There are things you see in war that will leave a stamp in your memory, like a horror scene stuck on repeat. They follow you into your dreams, your relationships and your morality bank. If you’ve served in the war, you are forever changed and you know the value of honour and duty to the highest degree. The film, Recon takes us on a mission over an Italian mountainside in the dead of winter in WWII. The small platoon of American soldiers witness barbaric acts, they experience brotherhood and sacrifice – and they realize, that tomorrow might not be there for them.
This film honours Remembrance Day and Canada’s veterans by premiering on Nov. 10th nationwide. Enderby Entertainment is pleased to bring Academy Award-winner and writer/director, Robert Port’s (Twin Towers, Agent X) military thriller, RECON to Canadian audiences. Adapted from the critically acclaimed New York Times best-seller ‘Peace’, based on a true World War II event, by author Richard Bausch. Recon stars Canadian born Alexander Ludwig (Bad Boys for Life, The Hunger Games, Vikings), Sam Keeley (Burnt, 68 Whiskey), Chris Brochu (Dynasty, Shameless) and Franco Nero (Django Unchained, John Wick: Chapter 2).
The film was shot in British Columbia and is produced by Rick Dugdale and executive produced by Maury Povich. RECON is being distributed by Vortex Media on November 10th in time for Remembrance Day and is available on Digital HD and On Demand.
RECON centers around four young men stationed in Italy in the midst of war. The action occurs over the course of one long day as they debate their fates and that of life itself. As they struggle to make it off the mountain alive, these American soldiers face the worst that war can offer, and through this, each finds his own peace.
Writer/director Robert Port won an Academy Award for his documentary film, Twin Towers and Recon is Port’s feature debut, which he wrote and directed.
I had the enormous privilege of speaking to producer Rick Dugdale, actress Christie Burke (Greta) and actor R J Fetherstonhaugh (Heisman) over Zoom and it was enormously insightful.
HNM “What was it about this novel that made you want to adapt it into a screenplay and bring it to a larger audience?”
RICK “Growing up in Canada, Remembrance Day was always an important part of our lives. My grandparents were in the war and part of the Royal Canadian Legion. Growing up and learning about their war experience, I’ve always wanted to make a WWII film that would walk the line on what their stories were, without putting their own personal experiences into the film.”
HNM “You had this novel adapted to a screenplay by Oscar winner Robert David Port. What prompted you to seek out Robert to write and direct this film?”
RICK “It’s very funny, we met through Robs brother, who is a doctor. I was getting a back procedure done, when he told me his brother was a screenwriter. I told him I’d be happy to meet him and we did, that was 10 years ago. We hit it off, he’s from Boston and New York, so we started talking hockey, as Canadians do – all roads lead to hockey. We became really good friends and started putting the project together, looking at various locations before coming back to shoot it in Canada.”
HNM “You both get killed in this film. R J gets blown up and Christie, you are shot in the head. I’m curious, how do you prepare for a scene like that?”
CHRISTIE “I know right… when I signed on, it was a completely different script. It was less Saving Private Ryan and more like Atonement. My character played a major role, where you get to know her better, but then Rob and Rick found it necessary to revise the script. They told me about the changes, where I die – I love them both very much and the audition was magical, so I was absolutely onboard. As far as dying… I feel like I’ve made a career out of being the chick that cries and dies (laughter). If you need someone to cry and die, that’s me. The dying was easy in a sense, because I felt like I knew her really well, from the earlier script that was written. It was easy, because of the foundation I had to work from, as well as the backstory.”
R J “Preparing to die is a weird thing. You feel pressure to not ruin it. I think I was the last person cast on this film. I got the script and 2 weeks later we were filming. I remember that I had a kickboxing match a couple days before the audition and I went in with a black eye. The dying scene was my audition, and I remember researching scenes from Saving Private Ryan. My father is also a fireman… I know it’s dark but I asked him about some stuff about losing limbs and how people react from shock. He told me it was all related to how much blood you pump, the amount of shock you’re in and how much energy you can expel. I used all of that to create the reactions in that scene. I really like the writing, because all my character can think about is his ring and what it means to him, even though his limbs have been blown off.”
HNM “When you make a war-time film, are you always conscious of the war veteran’s opinions on the films depiction?”
RICK “Yes, very much right from the beginning. We had met with the author, Richard Bausch to discuss the type of film we wanted to make. This is not an anti-war film, nor is it a pro war film – this is about the military and the people who are in battle, wherever they may be. We screened the film in front of military veterans to get their take on it. Whether you were in WWII or WWI, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, these soldiers all share the same feelings – it’s a morality gut check… what’s right and what’s wrong? It comes back to, the mission they’re sent on and duty to their country.”
HNM “Was there anything from the original novel that had to be left out in the adaptation?”
RICK “There’s an additional character that’s written into the film. Also, there were far more extensive scenes with Greta (Christie Burke) that didn’t help the story, so there were a few changes in the adaptation but it’s pretty close. One thing I can tell you about Christie is, she’s already a star and dominating the top show on Netflix, The Haunting of Bly Manor. When she came into read for us, this was one of the best auditions that Rob and I had seen and I’ve seen thousands. She was so researched, it was an emotionally heavy audition, Rob and I looked at each other and were speechless. She absolutely nailed it. Although a shorter role than originally anticipated, it remains a pivotal role and the driving force behind the soldier’s experiences.”
HNM “What was it about this role Christie that attracted you to it?”
CHRISTIE “My character was Italian, she spoke Italian and had an intense Italian accent. That was the first thing that attracted me to the role. My audition process was quite intense. I had some huge scenes, where I had to be convincingly Italian – I still don’t know how I did it. Based on the other script, there was also an intense loneliness to this character. At that time in my life, I felt a deep loneliness, similar to loved ones that have left to go to war. I was feeling isolated and alone – my entire family had just moved to New Zealand. I thought… if I can’t do the accent, at least I know what it feels like to be this alone. That was the part that attracted me most to the character.”
HNM “How did you prepare for your role as the soldier?”
R J “I’ve played soldiers before in other projects. I always feel, with the military – the biggest thing was the posture and the way they walk, march and move. If I had more time to prepare, I would’ve gone to the shooting range. I’ve been swimming in the ocean for the past fifteen days for 5-10 minutes; I did 13 min. but I got cold to the bone… so I’d do stuff like that… it would be fun.”
HNM “What were some of the bigger challenges in making a period piece like this?”
RICK “When you’re telling a story based on a best-seller, you better be accurate; accurate to the period and to the book/true events. We had a wonderful costume designer, Rafaella Rabinovich. When you’re making a period piece, your props and wardrobe have to be so accurate – it’s the first thing the audience’s eye will go to. We had to bring some stuff up from the US to shoot it. The detail and accuracy in making a period piece is critical.”
HNM “How long did this film take to shoot?”
RICK “I think we were shooting for 5-6 weeks in Vernon and Kelowna, which is where the Enderby company is from. It was one of the coldest winters and I believe it went down to -25 C at one point. It was beautiful country and it definitely doubled as Italy.”
HNM “In that scene where you get shot, it is captured from multiple angles. Do you remember how many times you had to do that scene?”
CHRISTIE “I don’t honestly remember… I kind of blacked out that day. In a way, it’s a little sad that you’re not doing the film you thought you were making – but I also feel that everything happens for a reason and this was the movie they were supposed to make. The relationships I made that day with Rick and Rob was incredible, I still talk to them. I’ll send them messages telling them about the bookings I’m getting – they’re part of my tribe now. Although I was only there for 1 day, I really needed that experience that day in my career and in my life. There were things that Rick and Rob had said to me that I really needed to hear… I’m not going to get emotional. I think Rob looks for actors that can embody these people/characters and he’s so open to whatever you want to bring to the table and collaborate on. I think you can get the best out of your actors, when you’re allowed to go for it – let’s try it. You combine that with a director that can amp that up, it’s like an upward snowball – it keeps getting better and better.”
R J “They were so cool, they let me adlib a little. When you have a suggestion, often writers or directors will usually have a reason to say no and other times, it’s a flat out ‘No’, but with them – it was really open, giving, trusting and fun. I think that’s how you make a great film. This has been one of the best learning experiences on how to bring the energy to set.”
HNM “There are so many disadvantages of filming in a forest on the side of a mountain in the winter, what would be some of the advantages?”
RICK “Personally, I always feel with snow – it becomes more cinematic. Wherever you can create beautiful cinematography is an advantage. Another advantage of filming there, was that our set looked beautiful at all times with the snow and the wilderness. Originally, this story took place during the day but it was also going through the night. When we got to day three, we were so blown away by their performances and the look and feel of the film – we ended up pulling a 180 and changed the storyline. They were now on this journey throughout the day, sunrise to sunset. We were able to avoid all kinds of logistical challenges by shooting it through the day. We believe it worked well, because you’re able to see the actor’s performances versus having to light it, which would’ve posed a problem.”
HNM “Although your part was not very long Christie, what was your biggest takeaway from the film?”
CHRISTIE “I think all the great relationships I was able to make in such a short time. I had to cry, for what felt like 16 hours but it was fun because later in my career I’ve booked roles where I’ve done that. My biggest takeaway though, was the sheer confidence in knowing… I can do the thing.”
HNM “What would you say is your biggest takeaway, R J?”
R J “Being on that film was the first time I didn’t feel like I had to worry about the outcome or what was going on. My ability to be there and free from any pressure, I think was a big learning curve.”
HNM “What would your elevator pitch have sounded like for this film, Rick?”
RICK “This is a morality tale for soldiers on a mission – whether they’re being guided by good or bad, is the question they are faced with throughout their mission. What is right or wrong, what did they witness from their commander and whether they’ll find the answers on the other side of the mountain, is the real question.”
HNM “It must be so convenient having a director that also wrote the screenplay, in the event, the script needs changes?”
RICK “I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have worked with a lot of writer/director’s and always thought is was the best course of action – they’re also very invested in the material, having written it versus director for hire. Having the writer there to adapt it, because we were switching from night to day, was definitely effective.”
HNM “Considering all the kickboxing you do, have you had an opportunity to showcase it in any films, R J?”
R J “It wasn’t on my resume for a long time until some of the stunt guys on set, that I know from the gym told me, that I should be doing those scenes. However, the dream is to write a script; I’ve been working on one for a couple of years… it takes time. It’s about 2 kids that grow up together training. It’s parts of my life combined with other people’s lives that I’ve borrowed and put together.”
HNM “Where can we see this film, Rick?”
RICK “It’s coming to Canada on Nov. 10 on VOD, a few select theatres and it’s premiering in Vernon on Nov. 10, with partial proceeds going to the Legion Halls up there. It will also be on all the platforms you currently watch/rent your entertainment from.”
HNM “Robert David Port is an Oscar Award winner. Have either of you worked with an Oscar winner before?”
CHRISTIE “Not a director but I made a film with Sam Rockwell at the beginning of my career.”
R J “I did a scene with Forest Whitaker. He was the nicest guy… he made me comfortable and would ask me questions about the scenes.”
HNM “Is this the first period piece for the both of you?”
CHRISTIE “I was on a show called Strange Empire that I believe was set in the 1890’s. There were corsets and crazy gowns, it was an 1800’s western.”
R J “I did a film that was set in the ‘70’s but nothing earlier than that – I had long hair.”
There are not many true war stories told by Canadian producers and this film is a great tribute to the men and women lost to war and the survivors left to tell their stories. With partial proceeds going back to the Legions, everyone that can, should be renting this film from your favourite entertainment source.