Latino-Review.com had an opportunity to interview an up-and-coming director Ric Roman Waugh. Waugh was a stuntman turned director, who got Hollywood’s attention with 2008’s prison film “Felon.” His name was attached to several projects, but “Snitch” will mark his return in the director’s chair since 2008.
“Snitch” is a film based on a true story about a father (played by Dwayne Johnson) who needed to go undercover in the drug world for the DEA in order to free his imprisoned son. The film has an all-star cast including Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nadine Velazquez and Benjamin Bratt.
Latino-Review managed to interview Waugh twice via telephone for an extensive look into his movie “Snitch.” We discussed a very in-depth look into the story and background of “Snitch.” And we even discussed about his stuntman past and his future in directing.
“Snitch” will be in theaters tomorrow.
Latino-Review: With a few “Snitch” trailers out there, could you explain the idea behind the film?
Waugh: “Snitch” to me is a story really about fathers, mothers and sons. It’s about family. I love about the old adage on how far we would go for our kids.
“Snitch” is about a father of an eighteen-year-old son who was wrongfully accused for dealing ecstasy. The son was caught in these laws called mandatory minimums or federal laws in which you will be given a mandatory sentence of ten years in prison or sometimes a lot more than that. The only way you can reduce your sentence is if you snitch on other people and this is how law enforcement can get to the high level drug traffickers. The problem is that a friend snitched on this guy, the son named Jason. And the kid didn’t know anybody else to snitch on. So the father went to the U.S. Attorney and said what if I went into the drug world and get you a bigger bust.
So it really went to that adage on how far you would really go for our kid? I’m a father of twin sons, in which they are five years old. Even though the drug world is a vehicle for the movie, it was really about parents. With the economy and everything else, it’s about balancing that personal attention towards our kids.
When we started to cast for the movie, we had our usual suspects that you would put into a movie like this. Before Dwayne Johnson and I wanted to work together. So we asked, “Why don’t we put the most presentable guy in this movie?” It doesn’t matter on how big you are—it’s all about heart. When you go into the drug world, these people are real. The shot gun shoots you in the head and you will die. These are real world rules. This became a great departure from some of the stuff Dwayne has done before, but it shows off its strengths since he is grounded, honest real person. That’s why he was such a megastar in the wrestling world and he crossover into being a huge movie star. He’s the real deal and that’s what this movie is about.
Latino-Review: According to the trailer, the movie was based off of true events. What true events were you basing this off of?
Waugh: That’s the crazy thing about this story is that it was absolutely real about an actual eighteen-year-old kid was wrongfully accused for drugs. He was sentenced in these mandatory minimum sentences. He had no other people to snitch on. So the father went to the U.S. Attorney and the attorney signed off to let the father go into the drug world on his own without any protection to set up a bigger drug deal. The exact set up was what we used for the movie.
Then we took creative licenses and put our hero further down the rabbit hole. It’s really balancing the story into a very authentic world. How the proverbial food chain works in the drug world? And how everything’s all about the almighty dollar? And how African-American communities work with the Hispanic communities with the drug trade? With all this, it lends itself all down into the cartel world.
Latino-Review: So was it based off a news story you saw before?
Waugh: The originally story was on a Frontline PBS special. It was all about snitches. It was about different versions of it. We saw this story about a father going into the drug world to get his son’s sentence reduce. To me, I was looking forward to this first-person point-of-view when you go into these movies and watching these characters to relate to them. So you’re asking yourself, “Would I go this far? What would I risk?”
We have two fathers in the movie. We have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the suburban father, a blue collar guy, who built this big construction company. He is living the good life. But he was divorced and he got this son with an estranged relationship who is trying to get closer but unable to connect.
And then on the other side of the tracks, there’s a character named Daniel, who Jon Bernthal plays. Jon Bernthal’s Daniel is an ex-con. He is a two-striker and a drug dealer before. He is trying to do it the right way and he is working in Dwayne Johnson’s construction yard. He is trying to collect enough money together to basically get his son out of the drug world. It’s the same inner life city life that he had, in which these gangs prey upon. So he ends up going on this journey to save his son’s life.
What I love about the movie and this story is that it completely just shatters any type of stereotypes before. It shows that us about drugs, peer pressure and what we are willing to do for our own kids. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you come from or reach from—we’re all on the same hunt together.
Latino-Review: Did you do any research for this film?
Waugh: I’m a little bit of a research fanatic. My first movie, “Felon,” which I was proud to say it was one of the most authentic prison movie ever done. I became an undercover parole agent in the state of California. It was a way for me to go into the prison system and meet the gangs and everybody else. So I don’t see things as a filmmaker, but more like a rookie cop. It gave me the real insight on what happens in prison and the penal system. And that journey ended up being two years undercover. When another door would open, I would learn more. So that type of authenticity is what my bread and butter and my mantra in filmmaking.
When I’ve heard this story with “Snitch,” I knew the gang world pretty well—but I really started researching the judicial system. I looked into on how these mandatory minimum sentences work. It how people like Barry Pepper, who plays this DEA agent, has a job to do. It’s a very violent world. He’s trying to survive the drug world and keep his own humanity. And it’s hard.
I found from “Felon” and “Snitch,” that everybody thinks that these law enforcement people are these billy cuffs who smack people over the head. And that they’re just malicious cops who just want to do harm. But, they’re not. They’re really good people suddenly became part of a very violent world. It changes you as you’re trying to hold on to your own morality. It’s truly about coercion. It’s about the U.S. Attorney trying to coerce people to get a bigger fish for them. And it filters all the way down to the victims.
In this case, Dwayne Johnson’s character John Matthews is forced to coerce people to help his son. The coercion just becomes a ripple effect.
Latino-Review: Did you know Dwayne Johnson before? How did he sign on to this project?
Waugh: He had seen my movie “Felon.” He was a big fan of it. There was another movie that we talked about doing together, which it was in the development process and we became pretty good brothers. We talked about things in life and movies we wanted to do. In the meantime, I signed on to do this picture “Snitch.”
So when we came to casting it, then we had this lightning rod idea to put Dwayne in this movie. So I approached Dwayne and showed how it was a slight departure from the fanfare films. Dwayne is not the action hero in this—he’s an everyday father who is going to have a heart of a lion to get through all this. It’s because when bullet hits you—you die.
Latino-Review: How did you attract the other actors into this movie? You have an all-star cast of Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Nadine Velazquez and Benjamin Bratt.
Waugh: It was great. Once Dwayne signed on, he and I said that we’re going to raise the bar by putting an elegant cast together. To be honest with you, with him on board—it wasn’t that hard. Susan Sarandon is a big fan of his. We sat down and talked about doing something interesting with her character. Michael K. Williams came on from “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire,” who gives such credibility towards the drug world with his character Malik. Jon Bernthal, Benjamin Bratt and Barry Pepper all boarded the project.
It became a chance to work with Dwayne, but it also a movie that hit home to everybody. It was all about the personal attachment of how far we would go as parents.
Latino-Review: As a former stuntman, was it advantageous to direct this movie with that type of background?
Waugh: It’s funny. You think I would just pick movies that would be straight action-fare since I came from the stunt world. But, that’s not what attracts me. The projects that attract me are human stories. Stories that have a little bit of the first person point of view where you can sit in theater and you can relate to it somehow. When you leave the theater, you should have that water cooler conservation on what you would’ve done at that instance or thinking about the morality of things.
The good news is that because of my stunt background—I can take the audience along for a ride, which I learned from my father. He was a very famous stunt man. People would ask us on what it’s like to jump off a burning building. What’s it like to drive a car at 200 miles per hour? So let me show you and put you in that seat to be like a stunt performer.
Or in this case, there is a huge semi chase at the end of the movie “Snitch.” My whole thing is let’s put the audience in that driver seat.
And for Dwayne’s credit, there wasn’t any double for this movie. He did all of his own stunts. He was in the truck traveling at 70 miles per hour. And he trusted me. We have that chemistry knowing that I would never put him in some type of immediate danger to get hurt. The stunt background really helped me understand the direction side of it—to put the audience in the action rather than just watching the action.
Latino-Review: Was the big rig scene at the movie the hardest to shoot?
Waugh: The biggest thing was a big shootout with the cartel in a track yard with an action of the truck as well. And then there was a big semi chase in the end. When you do movies like this—they’re not going to give you a huge budget. You’re going to do this for a price. I would rather make movies that I’m passionate about. I rather have a movie that you must film on a budget rather than all the money in the world that you’re not inspired to. You do have to roll up your sleeves and figure out.
The biggest thing about the semi chase was time on our hands to shoot an entire sequence with all the coverage and big stunts going on. And the challenge was to have our big movie star in every piece of it. It all has to land together. We really had to nail everything down. There wasn’t anything left on the table that I was upset about.
Latino-Review: One last question, could you tell us about signing on to a movie called “Tipping Point?”
Waugh: I wanted to do a sci-fi and I was always fascinated with the movie “Children of Men.” The story that is relatable should be looking at where the world is heading right now. We’re over-populated. We’re growing by the year. And our sustainability is at stake.
“Tipping Point” is about how harsh the rules should be to make sure we don’t become extinct as a planet.
Latino-Review: Thank you for the movie and wish you good luck on your movie.
Waugh: Thank you.