Category Archives: Interviews
When the Q&A is this good, a review isn’t necessary…
1) Why did you choose to tell this story?
I’ve always been attracted to true crime stories and when I first heard about the Lawson Family murders, it made a pretty big impression on me. I immediately saw the potential in telling this story as a documentary and really exploring the idea of why Charlie Lawson committed this heinous crime.
2) Were there things left out that you wish you had included?
Film is a visual medium and as a filmmaker I really wish we had more footage to use to help tell this story. However, the Lawson Family homestead no longer exists and much of Germanton now doesn’t represent the time from 90 years ago. This film could have easily been two or three times the length. There is so much more information that could have been presented to our audience, but we decided to stick with the idea of exploring Charlie Lawson and his motives from a psychological perspective.
3) What did you learn during this process, and what will you take away from this project?
I hate giving disingenuous responses to sincere questions, so let me honestly answer this question by telling you that I’m still trying to figure that out. As a filmmaker, I’ve certainly gained experience that I can take with me for future projects. But as a storyteller, and someone who has been struggling with the question of “why,” I think the biggest take away for me personally is appreciating the need to understand a tragedy. It’s not enough for people to know who did this or how, but to really understand why. I think perhaps that understanding is important for closure and healing. I hope that our film can help explain this tragedy.
4)Is there an underlying message that you wanted to get across to those who see the film?
If there’s an underlying meaning to be drawn from Trouble Will Cause it’s that human behavior cannot always be easily explained. Many have looked to scandalous motives and traditional thinking to explain Charlie Lawson’s actions, but the reality of the situation is much more complex. In order to truly understand why someone would annihilate their family, you have to explore the psychology of the person and often times that’s done by analyzing their life and drawing comparisons based on the cases of other individuals in similar circumstances.
5) How many films have been made by Wreak Havoc, and how many people were involved in making Trouble Will Cause?
We’ve made a handful of films over the past five years including shorts and feature films. Feel free to check out my IMDb page to see the sorts of films we’ve produced. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5951114/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
You can also check out our website to see all the various projects we’re involved in: www.wreakhavocproductions.com
Trouble Will Cause was a very small production. I produced and directed, Jeffrey Cochran produced and wrote the film (including the research), Zack Fox served as our Director of Photography, Judson Hurd was the composer, Dr. Clarissa Cole was the Forensic Psychologist in the film, Mike Allred made our models. Those are just a few off the top of my head, but feel free to check out the IMDb page for more details: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6394160/?ref_=nm_flmg_prd_7
6) What would you like people to know who haven’t seen the movie yet and are unsure about going to a screening?
I would prefer for folks to watch the film without too many preconceived ideas. If I could manage people’s expectations, I would. I tried doing that with some folks who reached out to us over the past year via email or social media. Some people thought we had discovered some new evidence that would definitively explain this mystery. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of new information to be found regarding a 90 year old mass murder/suicide. There are plenty of other sources for information about the Lawson Family and this tragedy. What we wanted to bring to the table was a new perspective – a psychological exploration of the family annihilator.
7) Having now received feedback from an audience, what would you change about the film had you been equipped with that info beforehand?
We’ve screened the film twice so far and have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both audiences, but there have also been quite a few negative comments and questions as well. To answer your question – I wouldn’t change a thing about this film. I made the movie I set out to make. It’s meant to inform and provoke thought first and to entertain secondly. We’ve had several people express a disliking of the film because they felt the film came off as preachy or simply wasn’t what they wanted it to be. To me, it was important to not only tell the story of the Lawson Family but to also help put this tragedy into somewhat of a modern context and classify it as what it is – a mass shooting, which unfortunately has become more and more commonplace. I see people’s discontent with the film as more of a reflection of our country’s extreme political polarization. Some folks get so bent out of shape when exposed to new thoughts and ideas that conflict with their opinion – these people usually only seek out information and news that only serves to reaffirm their already held beliefs. If we can expose some folks to new information that perhaps makes them think, then the film has done its job.
Some audience members seemed to express some dissatisfaction about our film because we didn’t focus too heavily on some of the traditional motives for Charlie Lawson. Some of these motives include: an incestuous relationship with his daughter and that she had gotten pregnant, and another motive consists of Charlie Lawson becoming murderous after a farming accident caused traumatic brain injury. We discussed these in the film but did not dwell on them because there’s very little evidence to support these ideas; and we also did not want to re-tread over material which had already been explored in other publications. We wanted to bring a new perspective to the table – to explore the psychology of a family annihilator, which I think offers a more accurate and complete understanding than anything else we’ve seen.
Also, one last note on this subject that I’d like to mention – this is a short film coming in at 35 minutes. This film was always intended as a short film and was never meant to be, nor claims to be a definitive source of information on this case. In order to present all the information out there, we could have made a 10 part documentary series like Making a Murderer or something in that vein. However, filmmaking is a visual storytelling format and honestly there isn’t much visual material to present to an audience. I decided very early on that we would not do any re-enactments (which has been done in another documentary and a live stage performance) and there’s only so many times you can show the same portrait over and over before the audience gets bored. I would highly encourage audience members who are looking for a more definitive source for this story to read “The Meaning of Our Tears”, or to Google or YouTube the Lawson Family murders, or search for podcasts about the subject.
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:
Legendary Guitarist Don Mancuso Returns With His First Holiday CD
Don Mancuso (DDrive, Black Sheep, Lou Gramm Band) returns with a brand new release, a two track Holiday CD single featuring a beautiful rendition of the classic Blue Christmas made famous by Elvis and written by Billy Hays & Jay W. Johnson.
Mancuso also captures the spirit of Christmas with a brand new song “Its Christmas” that is sure to become a holiday classic, featuring the extraordinary talents of long time friend and musical companion Lou Gramm (Foreigner, Black Sheep, Shadow King).