So, short story long, Eric Colley and Hallie Shepherd are good friends of mine, whom I've worked on several smaller projects with in the past. Back around April of last year, I got a random text from Hallie asking me to start brainstorming ideas for a World War II film. Apparently they had gotten hooked up with this guy named Tino Struckmann, who's made a handful of low-budget war movies over the past few years.
Tino had a few very useful connections. First, the distribution company, Artist View Entertainment, which we were able to work with right from the ground floor on the understanding that as long as we delivered a quality product and didn't go totally off the rails, they would be our guys at the end of the process, making sure the movie got to where people could see it and our investors could make their money back. Second was a guy in Alabama who is one of the country's largest collectors of World War II military equipment, including multiple tanks, jeeps, transport vehicles, and a variety of artillery, and who also owns a rather large property on which he lets war re-enactors come in and do their thing a few times a year. The third was the re-enactment groups themselves, whom Tino had close relationships with, and whom we ended up using extensively as both background extras and as some of the smaller featured roles.
So with an understanding of what we would have available to us and what our limitations would be, we came up with the basic plot about a handful of soldiers and Army nurses who are captured while trying to evacuate a field hospital, and after an ambush of the truck transporting them to a POW camp, are left stranded behind enemy lines with no communications and a German officer as their hostage. The three of us hammered out an outline over Thai food one evening, I went home and wrote the first draft of the script in a little over two weeks, and then we spent the next five months revising and fundraising. After some frustrating setbacks trying to wrangle investors, we finally hit our target in September, about a week before our deadline to be able to cast and shoot the film that year.
That done, Eric and Hallie went down to LA and started taking meetings with actors and agents. The script was fortunately well-received, and we were able to garner interest from some actors we were really excited about, and many were willing to do the film for very little money, which allowed us to round out the cast with a greater number of recognizable actors than we expected. Some were primarily TV actors looking to add to their film credits, others, Ryan Merriman in particular, just thought it would be fun to do a war movie.
Our most invaluable resource through this stage was Brett Cullen, whom Eric and Hallie have been friends with for several years. He originally came on board just as a producer, with no intention of acting in the movie (though the part he ended up playing was entirely written with him in mind). He's been around for forever and knows everybody, so when it came to filling out the roles, he not only was able to make suggestions and provide input, but he also managed to do a little friendly convincing to push people over the top. And after going through a laundry list of other actors who ultimately would have been our consolation prize, we were finally able to convince him to play the character we always intended for him to play.
The shooting schedule was insanely ambitious: 12 days to shoot a 95 page script with multiple action set-pieces, and quite frankly, no possibility of going back for pickups if we missed something the first time through. The Alabama weather gods were largely favorable to us, as rain only became a real issue on two of the shooting days, and one rainstorm in particular we were able to use in our favor to add some nice atmosphere to an important scene.
Ultimately, shooting constantly with two RED Epics, we got everything we needed in those 12 days. There were certainly concessions that had to be made as a result of the short timeframe (and of course the limited budget), but to the credit of everyone involved, those concessions rarely show up onscreen in the finished film. Amazingly, the scenes we felt we were giving the shortest shrift to onset ended up being my favorite scenes in the movie. An enormous amount of credit goes to our amazing young cinematographer, Bryant Jansen (for a taste of his work, one of my favorite music videos, which he co-directed: Astronautilus - The Wondersmith and His Sons
), and to our actors who rarely ever got more than a couple takes of any shot, and sometimes not even that. Everybody came to play, and they put everything they had into it from action to cut, every time.
After that, we spent about nine months in post-production whipping it into shape. I was originally slated to do some supplementary visual effects, muzzle flashes and whatnot, but we quickly realized that with our post-production budget, and my willingness to work for back-end points in lieu of upfront payment, I ended up doing the entirety of the visual effects work, which ended up totaling over 100 shots. Everything from muzzle flashes and bullet hits to explosions, sky replacement, power-line removal, to doing digital matte painting to change a modern, vinyl-sided, aluminum-roofed house to something that could have existed in the north of France in the 1940s. Exhausting work, but fun, and hugely rewarding when you get to see it integrated into the actual movie.
So now the movie is out of our hands, and the distributor is off peddling our wares, trying to get the most money to put it in front of as many people as possible. My understanding is that a theatrical run is unlikely, but hopefully soon it will be all over Redbox and Netflix and Amazon and iTunes and On Demand and on the shelf at Best Buy and probably on some fucking in-flight entertainment if all goes well. In the meantime, we're developing a pair of other projects with Artist View, with the intention of shooting both in 2015, though those are in such early stages that even if I was supposed to tell people about them, I wouldn't be able to. Exciting times!