Maintaining a passionate determination to remain committed to fulfilling your job responsibilities, not matter how difficult the circumstances are in your environment as you strive to complete your duties, can be a difficult process. But devoted filmmaker Agustin commendably chronicled the struggles that detectives regularly contend with as they strive to protect their communities, in his new crime thriller, ‘Badge of Honor.’ The director, who also co-wrote and produced the independent drama, powerfully focused on the disastrous moral and legal consequences that respected officers face when they make even one mistake in their duties.
‘Badge of Honor,’ which Alchemy will release tomorrow on DVD, follows narcotic detectives David Miles (Lochlyn Munro) and Mike Gallo (Jesse Bradford) as they’re informed that a drugs exchange is about to occur. The two don’t have time to call for back up before the deal is made, so they enter the apartment where the the meeting’s taking place on their own. While the investigators are able to stop most of the suspects, two manage to escape. As the partners then pursue the armed criminals down the hallway, Mike subsequently follows one, Jacob (Travis Milne), into the stairwell and shoots. Unfortunately, the detective mistakes a young teenage boy who also enters the stairway on his way home from a friend’s party as his suspect, and accidentally shoots and kills him. Grief-stricken, Mike urges David to call for an ambulance. But his partner convinces him that if they tell the truth, he’ll be charged with murder, instead of a self-defense killing. So the two ultimately decide to present the incident as an accidental murder to their superiors.
The officers are subsequently placed on suspension, much to the dismay of Mike, who’s expecting his first child with his wife, Brittany (Haylie Duff). The partners aren’t allowed to return to duty until new Internal Affairs detective, Jessica Dawson (Mena Suvari), completes her investigation into the detective’s shooting of an innocent teenager. Jessica is determined to redeem herself on the case, as she received slack from her peers, and was reassigned, after she reported her former partner’s mistreatment of a suspect. As a result, she determinedly and aggressively tries to seek justice for the victim’s family.
Soon into her investigation, Jessica realizes that the facts, as reported by the two narcotic detectives, just don’t seem to add up. As she struggles to find the truth, the ramifications of the partners’ lie travel throughout the whole precinct. She also begins to understand that she can’t trust anyone, including the precinct captain (Martin Sheen). AS a result, she must decide if she should tell the truth again, at the risk of her own career, or give into the pressures of the case and protect the two officers she’s investigating.
Agustin generously took the time recently to talk about co-writing, directing and producing ‘Badge of Honor’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker talked about how as a co-writer and the director of the crime thriller, he felt he had a responsibility to accurately chronicle how respectable police officers can make damaging choices, while also infusing a bit of humanity in them as they sought redemption. The scribe-helmer-producer also explained how he appreciated the actors’ commitment to the drama, as they not only took the time to do their own research into the world of law enforcement, but also understood the necessity of performing their own stunts for the independent film.
ShockYa (SY): You co-wrote the script for the new crime thriller, ‘Badge of Honor,’ which follows two Narcotics Detectives who find themselves in an intense investigation that’s led by a determined Internal Affairs Detective, after a teen is wrongfully shot dead in a violent drug bust. What interested you in telling this story? What was your collaboration process like with your co-scribes, Anthony Thorne, Kevin Barrett and Nick Montalvo?
Agustin: Well, the project was brought to me, and I thought that it had a really good story. It also had Martin Sheen attached, and I was very excited about that. So Anthony and I locked ourselves in an apartment for a couple of weeks, and cut off the rest of the world. During that time, we crafted the script to what it is now. I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s really great. What we wanted to do was bring out more of Mena Suvari’s character.
The story is actually based on Anthony’s father’s life. His father was killed in the line of duty, and unfortunately, had somewhat of a checked police history. I don’t want to say that he was a corrupt cop, but he made some mistakes as a police officer. So Anthony based the story on his father, and we then brought in the fictitious characters, like the Internal Affairs investigator. We really wanted to flush her out, and see how she fit into the story. We wanted to have a good cop who could guide us through the whole thing.
SY: Besides working on the screenplay, you also directed the drama. How does penning the script influence the way you approach helming a film?
Agustin: Working on the script totally affected the way I approached directing the film. Anthony’s mom read the script, and said, “You guys captured my ex-husband so perfectly.” So I felt like I had a lot of responsibility of telling the true story of a good cop gone bad. But at the same time, I wanted to find a little bit of humanity in him for Anthony and his mom. I never met Anthony’s father before he died. But Anthony and his mom told me that he felt like he was a good cop, and that he was putting the bad guys away.
SY: With ‘Badge of Honor’ being driven by the detectives trying to navigate the investigation, what was the research process like for you, as both the writer and director?
Agustin: I totally did additional research. I did a few ride alongs with police officers in Los Angeles, and I also met some officers who work under cover. Lochlyn Munro, who plays David, happened to be friends with an officer, but I can’t tell you his name because he’s still undercover. But we were able to hang out with him for about a month. We walked the streets with him, and were able to see what he does as an undercover narcotics cop. Lochlyn went with me on a few of those ride alongs. It was different than going on a ride along with a regular cop, because you’re basically hanging out with a police officer who’s pretending that he’s a bad guy. It was pretty interesting to see how he interacted with people in those situations.
SY: The crime drama features a diverse ensemble cast, including Martin Sheen, Mena Suvari and Lochlyn Munro, who you mentioned, as well as Jesse Bradford and Haylie Duff. How did you decided who you wanted to play each character in the film?
Agustin: I spoke to Martin over the phone, and he had notes on the script. Initially I thought, Wow, this is Martin Sheen! Since we were re-writing a script that he already liked, and he was already attached to, we hoped that we weren’t going to mess it up. But when he read the re-writes, he called back and said, “I love it. Since you’re trying to make the film on a shoe-string budget, I’m going to bring my own coat.” He was so amazing like that.
I found that all of the actors were supportive that way. They understood that we were trying to do something on a limited budget, but they still enjoyed the process. All of the actors were really professional. I was able to meet Mena before we began shooting, and she actually did a lot of her own research, too. That really upped my game. Mena’s been acting for a long time, since she was young. Jesse, Lochlyn and the whole cast also brought their A-game. That was the best part of the movie for me.
SY: Once the actors were cast, were you able to have any rehearsal time with them, or discuss their characters’ relationships, emotions and motivations?
Agustin: I did get to rehearse with Martin, as he came up to Vancouver, where the movie was filmed, for a few days before we began shooting. He and I actually wrote a whole scene together in his hotel room. He’s a really great collaborator. I was also able to work with Mena for a couple of days.
I also worked with Lochlyn a lot, like I said before; we put a lot of time in on the work. But I had a little bit less time with Jesse, because I think he was also filming something else around the same time as we made this film. But once he was on the set for this movie for a few days, he shared some great ideas, like shaving his head.
SY: The thriller is driven by both the characters’ emotions and their determination to protect themselves, both physically and legally, during the investigation. What was the process of collaborating with the film’s stunt team and the cast to create the characters’ physicality and action sequences?
Agustin: We had a great stunt coordinator on the film. Also, all the actors, even Mena, did their own stunts. Her first day on the set was a big fight scene with Aleks (Paunovic, who played Samuel, one of the drug dealers who escaped the drug bust), and he’s a big guy; he’s about 6′ 5″, and she’s a little girl. It was like, “Welcome to the set, and this is what you’ll be doing on your first day.” She spent the whole first half of the day working with the stunt director, and she was like, “I want to do my own stunts.” I think there was one big fall that we brought in a stunt woman to film, and she was great. But Mena went right in otherwise. (laughs) She told Aleks, “Really pick me up and throw me.
We had a good stunt team, but all of the actors, including Jesse and Lochlyn, really wanted to perform their own stunts. We weren’t doing super huge superhero stunts, so the movie had a sense of reality to it. So everyone said, “I can do my stunts.” I’m not Bruce Lee, but neither are the characters. We can throw punches and jump around, like a real person would. They did it, and I’m really proud of them for that.
SY: Besides co-writing and directing ‘Badge of Honor,’ you also served as one of the producers. Why did you decide to also produce the thriller? Did your directorial and producing duties influence each other as you were shooting?
Agustin: I think directors always want to be hands-on while getting their movie made. Getting a film made is so hard, and it gets more difficult every time, due to the way the industry is going.
I was really lucky to have some great producers on the team, and they helped bring the money and the cast. I was also lucky that they let me collaborate with them. The script was brought to (producer) Tim Marlowe and I very early on, and we nurtured it. While I was working on rewriting the script with Anthony, Tim was raising money, and we were also securing the cast.
I think I was able to produce the movie with those guys because you want all the help you can get while you’re making a film, specifically on a small budget. I think if it wasn’t for the producers I had, the movie wouldn’t have been made at all. I hope I was able to help a little with my producing efforts, but the film was really made with the help of team of producers that I had. I’m really honored to have made the producing effort, but the entire producing team worked really hard on the film. I was a director who also received a producing credit, but they were the producers.
SY: As the director and a producer, what was the process of filming the drama independently? Did shooting independently influence your creative processes?
Agustin: Well, a director never has enough money or time, so the producing process always affects the creative process. But if this movie was made at a studio, I don’t know if the creative process would have been affected even more. With studio films, there’s an even bigger committee of people who are giving their opinions, and who have final cut.
So I think the creative process is always affected, and there’s a difference between your initial vision as a filmmaker and the final cut. But at the end of the day, when you step back, you think, we’ve made a really good movie with an important message. When you’re in the thick of making the film, you think everything affects your creative process. I’m really proud that we made a fantastic film.
SY: While ‘Badge of Honor’ was set in and around Seattle, it was actually shot in Vancouver, like yu mentioned earlier. What was the experience of filming the movie on location? How did you find the locations where you wanted to shoot?
Agustin: I love Vancouver; it’s an amazing city. It’s a great place to shoot, and it has amazing crews. But it was also difficult in some respects, as I wanted some of the protagonists to be Latino, and there aren’t that many Latinos up there. It’s tough to cast minorities in Vancouver. I don’t want Vancouverites to get mad at me, but I’m from New York, where there’s so much diversity. There’s also so much diversity in L.A. So making an ethnic urban film where there isn’t a lot of diversity was the hard part.
So we got really creative, but I don’t want to give away all of our secrets. But we brought people up from L.A. We really searched to find Latino actors to play the roles. But again, I feel so lucky. Every time you finish a film, you have to feel blessed. I found a great actress to play the mom, as well as a great teen actor.
SY: Besides working on films, you have also written, directed and produced several television shows, including ‘Gabriel.’ How does the process of creating television compare and contrast to scribing, helming and producing films?
Agustin: The main TV project I worked on was a mini-series. It felt like a long movie to me, which is why I really loved it. I would do mini-series all the time, because they feel like big, epic movies.
But there is a difference between making films and television. I did have to work by committee on the show. There were executives at the network who wanted the project to reach women between 35 and 55. They said things like, “No, you can’t put a gun shot here, and make sure there’s a kiss every five minutes.”
So I think making an independent film gives you a bit more freedom. Like how you asked earlier about how the producing affects the creative aspect, I’m always looking for a project that gives me that creative freedom, and allows me to do whatever I want. But that process doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a movie’s going to be better.
I’m currently making a film in the Dominican Republic, and we’re filming it in Spanish. I’m really enjoying it, because over there, the producers are always asking me, “What do you want to do?” So that’s a really great process. (laughs)
But at the same time, having collaborators does help. When you have a really great creative producer, it doesn’t feel like work. When you have people who are always looking at numbers and have set ideas, it can be hard.
SY: Besides ‘Badge of Honor,’ are you interested in continuing writing, directing and producing crime thrillers, or would you also like to venture into other genres?
Agustin: I have a film lined up that I’m really in love with. But there’s no specific genre that I’m always drawn to working in. I hope that I can always find a story that I really like, and not get stuck in any one style or genre. I don’t know if that’s the best choice, however, because usually if you mainly do just one genre, you can really perfect it.
I actually really love Michael Bay, because he knows how to really do his thing. You know you’re going to get a great action film from him. So maybe I should also focus on one genre, but I don’t really have any plans to do so right now.
Written by: Karen Benardello