DEN OF THIEVES
About The Production
From Screenwriter To First-Time Director: Christian Gudegast Comes Prepared
Den of Thieves is a gritty present-day crime saga with origins dating back to
2002. Screenwriter (and first-time director), Christian Gudegast was reading
Money Is," a nonfiction book about how Los Angeles became the bank robbery
of the world, when he saw a photo in the Los Angeles Times; the photo, taken at
Federal Reserve Bank, was of a massive tub of money. The photo and the book
sparked an idea, and Gudegast wrote the story that would eventually become the
for the screenplay.
He was particularly drawn to the complex relationships between professional
bank robbers and the detectives who hunt them. "I was fascinated by the
their worlds," says Gudegast, "and how these two crews operate. Understanding
they do, and why they do it, became the fuel for the movie."
Gudegast has created a character-driven narrative that turns the traditional
film on its head. His villains are clean-living athletes and military men who
are driven by
the challenge of a complex mission more than just the sheer criminality.
cops have a penchant for booze, violence, and strip clubs - a far cry from
hero archetypes. Gudegast was able to draw on his real-life experiences with
both sides of the fence to conceive the Outlaws, as well as the Regulators.
Despite many development and production challenges, producers Tucker Tooley
and Mark Canton have been stalwart advocates for the film. They came on board in
2006 and 2008 respectively. "I've known Christian for nearly 20 years and
first movie he wrote," said Tooley. "We put it together in many different
over the years, and for whatever reason, it always sort of unraveled at the last
but we kept at it." Canton agreed: "You have to be relentless if you believe in
and it takes a village to get things done."
Despite intense interest from other producers and directors, Gudegast, who
never directed before, held out to direct his script. Tooley and Canton were
supportive of his decision. Canton notes that despite Gudegast's inexperience,
up to the task of directing his first feature. "It was uncanny how prepared he'd
over the course of time, from the look books, from the screen tests, from his
process of meeting talent along the way," explains Canton. "His entire process
is like a
mother of invention story. He was super prepared because he had already played
film over in his head a thousand times. He had storyboarded everything!"
Alpha vs. Alpha: Merriman and "Big Nick" O'Brien:
Each group has a true alpha male as its leader; Merriman heads up the
while "Big Nick" O'Brien runs the Regulators. The two are adversaries of equal
- men on opposite sides of the law, but who share many similarities, as well as
degree of mutual respect. They come from the same environment. They may not know
each other, but they understand each other, to a degree. Each is intimidating,
easily intimidated. Casting was critical to find the right balance and explore
between these men.
Both Merriman and O'Brien engage in psychological warfare with each other.
tough to say who is the cat and who is the mouse. It's the buildup to the
clash; neither man is intimidated. O'Brien and the Regulators casually confront
Merriman and his crew at a Japanese restaurant, where "Big Nick" taunts him,
remembering him from their days playing high school football on rival teams.
O'Brien's way of saying, "I want you to know I know who you are. I'm going to
you, and this will come to a head." Merriman responds to O'Brien's provocation
calm, respectful manner, explaining that he is enjoying a simple family dinner
doesn't want the situation to escalate, as tension crackles in the air.
In one of the film's most intense scenes, Merriman and the Outlaws are at a
range when O'Brien comes in to clock some time on the same practice range,
them. O'Brien walks past them to a vacant lane, takes aim, squeezes off a few
then makes eye contact with Merriman; it's a high-caliber pissing match. As
resumes his own target practice, Merriman responds by emptying multiple
into his target, demonstrating his lethal skills as the range explodes with the
his lengthy barrage. He and the Outlaws pack up and leave, exchanging only looks
O'Brien, who satisfies his own curiosity by going over to Merriman's lane and
the paper target, revealing all the center mass shots. Not one word of dialogue
exchanged, yet we know exactly what is being said through their actions.
The two men come face to face again after O'Brien goes home with a beautiful
exotic dancer, who turns out to be Merriman's wife, Holly. Merriman arrives home
morning just as O'Brien exits the bathroom, having spent the night. There is a
standoff as the two alpha males are literally inches away from each other.
proceeds into the next room and O'Brien leaves. Again, no words are exchanged,
their silence speaks volumes as they move closer to their inevitable showdown.
Gerard Butler: Becoming "Big Nick" O'Brien
Gerard Butler sat on the script for Don of Thieves for several months,
being urged by his agent to read it. "I think I was burned out. My agent kept
'have you read it?' but I just wasn't in the mood. Then I read it one weekend
and it got
better and better. I called my agent and said, 'Why didn't you tell me to read
because it's incredible!'"
Butler expressed an interest in portraying "Big Nick" O'Brien early on and
involved throughout the lengthy development process, eventually bringing his
and producing partner, Alan Siegel along, as well.
Butler and Gudegast met over numerous raucous dinners to mold "Big Nick".
"The character's a silverback gorilla who devours everything within reach,"
director. "He's a force. He walks in and he just takes over the environment.
classic. He's funny and he's a badass. He's in major crimes, so he's got to be -
dealing with the worst of the worst every day, hunting them. We drilled that
the way down and Gerry was unbelievable."
Butler's take on "Big Nick" is bombastic. "He lives in this world where you
be willing to go to any length to get ahead and it's incredibly dangerous," said
first you think he's a punk, but as the character evolves, you understand he's
obsessive and that the pressure is playing on him. He's blown up his life for
the job and
is emotionally bleeding out because of it."
"What I love about this movie is that it has a taste, an ingredient, of many
favorite films, like Heist and Heat, with touches of a Dog Day Afternoon and The
Connection," said Butler. "But it stands entirely on its own. It may be a
film, but there's a surprising amount of heart and emotion. It has the potential
one of those unforgettable movies because of the characters we've created."
Pablo Schreiber: Making Merriman
While Gerard Butler had been involved for several years, the physically
Pablo Schreiber was on Gudegast's radar from his work in 13 Hours and The
"Merriman has just gotten out of jail after six years. He's reassembling his
and he's going after a big fish. It comes to his attention that the Los Angeles
the Fed has never been robbed," says Schreiber of his character. "He's been
for the moment when he would be released. I don't think he ever found anything
has really matched the thrill and excitement (of his military deployment)."
Merriman and his Outlaws share a common military background that serves them
well. "There's a common language we speak. There's no catching up in terms of
and team movement. We're well oiled and very efficient," says the actor, who
himself in somewhat familiar territory.
"I had done a movie called 13 Hours with Michael Bay, so I came in with a
bit of knowledge about the weapons. It was great to have a jump start on it;
had some experience already, I naturally fell into a position of team leader,
which was a
natural fit for the role," explains Schreiber. "We worked with a technical
really got us trained up. We spent a lot of time on the range, learning the
together really prepared us for when we got to set."
Indeed, that training did pay off. "There's a great scene at the shooting
where Gerard shows up to intimidate and show his face in front of us. We're all
at targets and he starts shooting at a normal clip," says Schreiber. "And just
to piss him
off, I unload four mags straight in about 13 seconds, which is a pretty tough
feat. I had
to learn to cycle through four mags at really high speeds and really get the
being able to do that."
Butler's O'Brien is tauntingly arrogant and brash, while Schreiber's
as Merriman is controlled, subdued even. Gudegast was dazzled by Schreiber's
discipline and intensity. "Pablo's characterization is flawless," he said. "He
pulled off the
most chilling behavioral tick by not blinking a lot. His power as an actor is in
between moments and he never over plays his hand."
Schreiber was intrigued by Merriman's lack of fear. "There's a real nihilism
character," says the actor. "He's not afraid of death and actually embraces the
idea of it.
If he's going to go out, he wants to go out on his terms. There's no way he'll
Nick cuff him."
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson: Right-Hand Man, Family Man
As Merriman's right-hand man, Enson Levoux, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson gives a
quietly intense performance, portraying a man who has managed to create a life
family for himself apart from his criminal life. Levoux and Merriman have a deep
and a long history; they played high school football together, they joined the
and were deployed together, and they came home from their military service
only to find that civilian life doesn't deliver that adrenaline rush they've
Jackson first read the script six years ago and reached out to Gudegast. "He
done a whole look book of the story and it was so well put together with all of
and colors that he wanted. His vision for the film has been really well thought
wanted to do it then and there," exclaims Jackson. "I ran into Tucker Tooley at
Globes party and I approached him right away. I put pressure on him you know,
got that rapper thing so I can act like I don't understand. Like 'Yo I want to
be in this
movie' for real.' Like while he had the tuxedos on and with everything he was
he must have thought, 'what's the matter with this kid? I like his music
understand you want to be in a movie.' And then he changed companies but Tucker
knew it was such a good project that he brought it with him. And then it made a
circle. And when I got a chance to talk to him about the film I was like 'you
remember?' and he said 'No I remember!' Five years ago, and here I am."
Levoux is a man of few words. He is the Special Forces explosives expert who
can communicate more with a menacing look than with a block of dialogue. Jackson
does get to deliver one of the brief humorous moments in the film, as the
father who uses the Outlaws to intimidate the young man who has arrived at his
to escort his teenage daughter to a formal dance.
The scene serves to underscore the theme of family, not just in Enson's wife
five children, but also the chosen family he surrounds himself with - his fellow
Because they have each another's back as a family, they can function more
as a tactical unit.
Levoux is married with five children. Unlike Merriman, who's never brought
anyone into his life to complicate things, he has allowed himself to become
Tooley believes Levoux is the heart of the film. "He's the guy who has the most
decisions to make when it comes to the job and his loyalty to Merriman," he
"because he has the most to lose."
As the film builds to its explosive climactic showdown, it becomes apparent
Levoux might lack in conversational skills, he makes up for in strategic
his ability to wield serious firepower. If you're backed into a corner and have
your way out, "50 Cent's" Enson Levoux is a man you want on your side.
O'Shea Jackson, Jr.: Donnie The Driver
Finding the actor to play Donnie, a criminal who is half wide-eyed innocent,
half master game player was a challenge, until Gudegast saw Straight Outa of
and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. "I said 'that's him!'" laughed the director. "He's got
swag but is also hyper intelligent."
According to Gudegast, Jackson brings Donnie to life by catching things about
the character that aren't on the page, and when up against the towering
of acting veterans Schreiber and Butler, he more than holds his own.
The Outlaws need a driver, and Donnie is the guy they've been looking for.
only does he know how to fix and rebuild them, he knows how to drive them-fast.
fact, he received the highest speeding ticket in California after they clocked
178 miles per hour, a point of pride for Donnie.
"I'm the new guy in the crew, so I've still got to earn my stripes. They're
putting me through the trials just to get into the fraternity," says Jackson.
"Big Nick" has
been eyeing the Outlaws for a bit, so he knows that he hasn't seen me before. He
my day job and peeps me out - and sees me as the weak link. Nick decides to be
straw that stirs the drink, and lets my team know he's messed with me."
Donnie demonstrates his loyalty to the Outlaws and plays his part in the
taking a job as a deliveryman for a Chinese restaurant, which allows him to
Federal Reserve. As the only member of the team to go inside the fortress of the
he becomes the lynchpin to their success.
Rounding out the pack is Evan Jones as Bosco Ostroman, a thief who's as
committed to his well being as he is to robbing banks. "The cool thing about
characters is that they're the family men of the story," said Jones. "It's
interesting to play
someone that lives a quiet life by day. These guys work out and are physically
don't see them drinking, smoking or swearing. But at night, they go out and
law by committing the most dangerous, complicated crimes they can."
Authenticity Is Key: Boot Camp for Bad Asses
To ensure the characters' weapons mastery looked authentic on the big screen,
Gudegast put the actors through rigorous two-week boot camps prior to filming.
group trained separately, with the Outlaws and the Regulators developing their
respective camaraderie, as well as gaining inside knowledge of how their
would operate in the real world.
Since the action scenes in the film were carefully choreographed, it was
that the actors had a comprehensive understanding of the weapons and how to
physically move with them. "The advisors that Christian brought on took the film
next level," said Jamie Marshall, executive producer and the film's 2nd unit
"They were instrumental in helping to develop the vibe and emotional energy of
The Outlaws trained with Paul Maurice, who's currently on active duty with
U.S. Armed Forces, and who trains other service members in advanced tactical
maneuvers and weaponry. "He gave the Outlaws tremendous confidence," Gudegast
said. "They trained hard out on the firing range. They drilled in repetition
movements with the firearms were completely fluid: They could load, unload,
mags - the way they manipulated the firearms was just awesome, and that was
The Regulators worked with Jay Dobyns, a retired undercover detective from
LAPD gang division. He met Gudegast in 2006 when he was still working as an
"Christian is huge on authenticity," he said. "We often talked about how to
translate real life into the script and into his scenes. Everything from how
carry and hold their weapons, to how they would move with them, to how they
themselves inside their vehicles."
Dobyns proved so helpful that Gudegast loosely based "Big Nick" on him, and
used other officers he'd worked with as a template for the rest of the
Butler went as far as using Dobyns' speech patterns and many of his mannerisms
give greater depth and authenticity to his performance.
"When boot camp began, I told all the actors that my personal goal is that
people in my profession see the film they'll say, 'Those guys were spot on. They
authentic,'" said Dobyns. "Everything we did was in the service of advancing the
characters and getting it right."
The group practiced techniques and tactics used by plain-clothes detectives,
drilling down with great specificity. The two groups have different dynamics.
Regulators were able to create a warm bond that included dinners out, while boot
for the Outlaws was highly individuated and all business. These disparate
ensured the accuracy of their behaviors; the Regulators are street detectives,
Outlaws function like a military unit, drawing on their individual special
forces training for
The two groups used real weapons out in the field to get a feel for the heft
weight of the guns, and then practiced with paintball guns to get used to the
of holding and shooting them while walking, running and jumping.
"The Outlaws are former special forces, so there's more polish to their
movements," Dobyns observed. "They have bigger guns and more ammunition. This is
normal because most of the time, the police are outgunned. Part of the story is
Regulators have to overcome this deficit with their audaciousness and collective
"It was pretty funny," added Pablo Schreiber. "The Regulators would come to
training ground around the time we were leaving, or vice versa. We kept having
moments where we'd be passing each other and there was animosity and a lot of
stares - as well as jokes thrown from long distance. It bred this healthy
which was good for Gerry and me to have because it bumped things up."
The Look and Feel of Den of Thieves:
Although set in Los Angeles, you won't see the glitzy and glamorous parts of
city. Instead, Los Angeles' southern-most neighborhoods-El Segundo, Torrance,
Gardena, Hawthorne, Palos Verdes, Long Beach, and Lakewood-are featured. They
comprise a very particular setting that's rarely seen in films. "The area
embodies a blue
collar experience that's white, black, Latino and Pacific Islander, and
punk rockers, skaters, surfers and street gangs," said Gudegast, who's from the
and has a passion for its particular flavors. "So much of who they are is in the
they wear and the cars they drive."
Due to fiscal realities and the complexities of shooting in Los Angeles, the
was shot in Atlanta, which created a unique challenge for the filmmakers.
stickler for details and accuracy, had already photographed every Los Angeles
that's mentioned in the script. His look-book included extensive visual
bars, streets, buildings and even people. No aspect was too small to examine and
"When the production team arrived in Atlanta, I was hyper-specific when
for how we were going to reproduce those elements there," he said. "It was down
how the murals on walls looked, the color scheme, rims on cars - every detail."
Early on, when Gudegast and cinematographer Terry Stacey (A Dog's Purpose,
Elvis and Nixon), talked about the look of the film, Stacey referenced the
Andreas Gursky. "I have Gursky all over my walls," Gudegast enthused, "I knew
immediately that we spoke the same visual language."
Among the challenges Stacey and the locations department faced was finding
the look of the very flat industrial areas of Los Angeles in Atlanta. For
topography was an issue, as Atlanta is generally hilly and green - a far cry
Angeles. Their hard work paid off; the audience will be hard-pressed to notice a
for L.A. onscreen. "We had to work even harder to bring out that look and
Stacey. "So as careful as we were in choosing our locations, that same
applied to the shots where we sort of went for a hot, Los Angeles weather look;
smoggy and golden but not pretty. At night, we play with the natural elements
there's a cooler blue metallic light."
To further achieve the look of the film, Stacey also employed a very fluid,
style of shooting - as if the camera were a voyeur. "When we shot Nick and the
Regulators, we used the hand-held a lot. I had him moving in and out of frames,
we're trying to keep up with him. It's rough because his world is fractured."
came to Merriman and the Outlaws, Stacey was contained and precise. "We used
shots and the Steadicam a lot more," he said, "because Merriman controls the
when he's in it."
The director also worked closely with production designer Kara Lindstrom
Eve, Crush) and producer Tooley was particularly impressed with her critical
would go into a place where it was just four walls and she'd make it look
exactly like it
did in L.A.," he said. "For the Federal Bank building, we had a very quick tour
couldn't take any photos. She committed it to memory and pulled it off."
"For me, it was a movie about confinement and freedom. You have lots of small
spaces, and lots of large spaces," explains Lindstrom. "The whole challenge was
create a world where we're always sort of narrowing down and getting trapped,
then opening up again."
The challenge of recreating the Federal Reserve proved especially daunting.
"You have an image of the Reserve being a super fortress, high tech place. It's
secure and mechanized, but it's also the federal government, so it's pretty
down and utilitarian," says Lindstrom. "The goal was to make something
was also visually interesting. The security there is based on the workers always
seen - by other workers, they supervisors, or by cameras. It's all about glass,
Lindstrom says the donut shop set from the film's opening sequence is a
of hers, because the visuals greatly contribute to a sensibility that's
exclusive to Los
Angeles. "I gave the donut shop a history. We've got so many different cultures
on top of one another here," she said. "I created this backstory: the shop had
owned by a Mexican American family who had the mural of the donut-themed Lady of
Guadalupe painted on the front. Then, I imagined a Korean family had bought it,
they laid their imprint on the space as well. It's people laying all their
cultures on top of
each other until you get this interesting multi-culti soup - just like the
Outlaws and the
As part of Gudegast's original look-book, he had taken head to toe, character
reference photos of locals. He recorded everything from their shoes, shirts,
belt buckle preferences, to their watches, hats, jewelry and tattoos. He handed
research over to costume designer Terry Anderson (Jane Got a Gun, A Million Ways
Die in the West), who understood why the director was so concerned with the
details of this lo-fi, hi-fi world.
"I first read the script and I was thinking, 'this writer's unbelievable, the
that he put into it.' Christian knew the neighborhoods these people had come
knew everybody and knew how everyone should look," explains Anderson. "We even
pick up on the small clothing differences found in the neighborhoods that each
Gudegast said Anderson's grasp of the outlaw Bosco was pivotal. "She got the
entire aesthetic. He's from Huntington Beach, so Terry dressed him in Dickies,
school Converse sneakers, and a wife-beater tank top with a gold chain and
chain hanging from his wallet. It was straight up SoCal, real life, working
Anderson also commented that the most interesting challenge of dressing the
characters was the lack of differentiation between the Outlaws and the
"Both groups were dressed in this sort of South Bay/South L.A., style that also
subtle gang/street elements," she said. "We pay careful attention to the brands
clothing that are visual cues into how each of these groups live and
"The biggest challenge to me was trying to live up to Christian's script -
specifically L.A. I would love to have the movie stand as a snapshot that we
really seen in films before."
Ink That Tells A Story
In addition to the specific costume details, Alan Apone (Dunkirk, Suicide
the head of the make-up department, was tasked with creating tattoos to help
characters' stories. "Christian knew that the Regulators would all have a
of a skeleton holding a smoking pistol with playing cards," says Apone. "They're
closely bonded unit, very boisterous, but cohesive. The Outlaws are all very
fact. They stay within themselves, but they work well as a unit."
Leading up to filming, each actor had ideas about ink to tell the background
of his character, which made Apone's job even more visible. "There are a lot of
identifiable things. Huntington Beach, South Bay, Ventura-these coastal cities
sort of gang tattoo that all fit exactly who they are." Apone had to be
to the meaning of every tattoo - and each character has several. According to
director's meticulous research, every military prison, Southern California
Sheriff's department tattoo, sported by the characters, tell specific stories,
piece even has its own font. Every detail added another layer of complexity to
The Right Kind of Gun Fight:
In a film where there's extensive gunplay throughout the story, the
armorer is a crucial position. The actors are working with tactical weaponry and
shooting tens of thousands of blanks. Safety is paramount and it all has to look
legitimate. The filmmakers worked with Janette Latrelle (Battle Los Angeles,
Retaliation), a weapons expert and one of the rare female armorers in the film
Latrelle, who began collecting firearms when she was 18, trained with the
weapons the actors use, and attended and trained them at their boot camp as
safety first. You don't want any injuries or mishaps because we're dealing with
something that can potentially hurt or even kill someone," she said. "It's
everyone knows what they're doing. The Outlaws were firing military weapons that
30, 30, 30 rounds. When they were out practicing in the field, they had room to
out - but try doing that when you're filming and have 200 people milling about
proximity. That's where you have to be really conscientious."
Jamie Marshall was astonished by the weapons technique of the actors, and the
overall commitment to a realistic depiction of gun fights. "I've worked on a lot
Woo movies," he said "and one of the things that doesn't ever ring true to me is
characters never seem to run out of bullets. It was fantastic to watch our
on camera in real time. You're able to stay in the moment. It's messy and
Shot over a period of ten days during the 52-day shoot, the most intense
takes place during the pivotal Alameda Corridor scene. The production took over
city blocks and a third of a mile of highway. The production used 250 cars and
destroyed 50 of them. They also unloaded at least 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
intensify the mood of this scene, the director opted out of using music. The
rounds firing off and impacting walls, cars and people is the sound that defines
Terry Stacey was continually vexed by the rapidly changing weather. However,
he was ultimately successful in recreating that stretch of Alameda, as it would
imagined during the most hellish of gunfights. By using long lenses and wide
was able to focus on individual characters in a sweeping cinematic way and also
the illusion that the action was happening in Los Angeles.
Butler loved the challenge of the scene. "The thing about the Alameda
that by the time it happens you're completely emotionally invested in the
said, "and this event is taking place in the worst possible place at the worst
time. Everyone is just trapped. Absolutely everything is unleashed during that
sequence. It's a huge adrenaline rush."
Starring in Den of Thieves are Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber (13 Hours, The
Manchurian Candidate), Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (War Dogs, Spy), O'Shea Jackson,
Jr. (Straight Outta Compton), Evan Jones (A Million Ways to Die in the West,
Squad, 8 Mile), Cooper Anderson (I Hate My Neighbor!), Maurice Compte (A Walk
Among Tombstones, End of Watch), Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau (American
Violence, Westworld), Mo McRae (Wild, Thirteen), Meadow Williams (Apollo 13) and
Brian Van Holt (Wild, S.W.A.T.)
The Rest of the Regulators:
Surrounding "Big Nick" is a motley crew of characters, whose expertise, in
Jay Dobyns refers to as "street theater," is unparalleled.
"We hit it off from the first dinner out at boot camp," says Kaiwi
who plays Tony Zapata, a magnetic ladies' man who's also Nick's mentee.
"Each of the Regulators is like a puzzle piece in the greater whole, and Tony
Moe McRae, who depicts smooth as silk Gus Henderson and Brian Van Holt,
who plays old school cop Murphy "Murph" Collins, found that a significant piece
character building was in creating the kind of muscle memory that allows their
characters to move like actual law enforcement. They were also attuned to making
the camaraderie of the group felt real. Both actors have friends and family in
enforcement and as a result, were deeply committed to getting it right.
The most troubled member of the Regulator crew is Benny "Borracho" Magalon,
who's played by Maurice Compte. Compte crafted an alcoholic gambler, who is
parts consummate law enforcement professional and soulful loser. "Christian knew
to put all these personalities together and it was seamless," he said. "Most
he created an environment that's allowed us to completely flesh out these
and then gave us space to reach higher."
Director Christian Gudegast has tremendous faith in what moviegoers will
experience when they see Den of Thieves. "I hope it becomes like a classic; one
those unforgettable movies, because of the characters we've created, because of
world that they go into, that it's exciting, that it's visceral, that it's
surprising that there's a
lot of funny stuff in this movie. And then it's touching and there's that
believability in that life and that culture. You know, as a study of that kind
there's a lot that people will identify with and take a lot of that home. But
after all that's
said and done, most important is that they just need to have a fucking good
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2018 114®, All Rights Reserved.