Badland was inspired by America’s headlong plunge into the Iraq war. In the weeks and months that followed it was painfully evident that this was going to be very different from the Gulf War. As soon as troops started coming home stories began emerging of isolated incidents of domestic violence. The first cluster of murders and murder-suicides happened at Fort Bragg, N.C. and there was speculation that those involved were suffering with PTSD.
Badland needed to have a very intimate, personal feel, to be a story of one man’s experience as opposed to an overall statement about the war. How would one man’s war experience – the act of killing another human being – change him as a husband, as a father?
Southern Alberta was chosen as the location because it closely resembles Montana. The small town of Fort MacLeod not only fills in for ‘any town’ USA but it was also where director/writer Francesco Lucente lived for two years with his family as a teenager. He credits this time as being the beginning of his formative creative years, sparking his passion for film. He spent much of his time learning the craft of filmmaking, purchasing his first 16mm movie camera and shooting his first short film, “This Old Man.”
Pre-production for Badland began in the summer 2005. It was a busy time for film shoots in Alberta that fall: Jon Voight was wrapping “September Dawn,” Robert Duvall was shooting “Broken Trail” and Brad Pitt, the Jesse James film. Earlier, Ang Lee had used some of the same locations for “Brokeback Mountain.”
Badland’s lead actor Jamie Draven is from the UK; Grace Fulton, Joe Morton, Vinessa Shaw, and Chandra West came from the US and Carlo Varini, the film’s DP, from France. Carlo read the script and agreed to work on the film after being overwhelmed by the story’s tragic human elements. Francesco had met Carlo at the Henri Langlois Film Festival in France in the early 90’s and they had been trying to work on a film together since then.
Francesco had considered several American actors for the lead role of ‘Jerry’ but one name always kept popping up. He first noticed Jamie Draven in the role of the older brother in the UK hit “Billy Elliot.”
“His performance was fierce and passionate”, says Lucente. “I knew I wanted to work with him but wasn’t sure at the time for what film. When I wrote Badland, I knew the role required a certain calculating brutality with an underlying sense of vulnerability. This guy commits a heinous crime against his own family, yet you had to simultaneously be able to feel sympathy for him. Jamie has the same raw fire in him that Russell Crowe has.”
Jamie Draven, playing an American for the first time in his career, found the role hard and intense. He prepared for it by watching many hours of documentaries sent to him by Francesco.
“I wanted to see how real soldiers returning from the war were reacting and try to get inside their heads. I’m against this war and this is an important film that people should see.”
The casting of Jerry’s daughter ‘Celina’ would be vital. The father-daughter relationship dominates three quarters of the film, so it was crucial that the young actress cast not only had the necessary chemistry with Jamie, but was able to tackle some very harrowing dramatic scenes. A well-known actress was originally cast, but with ten days left to go before shooting began, negotiations fell through. With a lot of prayer and some expert help by Craig Campobasso and Joy Todd, the L.A. based casting directors held an emergency casting call and Badland’s ‘amazing Grace’ was discovered.
Nine-year-old Grace Fulton’s rapport with Jamie and the rest of the cast and crew was instantaneous. She had an innate grasp of her character’s essence. During one scene Grace was asked what her character was thinking, she innocently responded, “She’s praying to God to save her (real) father’s soul.”
Jamie Draven describes Grace as “fantastic. She was very smart, focused and a joy to work with.” He also credits Grace’s mother for working with her on the character.
In the roles of Nora, Jerry’s wife, and Oli, the café owner, producer Olimpia Lucente suggested casting Vinessa Shaw and Chandra West. She had seen Vinessa in “The Weight of Water” starring Sean Penn and thought she had the right balance of softness and calculated cruelty that the role demanded. And in a reversal of sorts, Chandra West was cast as Oli, one of only a handful of roles she has played where she doesn’t end up as a murder victim.
Veteran actor Joe Morton was cast in the role of Max, an older small town sheriff and reservist who gets called up for active duty. Max is broken and vulnerable. Joe brought to the role a certain maturity and gravitas. He also brought an added bonus: an original song. After dinner one night, Joe pulled out a guitar and started singing some original pieces he had written. Francesco was so impressed that he asked Joe how he felt about contributing a song. The next morning Joe came on set and told the director that he had stayed up all night writing lyrics and music. “The Devil’s Lonely Fire” became Max’s song. Morton has worked with such stars as Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Jamie Fox and Kevin Costner.
The film began its 42-day shoot at the end of October, a time when weather conditions were unpredictable. But the crew got lucky. Minutes after one scene was wrapped, the temperature plunged and a mini blizzard began. The next five days the crew trudged through two-foot snowdrifts. Luckily it was to and from the warehouse that housed two of the film’s main indoor sets! Fort MacLeod was a challenge as well in many ways. In one pivotal scene Celina runs up to the doors of a church. The wind gusts were so powerful that Grace struggled to stay on her feet. At one point a crew member spotted a twister whirling over the church’s steeple. The weather also proved to be one of Badland’s greatest blessings. The film is drenched in a rich golden light that elevates the main character’s sense of desperation and emotional turmoil. And the stark beauty of the rugged terrain gives us an even greater sense of futility and tragic loss.
Fiction and reality practically collided for one of the final scenes of the film when Jerry’s character confesses to Max the secret he has lived with since returning from Iraq: he and his unit had been implicated in a massacre of unarmed Iraqi civilians. Although Francesco was inspired to write this scene based on the Viet Nam War’s My Lai Massacre more than a year before shooting began, he was stunned when he heard about the Haditha Massacre where 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were shot by U.S. Marines. The incident happened while Badland was filming.
Serendipity also played a role when it came to music. During pre-production a variety of music was considered. But it was Jamie Draven who was ‘instrumental’ in introducing three songs chosen to appear in the film. One was Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust.” Only later did Lucente learn Springsteen’s inspiration for the song was an American soldier guarding an Iraqi border crossing and the split second decisions he must make that could mean life and death to him. Jamie also suggested the two songs by Ray LaMontagne that are used in Badland.
About the filmmakers…Writer/director Francesco Lucente started making short films at 16. His first feature was The Virgin Queen of St. Francis followed by The Inner Voice, premiered at Henri Langlois Film and Television Festival. Producer Olimpia Lucente has been involved in all of her husband Francesco’s films, either as a co-writer, co-producer or producer, including teaming with him as writers of the motion picture thriller First You Dream, Then You Die. Claudia Dummer-Manasse is one of five executive producers. She worked for several years at different German TV networks and was involved in the Oscar® nominated The Fabulous World of Amelie Poulain (for Best Foreign Language Film). Gordon Guiry has been a corporate film executive for more than 40 years and is currently a consultant with various media companies in North America. Joseph Bitoni has worked with Francesco Lucente on many films over the years, including The Virgin Queen of St. Frances High for which he was co-cinematographer and co-producer. Michael Shane and Anthony Romano, principals of Hand Picked Films, are two of the industry’s leading independent producers. Their credits include I, Robot starring Will Smith, and the Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks starrer, Catch Me If You Can. Paris-based Cinematographer Carlo Varini was director of photographer on three films by director Luc Besson and shot the Academy Award nominated Les Choristes. He was nominated for two Caesars for his work on Subway and The Big Blue. Composer Ludek Drizhal has written stylistically wide-ranging film scores, countless original songs and numerous orchestral pieces. His recent film credits include Rounding First, Voodoo Moon and Slayer.
About the cast…British actor Jamie Draven who stars as the embittered Iraq war vet Jerry is himself a veteran of British television and films, including the Academy nominated Billy Elliot, in which he portrayed the older brother of Jamie Bell’s title character. Eleven-year-old Grace Caroline Fulton played the child star Natalie Wood in The Mystery of Natalie Wood and has a recurring role in the CBS hit Ghost Whisperer. Vinessa Shaw, who starred in the independent film Bereft was named “Rising Star” at the Hamptons International Film Festival. The award was proven justified when she landed roles in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda and in Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut and James Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma. Chandra West has been successful in both films—White Noise, The Salton Sea, The First 20 Million Is Always The Hardest, The Perfect Son, and TV—Category 6: Day of Destruction and NYPD Blue,. And then there’s Tony Award nominee Joe Morton (The musical Raisin) whose film credits include Ali with Will Smith, Dragonfly with Kevin Costner, and Bounce with Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow.