ROUND TABLE INTERVIEW with ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED WRITER
Chatting about his directorial debut of
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
ROUND-TABLE CRITICS: Kathy Kaiser MatineeChat.com & AM590 the FAN
Kevin Brackett – Reviewstl.com & AM 590 the FAN
Tom Stockman – weararemoviegeeks.com
Dan Buffa – KSDK Newschannel 5
Sandra Olmstead – Cinemaspoke
Lynn Venhaus – Kirkwood Times
Q: How did the Q & A go last night following the screening of THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE?
Jason: It was great, I think it was very impactful for people – We had a hand full of Veterans join us. It was really nice.
Q: Do you think working on American Sniper helped to prepare you for this movie, in helping to create relationships with some of the guys, and preparing them for this movie?
Jason: I think it helped them trust me, but I think what I had to do was different. I thought I would walk in and I would know who these guys were, I know their language, but in the end, that wasn’t true. These guys fought a different war than Chris Kyle fought, they came from different places, different backgrounds, and most starkly they had different training. Chris and the training that Navy Seals have, they are put through such rigorous training, and so many of them are eliminated early on, that they end up with the sharpest minds, that can endure the most. But with the ranked Military, this is not the case. In 2007, 39% of the guys who enlisted were on waivers, for the trouble they had with the law or mental issues they had encountered in their lives, prior to enlisting, so they had to get a special waiver to serve. So our Military was taking in a lot of guys, who already had some challenges in their lives, and then we are putting them into a hum-ve, and they are driving around, waiting to get blown up. When you start adding trauma and brain injury to those challenges, you are looking at having some serious consequences.
Q: Why did you choose to not show at least some of the treatment that Shuman and Solo received in the film?
Jason: There was such a hurdle to getting this treatment; going into the treatment itself would have made this a totally different movie. I did explore it in various drafts of the script, and what you find in writing a script is you have to write the story that it isn’t sometimes, to get into the story that it is. The first entire script was totally about Fred Gusman. So, in the first script the main character was the guy that eventually you only hear on the phone. It is played perfectly by David Morse, and you definitely trust this guy, you believe in this guy…but now he is only the guy you hear on the phone, and he was going to be our lead character in the start of this process…
Q: Do you think that soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are more damaged mentally than in past wars?
Jason: I think a majority of these soldiers come home and they are not damaged at all. But when you hear the statistics that 1 in 4 who come home have some form of PTSD, lots of them are. The distinct difference between these soldiers and the guys who fought in Vietnam, is the blast waves. Once you start dealing with the IED’s and the way it starts affecting the brain with its percussive nature, it’s actually closer to the guys who served in WWI. We seem to think that the explosions due this, when in actuality, it’s the waves that come at you at the speed of sound, and then hit you like a brick wall.
Q: How does this film compare to others films that are more pro-war, where this film is more about PTSD? Do you think there is any resistance from veterans in viewing this type of film?
Jason: The only resistance, or push back that we have gotten is from combat veterans who are thinking, “why do I want to see this?” I lived this! But once they come and view the film, screening after screening we hear, WOW! Someone finally told my story! That’s what we’ve gotten over and over again. But of course we face the hurdle of getting Veterans to believe this isn’t a hollywoodized version of their story. We went to extreme measures to make this the most realistic, authentic depiction of what these guys have been through, for that reason…so that we as a society can understand what they went through, causing us to want to have a conversation with them, as we learn to welcome them home…
Even within the families that have viewed the film, they gain the courage to ask their loved ones “ Do you have stories like this film depicts that you haven’t shared”, and they say, well, yes…but sometimes sharing what they went through is really difficult, and they think that their families aren’t ready yet, or that they don’t want to burden them with what they went through…
I feel that it is our responsibility to help these guys! It’s like everyone asks me about what can we do to help the VA. The VA is trying to fix the VA, but it’s up to us to help welcome these guys home…it’s all of our responsibility.
Like in Israel, where everybody serves, there is less incidence of PTSD, because they all know what they have been through. They all welcome this warrior into their homes, and ask him to share his stories, and share what they went through too. And that kind of therapy, that kind of exchange, doesn’t happen here.
I personally experienced this watching Adam Schuman recover. We talked about this guy’s war with him for hundreds of hours. And then an actor comes in and asks him even more questions, and talks and talks and talks. And finally after disclosing it all, his life is truly changed. I couldn’t have predicted how much it would change from the first time I talked to him on the phone over three years ago…
Q: Do you think that there is actually a way to educate our Veterans to get them to understand why they should see this movie?
Jason: I think that the only way that you can get combat Veterans to see this movie, it is really has to come from other combat veterans who share how they felt when they experienced it. But I think for the general public, its conveying this is NOT A CRY FEST or TRAUMA DRAMA, that this is a real depiction of what these guys go through.
The difference in this movie is it’s a war movie, which takes place at home…
Q: How hard was it to capture the essence of these soldiers depicted in this film?
Jason: It was challenging. It was like preaching and trying to convert someone over. Its like Hollywood comes in and they usually mess things up really good. But I had the benefit of having worked on SNIPER, and I had the benefit of having Steven Spielberg behind this film, but they were all really weary at the start. So it was a challenge to get them invested, get them to trust me. Get them to trust the actors that were going to play them, as we also pulled in actors that weren’t household names. But in every case across the board in making this film, their actors gave them a sense of security, which in turn made it easier for us to convince many of the real life soldiers to be in this film. We approached all of this with care and concern and tried to make everything as realistic and honest as possible.
Q: With all the journalists who have covered War throughout the years, what drew you to want to share David Finkel’s work?
Jason: Well I think the fact that he dedicated himself so totally, that he went to war with them for 10 months. I mean he went over there and rode with them, getting blown up, getting shot at. Then he wrote “The Good Soldiers”. He came home and documented war in a way that I had never, ever seen before. And what he also did in his writing is he articulated the cyclical nature of trauma thought. In his book, the way that the proses come outs, it goes around and around and it always circles back, just like incessant thoughts these guys have. And that nature in the way he wrote affected the way in that I told the story. It was also important for me convey a part of this story from the caregivers thought process too… Like this man you love has just gone through this extraordinary event, and the caregivers have no idea who any of these people in their lives are, and really know nothing about their experiences… and that is why that part of the movie slowly spews out. It’s done on purpose, as it’s exactly how these families experience it, if they experience it at all…
Q: As a Director, what did you learn from working with Clint Eastwood on AMERICAN SNIPER?
Jason: Clint is such a personality. I guess I was the first writer he let stick around, I’m told, because I was around for the entire shoot. He was super generous with me, and would ask my opinion on stuff, which isn’t a common character trait for him either, asking anybody else’s opinion…
He is just such a charming guy. And what I learned from him was just keeping it loose, and being flexible. And if he has any instinct at all, he just changes the tone of the scene, or turns it on its head and goes in a different direction.
And what I learned from Clint too is TRUTH. He is trying to put truth up on the screen. That is his whole goal ~ what he sees as the truth in what he is trying to put up on the screen. That differs from Spielberg, in the sense that Spielberg is more about what are we trying to make the audience feel. He wants to know what we want the audience to feel from this scene, and Clint’s saying, “What’s the truth of this scene”. Its two different ways of tackling the same horse, but it was very interesting experiencing both schools of thought…
Q: Given your affinity for the Military, it seems that you have come into your own very quickly making AMERICAN SNIPER and now THANK YOUR FOR YOUR SERVICE. Do you want to make more films about Military issues, and do you think there is going to be a continuing market for them?
Jason: I think that there is a continuing market for them. I’m really attracted to the characters. Its’ not even so much this world, as the people… People gifted like Kris and like Adam with some power, some skill or belief, and what it cost them…
Q: So Miles Teller has brought your story onto the screen…is there a reason why you cast him in this role?
Jason: You know, my favorite performance of Miles’ is RABBIT HOLE ~ his first film. He brings such a sense of truth and authenticity to everything he does. Even when he is being a wise acre in some of the comedies he’s done, there is an ease to him that I find really compelling. I also find in many ways he is a character actor in a leading mans body, so he has the ability to disappear into these roles, which is really important…
Q; Last night at the Q & A, you shared that Spielberg likes watching THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, and he watches it often. What influences did you have, whether it is from storytelling, or camera techniques? What influences you from that genre that maybe you applied to this film?
Jason: THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was great in terms of social realism. You feel as if a camera was put into a room, and its all just happening, and that’s what we wanted here. We wanted to feel as realistic as possible. We filled the VA with real Veterans. When we shot in Solo’s house; we decorated it just like any picture we could find of it. And the war scenes in many cases were filled with actual graffiti that was documented by magnum photographer David Vanicimilla in a urinal in Iraq. We recreated truth, because I think that there is an element of that that resonates differently. When social realism as an idea may confuse people, but its just telling the truth. Its cutting as close to the bone as possible, The only other thing we could have gone further with was casting real veterans throughout the entire film, but we tried…
Q: Who would you like to see star in your new GEORGE WASHINGTON PROJECT?
Jason: George Washington! Really, all kidding aside, the person who most resembles the George Washington that I’m focusing on, as in my story he is only 22, which might make this one a bit harder to cast…
Don’t forget to head out to a theater near you this weekend to catch Jason’s latest film – THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. It is a definite MUST SEE ON THE BIG SCREEN – as it’s message and the way Jason brings you deep into the lives of these soldiers, and their families, once they return home, is something ALL AMERICAN’s should experience, at least once!