Thursday, July 07, 2011

Interview with Ric Roman Waugh, write of FELON and the new Evel Knievel biopic

Back in March, we received an e-mail from Barry Josephson, AFF board member and producer of such hits as "BONES", ENCHANTED, WILD, WILD WEST, LIKE MIKE and so many more (for the full list, just click on his name.) He wrote that a "brilliant writer/director friend of mine Ric Waugh has moved to your lovely community," and asked if we would make him feel welcome. We invited Ric to our annual spring 'Hair of the Dog Brunch,' where we met him and his beautiful wife Tanya and, as soon as he was comfortable, full and unsuspecting, confirmed him to participate in the coming October Conference. And thank goodness we did it then.

Not two months later he has already signed for no less than three new high profile projects, including a new Evel Knievel biopic and a film with one of our favorite actors ever, Dwayne Johnson. Ric and his wife have become fast friends of the Festival and we are so pleased and fortunate to now have them in Austin year-round.

Please check out his full bio here - he was also one of the youngest stunt coordinators in the world at the age of 18 - and read the below interview he so graciously gave us. And by all means introduce yourself to him when you see him at the Conference this October!

AFF: You have two current projects: SNITCH starring Dwayne Johnson, and BOBBY MARTINEZ. What drew you to these particular projects?

RW: SNITCH is the true story of a father whose 18 year old son was wrongly accused of dealing Ecstasy. The son was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and under these harsh guidelines, the only way to reduce your sentence is to "snitch" on other potential drug traffickers. When the son knew no one else to snitch on, the father went to the US Attorney and asked, "What if I go into the drug world and get you a bigger bust? Will you reduce my son's sentence?" And that is what happened to this father.

For me, it was the first story post FELON (the film I wrote and directed in 2009) that had a similar first-person POV where the audience can assimilate and compare their own lives with the characters in the story. With SNITCH, it tackles the tough question we all face as parents: how far would we go to protect our own kids? We are scheduled to starting filming this January 2012.

AFF: I understand you're also undertaking Evel Knievel's biopic. How will you approach this project?

RW: Yes, I just signed to write and direct EVEL; a biopic on the life of Evel Knievel based on Leigh Montville's book, "The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend." What I love about this project is I get to do an homage to the action world that I come from, but at the same time, it’s about the relevancy of the price of fame and the life that this guy led. His family suffered for it, he suffered for it physically, and yet he became that iconic person we all admired. Evel’s one of the biggest brand names of the last four decades. But what nobody has ever really captured — and maybe it takes an ex-stuntman to understand this — is the sacrifices he made, and the pain. Everybody’s fearless until they get seriously hurt. Trust me, I
(unfortunately) know this firsthand. And there were so many demons behind the man that nobody every discussed. We’re going to tell the real story of who this guy was and understand why the world fell in love with him.

AFF: You have a really impressive resume as a stuntman. Coming from the crew side of the film business, from a very different place from the directors who come from film school and start making independent movies, can you talk a bit about your process? The challenges or advantages you have with your background?

RW: Yes, I was truly blessed to grow up with a father who is a legend in the stunt world. I've been on film sets since I was a baby, and started working as a professional stuntman as a young teenager. I basically got to go to school working with most of the top directors today and study them; Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner, John McTiernan, James Cameron to name a few and especially Tony Scott who I worked with on numerous films. I was able to not only grasp the knowledge of practical film-making from these people I admired, but form my own point of views creatively. From there, I started directing action sequences for various films and television, then went onto direct dozens of commercials.

But what I lacked was having any experience for story structure and script. I had worked with Bruce Evans and Ray Gideon who wrote STAND BY ME and MADE IN HEAVEN (among others) and became friends with them. I asked if they would give me feedback if I wrote a script, and they were generous enough to say yes. After countless drafts of a script, they would give me real "working writers" feedback. The script never sold, but it was an invaluable process. Off that, I wrote a spec that sold to Dreamworks and ended up writing 16 other studios scripts around town before writing and directing FELON. [See above photo from the set!] Working in the development process from idea to actual shooting scripts absolutely helped round out my abilities as a filmmaker. And that's the key I think: to understand and be a part of the FULL process - even if you only write and don't want to pursue directing like I did. And most importantly, to know and be true to your own voice.

AFF: With the success of action adventure films and the progression of technology, do you see the nature of screenwriting changing where multimedia experience is required? What do you think turns on the average American movie-goer today and why? Do you see the direction changing

RW: Obviously technology has constantly evolved since the very beginning. And if we think we're on the cutting edge now, just wait - a decade from now today's technology will be obsolete again. But what hasn't changed and never will is the need for great storytelling.

I think it's a big mistake to "write" for technology. If anything, it's allowing us to paint in a space with zero boundaries. Even the sky isn't the limit anymore. My main rule for writing is be true to the story and genre you are telling. In other words, don't stray from or enhance your story for the sake of technology. Let technology enhance the story you write.

AFF: What's your writing routine?

RW: My writing routine used to be rigid with the hours I'd set aside. But that was when I was single! Now married, raising twin boys and pushing a development slate forward, I write anytime I can. Anywhere. The most important lesson I received was about discipline. Scripts don't write themselves, so I find time and sit in front of that screen regardless of how busy I am.

AFF: Do you have a dream project that got away? One you wish you'd written, or been asked to do? How would you have done it differently?

RW: Yeah, there are a few stories I'm dying to tell, but someone always seems to beat me to the punch. Example: I'd love to do a film about Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. And yes, there's been countless versions. But one day, there will be room for another, and hopefully my version. So if your dream project keeps getting bumped by a crowded space? Be patient, because I know I am.

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