After her recent return to the states from a research trip to Istanbul, Turkey for another project, award-winning 'Stop-Loss' director Kimberly Peirce has once again started answering fan questions on the 'Stop-Loss' Sound Off web site.
If you're a regular on this blog, you already know that I love getting the behind-the-scenes scoop on how movies are made almost as much as I love watching the movies themselves.
To me, the journey is just as important as the destination. Subsequently, I'm a huge fan of the 'Stop-Loss' Sound Off web site, because we get a rare opportunity to learn directly from Kimberly about her very personal journey as she created her highly-anticipated film.
Although 'Stop-Loss' is not based on a single soldier's true story, Kim's post on the site today helps us to understand the depth of factual and emotional research performed to make the fictional story both realistic and relevant.
Here is Kimberly's recent post...
I started STOP LOSS as I start all my projects -- with a deep concern/heartbreak, a curiosity, and need to find out about something I don’t fully understand.
I was living in NYC during 9/11, saw the buildings fall, and was attending vigils for the victims when we entered the war. I was deeply affected and immediately intrigued by why soldiers were signing up, what it was like for them "over there," and what it was like to come home.
I began interviewing soldiers and discovered that many signed up after 9/11 for patriotic reasons, some for the "experience" of being a professional soldier in combat, some simply for a job opportunity, and some for citizenship; many were deeply affected by their experiences at war – in combat, killing/not killing, longing for home, and many struggled to re-assimilate upon their return.
Around this time, my younger brother enlisted. I was concerned about the emotional toll fighting would take on him as well as concerned for his safety. And now that we were “military family,” I became much more aware of the extended and living community that supports and surrounds a soldier.
In an effort to document why soldiers were signing up and what my brother and other soldiers were going through, I started making a documentary about US soldiers, which I financed in order to keep it independent. Along with Reid Carolin, (our associate producer whom I researched with) I read and watched everything I could on the subject – material written by people for and against the war, by civilians and by soldiers (news, books and articles (i.e. Harper’s AWOL IN AMERICA, IN FALLUJAH, A SOLDIERS RETURN TO A DARK AND MOODY WORLD, etc.) about soldiers and the war).
Reid and I traveled throughout the country to meet and interview soldiers, their families and friends. I sought out all kinds of soldiers with a variety of experiences and attitudes. There was neither ONE story to start with and nor a particular viewpoint we were trying to affirm – we were looking for the most compelling story. We asked questions and listened in order to understand and distill the underlying emotional truth of what soldiers were experiencing.
Our first research trip was to Paris, Illinois to film the homecoming of 1000 soldiers from the 1544th National Guard Unit who were returning after a years' absence. We spoke to military families awaiting their soldier's return. (I was amazed to find there were a number of military families that had had family members fight in pretty much every conflict and/or war America has seen .) We spoke to parents who'd lost children – one man who'd lost his daughter in Iraq was able to make it to the town parade to greet the soldiers who'd fought alongside his daughter, but his wife could not bring herself to attend. This was especially moving and ended up inspiring the attitude of the family in our movie towards their son coming home safely after he’s finished his tours, and possibly not coming home safely if he were to return to the combat zone because of STOP-LOSS. We met wives who'd lost husbands – one young woman in particular was only 19 when her husband was killed in combat. As a tribute to her husband's service and death, she and her friends had ridden motorcycles across the country as part of her husbands "last ride." We began to understand the toll combat and loss was taking on these young brides and on these communities as a whole. We spoke with young women who told us they felt like their husbands were married to the military and therefore so were they. This was the life they’d signed up for. It was difficult but they took pride in it. I was affected in particular by the patience, strength, and support the wives and girlfriends displayed. (I encourage you to post questions and comments for Lindsey and Charla on the website, as well as to the other soldiers- Kemp, Stuart, Dave and Keith).We also met husbands who'd lost wives and men coming home to meet their newborn babies for the first time; on our second research trip, we went to Indiana to speak with Quakers who'd helped soldiers.
We discovered ways in which this war differed from prior wars. For one thing, this was a war where soldiers had immediate contact with families and friends through Instant Messaging, through posting pictures on FLICKER, by going onto MYSPACE. With one chip and three chip cameras as well as cell phones attached to their helmets, mounted on guns, hung from the inside of Humvees, set on sandbags, basically attached to whatever they could attach them to, soldiers recorded video footage of themselves and their buddies (during down time on base - cleaning the sh*tters, playing cards, playing guitar; of routine Humvee patrols around the city, standing guard at checkpoints, getting hit by IED's, getting mortared on base, combat on the field etc), they got classified footage of shootings and bombings from helicopter and plane pilots and they downloaded footage from the Internet – (from other soldiers, from news sites, from Weapons Defense Companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing) - then they edited these images/videos on their laptops on I-movie or final cut pro and then set the whole thing to music (ROCK, PATRIOTIC, SENTIMENTAL, RAP – i.e. Prodigy's "Firestarter," Drowning Pool's "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor," Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name of,” “Bulls on the Parade,” Disturb’s “Down with the Sickness,” “Liberate,” “I Hate you,” “Slipknot’s “Pulse of the Magots,” POD’s “Mesenjah,” Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad.” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” -- Toby Keith's "American Soldier," “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue,” Darryl Worrely’s “Have You Forgotten,” etc. – “World’s Greatest,” R Kelly. -- Music by the 4th 25th, 50 Cent’s “If I Can’t,” Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” and many more) These "music videos," enabled the soldiers to capture their experiences as they happened and then assemble them to reflect how it had felt or how they wanted it to feel. Told entirely from the soldiers POV, they were like anthropological finds, unique and powerful windows into the experiences of soldiers.
We set about finding as many soldiers’ videos as we could, searching the Internet (You Tube, Ogrish.com, military.com etc.) and tracking down soldiers, reaching out to filmmakers/ documentarians (doing excellent work) such as Ian Olds and Garrett Scott who made Occupation Dreamland, Deborah Scranton who made the War Tapes, Michael Tucker who made Gunner Palace. We amassed a great collection which inspired our writing AND became the basis for using videos in the movie and for the videos themselves – we either cleared the rights to these images or recreated them frame by frame with our actors, which you will see in the film.
Another difference we discovered between this and prior wars that influenced our writing was a feeling of constant assault some soldiers feel because there is no real "green zone," because at any moment they can be mortared on their base or blown up by an IED on Humvee patrol. Additionally, a number of soldiers feel challenged by NOT finding “the enemy” they had gone in search of, challenged by having to fight in urban combat zones, which force them to have to distinguish between the enemy and the innocent in neighborhoods and within homes with families present. Because of better bombs, there is a higher rate of brain injury. Because of improved armor, many soldiers are surviving injuries they would have died from in prior wars. And there has been a higher rate of suicide.
I was intrigued and moved by so many of the stories, and in particular drawn to the depth of feeling and loyalty soldiers who'd been in combat together felt for one another - many said being in combat with another solider, being willing to die for them and they die for you was the most profound experience of their lives. They said they imagined they would be more attached to the soldiers they fought with than anyone else EVER in their lives.
I was moved to transform the documentary into a feature film, so I joined up with Texan novelist Mark Richard to write the screenplay.
Just as I had financed the documentary, to protect our independence, I financed the writing of the feature-length script so we could get our story to a point where it not only reflected what we had discovered in our research, but also the story we wanted to tell (wonderful elements of Texas life from Mark’s life, other experiences of my own).
The more Mark and I heard this sentiment of camaraderie amongst the men we were interviewing, the more we knew it was at the heart of our story, and at the heart of our protagonist Sargent King's feelings and struggles.
Inspired by the soldiers and families we had interviewed, we felt an obligation to the soldiers, the military community and the story itself to get this right. We would depict the soldiers as patriots, as men who had signed up to defend their country, their families and their homes, as well as men who felt a loyalty, camaraderie, brotherhood and attachment to one another because they'd fought together. We would portray these soldiers as intelligent, dedicated and engaging, as we had found the soldiers we interviewed to be.
One day while Mark and I were writing, my brother told me about a friend of his, a decorated soldier who'd done his time and was ready to go home to his wife and child when he was Stop-Lossed by the Army. That story inspired me to focus our research on understanding what Stop-Loss was. In military terms, 'Stop-Loss' means not letting a military member separate or retire once their required term of service is complete. I found out that tens of thousands of soldiers had been Stop-Lossed to sustain the war effort. The extent to which STOP-LOSS was being used further inspired me to focus our research on how STOP-LOSS was affecting the troops and their families, both in combat and upon their return, who, after they'd completed their service and were expecting to get out. We also explored how families and communities were feeling and reacting. Some soldiers were frustrated but accepted it, some called it a "back door draft," and claimed “the army was recycling soldiers who’d already done their time, because people were not enlisting and to avoid a real draft.” Some soldiers did everything they could within the system to fight it – they approached their chaplains, they went to their Commanding Officers, they filled out applications of Conscientious Objector Status, they filed lawsuits. Some sought to resolve it outside the system- they went on the run. Some ended up in jail. Some left the country. These stories were personal- gripping, tragic and heartbreaking.
Our movie, STOP-LOSS tells the emotional story of a young man who signs up for "all the right reasons," defends his country, leads his men through battle and comes home a decorated war hero hoping to put it all behind him only to find out he can not -- being forced back to war forces him to face his connections to the men he served with, his feelings about the war, and his desire to come home.
Because soldiers inspired the characters and the story lines in the movie, we tell the story as much as possible from the soldiers' point of view using their images, words and experiences. We include soldier-made videos like the many we discovered that soldiers had made.
Once we had a finished screenplay, we brought it to financiers (independent as well as studio). We sold it to the studio as a green-lit movie, which meant they would fundamentally make the movie we had written. Of course, there are always changes to a script once it goes into production, for length, for budget, etc.
In order to continue to protect and develop the authenticity of our depiction of soldiers and the events they and their family’s experience, we continued working with soldiers who'd experienced combat in Iraq and additionally brought in excellent military advisers (SGT. Major Jim Dever as well as SGT. Tom Minder) who'd served 25 years in the marines. These soldiers helped us to: design the battle sequences based on real battles, ensure that the soldiers’ and family’s dialogue rang true, and train (and train with) our actors. To the extent that it helped, I participated -- took marches, fired weapons, blew things up, went out with the boys, drank, and skinned snakes. When I staged a fight scene, I had a stunt coordinator help me stage it technically and I had a soldier make sure it was accurate to how soldiers would have fought. Whenever we could, we cast soldiers as soldiers in the movie - in secondary parts and as extras.
We gave all department heads and actors research packets, which they disseminated to people working on the film. It was very inspiring to share the research and then wake up and find my email in box flooded with new research the crew was finding. (My garage is so filled with research for this film, I can’t park my car in it).Throughout the editing process, I showed the movie to civilians as well as soldiers.
In many ways, the research we started after 9/11 continues as we screen the movie across America. As I have mentioned in prior posts, in November 2007, I completed a mini-college tour (to University of Phoenix at Arizona, University of Wisconsin at Madison, University of California at Berkley, Ohio State at Columbus, University of Colorado at Boulder and New York University) where I introduced the movie, screened it and held question and answer sessions with audiences – young and old, civilians, families of soldiers, and soldiers attended. I was amazed at how engaged people were, at how willing and interested they were in talking about their emotions about soldiers, the war, and the movie, and about how much they appreciated seeing a realistic, emotional, story that focuses on relationships – between the soldiers themselves and the soldiers and their families. Also as I said in a prior post, I am going out, along with some of the actors on another tour starting February 4th leading up to the March 28 release. The discussions with audiences on the road as well as these discussions here on this site continue the research I started the day we entered this conflict.
You can CLICK HERE to check out the 'Stop-Loss' Sound Off site for yourself and to get involved in the community.
Below you can find the current release dates for 'Stop-Loss' around the world. Take note that the film just added a theatrical release for Italy to the list:
- USA - March 28, 2008
- UK - April 11, 2008
- France - May 7, 2008
- Italy - June 6, 2008 **NEW**
- Germany - June 19, 2008
- Denmark - June 20, 2008