Organ harvesting in the criminal underground is the gruesome subject of the directorial debut of London-based Serb actor Branko Tomovic.
The star of 24: Live Another Day, The Bourne Ultimatum and Brad Pitt’s WWII tank story Fury, co-wrote the dark thriller with young writer Paul D. Clancy.
The film is a character study about Niklas, a tormented and guilt-ridden surgeon who targets the clients of young prostitute Mia to harvest organs for the ‘red market’.
“Niklas is a troubled character with a complicated past,’ said Branko. “He is a loner, a man of few words.
“He exists in the shadows like a hitman, performing his job with cold precision, but he has grown to hate himself for the man he has become.”
Violent crime of organ trafficking
Haunted by self-hatred, Niklas longs to leave the grim world behind him but is prevented from finding redemption by violent crime boss Ed, to whom he owes his life. Unfortunately for Niklas, Ed would rather kill him than release him from his debt.
“The world of the illegal organ trade is a very dangerous one, and not just in the way people would expect,’ said Branko. “I wanted to tell the story from the point of someone who is trapped in it, rather than from the victim’s perspective.
“I am always fascinated by things in our lives that are not obvious to everyone’s eye, the dark truths on the sideline of our society.”
Branko is unperturbed about playing the lead in his directorial debut. “I spent so much time developing the character of Niklas,’ he said. “I know him best and it makes sense to play him myself. Having a split personality will probably help and, funnily enough, he also looks like me!”
Homeland, 24 and Bourne Ultimatum
As an actor, Branko has worked for outstanding directors, including Ken Loach, Paul Greengrass, Soenke Wortmann, David Ayer and Pete Travis.
“I learnt so much from these collaborations” said Branko. “They are very different in their approach and have their own way of directing but, what they all have in common is a unique voice as a director, as well as endless passion and enthusiasm for their work.
“I have always been fascinated by great directors. There are so many that I admire: David Lynch, Michael Haneke and Tim Burton. I’d say that this film will be very much influenced by Blue Velvet,which was a trigger for my love of film.
“After seeing that film I knew I wanted to work in movies but going down the actor’s path was easier and I stuck with it. I have been quite successful as an actor but I have always had the appetite to be a filmmaker.”
As well as being Moviescope Magazine’s ‘One to Watch’, Branko has won awards and nominations on the international film festival circuit, and was widely acclaimed for his role in British horror Entity.
Directorial debut for Branko Tomovic
He has just wrapped on City of Tiny Lights, a contemporary thriller directed by Pete Travis and starring Billie Piper and Riz Ahmed, and filmed an episode of the new series of hit thriller Homeland.
After building a successful career as an actor in film and TV, Branko knew how important it would be to find the right project for his directorial debut.
“The time has come for me to explore the other side of the camera,’ said Branko. “There is a lot at stake when you transition from one field of work to another so I wanted to make sure I had something interesting to say and could find my own voice as a director.
“The key will be precise preparation. I will need to prepare everything to the smallest detail so that, once on set, I will have answers to the stuff that is thrown at me.”
Organ trade in the Balkans
Organ smuggling has been a hot topic in the Balkans in recent years, with criminal allegations and rumours going right to the very top. In spite of that connection, Branko explained that the story is not linked to any particular state.
“Our film will be shot in London, but it could be any big city” he said. “We tried to avoid any connection to specific nationalities or countries. It’s a hot topic everywhere but so little is actually known about the organ trade. It’s a very real and very dangerous issue, which is what makes it such a rich vein for a filmmaker.
To help tell such an important story, Branko has attracted an impressive international cast not usually known for signing up to short films.
The pivotal character will be Ed, a sadistic violent crime boss. “Ed is very intelligent and charismatic, but also the scariest person you’ll ever meet,” said Branko. “As a high-ranking figure in the organ trade, they are the puppet master who controls the fate of many lives.
Serbian actress Branka Katic to star in Red
Such a weighty role would call for a serious actor, of course, as Branko explained. “For this role, we wanted to cast a high profile actor, a hugely recognisable talent with gravitas and a powerful presence” he said. “The role was actually written as male but I thought it would be a great twist to make Ed female.”
Patience paid off when renowned Serbian actress Branka Katic read the script and expressed her intent to take on the villainess role.
“I am a huge fan of Branka’s work with great directors such as Emir Kusturica, Michael Mann and Fatih Akin” Branko said. “She is brilliant, exciting and stunning in everything she does. We are very excited.”
The other main character will be Mia, a tough young prostitute, to be played by Francesca Fowler (Dr Who and Rome). “Mia has somehow gone off the tracks as a young girl” said Branko.
“She has a sense of naivety and innocence about her but she is actually stone cold inside. She has been hardened by life and does what needs to be done to stay alive.”
“Mia is always a bit drunk or drugged just to avoid reality. Essentially, she is a lost innocent young girl living this damaged existence.”
Kickstarter campaign to fund directorial debut
With the right script and cast in place, it rested with Branko to come up with cash to make the film. As well as putting in their own money, Branko and his producers Adrian Carswell and Dina Vickermann hope to attract support with a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign.
“It’s hard to get an independent film project off the ground, no matter how fantastic it is, which is why we have chosen this route to financing the film” he said.
“In return for small sums, we can offer some great rewards via the campaign, such as credits, a DVD of the film, signed posters and film props. For high rollers, we can even offer roles as extras and an associate producer credit.”
Once he had the right script and a plan to finance the film, Branko was keen to handpick his team for the project.
“Film is a team effort, so it is important to surround yourself with great and lovely people who you completely trust and who are great at what they do” he said. “Everyone on the crew I have worked with before and know how amazing they are.”
London shoot for Serb filmmaker’s debut
Red will be shot in central London in January, after which the film will be taken on the international festival circuit. “We are aiming for great exposure at A-list festivals like Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Tribeca, Sundance and London” said Branko. “If it is successful as a short, we think our story has great potential to be developed into a feature film, so who knows where we will find ourselves this time next year.
“I am very excited that my debut will be with such an intense thriller. I think we have something wonderful here. I would shoot it tomorrow if we could.”
* To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, click here.
This article was originally published in Wild Rooster and is reproduced with the kind permission of Marcus Agar.