I recently got the chance to talk to director Paris Leonti about his new film, ‘Mercenaries’. Here, Paris talks about how the idea for the film came about in the first place and which films have inspired him as an artist…
Hey Paris. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Mercenaries’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
In short, it is the story of an ex SAS serviceman who has lost his family in a terrorist attack in London and has nothing to live for. He leads a team of mercenaries covertly into Srebrenica to free two US captives and arrest the dictator that is de-stabilizing the Balkan region.
You both wrote, produced and directed the film – how did the idea come about in the first place?
The movie was inspired by the capture of wanted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in the former Yugoslavia and had many friends from that region. By 1995, with the conflict tearing apart the country, I had lost touch with some of them, and I remember it affecting me at the time. Although the movie does not necessarily have too deep a political agenda, the investors I was working with were looking for an action genre piece, so I began writing two different screenplays, one set in the Balkans and loosely based on “what if a missing war criminal happened to re-ignite trouble in the Balkan region” and the other, a political story in Sierra Leone. ‘Mercenaries’ was selected as it was affordable at the budget that was available (£620,000) and we went ahead with that story.
How hard was it to put the film into production? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?
It was very difficult to get ‘Mercenaries’ into production as there was very little money to spend and it was always going to be a very ambitious task to make an action genre movie at that level. I don’t think I would refer to the directing tactics as tricks. It was more “how can I achieve a movie that is realistic enough” with a very short shooting schedule and a lot of action to engage an audience, with virtually no money to spend. My thoughts were where to shoot the movie, to attach good enough actors to the roles, to make all the special effects set pieces work, and to shoot in a way that I could get enough coverage for the story to play out and have an engaging movie at the end of the process. I can say quite honestly that it was not an easy task.
What’s the reception been like to the film so far?
There have been mixed reviews which are to be expected. Most viewers (fans) of the action genre will be expecting Hollywood standards, ie: big stunts, explosions, gun fights etc. And although ‘Mercenaries’ has all of the above, it is mainly focusing on the mission at hand and the characters that exist in this slice of life story. This is mostly because of time and budget constraints. Having said that, the movie has sold worldwide and picked up a handful of nominations at European Festivals, where most visitors to those events are not looking necessarily for overblown American popcorn movies. In short, it is selling well.
The film stars Robert Fucilla, Billy Zane, Kirsty Mitchell, Rob James-Collier, Danny Sapani, Antony Byrne and Geoff Bell – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
It was interesting working with the cast of ‘Mercenaries’. There were different levels of experience at play, but overall everyone involved gave their best efforts in a difficult environment, and with time against us every day. I think that there are some very good quality British actors involved in the movie who will have great futures ahead of them. Billy Zane was a pleasure and brought a level of professionalism to the set every time he was performing, and that helped raise the spirits of both cast and crew, when we were working in difficult terrain and shooting at a much faster pace than usual on a feature-length production.
Let’s talk a bit about you Paris. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
In the first place, I wanted to get into the movie industry as a story writer and had an opportunity to work on a production in the transportation department. As a twenty year old wannabe, I saw this as an opening, where I could meet the right people and get them to read my stories. From that point, I spent many years working in various capacities on British and foreign movie productions, and slowly worked out the route to getting my projects financed and into production. As I trod the boards, I soon realized that if I wanted to direct, it would be up to me to get finance in place and produce the goods. In a way, it was proving myself to the industry, as the industry had no reason to promote me as a film maker. After all, I entered into a very difficult circle where not many people will survive the course, and I was making an untraditional route for myself, not coming at it from a film school background, but more carving a pathway through experience and knowledge gained.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
My advice would be simple. Be prepared for a tough journey. Unless you are very lucky or extremely fortunate, pursuing a career as a film maker is unpredictable, and a test for even the strongest of characters. Believe in yourself and your goals, and stick to them whatever obstacles you come across or are thrown down in your path.
What films and TV series have inspired you as a director? Any favourites?
I am inspired by many movies, and I don’t have one or two favourites, I have many. The first movie that actually inspired me was ‘Kes’. I loved that film as a child and could relate to the lead character and his plight. Also, I have always loved Alfred Hitchcock movies: ‘The Birds’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’ and the way in which the stories played out and were shot. I am and always have been a fan of classic cinema.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
I would choose Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, and Yul Brynner.
Both Hitchcock and Truffaut because they are two of my inspirations, and I have read the Truffaut interviews with Hitchcock many times over. It would be great to pick their brains about how they were inspired and see the dynamic between the two of them close up. Yul Brynner, because I have always liked him as an actor. His character in ‘The King And I’ endeared me, and in ‘Westworld’, scared me so much. He was such a versatile actor, exactly the kind that most directors will be seeking.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I have written two new screenplays and have been working with a group of producers to take one of the movies into production in 2012. We are actively attaching cast at the moment and will aim to begin filming towards the end of the year. Watch this space.
Thanks for the interview!