by Director Nick Bicanic
James is one of the few friends I made in University--I was in Chemistry, he was in Law. Upon graduating I found a job as a freelance Internet consultant and James joined the British Army. After five years of deployment around the world, James quit to practice law with a large firm based in London. James and I lost touch until I got an email from him announcing that he was thinking of becoming a mercenary. To me, mercenaries were guys with knives in their teeth killing people for the highest bidder. What was my friend the lawyer going to do in the company of such men?
In January 2004, James started sending regular emails from Iraq, describing with his wry wit the absurd day-to-day experiences of a security contractor in Iraq. Not long after, I saw the gruesome televised images of four charred bodies hanging from a bridge in Fallujah. After discovering these men were in fact “private security contractors” like James, I knew there was a story to be told here and convinced him to get involved.
While there were articles, books and news reports that touched on policy, history, and specific conflicts over the past 20 years, precious little information on mercenaries was available in book form and even less on TV or film. To bring light to this hidden world, I needed someone more experienced in documentary production. I partnered with prolific Canadian director Jason Bourque, and we quickly got down to business.
Most of 2004 was spent finding experts we could interview. Sometimes it was easy--you read a book and phone the person who wrote it; you ask them intelligent questions; they agree to get involved. (It helped that the subject concerns a profound shift in modern conflict resolution.) Sometimes it was impossible. Many of the security companies refused to talk to us on the record, and the US army refused to officially talk to us at all.
Once the ball was rolling things got a little easier. We traveled to Sierra Leone, Iraq, UK, USA and Canada and interviewed a wide variety of people--the contractors themselves, owners of private military companies, journalists, historians, etc. By June 2005, we had enough material to start cutting a story together.
The interviews were transcribed and I spent a good 10 days or so staring at a very large pile of paper wondering where to start. I dug out an old outline I’d written before we’d shot anything. It was just a bunch of chapter headings and a few notes, but it was all we needed. We started with the paper edit, cutting apart bits of paper and gluing them onto new sheet--a literal interpretation of cut and paste.
Incredibly, the final paper edit came in at 2hrs and 15 minutes. I built an editing suite inside my house and we assembled all the video elements based on the paper edit. The first time we watched it, it was 105 minutes long. Then we cut and cut and cut some more.
Many friends got involved with the project at different stages: Andrew Wanliss-Orlebar helped select the songs and created the graphical language of the film, Les Lukacs came on to do editing and post production supervision, Jarred Land helped to shoot some the interviews, etc. By mid November 2005, we had a cut that we were very happy with, and just after Christmas I posted a trailer of the film on the website.
That’s when all hell broke loose--50,000 downloads of the trailer in 48 hours. The movie was being talked about in environments completely outside my control. I was receiving emails from the offices of US senators and well-known Hollywood directors and producers were clamoring to see a copy of the film as soon as possible. A few months of offers later, after pressure to recut the film to make it more one-sided we decided to self-distribute the film.