What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
Virginia Newcomb, the lead in the film, approached me about wanting to play an “aggressive female character”. For the script, I sort of worked backwards from there to seek what might cause a character to behave erratically in such a way. Once I decided to pursue a military theme, specifically the issue of PTS, the story developed quickly. Upon further research on the matter we discovered how large an issue it really is. From there we knew it was worth pursuing for production and became fond of the idea of telling this story from the perspective of a female character.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
I’m gonna defer this one to our lead Virginia Newcomb who was really immersed in this character and she had this to say:
“My fears have always been a marker for my creativity. Jessie’s struggle resonates with a part of me that I’m afraid of. I think we all understand darkness and if we can embrace the darkness in ourselves we can bring light to others. It’s why I do this.”
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
During writing, I suppose two things went through a pretty big change. From the first draft until the shooting draft I really worked with Virginia to pickup the details of a female soldier that deals with these types of challenges. She worked with some women that operated in FET (Female Engagement Team) and picked up a lot of behaviors that we were able to incorporate into the script. Second would be the bar scene. It originally contained two additional characters — Marine buddies of Jessie. That was paired down and cut as we received some feedback on the script in pre-production realizing that the story should never really deviate from Jessie’s POV.
In production, the kitchen/living room clean-up scene changed quite a bit from my original shot-list. This was due to the location and what that location gave us and did not give us. The entire wide 50/50 of both rooms was decided days before production after the scout. Oddly, that turned out to be one of the shots that gets the most response out of the audience.
What influenced the visual style of your film?
I really lean on allowing the camera to become a character in the film. Movement was important but I didn’t want to go the route of this frenetic hand-held motif as the tension is a methodical build in this story. I wanted fluid controlled movement with long takes and to avoid being to “cutty”. There are elements in the Jeff Nichols film Mud that would be a good example of this type of visual execution.
The color palette and grading was heavily influenced by David Fincher films such as Seven, Fight Club & his remake of Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. He’s very good at using “off-putting and uneasy” colors and lighting with tense films.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during writing and production?
During writing, I guess it has to be choosing to tell a story about a Marine and that Marine being a woman. Women still are not allowed in combat, theoretically, but read a little about FET and you’ll see that is just not the case.
There are always moments in production where you have to make on-the-fly decisions, change shots, the actor has to make a choice etc. I’d say the most courageous moment has to go to Virginia giving her monologue on camera in front of actual veterans, many of which had physical and emotional wounds from combat. To her credit, they were all very moved as we shot that scene.
Were there any risks that you faced during writing/production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
I think there are risks with any storytelling that changes mediums. It is very risky to take a story that you’ve written, raise money to spend on re-telling that story on film, just to re-tell it once again editorially.
The risk is always, did we tell a moving and viable story here or did we not. You can have an idea of how it’s all turning out through various stages but you never know until the audience watches the film.
What risks does your story take?
The story is told 90% visually. There is little speaking — in fact not a word is spoken until 2/3 of the way though the piece. The challenge there is on all fronts. The actor has to embody the emotion you wish to come across just as the camera, art direction, editorial and sound must accentuate all of the elements to hit the viewer in a visceral way.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
With writing I think you just have to write often and when you find a story or idea worth telling spend a LOT of time sharpening that script before you ever hit production.
Regarding film producing — I’m not so sure anyone has fully figured that out yet. Ha! Find the angle that works for you and your current project, of which there are thousands.