In Cinemas 26th August 2016
Todd Phillips (“The Hangover” trilogy) comes “War Dogs,” a
comedic drama based on true events, starring Oscar nominee Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Moneyball”) and Miles Teller (“Whiplash,” the “Divergent” trilogy).
“War Dogs” follows two friends in their early 20s (Hill and Teller) living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life. But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan military—a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government. The film also stars Ana de Armas (“Knock Knock”) and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper,” “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”). The screenplay is by Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic, based on the Rolling Stone article titled “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson.
In Cinemas 26th August 2
MONEY, CORRUPTION AND THE AMERICAN DREAM
DAVID They called guys like us “war dogs”— bottom feeders who make money off of war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield. It was meant to be derogatory. But we kinda liked it.
It might have been one of the biggest hustles ever… and it could only happen in America. “War Dogs” grew out of the story of two stoner kids, barely into their 20s, who became multi-millionaires as the most improbable of international arms dealers. But just as they reached what should have been the pinnacle of success, it all came crashing down in spectacular fashion. One of the unifying themes of filmmaker Todd Phillips’ movies is people making bad decisions. Whether it’s a few post-college guys starting their own frat house or four friends planning an ill-fated bachelor
party in Vegas, there are always repercussions that are outrageous and completely unexpected. Bad decisions are again at the centre of “War Dogs,” but there is an edge to the humour, born of the fact that the film is based on a true story of a couple of guys who managed to turn a little-known government initiative on its ear…to the tune of $300 million dollars.
And, you know, a little bit of greed gets in the way of good decision making.”
Phillips offers, “I always think movies have a little more gravity to them when you can take real events and build on them. It’s a movie about the rise and fall of two young guys, chasing their image of the ‘American dream,’ who got a little too greedy.
It all started during the George W. Bush administration when huge no-bid contracts to supply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being awarded to conglomerates like Halliburton, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. As criticism of the perceived cronyism and war- profiteering
Bradley Cooper, who served as a producer and also appears in the film, adds, “One thing the movie shows is how susceptible someone can be when everything is put in front of him on a silver platter and how people deal with excess differently.”
grew, the government decided to level the playing field with FedBizOpps (short for Federal Business Operations), which opened the bidding on military contracts to…well…virtually anyone. Unfortunately, there were just enough loopholes to make it possible to take advantage of the system. The tale was chronicled in a 2011 Rolling Stone article called “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson. “The Bush administration was trying to favor small businesses,” Lawson expands, “and no business was smaller than these dudes, sitting in a studio apartment in Miami Beach with nothing but a bong on the table, a laptop and a cell phone.” Producer Mark Gordon recounts, “I was on a plane when I first read the story in Rolling Stone, and I couldn’t believe it was true. Everything about it cried out to be made into a movie. I’ve always found that audiences love films about characters who beat the system, even if they ultimately get their comeuppance, one way or another. Add in the fact that these two seemed the most unlikely people to pull off this kind of hustle, and you have something really special.” Gordon adds that Phillips was the perfect director to bring the tale to the big screen. He states, “There is no one better than Todd to tell a story about outrageous
characters getting into all kinds of trouble. He’s the master.” “War Dogs” also marks the first film on which Phillips and Cooper teamed as producers under the banner of their new production entity, Joint Effort. Cooper relates, “I was very interested to see how Todd was going to take the article and realize it cinematically. I loved the idea of a film about what these guys did, knowing it would be spawned from Todd’s brain.” “As I was going through it,” Phillips recalls, “I thought, ‘This has the makings of a terrific film.’ And the more we dug into it, the more evident it became that it could be a great two-hander with the right two actors.” Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star, respectively, in the central roles of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, and both say they were intrigued by these characters who jumped at the opportunity to reap huge rewards without giving much thought to what they were sowing. Hill remarks, “There’s definitely something enticing about watching people make it rich without following the rules. It’s why I’ve always loved gangster movies…movies where the guys with swagger win. Until they don’t,” he smiles. “It’s a cool story,” says Teller. “You have to respect what they were able to do; at one
point, they had a $300 million deal going. That’s an insane amount of money for a couple of guys in their early 20s who were just fakin’ it till they made it. It’s fascinating how things can kind of snowball and you can get in way over your head.” The real David Packouz admits, “I won’t lie, it was pretty awesome for a while. We would go to parties and people would introduce themselves: ‘I’m a stockbroker or I’m in real estate… So what do you do?’ ‘We’re international arms dealers.’ The initial reaction went from ‘You’re kidding, right?’ to ‘You’re full of s**t,’ but once they realized we were not joking, they were blown away. One reason the story is so crazy is that very few people make it big in the arms business, especially at our age. The fact that we won a contract to supply the entire Afghan army was totally bizarre.” But the driving force was always money. Phillips confirms, “It’s very clear in the movie: they are not necessarily pro-war. It’s not about who’s fighting or why they’re fighting, it’s about how much product can they move. So war is really just an opportunity for them. And that’s a true thing. War is an economy. There is an underbelly to it where a lot of people make a lot of money and these two guys are just trying to get in on that.” As incredible as the actual circumstanc-
es were, Phillips emphasizes, “This isn’t a documentary. He and co-writers Jason Smilovic and Stephen Chin took both dramatic—and comedic—license. “There was a lot that happened that wasn’t in the movie or was changed,” Packouz attests, “but life is always more complicated than depicted in Hollywood movies. You can’t fit years of life into a couple of hours, so that’s to be expected. But I love the script; it’s fast-paced and entertaining.” In working on the screenplay, Chin spent some time with Packouz in Miami. He notes, “America may be the land of opportunity, but David had figured out early on that hard work alone was not going to make him rich. I believe that’s why ‘Scarface,’ which was also set in Miami, was such an important movie to them growing up. It became their idea of the American dream—if they had the big idea, hustled hard enough and didn’t play by the rules, they could snatch it. So it didn’t surprise me that two ambitious young guys had figured out how to game the system, especially in the internet age. What did surprise me was the size of the contract and how close they came to pulling it off.” Phillips reveals that they decided early on to tell the story from Packouz’s perspective, noting, “We realized the best way into this story was through David’s eyes. David represents the everyman stepping into this world he knew nothing about, much like the audience.” Smilovic adds, “David was our way into the movie, not only to communicate the present-tense narrative but also all of the past-tense baggage. And for the audience to invest in him—and, frankly, not to think he’s an idiot—they need to be invested in the relationship between these two guys…to believe the friendship is genuine.” “A lot of my movies end up focusing on male relationships,” Phillips comments. “There is an undercurrent of real love when you have true friends. You feel it with the guys in ‘The Hangover’ and in ‘Old School,’ and I was trying to do the same thing in this movie because I always
think that’s interesting.”
pense and even a bit of espionage.”
Cooper, who shared in Phillips’ brand of camaraderie as part of the infamous Wolfpack, observes, “‘War Dogs’ feels very much like a natural progression in Todd’s evolution as a filmmaker because you have male characters that don’t feel so far away from his wheelhouse, yet there’s an edginess that takes it to the next level. The great thing about Todd is he’s always had his finger on the pulse of what’s cool. He can take a story with a dark texture and give it a patina that makes it humorous and exciting.”
“It has a lot of different elements, and that’s what’s good about it,” Hill adds. “I think it will subvert people’s expectations and get them talking about it, and that’s awesome.”
Working under Phillips’ direction for the first time, both Hill and Teller say they were drawn to the project by the opportunity to collaborate with him, as well as the screenplay.
“The subject matter is ripe for discussion,” Cooper agrees. “Our goal was to tell a compelling story in an entertaining way, but you never know the kind of conversations it might spark. It’s a movie people could be talking about and debating long after they leave the theatre because the story has so many layers and is still very much in step with the times in which we live. I think people will find it especially interesting that the program that started it all is still very much in effect.”
“When Todd gave me the script, it was genuinely too good to pass up,” Hill says, “and getting to finally work with Todd was the exciting bonus of the whole thing. We’d talked about doing something together in the past, but for whatever reason, it never worked out. ‘War Dogs’ came at the right moment, and I’m really glad it did.”
“War Dogs” unfolds on a global scale, so it was important to Phillips to make the film on an international stage. He affirms, “When you’re on location, I really believe it informs everyone involved. It informs the cinematographer, the production and costume designers, the actors… To me, the environment is a huge tool, and this is one movie where we really took that to another level.”
Teller states, “Todd is the definition of a filmmaker to me; he’s so good at what he does. As an actor, you want to feel you’re in good hands and that’s how I felt every day. And I loved the script; it was just as dramatic as it was funny, with action, sus-
Filming took place on location in Miami Beach, Las Vegas, Morocco, Romania, and Southern California. Phillips offers, “I really wanted to convey the scope of international arms dealers, international being the key word.”
DAVID No offense, but I’m against this war…
EFRAIM Dude, I’m against this war, too!… This isn’t about being pro-war. The war is happening. This is about being pro-money.
When we meet Efraim and David in “War Dogs,” they don’t appear to be the international arms dealer types. Two middle-class, early-twenty-something guys in Miami Beach, they had been best friends in junior high, but lost touch, as people do. Reunited at the funeral of a mutual friend, they reconnect and start to catch up. David has been eking out a living as a masseuse, but he thinks he has hit on a big idea—selling high-end bed sheets to Miami’s myriad of old folks homes. Efraim is also in sales, but that’s where the similarity ends. While David has an apartment filled with boxes of unsold sheets and unpaid bills,
Efraim has a bank account in the seven figures thanks to FedBizOpps, the government’s marketplace for an infinite variety of military supplies. When Efraim invites David to go into business with him, the answer is obvious. AEY INC. is born. “Efraim is a great character,” says Jonah Hill. “He gets to be the guy who says, ‘Let’s go down the rabbit hole,’ and he’s so extreme and explosive, I just knew the role was right for me. He wants to be rich and loves the flashy, more surface things in life. That’s what he thinks will bring him happiness. He’s a wheeler-dealer who’s incredibly charming when he needs to be. But there is nothing lazy about him. He
has to have enormous drive and intelligence and cunning to maneuver through this world. It made him really interesting to play.” Phillips says that the role showcased Hill’s great versatility because “Efraim becomes whoever he needs to be in a given situation. He is a chameleon who is able to kind of blend into the person he thinks you want to him to be. It was a really fun aspect of the character for Jonah to play.” The allure of financial freedom isn’t lost on David, but for somewhat less hedonistic reasons than Efraim. Miles Teller explains, “He is struggling to make ends
meet when Efraim shows up. Efraim was his buddy when they were kids and they would get into trouble together. When he comes back into his life, David gets reenergized and excited by the opportunity to make some real money because he has a pregnant girlfriend and is wondering how he is going to provide for his family.” “Money,” Smilovic states. “Ultimately that is what everything comes down to, isn’t it? It’s just money, but it gives you the resources to look out for yourself and the people you care about.” Phillips, who had first met Teller when he produced the comedy “Project X,” says, “I think Miles is a world-class actor. It’s almost as if he doesn’t have to try. I don’t mean that in a negative way; he’s just naturally gifted. It’s amazing to watch. We were lucky to have both him and Jonah in the movie.” Efraim’s and David’s newfound wealth opens the door to luxury apartments, expensive cars and better drugs. Nevertheless, David is initially forced to hide the real source of his income from his staunchly anti-gun, anti-war girlfriend, Iz,
who is about to become his wife. Ana de Armas, who plays Iz, offers, “She knows even less than half of what’s going on at first because David knows she would never approve of it, so she’s dealing with this weird atmosphere of secrecy. Naturally, at some point in the movie, she finds out, but she understands this is for the family and their future, so she decides she’s going to be supportive. Whatever he decides to do, she will be with him. That’s Iz’s main characteristic: she loves and trusts David. I thinks she’s a very strong, sensitive woman and is a very good partner in life.” De Armas won the role after a long audition process in which the filmmakers “read a lot of women for the part of Iz,” Phillips recalls. “But when Ana came in, it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s the one.’ She’s a wonderful actress and when you look at her, she expresses so much emotion just in her eyes.” The admiration is mutual. “Todd is very smart and what I find so remarkable about him is his ability to put movies together that connect so well with audiences,” says
de Armas. “On the set, he knows what he wants and when you feel that confidence in your director, who is the person telling you what he’s looking for, it’s amazing. He spends time with you rehearsing, so when you hear ‘Action,’ you know what to do. And then you have the freedom to play around because you have the foundation of the scene.” Despite their success, Efraim and David are still relatively small fish in the international arms dealer pond, where one of the biggest fish is a man named Henry Girard. Bradley Cooper, who plays the role, says, “Henry is definitely not somebody you would ever want to cross in any way, shape or form. Don’t let his poor eyesight or the thick prescription glasses fool you; they are no indication of how dangerous he can be. He has been banned from doing work with the U.S. military because he’s on a terrorist watch list, but Henry still has access to a tremendous amount of ammunition that Efraim and David need to solidify a deal worth $300 million, so they get hung up with him.” Phillips notes, “Henry is that guy who’s been on both sides of every conflict. He
every Jewish person has a debt to pay to Israel…one whose weight we carry on our shoulders. That really spoke to everything Ralph is. Jonah’s character sells him on the idea that there is an aspect of their business that is supportive of Israel, so Ralph certainly feels he’s contributing to a greater cause.”
doesn’t have a political standing; he just likes when people fight because it’s great for business and the character of Efraim loves that attitude. So when they finally meet him at an arms convention in Las Vegas, it’s a big moment for Efraim to sit across from his hero.” Phillips goes on to reveal, “Henry is an amalgamation of different people. These guys start crossing the wrong kind of people in an attempt to fulfill this deal and then make it a little more profitable, and it becomes dangerous for them. But we had
to simplify it, as you do in making movies, so it’s represented in this made-up character.” Efraim and David have another silent partner who has been helping to bankroll their deals for a percentage of the profits. Kevin Pollak joins the cast as another fictitious character, Ralph Slutsky, a dry cleaner whose motives go beyond the financial benefits. He affirms, “My character is a very devout Jew who believes he has a responsibility to Israel. Todd actually wrote a little speech on the topic that
Rounding out the main cast are: JB Blanc as Bashkim, who serves as Efraim and David’s point of contact in Albania, where they have arranged to buy 100 million-plus rounds of AK-47 ammo in a $300 million deal that will make or break them; Shaun Toub as a driver they know only as Marlboro for the brand of cigarettes he smokes; and Patrick St. Esprit as Army Captain Philip Santas, who can’t believe two civilians managed to drive unscathed through Iraq’s “Triangle of Death.” The real David Packouz also makes a cameo appearance as a musician in an early scene where Teller’s character is trying to unload some bed sheets at an old age home. Phillips shares, “I thought it would be cool to put him in the movie. We have him playing ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper,’ which is obviously not an appropriate song for the venue. Sometimes you just have to have a little fun with stuff like that,” he smiles.
DAVID You seriously wanna drive to Baghdad?
EFRAIM David, we’re gun runners. Let’s go run some guns.
Almost all of “War Dogs” was shot on location, which presented both challenges and benefits to the filmmakers and crew. Phillips attests. “When you’re in a real place, you feel the texture and the atmosphere and that always comes through in a film.” Production designer Bill Brzeski who counts this as his fifth collaboration with Phillips, adds, “Todd likes things to be in the actual places, or as close a match to the actual places as possible, so we tried to go with practical locations and did not shoot much on soundstages. It was also the preference of our DP, Larry Sher, who appreciates natural lighting, which adds to the reality.”
Conversely, Brzeski acknowledges, “Location filming is also nerve racking because there’s a lot less control than going on a stage and building a set. But it doesn’t give you a better looking movie.” “I’m so glad I did the movie, but all the travel was not easy,” Jonah Hill admits. “We were in some crazy conditions, but you can see the difference in scope when you’re out on location when you watch the movie. That’s all that counts.” Miles Teller adds that there was one major advantage to being on location for him and Hill. “Jonah and I didn’t have an opportunity to spend a lot of time together beforehand, but we had the
chance to bond in Romania, which is really important for this movie. We were halfway around the world and shooting long days so we had time to hang out together, which was cool.” Brzeski describes the design of the film as “all about contrasts.” He illustrates, “The beautiful, sunny skies and warm weather of Miami Beach intercuts with the gray, cold, post-Soviet world of Bucharest, which doubled for Albania. The AEY offices go from being a funky, little place to being a sleek, modern office space. They move from cheap apartments to upscale, high-rise Miami Beach condos. It’s everything that happens when you’re too young and get too much money too fast.”
The theme of contrasts also extended to their wardrobes. Costume designer Michael Kaplan expounds, “For Efraim, there is a Tony Montana/”Scarface” seed planted early in the film. As the film progresses, we see his love of track suits and Italian designer accessories—Gucci, Versace, etc.—with his slicked hair, spray tan, expensive watches. There’s always a bit of flash and panache for Efraim, romanticizing the notion of Mafioso kingpin.” Hill confirms, “There are moments where he just goes full gangster—or what his version of a gangster outfit would be. At one point, we were shooting a scene in in Romania where everything is gray. Todd even wanted the extras all dressed in gray. And then there’s Efraim wearing this really loud outfit, which was very effective. The clothes Michael Kaplan put me in were amazing and really helped me to feel like this overly confident character who doesn’t care what other people think.” Kaplan also points out the disparity between what Efraim wears versus the clothes of the more conservative David. “David is more grounded than the flamboyant Efraim. He remains the straight-
laced voice of reason, and his conservative, Miami Beach-boy look reflects that throughout the film.” Filming on “War Dogs” began in Romania, which doubled for the country of Albania, where a seemingly endless supply of arms and ammunition is being stored. Phillips says, “We were looking for a massive warehouse or hangar, and Brzeski sent some photos from Bucharest of a hangar they found. I went to see it and said, ‘Okay, this is the perfect place.’ It just felt rundown, like the stuff’s been there for decades, and that was the idea.” Brzeski details, “It was called the King’s Hangar because it was actually the king of Romania’s personal hangar back in the days before Communism. We cleaned it out and brought in all kinds of items from military junkyards and collectors to make it look like a vast munitions storehouse.” From Romania, the filmmakers and cast travelled to Las Vegas, where Phillips returned to a familiar location: Caesar’s Palace. Scenes were filmed in the famed casino and in their popular restaurant, Rao’s. “Because we did ‘The Hangover’
movies there, Todd knows the people and they know him,” says Brzeski. “They’re very comfortable with having us around.” Another scene set in Las Vegas, the international arms show, was actually filmed in Downtown Los Angeles at the L.A. Convention Center. “That was tough,” Brzeski comments, “because a real international arms show is the size of football fields, full of weapons with people from all over the world. What we did was create a little piece of it and then, through digital technology, we expanded it.” The original AEY cramped office space was one of the few sets built on a soundstage at Warner Bros. Once the company starts raking in serious money, the new high-rise offices were filmed in an office building in Century City. “But, of course, you’ll see Miami out the windows,” Brzeski notes. Other Los Angeles locations included the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre, which stood in for an old folks home, and the Los Angeles Times building, which was used for government offices.
Staying in California, the production moved to El Centro, California, located about 120 miles east of San Diego. The area’s barren desert clime made it the perfect stand-in for war-torn Iraq. Brzeski confirms, “El Centro actually has a very similar vibe to that part of the Middle East.” Although El Centro provided a safe alternative to filming in an actual war zone, it was not without its problems. Phillips attests, “Those were some of the toughest shooting days on the movie because it’s brutally hot and there are sudden dust storms when the wind kicks up. There’s also a U.S. Navy Air Facility there, so we couldn’t fly our helicopters over their air space.” In addition, some of the desert landscape is protected, so care had to be taken not to disturb any of the natural plant life. The challenges notwithstanding, Phillips asserts, “To me, that’s part of the fun of
location filmmaking,” the director continues. “It does generate some frenzy, but eventually, you find a way to make it all work. Ultimately, we had a great experience down there, but it was a bit of a bear.” Leaving the arid desert behind, the company moved to the lush environs of Miami Beach, where the story begins and which serves as Efraim and David’s home base. One of the most notable locations was the city’s iconic Fontainebleau Hotel, designed by the famed architect Morris Lapidus, who “invented what we think of as the archetypal Miami look,” Brzeski states. “The pastel colors and the architecture were his brainchild. It all personifies Miami Beach.” The designer notes that being in Miami added to the visual authenticity of the story. “Miami Beach is different from any other place in America, and it’s hard to duplicate. That’s why we went there. We didn’t have to try and make another
city look like Miami Beach; we could just come in and shoot it.” The final stage of principal photography was accomplished in Morocco. The Middle Eastern country doubled for Amman, Jordan, where Efraim and David begin their ill-advised drive to Iraq to deliver an order of Berettas…taking them right through the “Triangle of Death.” Although Phillips did take some dramatic license in creating that pivotal sequence, the filmmaker marvels, “It is still incredible to think what these kids managed to pull off during those years. But I was most astounded by the government— that this could happen with no real system of checks and balances.” He concludes, “Some might call what they were able to achieve a story of the American Dream, but I think we all have different ideas of what that is. This may not be mine… but it certainly could be somebody’s.”
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Joint Effort/Mark Gordon Company Production,
a Todd Phillips movie, The film will be release in the UK on 26th August, 2016.