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The true story of a disgraced war journalist (Richard Gere) who enlisted the help of his former cameraman (Terrence Howard) and an eager, wet-behind-the-ears journalism major (Jesse Eisenberg) to track down an infamous war criminal still on the loose somewhere in the backwoods of Eastern Europe. What begins as an impulsive reporting assignment quickly turns dangerous. As they bluff, con and blunder their way to a scoop, they slowly learn that the truth surrounding the circumstances of his disappearance may be just as elusive as the war criminal himself. Based on the Esquire article “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” by Scott Anderson. Written and directed by Richard Shepard (The Matador).
 

 Location, Location, Location

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 as crew 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.”