Interview: Miles Teller, Adam Schumann Talk ‘Thank You for Your Service’

It’s not often where you can see a film that changes your perspective on a single but often-used phrase, and there’s no question that “Thank You for Your Service” is one of them. It’s a phrase that people often say to veterans of any war when you meet them, yet, after seeing a true-life film based on the experiences of an Iraq War veteran — Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann — they take on a different sort of meaning.

It’s a film that, given the hardships veterans endure when they return home, makes the phrase “thank you for your service” almost feel like an empty gesture. At least in the context of this film, it feels like ill-equipped system that greets them when they return home is in some ways thankless for their service, and ultimately, thankless for the sacrifices they made while carrying out the duties for their country.

So, what should we be saying to soldiers or veterans when we great them? In a recent phone conversation from Chicago with Schumann and Miles Teller, who plays the soldier in the film, the answer is simple.

“I think, ‘Welcome home’ is the best thing you can say to anybody,” Schumann said.

Teller added that there are other ways to respond to veterans, too; something that he gained insight by working on the film.

“If you want to just say one thing, say ‘Welcome home’ as Adam said, but people can also be asking, ‘What branch are you in?’ ‘Where did you deploy?’ or ‘Where did you serve?'” Teller said.

Teller realizes that sometimes asking about military service is a difficult subject to broach with veterans, particularly for those who served in wars prior to Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, having friends that have served in the military and by forging a friendship with Schumann, Teller is glad to see that films like “American Sniper” and “Thank You for Your Service” are finally addressing the devastating effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI), because it effectively opens the conversation about how to get soldiers the help they need as they integrate back into civilian life after serving in a war.

“The older generation of veterans wanted to deal with things in a masculine way; to be tough and to be thick-skinned and not talk about it,” Teller said. “Now, we’re just learning as these studies are going out and putting terms on it — posttraumatic stress and TBI — and with the amount of suicides (we’re finding out that not talking about it) doesn’t work. These guys have a lot of open wounds and I think as a nation, yes, we haven’t done enough in terms of welcoming soldiers back. So yes, a conversation is better than an empty sentence.”

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Thank You for Your Service,” chronicles Schumann’s return home from the Iraq War and his inability to reacclimate to civilian life, which has a particularly tough effect on his wife, Saskia (Haley Bennett), and ultimately, their young family. Sadly, Schumann isn’t alone in his troubles — two of his friends and fellow service members (played by Beulah Koale) have also returned and are facing difficult circumstances — and much of it is rooted in a specific tragic event that occurred when the three were serving in the war. Compounding the problem is a Veterans Affairs system back home that is under-equipped to meet their mental health needs.

Miles Teller and Beulah Koale in Thank You for Your Service (photo - Universal Pictures)
Miles Teller and Beulah Koale in ‘Thank You for Your Service’

Even though Schumann first confronted his story in the film’s source material, the David Finkel book “Thank You for Your Service,” the veteran admits that it is still extremely difficult to watch the film. Schumann not only commends Teller’s work in the film to bring his harrowing tale to life, but also writer-director Jason Hall. Hall, who also tapped into the nerve of the subject matter with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for “American Sniper,” very much did the same with “Thank You for Your Service,” Schumann said.

“The movie was extremely gut-wrenching to watch,” Schumann said. “I think my mom said it best, which was, ‘I feel like I just went through two hours of surgery without anesthesia.’ And that’s what it felt like. I was crying and laughing, and I think that’s a testament to how well Miles acted, and how well Jason relayed what was in the book into the script and direct it in such a way that grabbed our very core. … It’s therapeutic to see the movie, and the more I see it the more I talk about it, the better I get. It’s been a positive experience all around.”

Teller, who has given his all both physically and mentally in many of his films, said “Thank You for Your Service” required the same sort of commitment; but one that was particularly resonant because he was playing a real-life person he had access to.

“If I’m challenged with something, that mean’s the character I’m playing went through a lot of stuff and has taken an emotional toll on them,” Teller said. “Playing Adam required all of it, the physical, emotional and the mental aspects.”

Ultimately, having starred in such films as the Best Picture Oscar-nominated “Whiplash,” the true-life boxing drama “Bleed for This” and most recently, the true-life firefighter drama “Only the Brave,” said it’s a privilege to act in any film, particularly those that address real-life issues.

“There’s a lot of film and TV out there where a lot of situations the characters are in aren’t too far removed from your own life. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to work on some projects that have absolutely incredible stories of characters being put under extraordinary circumstances,” Teller said. “I got to put through a boot camp, I got to talk with vets and was welcomed into their homes. I got this incredible experience of what it would be like to do this. For me, to get the kind of training that I’ve had and to get to try on all these different hats, as it were, for these characters has really been a blessing.”

Note: “Thank You for Your Service” studios Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures are offering free tickets to a special screening of the film Thursday night for up to 10,000 active military servicemembers and veterans. Find out more at https://www.thankyouforyourservicemovie.com.

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com

 

Interview: Filmmaker Jason Hall talks ‘Thank You for Your Service’

As Veterans Day fast approaches, a new film that examines the true-life plight of soldiers returning home from the Iraq War is about to open in theaters — and thankfully for moviegoers and most importantly, veteran viewers, “Thank You for Your Service” was completed under the watchful eye of filmmaker Jason Hall.

Hall, who was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for adapting late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s novel “American Sniper” for the big screen in 2014, adapted the screenplay of David Finkel’s book “Thank You for Your Service,” and was also handed the director’s reigns for the project by Steven Spielberg. Considering that Spielberg first intended to direct the film himself, installing Hall at the helm of the gut-wrenching drama says a lot about the legendary filmmaker’s confidence in the first-time director.

Clearly Spielberg knew through his development of the screenplays of both “American Sniper” (which Clint Eastwood directed) and “Thank You for Your Service” that Hall had keen insight into the struggles of veterans trying to re-adjust to civilian life back home after the service,  and specifically relating to the latter, how under-equipped the U.S. government is to meet the mental health needs of its solders.

“The thing I learned with Chris Kyle was that even the heroes are carrying this home. And while it’s one in five or one in four that come home with some version of trauma, the services we provide just aren’t enough,” Hall said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “As for ‘Thank You for Your Service,’ the depiction of what David Finkel did in the book was so frustratingly harrowing to me. I just couldn’t believe it, so I started looking into it.”

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Thank You for Your Service” tells the compelling true-life story of Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), who returns home along with two fellow solider friends from the Iraq War, only to soon discover that none of them can handle the prolonged effects of war and a specific combat tragedy that changed all of their lives.

Photo: Universal Pictures
sations.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Jason-Hall-on-the-set-of-Thank-You-for-Your-Service-photo-Universal-Pictures-768x432.jpg 768w, http://directconversations.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Jason-Hall-on-the-set-of-Thank-You-for-Your-Service-photo-Universal-Pictures.jpg 896w" sizes="(max-width: 896px) 100vw, 896px" /> Writer-director Jason Hall on the set of ‘Thank You for Your Service’

Hall said Finkel’s book came to him while he was adapting the screenplay for “American Sniper” for director Spielberg, who eventually handed the project over to his fellow filmmaker Clint Eastwood. So, by the time “American Sniper” hit theaters, Hall said he started talking with VA psychologists and started visiting VA hospitals around LA, while consulting former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald as well.

While some may want to classify “Thank You for Your Service” as a war film, Hall — whose grandfather, uncle and half-brother all served in the military — said it’s not so much a war film as it is a film about how soldiers deal with the effects of war.

“I think the effects of war are a battle of their own, in as much as the war continues to echo in, around and in front of these veterans,” Hall said. “It wounded them, and it continues to inflict them. So, for me, it was about finding a way to bring the immediacy of those moments to the film and examine what happens in the ‘after war.’ That’s what David Finkel calls it in his book — the ‘after war.’ There are depictions in this movie of life or death right here in America, on the home front, that we wouldn’t normally consider to be the battlefield.”

While we discover how stressed Veterans Affairs is in trying to handle the influx of thousands of soldiers returning home with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in “Thank You for Your Service,” Hall said the point of the movie isn’t to pin blame on one entity.

“While the services are faulty, the reality is, the VA is still the best place for soldiers to go for trauma and for help,” Hall said. “You can’t do ChoiceCare and go to your doctor in Beverly Hills and tell him you saw some things in the war that are really troubling you. He’s not going to know what to do with that. So, as bad as it is, it’s what we got to work with and we have to find a way to make it work.”

So, while the government may be an easy scapegoat when it comes to meeting soldiers’ mental health needs — yet there’s no denying they are woefully understaffed to handle the immense caseload — Hall said the solution is up to us to rally for change to the flawed system and culture for a one that the soldiers deserve , especially given the amount of sacrifice they’ve made for our country.

“At a certain point it’s up to us. At a certain point it’s up to society to find a welcome these guys back in, because it’s not just the VA,” Hall said. “Some of what we see is dictated by the way they are welcomed back into society and the way that we perceive them — not only as heroes, but as wounded.”

Sometimes, Hall said, soldiers have been affected by war in ways most people wouldn’t expect.

“Some of these guys don’t even get out of the armory and they’re messed up by the institutionalization by the enterprise of war, or the repetitive nature of firing all these rounds, with something thrust against your cheekbone in a way that it disturbs your brain” Hall said.  “There’s a lot that goes into this that we don’t fully comprehend, and certainly the VA and military didn’t comprehend going into the war or what they were going to have to deal with when these guys came home.”

Naturally, Hall depended on Schumann as much as he could to get the details of his story right, and is thankful that the veteran was willing to open himself up to reveal some very painful chapters in his life.

“To have Adam around, to have someone around as your source of all of this, to be so emotionally accessible and so emotionally articulate was so helpful,” Hall said. “Adam was there at the starting line. This guy was heroic in battle, but then he came home and did something equally or more heroic in revealing himself — not only with what he experienced in the war, but what he continued to experience because of what he had seen, done, gone through and lost over there.

“To me that was the most heroic thing that anyone could have done in that entire war — to come home and reveal themselves, which is not something you’re trained to do,” Hall added. “Adam took it upon himself to do that because he knew it was going to help somebody else.”

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com

Movie review: Muddled, depressing ‘Snowman’ caught in blizzard of dreariness

The Snowman (R)

Michael Fassbender gets trapped in a depressing blizzard of dreariness that he can’t escape in “The Snowman,” a deeply disappointing and depressing crime thriller from executive producer Martin Scorsese and director Tomas Alfredson (“Tinker Tailor Solider Spy”).

Based on the acclaimed novel by Jo Neso, Fassbender plays grizzled Norwegian detective Harry Hole, whose interest in a decades-old cold case murder and dismemberment of a woman is reawakened by the killer’s re-emergence and brutal killing spree.

AUDIO: Listen to Tim review “The Snowman” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ92 Morning Show” (segment begins 10 minutes in).

While the film’s Oslo setting is breathtaking, “The Snowman” fails to gain any sort of momentum from the very beginning, and quickly devolves from there into a dull and confusing story that fails to get its footing until the film’s predictable conclusion.

Scorsese, who was at one time attached to the direct the film, wisely stepped away from this disaster of a movie, which is so bad that even the talents of Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons and Val Kilmer can’t save it. You can’t entirely blame Alfredson for the failure of the film, as he recently tried to distance himself from the film by saying that he didn’t have enough time on the production to shoot 10 to 15 percent of the script.

With revelations like that, there’s no doubt that “The Snowman” was doomed to fail, and the memories of this stained mark on the resume of all those involved can’t melt and wash away soon enough.

Lammometer: 3 (out of 10)

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com

Movie review: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ fully realizes original’s potential

“Blade Runner 2049” (R)

Director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) fully realizes and masterfully completes “Blade Runner” helmer Ridley Scott’s vision in “Blade Runner 2049,” an awe-inspiring sequel that’s far superior to the 1982 cult classic. Bringing original “Blade Runner” star Harrison Ford back into the fold as well as others from the original film, Villeneuve has achieved the seemingly impossible task of not only achieving the same tone of the original film, but fleshing the story out to meet its full potential.

Picking up 30 years later in a dystopian Los Angeles (LA was already in a state of polluted dreariness in 2019 in the original), “Blade Runner 2049” is populated by more replicants than ever before, which, unlike the original models, have been programmed not to revolt and are as human as they’ve ever been with an open-ended lifespan. Still, there are renegade models that have achieved what is deemed a “miracle” that threatens to upend the humans’ new world order over their synthetic counterparts, so Blade Runner Agent K is dispatched to retire the replicants involved to quell the threat. However, as K embarks on his mission, he discovers a relic that pulls him into a mysterious labyrinth that forces him to question which side he should be aligning himself with.

Warner Bros.

The fascinating thing about “Blade Runner 2049” is that Villeneuve clearly isn’t out to reinvent the wheel with the film and make it his own, as much as he’s dedicated to completing the open-ended narrative that Scott created with the 1982 film. While there have been advancements in replicant technology in the 30 years since the original, LA remains virtually the same rain-drenched, dreary environment that provided the original with its most distinct vista.

True, Villeneuve does expand the landscape a bit to give “Blade Runner 2049” some light, but even then, the new locales completely fit within the world Scott created 35 years ago. Villeneuve even went so far to scrap the score created for the film by his longtime collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson to bring about Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch to make it sound more like the original.

While spectacular on every level from a filmmaking standpoint, “Blade Runner 2049” has a few missteps, not necessarily with the film itself, but with the expectations it sets up for its audience. Ford is billed as a lead opposite Gosling, yet doesn’t show up until 1 hour and 45 minutes into the 2 hours and 44-minute picture; while a couple other principal characters have far-less screen time that fans have been led to believe.

Don’t expect more of anybody to show up in a future version of the Blade Runner 2049, though, as Villeneuve, unlike Scott (who has five cuts of the original) has said this is his final director’s cut. The cast is stellar across the board, including Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Ana  de Armas, Edward James Olmos, David Dastmalchian and Wood Harris. Sylvia Hoeks, a native of the Netherlands, is a particularly a standout as an replicant enforcer.

Lammometer: 9 (out of 10)

Copyright 2017 Direct Conversations.com

Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers