Like The Matador, writer/director Richard Shepard's new movie, The Hunting Party, is a black dramedy--as near as I can describe--about two old friends/war journalists (played by Richard Gere and Terrence Howard) who go on the hunt for a war criminal in Bosnia, and just might have a shot at finding him.
The Hunting Party is loosely based Scott Anderson's Esquire story, "What I Did on My Summer Vacation," about his real-life experiences in Bosnia. "I read it and I was like, there's something weirdly comic about this in a weird, dark way, and it somehow appealed to my sensibilities," says Shepard. "So I somehow convinced [the studio] to fly me to Bosnia. And I basically went on the journey that the journalists did. Seeing the place and actually feeling the creepy danger of it, and knowing you were sitting in a place where this known war criminal frequents--it totally jumpstarted me creatively," he says.
Shepard's wife accompanied him on the scouting trip. "It was funny because it was so filthy and dirty," he recounts. "They had an outhouse and my wife had to pee. She said it was so literally disgusting that she peed in the woods where there's half a million unexploded landmines. And she's like, 'I'd rather risk landmine danger than have to pee in that bathroom.'"
When Shepard flew back to shoot, the experience was just as rustic. "It's also one of those movies where literally I said to Richard Gere and Terrence Howard, 'We're shooting a movie in Bosnia. You're not going to have any trailer. There will be times when literally you'll have to sit in a car to keep warm. And if that's going to be a problem, don't do the movie.' That's the philosophy I took," he says.
"I think on those sorts of movies, actors kind of dig it," he explains. "There's some movies where they're getting a big fat paycheck and if they don't have a nice trailer, they're f--king pissed off. It's about money. They're spending $80 million dollars, they should spend another $15,000 on a nice trailer."
Thanks to his earlier success, Shepard was in a position to entice A-List stars to join him on location. "If I hadn't done The Matador, I don't think this could have ever happened," he says. Before The Matador, Shepard was making low budget, straight-to-video thrillers. But when his agent sent the script to Pierce Brosnan's production company as a writing sample, things changed. "Pierce was like, 'I read it. And I watched one of your little movies, and I can see that you can direct. And I'm going to produce this and I'm going to star in it, and we're going to make it. And it's not going to be a half a million dollar movie.'"
"It's one of those great days in your life. You literally don't believe it's true," he continues. "But [Pierce's] faith and his confidence in himself and what the project was--it was great because that movie opened the doors for me to say, 'Listen, this worked because we mixed genres, that people didn't quite know what it was.' There is something to it."
That's the thing that stands out about Shepard: his movies are not only terrific, but their tone is entirely unique. When I tell him this--that I'm at a loss to find a category his movies really fit into--he is delighted. "For me as a filmmaker, I think it's great. I feel like that's a way for me to be distinctive," he says. But he admits there is a downside to his uniqueness, too. "Part of the pleasure is that they're not exactly what you expect them to be, but that also makes them hard to market," Shepard explains. "If the movie was just a straight-edge thriller or straight-edge comedy, then there's a simple way to market it. Where do you put it in the video store?--that's always the question. What category does it fall into?"
The Hunting Party expands in theaters nationwide on Friday, Sept. 14.
Click on reelz.com's The Hunting Party page for clips from the fillm and showtimes!