete opposite, it’s exactly where we’re heading in the world, that the world’s population has gone to 12 billion people, and that our own sustainability is at stake, continents are shutting down because they can’t sustain life anymore. And there are extreme measures, life for life, that we we have to not go beyond the 12 billion people of our world’s population. So there’s a law that the only way you can have a child is by permit and from there you have a kid without a permit, it’s life for life, and it’s the parents’ life for the kid. I thought what an interesting story that it would go to those extreme measures, the way Logan’s Run did, when your life cycle is over, when they tell you legally you’re supposed to die, versus dying of natural causes. The way Blade Runner was, who’s to say that a robot doesn’t have emotions. So what I love about this story is that it blends into that type of sci-fi that has a moral conscience, a moral compass that has been altered and bent and warped and making our own interpretation of that, what do we think of that? And you might hate those measures or you might say, ‘I get it, I understand it, because this is what’s happening to our world.’
About these cops that have to hunt down these illegals, kids that are born without a permit, hunt down these parents, until our hero comes around the corner and realizes that the one person that he’s about to hunt down and about to kill is the woman that he lost 8 years ago who had his kid. It’s his own son he’s staring at. In that desperate moment of does he stick to his job and kill the mother and take the kid or does he break the law and become a fugitive himself? In this case, he does the latter; we’re on that journey with him. Understanding his own moral conscience and understanding what it’s like to be a father.”
RS: So when dealing with big budget sci-fi projects like this, what would be the most difficult stage? Scripting or getting the right VFX guys to realize what you have envisioned?
RRW: “I’m really interested in creating the movie that is going to really redefine the genre in ways that we haven’t seen before. We’re in the depths of that right now. Stirring away from the cold wet look of Blade Runner, or the hyper real version of technology, it’s finding a way to redefine it that could be real interesting. Once I have that, then we can start the process of rewriting the script into the mode, and also doing the boards and building off from there. But I think also any movie regardless, you’d have to start with the thematic nucleus of what you’re after, that’s what we’re going to crack first, what that world’s going to be. We know what the heart of the story is. But now how we’re going to make the world interesting and unique, and that could be very realistic, 100-200 years from now, so that’s our first step.”
RS: Who do you have in mind to play Solomon Cage?
RRW: “I’m going to become a movie star, you didn’t know?! (laugh) I don’t know yet, I haven’t thought about that. When I’m in this type of a process, in the creation, writing part, I don’t see stars, I only see the character, and once the script is finished, then I open it up to figure out who’s the right actor.”
RS: What is your advice to other stunt performers out there who are trying to make their own transition to film directing as well?
RRW: “To never give up because it’s a very, very tough road. And to take baby steps. Don’t try to get from A to Z, don’t think you can suddenly get it done. Learn and develop your craft, develop your voice, and just keep pushing forward.”
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