|Marc Vespi, Liza Vespi and Rob Stewart (Slaughter Nick)|
June 24 2012- During NXNE 2012 we reviewed the world premiere of Slaughter Nick for President. We gave that movie a 4 out of 5 rating and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that we decided to speak to Marc Vespi who was very involved in the movie.
As co-director/ producer and writer, Marc Vespi can finally seek respite and bask in the accolades that will surely come with the release of his enigmatic new documentary, Slaughter Nick For President. The fact that Marc’s vision got completed at all is a testament to him and so many other Canadian documentary producers with limited financing but the creative wear with all to navigate and negotiate their way to completion. The back story on how Marc got this film to market and into the North By North East (“NXNE”) film festival is just as compelling if not more so than the documentary itself.
Tropical Heat, aka Sweating Bullets was the short lived beach bum TV detective series from the early 90’s which found a loyal fan base in Belgrade, Serbia some 15 years after the series ended. As neighbourhood friends growing up, Marc and actor Rob Stewart (Nick Slaughter) could not have foreshadowed the divergent and convergent paths their lives would take that culminated in their creative collaboration on this film. As this documentary works its way through the festival circuit, I spoke with Marc Vespi on his processes and the state of the documentary film making in Canada today.
T-Mak World ● How did you and Rob Stewart meet?
Marc Vespi We were next door neighbours growing up in Brampton Ontario. And as most neighbourhood kids do, we hung out a lot and became really good friends right from the get go.
T-Mak World ● When did you start getting interested in movies and film ?
Vespi As a kid my sister Liza has always been a creative mentor to me. She introduced me to a film called Gallipoli by Peter Weir which blew my mind. Every since then I started thinking less about who the actors were in a particular film and more about how the director work. When I entered Carlton University, I entered with an undeclared major in my 1st year studying liberal arts. I took a film class as an elective and really just enjoyed it to the point where I made it my major.
T-Mak World ● How did the Tropical Heat documentary get started ?
Vespi Rob’s son introduced him to Facebook which led to a quick vanity search and found a Serbian fan site on Tropical Heat. He had mentioned to me that “I’m big in Serbia“. At the time Rob and I were collaboration on a few film projects and this revelation combined with discussions from my producer sister Liza was the impetus for the documentary. Further prodding came in the form of the Serbian punk band, Atheist Rap who wrote a song about Nick Slaughter and wanted Rob Stewart to attend and play in the band at their 20 anniversary concert. That’s kinda how it all unfolded.
T-Mak World ● What was your pre-production timeline and were there any difficulties in coordinating the interviews and guest appearances in Belgrade for Rob?
Vespi – I pretty much know the exact pre-production schedule. It was December 2008 when we first seriously started discussing how we were going to go about making this happen. And I guess it was early in 2009 when we started getting in touch with people in Serbia and making some contacts. Atheist Rap had used a production company in Belgrade for their videos called Media Net who gave us a full crew for the two week shoot which translated into 80 hours of footage. From the standpoint of difficulties, there were a lot because we had no proper funding for this project. We originally had a local production company for a little while but they went under in the aftermath of the economic crisis.
T-Mak World ● And Telefilm wasn’t any help ?
Vespi – You know, by the time we started talking to Telefilm through the standard channels we had almost gone too far in the production. You almost have to be starting from scratch in order to qualify and there are a lot of hoops to jump through. So we pushed ahead ourselves by borrowing money to go to Serbia so we could get those two weeks shot. My sister did an amazing job along with Darrell MacDonald our editor on organizing it and shaping the story.
T-Mak World ● What were the logistics you needed to overcome once landing in Belgrade ?
Vespi – In the run up to leaving for Serbia, the Serbian and eventually Rob were getting pretty antsy because I hadn’t provided them with any clear direction. I mean I had spoken with them on what I would like to do but nothing was concrete. I guess it was just about a week before leaving that I hunkered down and drafted a wish list of scenarios and things that might play out while we were there. We really wanted to speak with Robert Nemecek, he was the producer who brought the show to Serbia, but even with the name it was still very difficult making the contact.
T-Mak World ● How many people did you have in your film crew ?
Vespi – About 10 to 15 people made up the crew. We had a Director of Photography, Producer, a PR Coordinator, a Sound guy and about 3 cameras.
T-Mak World ● What was your first impression when you and Rob arrived at the airport in Belgrade,cleared customs and first met the crush of national press and legions of fans?
Vespi– Well for me it was quite stressful. I agreed to go on camera with Rob to provide some comic relief and I could play off him. When we cleared customs and I walked through those door I was shocked at how many people were there. For me I was a little bit stressed because I knew for the next two weeks I was going to be on camera and I’m not the most comfortable in that roll. Let me tell ya, I was just hoping to god they weren’t going to call me up for that press conference with Rob because I would have had a panic attack in that situation.
T-Mak World ● Politics played a major role in the documentary, were there certain security issues and precautions you needed to put in place during filming in the post-Milosevic era ?
Vespi – Thats a good question. Yeah, I think with the people that we were in contact with over there were probably some of the best people, and it was really by fluke that we met everybody. We literally fell in with the exact people for the job. Our Serbian producer, Bane Antovic has contacts all over Belgrade. In the end, there was no actually visible security that we needed and I never really felt unsafe there.
T-Mak World ● What other film and documentary festivals has Slaughter Nick for President been selected to ?
Vespi – So far Cinema City which took place in Novi Sad, Serbia. And other than that we’ve got some feelers out but we’re waiting to get some feedback after the NXNE festival and really see where we could go. The early feedback so far has been really positive. So I’m excited to see what happens tomorrow night when it premieres and then Liza is generally going to be in charge of that side of the biz.
T-MAK What scenes didn’t make it in the final cut?
Vespi – Yeah we shot about 80 hours of footage it was ridiculous. In terms of comedy, by the end of the trip Rob had pneumonia, I mean he was exhausted and Atheist Rap, the punk band and I decided to raid Rob’s hotel suite and we got into the mini bar while he was in the bath with a bad case of pneumonia trying not to die. That probably would have been a good one to add.
T-MAK Have you used this documentary as a calling card to green light future projects ?
Vespi – Well Lisa has a couple of scripts in development and I’m working on writing projects with Rob. Rob’s been quite busy though, his acting has picked up so I’ve been busy with other things. We’re hoping that all three of us can get together and share some of our ideas for our next project and go through the normal funding channels. Hats off to Liza because she really took the bull by the horns and took this project into the end zone.