May 21st, 2018

It started with one very simple question in the early morning of December 2nd, 2012 on the set of Black Eagle Phantasm: “One of you has a couple lines. Who wants to be Shorty?” Reluctantly, Wade Ouellette – already donning his camouflage and body armour, with his VFC PDW around his shoulder – raised his hand.

Wade isn’t an actor. A friend of Black Eagle screenwriter Daniel Stefanovich, Wade came to set to appear as an extra and lend his airsoft equipment to the production. But now, here he is – waiting out of frame holding a white, reusable grocery bag that he’s preparing to toss towards the feet of Viper and Jester, and listening to his cue – a high pitched exclamation that would cement Wade’s status as a Black Eagle regular delivered by his friend: “Shorty! What the hell’s going on?”

“Cut. Good. Reset,” director Kelly Stefanovich shouts. With that, Wade Ouellette is Shorty.

Thrown in to the role with only five minutes to prepare, Wade found motivation where he could. “My experience in airsoft helped me begin Shorty’s adventure. I was able to equip the character with not only my physical equipment but with the same mentality I have when I’m trying to win an airsoft game. Shorty knows his rank and wants to complete the objectives set forth before him.”

Raw footage of the first take Wade Ouellette
took as Shorty in BLACK EAGLE PHANTASM.

With one more scene in Black Eagle Phantasm where Shorty revels himself to be the “bad guy turned good,” Daniel Stefanovich reveals that Shorty was only supposed to be a surface character meant to service the story and nothing more.

“Shorty had toe-deep depth. He had a role in the script to get the heroes out of their jam and that was it. We shook Wade’s hand at the end of it, thanked him for everything he had done, and thought that would be the end of it.” It wasn’t. Although only appearing in under three minutes of the total running time, Shorty came out as a fan favourite upon the release of Black Eagle Phantasm. Sure, the audience had learned about Viper, Jester, and Alexis Foster, but what about the mysteriously heroic Shorty? Almost all of the feedback they got from the film was about Wade Ouellette’s character and the possibility of seeing more. There was only one problem.

“I killed him off,” Daniel laughs. “I sacrificed his character to help the audience sympathize with the predicament Viper was in.” Apparently, it worked too well. Although originally opposed to the idea, maintaining that Shorty had died in Phantasm and that he shouldn’t be brought back, the Goodnight Red team thought of a plan in which they could make their cake and eat it too – a prequel focused solely on a Shorty. Suddenly, Wade wasn’t just doing the filmmakers a favour – he was starring in his own solo film.

“Shorty for me started as a simple character that I needed to play to help my friends out with a dream,” says Ouellette. “I didn’t first think much of him as a character, but as the films developed and we talked about the character outside the context of the movies, I grew to be attached to him a little more.” To the Stefanovich’s delight, Ouellette agreed to reprise the role of Shorty.

“Black Eagle to me is a story of friendship and passion – and it’s a passion I grew in to,” Ouellette recognizes. “When I first started, I saw a group of my friends doing something they loved and as a friend of theirs I wanted to help them with that passion. I didn’t do War Game for the fame or money – I do it for memories and friendship.” With the sentiment, Daniel Stefanovich stepped in to the director’s chair for War Game and delivered the studio’s most popular film to date in no small part due to Ouellette’s willingness to be something greater.

“I would stand behind the camera and see him battling,” Daniel confesses. “He was trying to get it right, trying to do his best, trying to nail his lines. Wade’s not an actor – he’s never had any training, but he never, ever gave up. ”

Shorty (Wade Ouellette) patrols an abandoned
warehouse in BLACK EAGLE FOUR.

Kelly had the same reaction while watching the dailies. “I remember feeling bad for trying to push him so hard, but he wasn’t giving up. He would give us a take, and then shake it off and just say, “again – I can do better,” which speaks to his commitment. That made us want to do better for him. We wanted to make Wade proud of what he was doing.”

In War Game, Ouellette was helped in settling in to the role when one of his best friends, Rob Gaunt, was cast as Shorty’s partner, Rebound. “Rob is a character in and of itself, so being able to go on this journey with him was a blast. It’s exciting to see him get pumped up to a play a character that can sometimes just be an exaggerated version himself and at other times see him really shine as he portrays something more.” As someone who thrives on the experiences of friendship, Wade was able to dig and find something even deeper within the once paper-thin character of Shorty. “I’m glad that I’m able to have such close friends on set. To have Rob on set really helps when I need someone to bump my head off of to get back in the right frame of mind.”

The success of War Game rocketed another Shorty solo film, Downfall, to the forefront of production with another one of Wade’s good friends, Edward Campeau, being given the chance to not only direct the film but to write it. “That comfort level of being open to letting someone play in your sandbox comes from Wade,” screenwriter Daniel Stefanovich admits. Downfall marks the first time Daniel will not be writing a Black Eagle film. “I used to take myself so seriously and my way was the only way. Whether he knows it or not, Wade taught me the value of having these experiences just by having fun with my friends. The days go by so much easier, and there’s so much more joy to be had when it’s not just one person’s imagination telling the other ten’s what to do.”

Even in the upcoming Black Eagle Four in which Wade will play Shorty for the fourth time, matching Stefanovich’s Viper for the only two characters to appear in every Black Eagle film, Daniel says he took a page out of Wade’s book. “We encourage ideas on set, big and small. So many times someone has said, “wouldn’t it be great if…?” Five years ago I would have slammed my fist down and told them to read directly from the script. Now, I just want to have fun with my friends. I just want to sit down and enjoy this wonderful experience I’ve been afforded thanks to the selflessness and sacrifice of people like Wade. Don’t take yourself so seriously.”

Stefanovich agrees that Ouellette sums it up better than he ever could: “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, what’s the reason for even doing it?”