Scammerhead captures zeitgeist of hedge fund era

Black comedy premieres today at Montreal World Film Festival

It was between midnight and dawn when Yakuza encircled the director.

Tokyo wasn't even in the script.

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Dan Zukovic was looking for one more shot, just a few moments of his character, a greasy globetrotter by the name of Silas Breece bopping out of a Yakuzaowned bar in Tokyo's red light district.

The Yakuza were not eager to enhance their public relations.

"Apparently they don't like a camera pointed in the direction of their doorway at 4 a.m." Zukovic observes.

Mid-level musclemen nearly broke the camera, destroying an hour of footage the low budget, independent production couldn't afford to lose.

But Zukovic made it out, and he took his camera with him.

The result is captured in Scammerhead, a black comedy that takes noir out of the asphalt jungle and drops it into the world of venture capitalist cowboys and hedge fund managers who hedge on anything they can manage.

Silas Breece, played by Zukovic, is the straw that stirs the cocktail, an old-fashioned cookie full of arsenic resplendent in a pinstripe suit and a fedora attached to his headset.

Speaking as he prepares to jump on a plane to debut the movie at the Montreal World Film Festival, Zukovic talks with the knowledge of a film professor and the rapidity of a double-parked boxing promoter.

He's the writer, director and star of the movie, which draws inspiration from the hustling press agent and would-be wrestling impresario in film noir classics The Sweet Smell of Success and Night and the City.

Like his cinematic ancestors, Silas Breece is looking to climb a golden ladder. To aid his climb, he recruits old men associated with famous gangsters like Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. Those are the magnets he'll use to attract party boy investors who'll cough up the real cash just to hang out with the mobsters and hear the stories.

"In an era when the authentic is collapsing. .. he's the last figure bridging those two worlds," Zukovic explains.

And what are they all investing in?

Palatial casinos and floating islands, the kind of can't-miss investments that landed Bernie Madoff in the can.

It took seven years to make the movie. During that time Zukovic saw Scammerhead becoming increasingly relevant.

"Some of the ideas, like the artificial islands; I was cooking that up before they were even happening," he says, referring to Dubai's artificial archipelago.

The production hit 34 cities, sometimes with a permit and sometimes not, including Berlin, Havana, Death Valley and Alcatraz Island.

Asked if he ever doubted he could finish the movie, Zukovic replies: "Absolutely."

"It gets scary when you're halfway through and there's no turning back but you still realize you have this immense amount to do."

A staple of film noir is the streak of doom that's marbled into the story like fat in a roast, but at least as a production, Scammerhead was lucky.

The New Frontier hotel overlooked the strip in Las Vegas before there was a strip in Las Vegas, dating back to the pre-war gambling cow town the city used to be.

In 2007, when the thing came tumbling down, Scammerhead was there, completely by accident.

"Literally they were bulldozing the famous Frontier sign," Zukovic recalls.

He hopped off a doubledecker bus to, "run over there and see if we can pull off this accident."

They got the shot.

Standing behind Zukovic at nearly every joint and dive along the way was North Vancouver producer Jeremy Dyson.

While the idea seemed "overly ambitious" for an independent film, Dyson was compelled by Zukovic's commitment to "crazy guerilla stuff," including booking a flight to Cincinnati for 12 seconds of screen time.

Dyson stopped traffic in Las Vegas.

Asked what it took to shut down the strip, the producer replies: "Not all that much, amazingly."

Vegas was a bit of an exception, in that it was a location where the crew had the co-operation of the police.

Dyson ended up being chased by cops in England after shooting under London Bridge.

"A lot of the scenes are stolen," Dyson says, explaining their use of wireless microphones and small cameras.

"With an DSLR you look like a tourist," he says.

"(Zukovic) looks a little bit odd, but not quite enough to be stopped by police."

As he prepares to pocket a finished copy of the movie scant hours before boarding a plane to the festival,

Dyson turns philosophical. "I didn't have children back then, I have two now," he says.

The movie premieres today at the Cinéma Impérial as part of the Montreal World Film Festival.

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