My name is Troy Duffy. Fans of my film know me as the guy who made The Boondock Saints. Some in the film industry know me as the guy who Harvey Weinstein bought a bar for. The Los Angeles Times knows me as “the biggest asshole in the movie business.” Quote un-fucking-quote.
In 1996 I was in a band with my brother, Taylor, and friends Jimi and Gordo. I was a bouncer/bartender at a club on Melrose and I’d caught the writing bug. Scrawling in notebooks between dustups and jam sessions, I cobbled together my first screenplay, The Boondock Saints. On cue, my old buddy CB (Chris Brinker) showed up demanding free drinks on the bar’s “Assistant Night,” pay stub from New Line firmly in hand. “What’cha been doing, Duff?”
I showed him my script and CB went to work. Three months later, in the midst of a bidding war between New Line and Miramax, I suddenly projectile vomited, ‘I want to direct this thing, too!’ The battle paused and all eyes narrowed at me. I did my best Clint Eastwood back at ‘em. “Fine!” And back to fisticuffs they went.
In the midst of the bloodbath, Harvey popped into the bar one night, limos and entourage in tow. “What are you going to do with all the money, Duffy?” I told him I was thinking of buying an ownership percentage of the bar. “Fuck that. I’ll buy the whole thing. You run it. We’ll split it 50/50.” That was it.
Soon after, I was on the cover of USA Today as the newest rags-to-riches tale, straight out of Hollywood.
Let us pause to put the final nail in the coffin on this bit of Hollywood lore: “Best efforts to negotiate the purchase of…” means no efforts. The sale never happened.
Right then, two friends of mine approached me with the idea of making a documentary on me, the band and everything we were doing. CB, myself and the rest of the guys powwowed about it. The documentarians then uttered the immortal words that would become their mantra: “Don’t worry, guys. We’re your friends. We’d never fuck you.”
Here’s what happened over the next eight years, in a nutshell: The band made its album and I made The Boondock Saints on my terms. The film would go on to become the biggest cult hit of the last decade. Though Boondock became financially successful, we never got paid. So “we sued the bastards” in a massive lawsuit that would drag on for five years. Everyone we brought to the mat eventually settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. As for, “We’re your friends. We’d never fuck you,” well that’s exactly what they did in the form of an 82-minute smear job called Overnight.
HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED FROM THIS EXPERIENCE:
I learned how to make a good movie. I learned that the politics of this business must be played, whether you like it or not. I learned that it is the fans who have the final say. I learned how to fight for my rights. I learned that when your buddies ask if they can follow you around with a video camera, the correct answer is, ‘No.’ I learned the measure of a man is how he deals with tragedy. I learned that there will always, be people out there who try to drag you down and you must not let them.
Did I mention that I was trying to set up the sequel to Boondock while trudging through the sea of shit addressed above? Well, that’s the next part of our story…
It was October 2008 and I was in Toronto, standing on the set of The Boondock Saints II, about to call ‘Action!’ for the first time in a decade. I stood up and gave a short speech. I got a little emotional. ‘Fuck it! Action!’
We were shooting in a tool shop we’d dressed to look like a small leather-making operation in New York City, circa 1958. These period piece flashbacks were my biggest creative concern; Boondock fans just weren’t used to this. The purpose of these scenes was to show the history of Billy Connolly’s character, his birth as a killer. It was risky, but two amazing young actors I had found in Toronto, Rob Mauriell and Matt Chaffee, were killing it.
As I stared into the monitors, that old feeling started bubbling to the surface. ‘Cut! Check it like a motherfucker!’ Day one we got 42 setups. Greased lightning. It would become the norm.
Every now and then a lighting or camera guy would pull me aside. “Boondock is one of my favorite movies. It’s an honor to be working on this film.” I had been trying to put my finger on what was so different this time around and it hit me: The fan base was constantly looming overhead. They had deemed Boondock sacred ground, and everyone felt it. Nobody wanted to be the guy who fucked up Boondock II in any way.
A week later we were in a field in Flamborough, Ontario. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus, my two dear friends and also my leads, teetered atop two very nervous horses. It was a nightmare. These animals weren’t having it. They couldn’t stand still and were displeased with their cargo.
Then I heard the sound you never want to hear on set, a sudden explosion of 50 different versions of “Oh shit!” I wheeled around. Flanery’s horse was trying to buck him off! Luckily, Sean was an experienced rider and was wrestling that beast like a rodeo champ. ‘That’s it! We’re done with the horses. One of my guys breaks a leg, we’re screwed.’
Later, I stood in a little Irish cottage we had built on the same farm. I gazed into a small handheld monitor that the camera guys had rigged for me as the indomitable Billy uttered his first lines of Boondock II. Billy was legit as ever as he spoke to the priest, Sibeal MacManus, expertly played by Mairtin O’Carrigan. I began to get lost in Billy’s performance when a moth fluttered up into frame. A moth! A symbol of death and rebirth! Billy’s character embodies these ideas! He’s even got a tattoo of a butterfly on his hand!
After I said, ‘Cut,’ camera operator Gilles Corbeil pulled away from his eyepiece, “We gotta go again, boss. There was a moth in the shot.” I turned, ‘The moth stays! I love the goddamn moth!’ (Spoiler: The moth made the cut. Keep your eye out for it in the first five minutes.)
What makes a good sequel? In my opinion you must give the fans everything they love about the first movie, but throw them a curveball, a new story they could not see coming. In week three, my biggest curveball sashayed onto the set: Julie Benz was here to play her opening scene as FBI agent Eunice Bloom. Julie was basically replacing Willem Dafoe’s character, Smecker, from the first film. Big shoes to fill, and I had not coddled her.
Julie was the first girl we had let into the boy’s clubhouse. Though I was sponsoring her for membership, I knew she had to earn her patch on her own. We were both nervous, but when the day was done, I knew she had killed it… and dismembered the body.
Word soon came from the board of directors—in this case, Billy, Sean and Norm—“She’s one of us. Patch her in.”
With my next curveball, I was taking no chances. Romeo, the third Saint, would be played by Clifton Collins Jr. Cliff is a longtime friend and I wrote the role specifically for him. Working with friends is always risky, but Cliffy and I had a shorthand: He’d roll up, “What’chu need, dog?” I’d tell him and two minutes later, I’d be looking at it. The man is a well-oiled machine.
Once the whirlwind in Toronto died down, I was sure of one thing: Every actor and craftsman who worked on Boondock II had given it their all. As I finish this article, I have just completed my final day of work on The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. It’s a bit sad but I’m glad it’s done. Is it any good? The fans will have the final say. See you in theaters.
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 9, 2010