- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2017

Adam Schumman returned from Iraq a changed man — hiding invisible scars that affected his home life, his relationship with his wife and his interactions with friends and his family. His story caught the interest of Washington Post reporter David Finkel, who wrote a nonfiction account of Mr. Schumann’s and his platoon mates’ return home in a book called “Thank You for Your Service.”

That book is now a major motion picture starring Miles Teller (“Whiplash,” “Divergent”) and written and directed by Jason Hall, whose previous script for “American Sniper” became the worldwide phenomenon directed by Clint Eastwood.

Messrs. Hall, Teller and Schumann sat down with The Washington Times to discuss the film, the culture’s awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and how Mr. Schumann “instructed” Mr. Teller on properly portraying a soldier on film.

Question: Jason, you have a bit of a history writing about military themes given “American Sniper” and now “Thank You for Your Service.” Why did you return to that milieu a second time?

Jason Hall: Steven Spielberg was going to direct “American Sniper” for a period of time, but in the time that I started working with him, he game me this book [“Thank You for Your Service”] two months after Chris [Kyle] was murdered.

I watched Chris come home, but in my mind he was in the process of “making” it home. He was still trying to find his way even though he had come back to U.S soil and was putting his life back together. He was doing that through helping other soldiers. I watched as he started to help this guy and as the lights started to come on for him, and that was obviously cut short [when Kyle was killed in Feb. 2013].

There was only so much room for “American Sniper” to explore that. For me that section kept getting longer and longer until it was almost an entire other act of the movie. [“Thank You for Your Service”] was an opportunity to tell that story — the “coming home” story. It felt like going from Achilles to Odysseus.

Q: Was it always your intention to make “Thank You for Your Service” your directorial debut?

JH: No, I wrote it for Spielberg to direct. He continued giving me notes for two and a half years. Not until the movie got green-lit did I learn that he wasn’t directing it.

I had four weeks to perfect my whole pitch. You wish you weren’t in that position to pitch yourself for the job, but it’s like any job I’ve ever got: You gotta get in there and sell yourself. I went in and there and I got the job.

Q: Miles, what drew you initially to this type of project?

Miles Teller: I was hoping for the opportunity to play a soldier in a film at some point, [but] something just felt weird and kind of unethical to portray a guy who’s wearing this invisible wound of PTSD. In my head to “fake” that just didn’t seem right.

I talked with Jay for a while, and it shifted from fear of being looked at as a fraud to OK, I actually do want this responsibility. I feel I’m at a good place with this, I think I can bring something of my own personal life to it. I want to make these guys proud, man.

I felt such a responsibility to Adam and to this part that I had never experienced before.

Q: Adam, did you coach Miles on “playing” you in the war scenes?

A: No, but he asked all the right questions. If something didn’t [look] right, I would [say to Miles]: “Hey, next time you’re coming around the corner with your rifle, do this. Get a little lower.” Little stuff like that.

I’m not going to critique Miles on acting, it was just helping him portray a soldier more accurately as far as the movements and mannerisms.

JH: Adam’s an open book emotionally with what he’s been through. Miles fills himself up with all of these details and works off of that.

Q: You hear about actors going through a truncated bootcamp for military films. Did that happen on “Thank You for Your Service”?

JH: The actors subjected themselves to this bootcamp that was hellacious. We got some newer, meaner, toothier guys that were straight out of Seal Team 6 — serious knuckle-dragging master chiefs. They put them through it.

We didn’t want these guys training to do it like Navy Seals would do it, we wanted it to be the way that Adam did it and how Adam schooled his guys.

MT: Adam’s energy was very welcome during the bootcamp. It’s always nice to just not have somebody right in your face yelling at you.

You’re the squad leader, and if someone’s uniform is [out of whack], I get the beef for it. I’m just busting out pushups, muscles fatigued. And the master chief is feeding all these guys donuts. Beulah Koale, who plays Solo, I’m having to do pushups for his mistake. He’s got tears streaming down his face and I’m like, “Dude, just eat the [expletive] donut, man!”

Right there, you understood the journey we were all about to be on and how close we got.

Q: Did that help when you were on the set working together as a movie military unit?

MT: For Adam one of the most important things was what bond is like when you’re with these guys day in and day out. They know each other better than their wives do. They can tell who’s behind them in pitch black.

That’s what these guys miss when they get out — that bond and that camaraderie.

Q: Adam, do you feel that the public now understands more about PTSD than they used to?

AS: We’re on the cusp of it, I think. Now we know that it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You’re coming home physically changed, there’s no doubt about it. Now people aren’t like, “Oh, it’s not a disorder” or “you’re a pussy” or whatever. It’s being talked about. It’s the first step. I think it’s going to just get better from here.

JH: We’re hoping [the film] starts a conversation. That the audience becomes more aware of what these soldiers are coming home from and to.

MT: I think a lot of people just know that statistic that 22 vets a day commit suicide. I think it’s hard to rally around statistics, whereas a film gives you a better opportunity to have a little more empathy.

There are some major obstacles these guys are dealing with. Statistics really don’t resonate as much as [seeing it on film]. It’s an everyday struggle.

AS: Nobody gets through life unscathed, and if you do, congrats. We all deal with trauma in different ways; I want people to see hope. If someone’s down, pick them up. And help someone else come up. Now that I’m in a better position in my own life, I can help more of my friends do the same thing. I just hope that that resonates.

Q: What can people do after they leave the movie to help out our veterans?

JH: We have a website for the movie that has a bunch of recommended organizations that have given us advice on how to tackle this. We’ve listed several of them. People can go there to donate or check out ways to donate their time.

To help out financially or to get involved, visit ThankYouForYourServiceTheFilm.com 

Thank You for Your Service” opens Friday.

 

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