Producer and screenwriter Kraig Wenman has more than paid his dues in the film industry.
The White Rock resident has racked up some 63 feature film script sales to his credit, of which 27 have been produced; including many for the Lifetime Movie Network and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channels.
If there was any doubt that Wenman has his finger on the pulse of what audiences want to see, it should be dispelled by the fact that his 2019 psychological thriller Secret Obsession scored 40 million views in just 28 days, placing it among the top 10 most-watched Netflix Originals ever.
But he’s stepping into new territory as writer-producer with his latest feature film, Bandit, currently before the cameras in Thomasville, Ga.
With a bankable cast, including Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Olivia D’Abo and Mel Gibson, Wenman said it’s more than likely Bandit will be able to secure at least a small theatrical release window, before being sent to the major streaming networks.
And that’s very gratifying for Wenman, who, in an interview from the set with Peace Arch News described the movie as “a passion project” he’s been working on, between more meat-and-potatoes assignments, since 2017.
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Ironically, it’s a Canadian subject, with, in addition to Wenman, a Canadian co-star (Cuthbert) and a Canadian director (Allan Ungar), but – in a complete reversal of the usual movie policy – it’s being shot in the U.S. with Georgia locations, with altered mailboxes and street signs, filling in for Canada.
“Since COVID, there have been some problems with financing in Canada,” Wenman said. “It was easier to put this together in Georgia.”
Bandit is the true life story of U.S.-born bank-robber Gilbert Galvan (played by Duhamel), who in the late 1980s won himself the title of Canada’s “flying bandit.”
Living under the alias of Robert Whiteman – ostensibly a successful courier of stocks and bonds – the then-boyish and personable Galvan lived a comfortable middle-class existence in Pembroke, Ont. with a wife, Andrea (played by Cuthbert) who had no inkling of his real occupation.
But Galvan, who loved to fly first class out of Toronto with Air Canada, always carried a little extra luggage with him – two handguns and a multitude of easily-shed disguises. After descending on some other Canadian city, he would pull off one or two slickly executed bank jobs before calmly boarding another Air Canada jet for the return flight, with a briefcase now full of cash.
In a notably non-violent three-year crime spree in some 15 cities, Galvan was estimated to have raked in some $2.3 million. And according to some police officers who investigated his crimes, he was so good at his illicit profession he might still have been doing it, if he hadn’t run into a canny and charismatic jewel-fancier named Tommy Craig (played in the film by Gibson), who operated a string of strip clubs across Ontario and was reputed to be one of the province’s biggest fences of stolen property.
Galvan – who ultimately served time for his crimes – is very much involved in the movie based on his life, Wenman said.
“He’s actually a friend of mine,” he said, noting he was introduced to Galvan through Robert Knuckle, author of the book The Flying Bandit, for which Wenman purchased the movie rights and which forms the basis of the screenplay.
They hit it off almost instantly, Wenman said.
“We went down to Chicago, and he took me to places he hung out with all his friends and he also took me through a couple of banks – so I know pretty much what you’d be looking for, if you were going to rob a bank.”
Wenman noted that Galvan hates the tag ‘flying bandit’ (“it’s the most uncool name, he says”) – which is very probably why the current project is called simply Bandit – but is very enthused about the film version of his story.
“He’s quite a character,” Wenman added.
“He’s been out for a while and working as a truck driver. He’s going to come to Georgia and he and I are going to be in the background of some scenes.
“He told me, ‘You’d better make this movie – I earned it.’”
What happened to the $2.3 million? Long gone, according to Galvan.
Wenman chuckles as he recalls the robber’s response.
“He said, ‘I can say it with a smile, or I can say it straight-faced – there is no money.’”
Son of the late Fraser Valley West MP Bob Wenman, the writer-producer spent his early years in Glebe, Ont., not too far from Galvan’s old stamping grounds, and said he grew up hearing stories about the bank robber.
“I wondered if they were an urban legend, but later I started researching the story and eventually bought the book.”
He wasn’t sure how large a scale production Bandit was going to be initially, he said.
“But as soon as Josh said ‘OK, I’m in,’ that takes the level up right away – I had actors start contacting me.”
He was delighted Cuthbert joined the project – he’s been a fan since she appeared in House of Wax – and is still amazed that Gibson came aboard, he said.
While some may dwell on the actor’s checkered past, Wenman said he prefers to “concentrate on the positive.”
To his mind, there’s no doubt that Gibson is a good fit for the dangerous, yet ‘Teddy bear’ quality of Craig, who became something of a father-figure for Galvan.
“It’s great that someone with his range is playing the part,” he said.
“When I heard that Mel was coming up for the part, I started thinking about expanding the role,” he added. “When you have access to ‘Braveheart,’ you’re going to add in some monologues.”