Michael D. Reid / Times Colonist
June 2, 2017 06:00 AM
A week after Jason Bourque’s spirits soared as high as the unmanned aircraft featured in Drone, his new movie that just made its U.S. debut, he is finally starting to feel Earthbound again.
Calling from Las Vegas, where he is on vacation after spending four months in Qatar shooting episodes of Medinah, an Arabic-English sci-fi series, the Victoria-raised filmmaker said his giddiness was justified.
“It’s been surreal,” said Bourque, whose slick, provocative thriller was the No. 1 indie feature on iTunes for a time last weekend. It also shared space on big-city movie marquees with Baywatch and Alien: Covenant.
“Aliens, bikinis and us,” noted Screen Media Films in a Twitter post featuring a photograph of Drone’s prominent position on the marquee at New York’s Village East City Cinemas.
Bourque, 44, was also elated that the first review of his Telefilm-funded movie was from the New York Times, which called it “a modest, proficient thriller.”
He credits his star, Sean Bean, for generating unexpected attention for what he describes as a Canadian independent drama and character study in the guise of a Hollywood-type thriller.
“We didn’t do that on purpose,” Bourque said with a laugh. The University of Victoria Fine Arts graduate gained experience making short films and music videos here before his filmmaking career took off.
Bean, best known for his roles in the TV series Sharpe and Game of Thrones, and the movies Patriot Games, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Troy, plays Neil, an alcoholic American drone pilot. His wife (Mary McCormack) and son (Maxwell Haynes) believe he is an IT specialist, unaware that he has been secretly contracted by the CIA to fly covert drone missions overseas from his home in Washington state.
He is forced to face the consequences of his actions when Imir (Patrick Sabongui), a polite but mysterious businessman from Pakistan, shows up at their suburban home.
“We’re so used to seeing Sean play these bigger-than-life characters, where you see him with a sword or a machine-gun, the villain or the tough guy in so many huge Hollywood movies,” Bourque said.
The British actor was a fan of Bourque’s 2015 backwoods thriller Black Fly. Bean also liked the Drone script Bourque co-wrote with Paul Birkett, based on a story Birkett wrote with his brother Ian, and Roger Patterson.
“Sean said he wanted to do something that was more like a play, and to play a character he hadn’t done before,” recalled Bourque, who soon learned why so many directors love working with the actor.
“Everything was internalized, and then he’d have these incredible bursts of emotion. He’s very instinctual with his choices, quiet and contemplative on set, and very giving.”
Beautifully photographed by Vancouver-based twins Nelson and Graham Talbot, Drone is both a visually stunning depiction of remote-controlled warfare overseas and a contained drama on the homefront.
Bourque said filming on a shoestring and a tight schedule last summer — 15 days in West Vancouver and Langley, and three days in a town near Mumbai — was an adventure in itself.
“We were shooting off-the-grid, in this incredible town in India, where there was a river of garbage, so deep that dogs could walk on it, that ran through the centre of it,” he recalled.
“We blew stuff up. People were incredibly nice and we could do these big explosions and wonderful stunts, all incredibly cheap”.
Shooting in India gave the film the additional scope Bourque wanted “as opposed to it looking like we shot it all in Maple Ridge, like a TV movie,” he said with a laugh.
They teamed up with model-builder Eamon Jones, with whom Bourque once worked at the former That’s Entertainment video store on Yates Street, to build the drone model in Jones’s living room.
While drone warfare and surveillance have been addressed onscreen before, notably in last year’s Eye in the Sky, Bourque said Drone’s timely focus on private contractors sets it apart.
“Drone is very much ripped from the headlines,” he said, referring to a Wall Street Journal story about U.S. President Donald Trump giving the CIA the authority to conduct its own drone strikes.
Bourque has explored the role of private contractors before, in Shadow Company, his documentary about private military companies, and a film about former U.S. National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowdon that he had to abandon.
“Whistleblowers, data leaks — anything along those lines I’m fascinated with,” said Bourque, who acknowledged that Drone is “not a completely American-friendly movie” based on mixed reviews stateside.
He said he was particularly intrigued by a drone’s chilling surveillance potential — a development that sparks dramatic tension when Imir spies on the family and uncovers secrets.
“The overall scope was to have a psychological drone-strike on an American family,” said Bourque, describing the impact on Neil’s wife and son as “emotional collatoral damage.”
Drone, about to be rolled out internationally, has already paid dividends for Bourque, such as being hired to work on Medinah, the Qatari series featuring talent from 20 countries.
“It was a good time,” said Bourque who, ironically, is editing his Medinah episodes remotely.