The Untold Story of “Slaughter Nick for President”


Rob Stewart as beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, with Carolyn Dunn in “Tropical Heat” AKA “Sweating Bullets”


The indy documentary, “Slaughter Nick For President” follows Canadian actor Rob Stewart (most well-known for playing the ruthless assassin Roan on “Nikita”) on a trip to the Eastern European nation of Serbia, where he is a huge celebrity because of a TV role he played in the 1990s.

The Canadian late-night crime show “Tropical Heat” (aired in the USA as “Sweating Bullets”) followed the tongue-in-cheek exploits of beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, as he solved crimes on a fictional resort island. Unbeknownst to anyone involved with the production, the show aired in Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars, where it become an enormous cultural phenomenon, and inspired a generation of political activists.

In “Slaughter Nick For President,” Stewart and his friends, siblings Liza Vespi and Marc Vespi, travel to Serbia and try to figure out why “Tropical Heat” and Stewart’s character, Nick Slaughter, are so immensely popular. “Slaughter Nick For President” is available for instant viewing on Amazon and iTunes, as well as on Google Play, Vudu and DVD.

Fortunately for CrewOfOne readers, the film’s Executive Producer/Producer/Co-Director Liza Vespi was kind enough to talk to me about this truly one-of-a-kind project.

Backstage at the To Be Punk Festival, June 2009, Novi Sad, Serbia.

Producer/Co-Director Liza Vespi (middle) with Belgrade Co-Producers Verica Andrejic (left) and Dragana Tesic (right) backstage at the To Be Punk Festival, June 2009, Novi Sad, Serbia.

Q&A With “Slaughter Nick For President” Producer/Co-Director Liza Vespi

Liza, in the film, Rob explains that he and Marc had been friends since childhood, but that at the time this project got started, both men had fallen on hard times and were living in their parents’ basements. What convinced you that these guys – and this project – could be successful?

I think that when a fully-formed, compelling story comes your way, as an artist and storyteller, you simply have to listen to your intuition and then gather up the courage to charge ahead. So when Rob forwarded me that very first email from the administrator of the Serbian Facebook group devoted to Nick Slaughter I knew that there was a delicious sweet spot in the story. It was truly extraordinary and after the the three of us discussed it, we knew that the story needed to be told as a documentary. None of us had had any knowledge of the peace movement in Serbia — it was never reported in the Western media — and so we felt an obligation to get this inspiring story out into the wider world.

You, Marc and Rob are Canadian, but the film is listed as a Canadian/Serbian production, and most of the crew have foreign-looking names. How did you pull together such an international effort to get this film made?

Once the three of us had committed to doing the project, Marc set about getting in contact with the punk band Atheist Rap who’d written the song “Nick Slaughter, Serbia Hails You”. After convincing them that, yes, this was the real Rob Stewart, the band’s manager told us that there was an upcoming 20th Anniversary concert being planned in Novi Sad, Serbia, and that if we were able to get over there, Rob could perform the eponymous song on stage with the band. We needed a local crew and the band recommended a Belgrade production company headed up by Bane Antovic. The race was on. We had less than 6 months to raise enough funds, do our research and complete pre-production. Bane’s company ended up being the perfect crew for us as they had covered the student protest movement in the ’90s and had connections to student leader Srdja Popovic and other key people in the media.


Rob Stewart good-naturedly cooperating with an absurd Serbian commercial production.

As a commercial director, I was very amused by the scene in which Rob stars in an outlandish Serbian TV spot for what appear to be black-market harddrives. Did you ever figure out what that product actually was, and is the finished commercial online anywhere?

Full disclosure. That scene was a genius set-up by Marc as an homage to “Lost in Translation,” essentially. Unbeknownst to Rob, Marc had contacted the Belgrade crew to ask them to arrange for a fake commercial to be shot. The hard drive itself is an actual product, as I understand it, but the spot was basically punking Rob. It was the only scene in which we, as storytellers, took some artistic narrative licence to ramp up the “fish out of water” aspect of the story. It always gets big laughs at the screenings and that’s been very gratifying for us to share the humour.

The trip to Serbia starts off as a gigantic ego-trip for Rob, but once it becomes clear that his work was truly meaningful to the people he meets, he becomes a real-life detective, trying to unravel the mystery of how and why “Tropical Heat” became so important to this war-torn country. Was this shift in tone something that you, Marc and Rob planned from the outset, or did it occur organically?

We really had no idea how Rob would be accepted once we arrived — in fact, we weren’t entirely sure that he was even as famous as we were led to believe by the Facebook fans. But we decided to go over to investigate, regardless. If he wasn’t all that famous and his arrival there was anti-climactic it would have been an entirely different film, perhaps more humorous. But the transformation in Rob, and all of us, that took place as we traveled through Serbia was quite remarkable. Listening to the hardships, the struggles and the inspiring stories of non-violent resistance really made a deep impression on us and we hope that comes through in the film.


Rob Stewart basking in his celebrity status on a Serbian TV game show.

In the film, Rob mentions that the year is 2009. According to IMDB, the film was released in 2012, but it’s only just now available online. Clearly, it’s been quite a long process for you to bring “Slaughter Nick For President” to a mass audience. Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you overcame? In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?

Six years in and I feel like Sisyphus. Rolling that indie film boulder up the steep hill is definitely not for the faint of heart. The journey began at the very end of 2008 when Rob first discovered the Facebook fan site. By January 2009, we’d committed to doing the film. June 2009, we had a crazy two-week shoot in Serbia. July 2009, we were pitching at a TV fest in Rome, trying unsuccessfully to get a pre-sale with international broadcasters. By the Fall of 2009, when we should have been in full-swing on post-production, the Toronto production company that had partnered with us to provide post services suddenly went bankrupt. Now what? We had a unique, compelling story, great footage, lots of enthusiasm… but no resources to complete the film.

Most of 2010 and half of 2011 we spent casting about with broadcasters and funding agencies, looking for completion funds. But we just couldn’t secure them. It was becoming horribly apparent that we truly *were* indie. The cavalry was not coming to rescue us. But I just couldn’t let the project die. So I talked to Rob and Marc and proposed that I take over as sole Executive Producer. And I committed $40,000(CDN) of my own funds to complete the film.

Now the race was on again. It was June 2011 and I wanted to have the film ready for January 2012 festival submission deadlines. I pulled together a fantastic post-production crew consisting of friends, Darrell MacDonald, Picture Editor; Scott McCrorie, Supervising Sound Editor; and Meiro Stamm, Composer. Other key people on my team were consulting producers and creatives, Steve Beinicke, Chuck Scott and George Flak. They provided tremendous moral support throughout the entire completion process. We completed the film by January 2012 and had our world premiere at North by Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto in June 2012 and our European premiere at the Cinema City festival in Novi Sad, Serbia, the same month.

A few months later the film won Best Documentary at the Zagreb Film Festival in Croatia. That win was hugely satisfying and humbling, given the troubled past between Serbia and Croatia. As a result of our festival run I was able to attract Canadian distributor IndieCan Entertainment to handle Canadian theatrical, Ryan Bruce Levey Film Distribution & PR to oversee US theatrical, and Passion River Films as our educational, home video and digital streaming sales agent. It’s been a very long, steep road to full distribution in this rapidly evolving marketplace and I’ve learned tons along the way.

Looking back, I know that committing my own funds to complete my first feature-length documentary was extremely risky. But when I’m philosophical about it, I realize that I would have spent that much at a top-tier film school only to come out with a student short. Would I commit my own funds a second time? Nope.


A Serbian protester interacts with a security officer.

Here in North America, most people’s knowledge of the Yugoslav Wars, and the peaceful overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, is extremely limited. What insights do you hope “Slaughter Nick For President” brings to Canadian and American viewers?

Right from the beginning, we hoped that we could bring this important and inspiring story of non-violent protest to the widest possible audience. This was a story that was completely ignored by the Western media in favour of running the high-conflict story of the tyrant Milosevic and his henchmen as they carried out their atrocities. In the process, the Serbian people as a whole were demonized by the media on the basis of the actions of their dictator — a dictator the majority did not elect, did not approve of and, in fact, actively protested against for a prolonged period of time. Most extraordinary is that they managed to oust Milosevic peacefully. Not a single protester died while carrying out their peaceful resistance. It can be done. Citizens of the world, take heart. Keep resisting tyranny in all its forms.

The archival footage of Serbian protesters interacting peacefully with riot police is truly remarkable, especially in contrast to the violent protests and clashes with police that we’re now seeing in many countries, including the USA. As you’ve been watching the news for the last couple of years after wrapping up this project, what has jumped out at you as being the parallels between Serbia in the ’90s, and the Eurozone/America today?

I read the news every single day. And every single day at least once I remark to myself that non-violent resistance is the one and only solution. The Serbians successfully achieved their goal of toppling a dictator by using their intelligence and sense of humour. Non-violent resistance leader Srdja Popovic coined the term “laughtivism” — those clever protest techniques used by Otpor, the student protest group he helped create in the ’90s, and present-day activists like The Yes Men. We need much more laughtivism in this broken world of ours.

Rob Stewart and Marc Vespi with Atheist Rap

Rob Stewart (left) and Marc Vespi (right) with Atheist Rap’s Radule (middle) at the tech check for the To Be Punk Festival, June 2009, Novi Sad, Serbia.

Looking at Rob’s credits on IMDB, it appears that his career took off, right after the trip to Serbia. What impact has this film had, personally and professionally, on the three of you?
I think that, after falling on hard times, finding out that Nick Slaughter was the most-loved TV character in an entire nation’s history was like a fairy tale for Rob. That sort of love and attention just has to raise anyone’s vibration to attract more good things. All three of us have had personally-enriching experiences as a result of making the documentary.

Now that “Slaughter Nick For President” has successfully been launched, what’s next for you and your colleagues? Any new projects we should be watching out for?
In addition to finishing a screenplay which had to be put on hold while completing and promoting “Slaughter Nick for President,” I’m currently researching (and looking for funding on!) my next documentary. My talented brother Marc is writing and painting. And the inimitable Rob Stewart can be seen in several new TV series, including the hit sci-fi show “Killjoys”. He no longer lives in his parents’ basement.

“Crew Of One” Director Tries The “One Man Crew Director”


Since I’m a video director with a blog called “Crew of One,” it’s only natural that I’d be interested in a product called “One Man Crew Director.” As a commercial shooter with 15+ years of experience, I love projects that allow me to hire my core group of freelancers, but often I find myself working on assignments in which I have to be the director, DP, audio operator, grip, gaffer and editor, all by my lonesome. On these “crew of one” jobs, it’s always a challenge to add visual interest and production value, especially to “talking-head” shots of sales pitches or interviews. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Redrock Micro’s “One Man Crew Director” (OMCD) is designed to do.

Q&A With “Heavy Objects” Director Fletcher Crossman

Fletcher Crossman

I had the pleasure of meeting phenomenally talented artist Fletcher Crossman back in 2009, when I photographed him in his backyard studio for a now-defunct magazine. At the time, Fletcher was focused on painting: his large-scale, figurative paintings – often incorporating text and political/philosophical overtones – made a big impression on me.

I found Fletcher himself to be a very affable British expatriate with a dry sense of humor, and the kind of vivid imagination rarely found in anyone over the age of three. We kept in touch after the shoot, and in 2010, we collaborated on a short documentary called “The Apple Thief.” The film followed Fletcher as he worked on a huge, controversial painting of a woman in a Christ-like crucifixion pose, while having challenging conversations with religious leaders about the role of women as defined by different faiths.

“House Of Cards” Style Photo Tutorial

I had so much fun doing a self-portrait in the style of the “Gotham” promo photos that I decided to do another. This time, I’m using as a stylistic reference the extremely cool b&w portraits done for the Netflix hit series, “House Of Cards.”


As with most promotional images, all the copyright info is for Netflix, so I have no idea who actually took these photos. I suspect that the individual portraits were shot on a Hasselblad, probably with some kind of large “beauty dish” lighting, and then stitched together in Photoshop.

But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t do something similar, in whatever space, and with whatever equipment we have! Here are a few of the shots I came up with for myself.

House Of Cards style lighting

Without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on “House Of Cards” style photo lighting.

“Gotham”-Style Photo Tutorial


I’m a big fan of the new “Gotham” TV show. I also like the promo images that were done for each of the main characters. I couldn’t find any information online about who took the images,or how they were done, so I decided to figure out how to do something similar myself.


Waveform 101

Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.

In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.

Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.

Goodwill Christmas TV

I was recently hired by the good folks as The Brandon Agency to shoot, direct & edit a series of spots they’d written for Goodwill Industries. In time for the season, here’s the Christmas spot.

Basic Audio Processing in Adobe Audition

A friend of mine recently edited his first TV commercial, and got this note from the TV station:

I wanted to let you know about the latest spots I just put in the system. The quality, especially of the audio, is quite bad.
The audio levels swing wildly from quiet to loud throughout, making the quieter parts hard to hear because I have to set the levels for the louder sections. Some of the audio also sounds like it was recorded a bit hot and distorts a bit. Also, some of the voiceover and stand ups audio only comes out of the left audio channel rather than both.

Ouch! Fortunately, aside from the audio that was recorded “a bit hot” and distorted, all of this can easily be fixed. Audio purists may be horrified by my approach, but it’s quick and effective.

Is Tamron’s 17-50mm f/2.8 The Perfect Blackmagic Lens?

Ever since the original Canon 5D MkII opened up the world of accessible large-sensor video, it’s been hard to stomach the reduction in field of view that a cropped sensor demands. I absolutely love the image quality that my Blackmagic Production Camera captures, but the 1.7x crop factor made it a challenge to keep working with the same lenses that I used with my 5D2.

For example, my go-to lens for wide-angle handheld work with the 5D2 has always been the Canon 20mm f/2.8, and my favorite general-purpose lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. But neither of those lovely pieces of glass work the same way on the BMPC, because of the crop factor.

After investing in a couple of new lenses (plus digging an old 8mm Peleng out of my closet), I set out to do a side-by-side comparison to determine what lenses I can count on, and which I should leave in the bag.

First up was the Peleng 8mm. I bought this Soviet-era marvel years ago to use with a Krasnogorsk 16mm film camera. I had used it for a couple of fisheye shots on my Canon 5D, but I’ve really never had much use for it.

Here’s what it looked like. For each lens, I’m showing a scaled-to-fit image and a 100% crop from the ProRes HQ 4K video file.

8mm 01

8mm 02

While the ultra-wide angle is impressive, and the vignetting could be dealt with, the lack of clarity in the image would be hard to justify for any serious production.

Getting Decent Audio Out Of The Blackmagic 4K Production Camera

bmpc audio meters

Last week, Blackmagic announced that their v1.9 firmware update for the 4K Production Camera would include audio meters. This was met with great rejoicing by camera purchasers who have been struggling with the amazingly bad audio functionality of this otherwise exemplary device.

Let me preface what follows by mentioning that I have used a lot of cameras and audio equipment over the last 20 years, and the Blackmagic Production Camera is by far the absolute worst. Not only are the onboard preamps noisier than the worst DSLR – meaning that using anything more than 10% gain will result in audio so full of hiss that is almost totally unusable – but the input tolerance seems to have been calibrated for some kind of alien technology. Every type of signal I fed into it was either clipped or inaudible – and often both!

Armed with the new audio meters, I resolved to test the BMPC’s finicky sound circuits more systematically.