A Chat with “Trooper” Filmmaker Christopher Martini and one of its stars, Jerry Della Salla
Both: In your own words, describe “Trooper”.
Chris: “Trooper” is the story of an Iraq veteran, returning from war with a host of psychological and physiological issues. It’s about the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life after combat. When the protagonist, Murphy, comes home (his brother is still fighting in Iraq), he discovers his father, a Vietnam veteran, is dying (from exposure to agent orange in Vietnam). His father, who has also battled PTSD himself, teaches his son how to cope. “Trooper,” is about father and son veterans helping each other to heal the wounds of war. It is the first film to show the multi-generational veteran story and the struggle that many veterans face in order to get the proper care that they deserve.
Jerry: Trooper is one of the best films I’ve done in relation to the war genre, and it honors it’s connection and lineage with Indie filmmaking in every way- great story, great acting, great theme- minimal budget. I think we shot it in like 19 days back in 2008.
Chris: Where did the inspiration for “Trooper” come from?
I have always had a profound respect for our men and women in uniform. While editing a documentary on Gulf War veterans, I discovered a true passion for the subject. Combing through hours and hours of interviews with veterans, I discovered that many of them were battling an overwhelming amount of different issues, were not getting proper care at the VA, and their plight remained overlooked and misunderstood by the American public in general. It saddened me and I wanted to do something about it. I make movies, so that is what I did.
Chris: What has been the response so far to the film and its message?
By telling the veteran story of a father and his two sons, we were able to appeal to both young and old veterans. And within this family you have three very different types of veterans, so within that framework we were able to additionally appeal to a wide variety of people who fought, but shared different political and philosophical views. In terms of the civilian population, because the film does not take a pro-war or an anti-war stance, we were able to appeal to a wide variety of the general public. The film appeals as much to left wing Democrats as it does to right wing Republicans. That was the idea, and it worked. My mission, and the mission of my producers was to make a pro-soldier commentary, rather than make a commentary on politics or war in general. It really is about caring for our returning troops. And they all deserve to be looked after. They fought and risked their life for us, we need to take care of them, regardless of what you believe. It’s that simple.
Chris: This film was made in 2009? 2010? Why are we just hearing about it now? Can you tell us a little bit about how independent filmmaking differs from commercial filmmaking?
One of the advantages of making a film outside the studio system, is that you get to tackle the subject head on, without compromise. And that is why veterans have responded so positively to our film. You don’t have to sugar coat or avoid any issues. You can tell the story truthfully, and do great service to the subject which are depicting. I found a similar ethic applied when I made my film about Native-Americans. Like veterans, you have a responsibility to get their story right. I take this very seriously. Many veterans have told me that Hollywood likes to take the veteran story and bend it towards their own political agenda. There is also a danger in depicting the veteran as overly heroic, and on the other end of the spectrum, as overly unsympathetic. I find always that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Additionally, when you make a film on your own dime, and on your friend’s dimes, you don’t have the infrastructure of a studio to back you, so you spend a great deal of time doing everything yourself because you don’t have large numbers of helpers at your disposal at the drop of a hat. Everything takes much longer. Many many people donated their time, their music, their energy, worked for less, to make this film a reality, and I believe it was because they all shared our love and respect for veterans. I’m sure there were a few who believed in me as well. A lot of waiting. Waiting for festivals, waiting for distribution, it takes a great deal of time and many years to make a movie, so when you are writing the script, you better pick a subject and characters that you love, because you are going to be with it for a long time.
Jerry: How did you get involved? What was it like to work on the film?
I had just wrapped Principle on Green Zone with Matt Damon, and a casting director from LA recommended me to Chris. He called me up and immediately we hit it off. After our conversation, he hired me. That rarely happens. Working on Trooper was great- the way Chris gave me such cushion to help shape with him All things military within the story, it was such a sign of trust. And these are the types of directors that actors/ military consultants want to work with.
Both: Was there a point in the filming where either of you both just took a step back and thought “Whoa! We’ve got something here that people need to see!”?
Chris: The shooting of the film was extremely difficult, but there were moments in the editing room, while screening dailies with John Rotan, my cinematographer, and Chris Roth, my producer, that I thought we just might have something. But the thing is, you just never know. For every glimmer of hope, there are hours and hours of doubt, you are always wondering if the film is going to work or not. It was not until I did a screening at the Actors Studio in New York, that I knew we had something. Gary Swanson, who plays my father in the film, set up the screening. He saw an early cut at my house, and he told me “we had a movie,” but I still was not sure. But while screening it at the Actors Studio, when I heard the laughter, when I could feel the tears, when both New York intellectuals and vetarans together both told me how much the movie meant to them, did I know that “we had a movie.” The screening at the Actors Studio was actually half of a movie. The film was riddled with title cards showing where new scenes that I hadn’t shot yet, were going to go. What happened was that after finishing shooting, I realized that I had to change the entire second half of the movie. I realized that most veterans would not do what I had filmed my main character doing, from the middle of the second act until the end. So I spent the next two years re-shooting the entire second half. If I had kept what I originally wrote and shot, I would not have remained truthful to the veteran story and I believe the film would have suffered and would not have made as high an impact on people. Making a film is a journey. When a new road is presented to you, you have to follow it. It’s a combination of wisdom, luck, heart and gut.
Jerry: For me, I think it came from the first rough cut he allowed me to look at, and then the response we got from the screening for the 101st Airborne WWII vets.
Both: What do you want audiences to take away with them after seeing this movie?
Chris: I would like for the American public to see the sacrifices that our veterans have made for us as a people and as a nation. I would like everyone to understand that many of these brave men and women are suffering, silently, alone, and need our urgent care. I would like for people to understand that our government and our country has let them down by way of health care, that many of our psychologically and phsyically injured veterans are not being given the care that they deserve. They are made to travel a labrynth of red tape, which is the Veterans Administration, and many of them choose to give up and endure rather than go through all the hurdles it takes to get proper care. I’d like for people to understand that, politics aside, and despite your views on war, that veterans do what they do, because it is their job, not for any other reason. During the journey of making “Trooper,” I had the pleasure of meeting many veterans, young and old, from all backgrounds, and I can testify, that no two veterans were the same. They are representative of the diverse make-up of this country.
Jerry: Well, not just a greater appreciation for us as veterans, but hopefully an encouragement to get involved in their communities and look to bring change towards the myriad of problems facing the veteran populace today.
Chris: Was there any one person that you based your character off of?
Very good question. Nobody has asked me this, ever. I approached my character, as an actor, the same way I did as a writer. While doing research for the script, I had to pour through other people’s stories, and bring all of that insight and emotion to the role, and combine that with my own life, my own feelings. I had to imagine what it would be like, how I would handle myself, if I went through war. This was not easy and a little bit of a roller coaster ride. It’s not easy to imagine losing a fellow soldier in combat. I remember nights where I would try to go through these emotions and I remember just balling my eyes out. That process made me look at soldiers in a different light. Just imagine, you know, going through all of that.
Jerry: Could you tell us about your character?
I play one of the closer friends within the story to Murphy: Keith Duffy. He has some pretty sage advice for him in our second scene between us at the diner. I thought the improv we did would serve eventually as the scripted scene, to be shot later, but Chris was like: “That’s it! That’s the one. Let’s just use that.” (Another reason I Liked working with Chris- LOL.)
Chris: What kind of research did you do to make sure you got the story “right”?
Editing the documentary on Gulf War veterans gave me a lot of information. I of course read books, watched all films about veterans, and talked to many. I met my executive producer Lori Renwick at a veterans poetry reading. I think that’s part of the fun of how I make movies. I choose a subject that I know almost nothing about, and then I use the film as a vehicle for gaining an unbelievable depth of knowledge about the subject matter. It’s an excuse to hang out with veterans, or Native-Americans, or whoever I am writing about, and get to know them. You have to want to listen to what they have to say, and get it right. Jerry was my military story advisor and going through the script with him and identifying wrong terminology, or inaccurate details, was a lot of fun. I am a big fan of collaboration. It’s a constant balance between telling the story you feel, and getting it right. The difficulty in directing lies in knowing when to take advice and when to keep moving forward on your own. It’s scary, but that’s why I love doing it.
Both: Could either of you tell us about the other actors in the film? The characters they portray? Who we should watch for?
Chris: Gary Swanson “The Bone Collector,” is a genius as the father and a Vietnam veteran. He brought so much life and humor and emotion to this film. I cannot say enough good things about him. Gary actually was recovering from a knee operation when I gave him the script. He played the role while in real pain, and while really needing crutches. I think this is his best performance ever. Also, Robert Walden “All The President’s Men” is great as the VA doctor. I owe a great deal to Robert Because he brought in a great many of the amazing actors that we have in the movie. A lot of the actors in “Trooper” are members of the prestigious Actors Studio in New York, so of course, they are all very very good.
Jerry: This is a great cast. From Gary Swanson who plays the father beautifully, to Chris’s brother Max Martini who, well, plays his brother…to even all the supporting players peppered throughout the film- be on the look out for all!
Both: It is stated (in the press kit), “The film may be neutral, but in its own way it can help us decide whether constant warfare accompanying our interventionist foreign policy is really the way to go, since that policy guarantees nonstop casualties and fatalities with never-ending medical bills.” How is a statement like that neutral? It implies a position about where our government stands in regards to foreign policy. What role should our military play in the world, if not to protect our interests and provide security for our people? Could there be a subliminal – “read between the lines” – message in “Trooper”?
Jerry: Personally, you’d have to ask Chris if there’s a Hidden message of sorts, because I don’t see it and I would say no. What’s great about the movie to me, is that it pulls no punches and hides nothing up it’s sleeves with regards to the issues it presents. There just out there really- full frontal. Our foreign policy is what it is, and in regards to this war I don’t see how sitting on our hands after 9/11 would have done anything either. But the war shifted at an early point, based on poor decision making as to which area to occupy first. That, as they say, is now history. Our troop populations were imbalanced in regards to the two regions, and should have in fact been in just the opposite places. But in the end, the day we don’t have either the power to defend other countries who can’t defend themselves, or go after bad guys- that’s a bad day in American history. Let’s hope that day never comes.
Chris: As I mentioned before, “Trooper” is neither pro-war or anti-war. It is pro-soldier. The beauty of the film is that everyone will see a different message in it. While that review may not be neutral, our film is. The purpose of the film is not to comment on foreign policy, it is to show the devastating effects of war on the humany body and mind. The purpose of the film is to show the US soldier in a new light. There is no “read between the lines” message in Trooper other than “war is hell.”
Both: Where/When can people see the film?
Chris: On veterans day we will be doing an exclusive release on Vimeo on Demand. Anyone who wants to see the film can go to this link to rent (stream) or own (download) the movie on and after November 11th, 2014. You can also view the trailer and pre-order now:
On January 16th, 2015, “Trooper” will be available on DVD and VOD across North America, and across all digital platforms worldwide, so stay tuned.
Jerry: Let’s hope it finds its way to some cable channel- It’s come this far, why not?
Can veteran’s groups or other specialized organizations get a screening of your movie? If so, how do they go about doing that?
We love hosting veteran screenings. For screening requests, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
More Information About Trooper:
View the Trailer:
An Iraq Veteran struggles to come to grips with the changes war has made in his life and those around him.
“TROOPER” – THE MOVIE – Worldwide Vimeo Release November 11th, 2014 Veterans Day – Available for preorder here:
“Not since the Oscar winning film Coming Home, thirty-five years ago, has there been a film that resonated with veterans.”
Murphy O’Shea (Christopher Martini), an Iraq Veteran, has a hard time re-adjusting to society upon his return from a long tour. His world crumbles when he discovers his father (Gary Swanson), a Vietnam Veteran, is dying. His brother (Max Martini), currently on tour, reminds him to “shut up and take it”. Follow the story of a family of Veterans, as they struggle with daily life and help each other heal the wounds of War.
Cast: Christopher Martini, Max Martini “Saving Private Ryan” “Captain Phillips” “Pacific Rim” “Fifty Shades of Grey“, Gary Swanson “The Bone Collector” “Sniper” “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power“, Robert Walden “All The President’s Men” “Capricorn One” TV’s “Lou Grant” (Emmy Award Nominee)
Written, directed, and produced by Christopher Martini
Executive Producers: Giada Dobrzenska, Richard A. Levine, Lori D. Renwick,
Produced by Beth Amy Rosenblatt
Co-producer Richard A. Levine
Cinematography by John Rotan
Music by Hershel Yatovitz
Winner, Christopher Martini, Renaissance Man Award, 2010 – Garden State Film Festival
Winner, Bronze Remi, 2010 – Houston Int’l Film Festival
Script Finalist, 2008 – Rome Independent Film Festival
Honorable Mention, 2010 – SoCal Film Festival
Honorable Mention, 2011 – Voice Awards
Official Selection, 2010 – Philadelphia Independent Film Festival
Go to Vimeo on Demand, on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2014, to view:
Pre-order your tickets now at:
Posted on October 22, 2014, in Entertainment News, Film Festival News, Interviews, K*Chele Magazine, Latest News, Movie News and tagged Christopher Martini, Gary Swanson, Jerry Della Salla, Max Martini, Robert Walden. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.