Summer 2017

Ric Roman Waugh

A prison riot is accomplished with maximum prep and knowing the lay of the land


(Photo: Scott Garfield)

As exemplified by films like Snitch (2013) and Felon (2008), director Ric Roman Waugh is no stranger to the way the penal system works in this country. He went undercover as a volunteer parole agent in California for two years as part of his prep for Felon, and the research paid off for the upcoming Shot Caller, in which an upstanding citizen (played by Game of Thrones' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is sent to the big house as a result of a momentary lapse in judgment.

His motto when it comes to filmmaking? "I try to put you on the 50-yard line, and keep it as authentic and real as possible so we can create a debate about things."

So for Felon, he worked with the New Mexico Corrections Department to shoot in actual prisons, whether it was an active facility in Bernalillo County or an old derelict prison in Santa Fe, for the 22-day shoot.

For a pivotal riot scene involving 200 former convicts and gang members, Waugh and his team emphasized to the crew from the get-go that "there will be nobody disrespected on this set. These people have never even been on a movie set," Waugh recalls saying, "and if you treat them with respect, they will treat you with respect back."

The entire sequence was shot in two days, involving 60-70 setups per day.

Waugh mostly used Alexas and wideangle lenses, so there was nowhere to hide. "So you're seeing 270 degrees of the yard 80% of the time in the background, which means everybody's having to fight all day long in the background and make it look authentic."

Waugh credits his stunt coordinator Freddy Bouciegues for teaching the background actors to fight while protecting themselves, and his longtime DP Dana Gonzales, among others, for making sure there was no room for error.

"I came up through stunts, Dana came up through the camera department, so we know how to make a set run efficiently."

Problem Solving

Directors discuss overcoming challenges and, in effect, making lemons into lemonade when circumstances are less than ideal.

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