Director Ric Roman Waugh grew up on movie sets watching larger than life stars like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne go through their paces.
For Waugh's new movie Snitch, he got to work with arguably the largest action hero in Hollywood, wrestler turned actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Only Waugh didn't care about his star's Herculean frame. Waugh sought an Everyman to play a father who goes undercover in the world of drug trafficking to save his son from a long jail term. And Waugh thinks he found what he was looking for in the former WWE superstar.
The director wanted to tap Johnson's hardscrabble upbringing and how he turned his life around to become a sports standout, wrestling icon and movie star.
“I'm all about authenticity,” says Waugh, whose father was a legendary stunt man, a job that gave the son a unique vantage point on Hollywood.
Waugh's passion for film research led him to serve as a volunteer parole agent, experiences which flavored both his last film, Felon, as well as Snitch. He got an uncomfortably close look at gangsters, the cartel drug trade and other frightening elements in our modern crime landscape.
Snitch, which Waugh co-wrote, is based on true events. The director wanted to stay true to those themes, but he understood the movie marketplace puts a higher premium on explosions than character development. Consider the trailer for the upcoming Fast and Furious sequel which features a tank as well as a gaggle of standard-issue sports cars.
Waugh takes comfort in the success of recent reality-based films thriving at the box office, like the Oscar nominated Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.
“It's made it much easier [for us],” he says.
Snitch is about more than the dangers inherent in the drug trade.
The film, co-produced by Participant Media, calls into question the need for mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. Johnson's son in the film is busted for possessing a large amount of drugs, and the clean cut kid faces a decade behind bars for a single offense.
“You might be for the war on drugs or against it. We're not trying to sway your opinion,” he says. What the film is concerned with are laws with much stiffer jail times than punishments handed out to other criminals, like child molesters.
“Something's wrong with that,” he says. “What are these laws doing in a detrimental way, with no power or say in these things?”
Waugh followed in his father's footsteps for years, performing stunts on movies like Total Recall and The Last Action Hero before embarking on a new career as a writer and director. He credits the stunt trade for instilling values he did his best to bring to Snitch.
"It gives you a different perspective on life and what real danger is," he says.