Most agree that casting is the most critical decision a director makes
on a film. You can be Steven Spielberg, but if you cast the wrong person
for the role, your movie is going to have troubles (need I mention
Matthew McConaughey in Amistad?). I also think that choosing locations—where
you film the movie—is almost as important. The location represents
the look, the feel and the texture of the film you are going to make.
Like a scene-stealing co-star, it can be temperamental, but the right
location, like the right actor, is worth everything.
There were a lot of nervous executives when I declared that I wanted
to make my new movie in Bosnia itself (where the story is set) as opposed
to a more convenient, cheaper, safer location. Twelve years before,
Bosnia had been the site of a brutal civil war. The nervous executives
suggested Canada or Mexico, and even flew me to Bulgaria to scout as
a substitute. If I was doing a movie about prostitutes and the Euro-sleaze
who love them, Bulgaria would have been perfect. But I wasn’t. I was
making a movie based on a true event about several journalists who
try to track down the most wanted war criminal in the world, only to
be mistaken for a CIA hit-squad and have their lives put in serious
danger. I knew there was great story there—full of drama, thrills
and dark humor. I also knew I had to film it where it actually happened.
The fact that Bosnia is still on the United States “Do Not Travel” list
did not help matters—there was the fear we would not get insured.
Then there was the cost. You would think that a war torn country would
be cheap. It's not. Especially compared to Bulgaria.
So what to do? I wanted the actors and crew to actually see the place
where the war happened. I wanted Richard Gere and Terrence Howard to
walk the streets, view the mortar-wounded buildings. These intangible
details—the way the people look, the stories they tell, can really
affect a movie. Especially this one. I needed Sarajevo. So, out of
ideas, I called the mob.
Each part of Sarajevo is protected by a “Mafia.” Republika
Srpska, the Serb section, has its mob. Downtown Sarajevo, the Muslim
section, has its. For a nice fee, they make sure things are safe. Traffic
is held. Locations are available. Red tape gets cut. Shit gets done.
The Bosnian Muslim mob are tough motherfuckers, but they’re also funny,
generous people who embraced us not only with their open wallets but,
more importantly, with their open arms.
I also made compromises. I cut four days off the shooting schedule
to save some money. I agreed to film a portion of the movie in Croatia.
I agreed to have a phalanx of bodyguards protect Gere, although most
people just wanted his autograph or for him to marry their daughter.
I agreed to all this, and finally, after many months, I got the okay.
Last September The Hunting Party started production in Sarajevo.
In the crew were Muslims, Serbs and Croats—all proudly working
together. We poured millions into the economy, hired hundreds of locals
and extras, and had an amazing time. In the finished film there’s a
scene where Gere, Howard and Jesse Eisenberg walk through the cobblestone
streets of downtown Sarajevo as the lights from the minarets of several
Mosques twinkle in the early evening sky. As I was shooting that scene,
I knew all the fights about locations were worth it. Later, one of
the extras came over to me, and in broken English said he was amazed
at the amount of crew and the beauty of what we were filming. I said, “That’s
Hollywood.” He smiled, and shook his head, ”No, Sarajevo.”