'Trooper': A Film About And For Veterans An Interview With Director & Actor, Christopher Martini
Not since the Oscar winning film, Coming Home thirty-five years ago has there been a film that resonated with veterans. Christopher Martini has heart and passion when comes to those who served in the armed forces. He put everything on the line to tell their story.
What is the exciting news about Trooper?
Trooper is an indie feature about a returning Iraq veteran and his Vietnam vet father. It is a father-son story about two generations of warriors struggling to cope with the same issues, PTSD, combat-related illness, struggling to get the health care they deserve from the Veteran’s Administration, and trying to re-adjust to normal life. We shot the film in 2008 and since have had a huge grass-roots following in the veteran community and general public. The film was an award winner at the Garden State Film Festival and played at other festivals. We have been pushing the film for years, trying to get picked up by distributors, but have just recently decided to take the bull by the horns and self-distribute. We have launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the funds to finish the film and get it into the hands of veterans and the public. We are excited because finally we can have some sense of completion, but also because every week we get emails from veterans asking where they can see the movie, and finally we will be able to make it available to them. When you have veterans from all wars coming up to you after screenings and telling you that “You have told their story”, it is hard to sleep at night, knowing that you are sitting on a great film that still needs to see the light of day. We have screened the film all over the country for various veteran groups, and I can still remember the laughter, the tears, and their comments to me after the screenings. The film then grows into something with greater cultural value and social significance, and you develop a responsibility to finish what you have started, and deliver, no matter how long it takes. That to me is exciting. It’s like a Zen monk, in walking meditation. He gets to his destination, but very slowly. That may not excite other people, but it excites me.
Is Trooper based on a true story?
The idea for Trooper came to me after editing a documentary on veterans. The combat footage, the interviews, and the shocking visuals of the aftermath of war, both internally and externally, left a great impression on me. I was forever changed. The documentary then inspired the writing of a script. The way I approach writing is to saturate my head with facts, so the story is true in the sense that it deals with the real internal and external problems that our veterans experience. False to me, would to be a film about war that denied these aspects, and just glorified combat. But no, it is not based on a true story. In order to make the characters and the situations “real”, I always introduce the characters and situations in my life in order to give the story something different about it. I consider the life I have lived extremely “different”. The script for Trooper was a semi-finalist at the Rome Independent Film Festival, and I happened to have a little money so I decided to shoot it low budget (14 days). It was the worst 14 days of my life, but I don’t regret it for a second. I don’t think I will ever act and direct again.
What inspired you to make Trooper?
While editing the documentary on veterans I could not help think of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. I felt like Trooper was a great vehicle by which I could express the emotions I was feeling at the time, and by which I could create a situation where we, as Americans, could take a closer look at our lives, hopefully, to be a little more thankful for what “we” have.
Did this film take a psychological toll on you getting into character?
The shooting of the film was very challenging. We were on a shoe-string budget, so I found myself changing clothes in the street, I had crew threaten to quit on multiple occasions, personalities came out of the woodworks, I was losing locations (from close friends), on the day of filming, I had to keep track of my own props, learn my lines each day, direct the thing, hand out releases, deal with SAG, produce the thing – it was insanity. But everything happens for a reason. My character had to appear emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, on the edge. I think it worked in the end. I am also a really good editor and my own worst critic, so I cut out a lot of my bad stuff.
How many film festival awards has Trooper won so far and what are they?
Trooper won at the Garden State Film festival, I was given the Renaissance Man Award. Garden State Film Festival was really the one festival that gave us our biggest push, and we are forever grateful to them. They are a great festival, they really support veterans, the military, and filmmakers. I recommend Garden State Film Festival to all filmmakers. We won a Remi at Houston International film festival, Honorable Mention at SoCal Film Festival, Honorable Mention at the Voice Awards in LA (films dealing with mental health), and we screened at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival.
What do you want the audience to come away with after seeing your film?
I want them to understand the sacrifices of our troops, so that they when they go away and go about their business, that they make the most of their lives, and take true advantage of their freedom, by doing good things for the world, rather than doing harm to others or giving us things that we don’t need, that harm our minds, the minds of children, our bodies, that harm the environment. Americans are in the best position to do good for the world. And this freedom was hard-earned with blood and sacrifice of veterans in wars past. I’d like for people to start thinking less about making a buck, and more about how they can produce something positive in the world. Our time is so short here, why not do something good.
Are you doing any political advocacy to raise awareness about veterans post-war lives?
Making movies and getting them out there, while making a living, is full time work. I need four of me. My contribution is my film, my films. I feel if I can get Trooper out there, then I have done my part to make people aware of the issues that veterans are facing, and will continue to face as waves of men and women continue to return from war. By continuing to make films that matter, I do my part in building a better world. A brick layer lays bricks, I make films. I wish I had time for political advocacy, I really do. But I believe films are a great tool for change.
Why do you choose to make films with social messages?
I have started writing scripts that were not about social issues, but they never really stuck, and I never finished them. The ones that I finished, and wanted to take into production had social messages, because I feel like deep down I care about things that matter. And every time I felt like I would be cheating myself if I made a film that wasn’t about something “important”, and about something that matters. I really believe that. The “fluff” is just not me. I’d like to leave my mark in this life. Filmmakers are in the perfect position to shed light on the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I watch tons of comedies, I edit comedies for a living, and I love to laugh. But most of the comedies that really stuck with me had something very important to say under the surface. When I write, it always starts as something light, but as I drive it deeper and deeper, I always uncover something more important. I love that process.
When is the film release date?
If we are successful with our Kickstarter campaign, and raise the funds to finish the film and get it out there, then how about we pencil in November 11th, what better day to do it!
What is your prayer/wish for veterans?
There is a homeless vietnam veteran in my neighborhood, and I used to see him every day, while walking to the subway. He is a staple in my neighborhood, has many friends, the locals know him. After screening Trooper for the 101st Airborne reunion in Florida, I walked up to him and started talking to him for the first time, after years of just walking by him. I quickly learned that he was in the 101st and his job was driving ammunition and supplies down dangerous roads in Vietnam. The man was a moving target. I remembered that someone had given me a 101st Airborne hat at the reunion. I felt that that hat did not belong to me. I gave it to Billy. I remember, Billy wore that every day for months. Now, he has a new hat. That hat was white, and must have gotten dirty. Sometimes when I pass Billy, I give him some money, some days a dollar, some days five, and sometimes a twenty. Never has Billy ever asked me for money, even after giving him money on multiple occasions. There is something very different about that man. I want for Billy what I want for all veterans, whether homeless on the streets, or living in beautiful houses, for them to know that we understand their sacrifice and we know how important it was, for us as Americans, and for the foundations of this country. I hope that America has “their back” more in the future, by acknowledging their sacrifice and respecting what they do more. Higher salaries and better health care for them couldn’t hurt either.
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