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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Shadow Company' Creators Nick Bicanic & Jason Bourque

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Shadow Company' Pitch: A candid look at the world of private militaries around the world, as corporations increasingly hire modern-day mercenaries to fight wars.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Writer / director Nick Bicanic: Modern day mercenaries - Soldiers for Hire - the rules of war have changed.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
NB: Yes this is my first trip to SXSW. I have been to very few festivals in the past - the most recent being Sundance 2006 which, while being fun, was bitterly cold. Whose bright idea was it to place a social event in a location where your eyeballs freeze as you walk outside?
Writer / director Jason Bourque: First trip, although I've been at other festivals which kinda sucked due to size and really crappy experimental films. I once sat through ten minutes of white noise, followed by color bars.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
NB: Jedi Knight.
JB: Marine biologist cowboy.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
NB: I moved to Vancouver and co-produced a TV series that my girlfriend had written and created. It was first time I had ever set foot on a film set. I then wrote and directed a short film that won a couple of obscure awards. After that we went straight into the documentary. The most useful thing about my "backyard and dad's handycam" was teaching myself how to edit do basic compositing with Premiere and After Effects a number of years ago. Even though I was doing this for holiday videos the lessons learned were invaluable later on.
JB: After film school I directed a country music video which had two people making out in a chicken coop. Have you ever smelled a chicken coop? It was totally unrealistic / painfully bad, yet I somehow got roped into twenty more country music videos, with budgets and concepts that won multiple awards. My career was off and running.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
NB: No.
JB: Nope.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
NB: Rowlf - the always laid-back piano-playing philosopher dog.
JB: Kermit - the green little peacemaker dude who holds everything together.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
NB: Only when we put in something that we thought was a really funny inside joke and we wondered about how the audience/critics would respond to it.
JB: We had to think of our audience, in regards to info overload and entertainment. I think we found the right mix.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
NB: I had been following many stories from Iraq in the news – but was far more intrigued by the day to day absurdities of life on the ground in a war zone – that would come to me by email from a close friend working for a private military company in Baghdad. He was an old friend from my University days and I started corresponding more regularly with him. Whenever I told people some of the stories he had written about I realized that few people know anything about the security industry, whereas many are fascinated by it. So we decided to try and tell the story of the modern day mercenary – the private security contractor or private military contractor. I partnered up with a co-director/co-writer (an experienced filmmaker by the name of Jason Bourque) and we developed the story as we went along. We decided who to interview and then roughly decided what we thought the story should be and then set out to film it. Transferring 50 hours of interviews into an 86 minute story is a very “interesting” experience and not one I would recommend for everyone...

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
NB: From an information point of view: I learned that different people working in this industry perceive themselves in different ways...some consider themselves just doing a job – some think they are actually doing the job of the army. So for example – a number of Brits and South Africans that I spoke to have mortgage payments, car payments, debt and other assorted issues that virtually everyone in the modern world has – they have a sellable skill and they seek to exploit the job market.
Some of the Americans (not all of them – but some) consider themselves to be part of the US Army. Also I was surprised to learn in my research that local laws do not apply to armed civilian contractors in Iraq. What this means in principle is that in the event of something bad happening (e.g. an accidental death etc) the person responsible is simply removed from the country. Essentially this means that a wild west scenario has been created in Iraq. There aren’t actually many instances of problematic behaviour but the simple fact there could be and would not face anything more serious than a dismissal for professional misconduct is a scary concept to consider in global conflicts. From a filmmaking point of view: I learned that if you think you have a story and you have the ability to film it (and nowadays with the availability of cheap cameras and digital editing systems this should be available to almost everybody) - you should just do it. Don't worry about the sales or distribution process or attaching a broadcaster. Just do it. If it's any good - it will get seen by the right people eventually.
JB: I learned never to try and shoot, do audio, and ask a subject questions all at the same time. Also, based on some of my shooting, I probably need glasses.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
NB: I generally watch quite a lot of movies, although not that many documentaries. I often find documentaries a little bit on the boring side, so we took deliberate steps to make a documentary that we would enjoy watching. I'm a firm believer that if you want to get an informative point across you have to balance that point with entertainment, otherwise you limit the audience's interest. So there were certain documentaries that we watched and yelled something more along the lines of "No. Definitely NOT something like this." I find originality in writing very inspiring. For a recent example I think Joss Whedon's work on Firefly and Serenity is stellar - although it has nothing directly to do with the movie I have in SXSW.
JB: I've always looked up to auteur directors with strong visions - David Lynch, Hal Hartley to name a couple. At the same time, I remain true to my love of super heroes, comic books, sci-fi / horror. I was hugely inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing, my fave film.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
NB: Tom Arnold.
JB: Vince Vaughn.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
NB: Neil Gaiman's Sandman series.
JB: John Skipp and Craig Spector's book "The Scream." Also the comic book "The Haunted Tank."

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
NB: Our film is a documentary.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
NB: An entrepreneur.
JB: A mercenary.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
NB: Dominika Wolski.
JB: Dominika Wolski, with Marky Post playing her mother.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
NB:No I haven't made it yet. I think if I was on a daily talk show or if Jon Stewart was making sarcastic remarks about my project I would feel I had made it. Jokes aside, the best news is that this "made it" target keeps moving. If it didn't keep moving and if you actually achieved your goals I think you would lose motivation - so I force it to keep moving and I keep upping the stakes.
JB: Not to jinx it, but this year is shaping up nicely. Currently directing a tight little sci-fi thriller with Stephen Baldwin.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
NB: No idea. I'm sure they have an some kind of impact on whether or not the audience decides to see or buy the movie - especially if you respect the critic's opinion and style.
JB: They have too much pull. Half the time a really enjoyable movie, like say, Hudson Hawk, Waterworld, Dune (or anything by Renny Harlin) gets unfairly trashed.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
NB: Robinson helicopters.
JB: Corn Pops.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
NB: Modify the sex scene to avoid an R-rating. If the sex scene must be deleted then rethink (possibly reshoot) to cover the problem.
JB: I've learned to not "bite the hand that feeds you" when it comes to producers and contracts. It's too small an industry. I would modify it for theatrical, but release the director's cut on DVD.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
NB: It massively depends on the project. I think a number of roles in the film industry are drastically overrated - I mean really, do most producers credited on the film actually produce ANYTHING ?? In some instances (e.g. Robert Rodriguez to name an obvious example) - the director is more than just a visionary and deserves a lot more credit than usual. Obviously for documentaries the situation is vastly different as the director is often (as in our case) the writer and the producer and could be deeply involved with the editing aswell.
JB: All about the director as the man with the plan, the glue, the captain of the ship.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
NB: The Rules of War have changed. While wars are more and more in the public eye – they are also more and more in private hands. This message about modern warfare does not come across in traditional media. Thousands of private security contractors – soldiers for hire – are working in Iraq and other conflict areas around the world. What do they do? What kind of people are they ? What motivates them to do it? If you want to find out about modern day mercenaries and the world they live in - come see "Shadow Company" - trailer is on


Shadow Company, written and directed by Nick Bicanic & Jason Bourque, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official Shadow Company website.

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originally posted: 02/10/06 07:19:22
last updated: 02/19/06 01:27:35
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