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About The Production (Continued)
Becoming the Voices

"I'd rather be a hero with my ass blown off than this shit. Don't even feel like me anymore." -Tausolo Aeiti in Thank You for Your Service

To engender camaraderie among the onscreen warriors, Hall arranged for a crash course in military training prior to the start of principal photography. He describes, "These guys stepped into a boot camp that I don't think they were entirely prepared for. We had a gentleman who ran hell week for SEAL Team Six for quite a while in charge-so the cast showed up, they were given haircuts and uniforms and not much sleep. It basically stripped everybody of their ego and they became a team, much in the same way that the newly enlisted do. They came away from it with a shared experience over which they were able to bond-it was something they kept recalling over the course of the shoot. I felt it was essential to their relationships on camera."

For Hall, the results of camp were evident from day one. The director arrived at 2:30 a.m. and found the men wet and covered in mud, salamander crawling across cement while instructors fired blank weapons overhead. After, they were called to assemble around a bonfire. The director remembers, "I gave them a little speech, and they all looked like they were shell-shocked. But they were standing close together, using each other's warmth, and I could tell the experience was going to be real. You can't act 'brotherhood' unless you've been through a challenging experience with the guy on your left and the one on your right."

In addition to the physicality forced upon them, Koale came away with tangible information about the military men around him. The actor explains, "All the time that we're getting smashed by them and doing push-ups, we're also observing. For actors, it's usually about getting the character in your body, you have to move a certain way. Obviously, that's true here, but I noticed this subtle pain in their eyes. There's this switch that goes off, and it changes the whole energy of the room-a bit of darkness, sadness. I've had many conversations with guys who have been to war, and I've seen that switch when they get to the part about seeing their buddies die. When they come back that's what they're thinking about, their boys; they wish they could have done better by them."

Cole admits that he went into training with some skepticism. He offers, "I wasn't sure how much it would benefit my character, but it was invaluable. We came together almost instantly-we had to stick together. When something went wrong, someone messed up, we all had to pay for it. So, we were constantly checking each other's uniforms, watching each other's backs, and that came with us into filming. It's both a physical and psychological thing-during production, the only people I wanted to be around were the other guys. The only guys who could identify with my experience were these guys. For the character, I expanded on that, envisioning fighting alongside these people, serving with them, perhaps even watching some of them die at my side."

Filmmakers were adamant about involving as many military as they could into the production. The set medic-veteran STEFANO SMITH-was brought in early for boot camp and remained throughout filming. "It was great to turn to the guy next to you and find a veteran there-we wanted to fill the family of this film crew with as many veterans as possible," confirms Hall.

Production also brought another former military man, Sergeant MARK WACHTER, aboard as advisor. Teller confesses, "During boot camp-which was very specific and condensed-we had certain things ingrained in us. There was an authenticity in what we filmed, from the kind of speech to the uniforms to the weapons training. If you're doing a film of this magnitude, you need to surround yourself with people who know more than you do, just to give the film that texture. Those are the guys I looked to-Adam, Mark, Stefano. After a scene where we were overtaking a stairwell or clearing hallways, I always looked to them afterward to make sure I did it right."

Weapons training for production involved the use of airsoft replicas of M16s. Schumann explains, "For the scenes in Iraq, they needed to look like an infantry squad-they had to know how to hold a gun, what it's like to shoot a gun and get shot at. It's hard to replicate that in training without physically shooting-you don't feel the recoil of a gun, there's no equal and opposite reaction. We needed to show these guys what it's like to take cover, get away from incoming rounds, to be somewhat tactical and moving around with a foreign piece of equipment; some of these guys never shot or even held a gun. The airsoft are true-to-fit, the same weight, pretty much the same size. The only difference is they shoot a little six-millimeter plastic BB that hurts like hell when it hits you, so it keeps you honest. The training had a bit more value, knowing that if you pop your head out behind a piece of cover for more than a few seconds, you get hit in the side of the face with a plastic BB, and it hurts."

All the while, cast members were encouraged to engage in their own separate training. On Hall: "It was very important to me that these actors reach out to the real people and find out who they are and what they'd been through-to bring the DNA of that to the table and truth to the story. We needed to not only respect these people and what they'd been through, but also portray them in the right they could be proud of this movie. Hopefully, this becomes part of the healing of their story."

While Schumann, Aeiti and Waller return from combat with mostly invisible wounds, Emory miraculously survives death, courtesy of a sniper bullet in the head. To undertake such a character journey, Haze committed to his own transformation as a performer. Haze begins, "I didn't know what I was going to do walking into the role, but it actually became the discovery of getting to know Emory."

The actor flew to San Antonio and made his way to the soldier's home. "I wanted it to be clear that my job wasn't to do anything but honor him, and do the best that I could do. I completely entered this situation of getting to know another human being and saying, 'You don't know me, but I want you to trust me.'"

The first day of the visit proved memorable for more than just the inroads made through sharing. "So, Emory gets me in his Dodge Challenger-and that day is the only time he drove. I drove the rest of the time! We get on some road with a 50 mile-an-hour speed limit, and he punches it to around 120. I think I am going to die, and he is just loving it. He says that he likes to drive his car at astronomical speeds, as fast as he can, because it makes him feel alive."

Even more than fast driving, there is one side of Emory that is perhaps the biggest takeaway for Haze: "The most touching thing I got to know is how much he loves his daughter. Every day is a struggle for him-things that I have always taken for granted, like tying my shoe, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, these are hard for him. Through all of this, he remains a father to her. The times I saw them connect during our days together will stay with me forever."

On one day, the soldier and the actor visited the traumatic brain division at San Antonio's Fort Sam Houston VA, where the long journey of Emory's recovery began and where it continues. They discussed the implications of his injury on his thought processes, motor skills and speech. Haze points out, "When I first heard his voice, I thought it was an accent, but it is actually the sound of someone who has had to learn to speak all over again." Haze took what he had observed and expanded on it by working with a speech pathologist.

Another part of Emory's long journey was regaining the use of his legs (most never expected this would ever be possible), he spent months in a wheelchair, which compelled Haze to later spend a month "living" in a wheelchair. "I had to learn how live with that disability, what those physical limitations would do to me emotionally, spiritually and physically," the actor notes. "I went about my day, met strangers and really tried to experience everyday life as he did."

But Haze discovered a facet of the veteran that would most shape his performance, several days into their visit: "It was about midnight, and I knew he was tired, so I said that I was going to bed. He told me that I didn't have to go, and I kind of felt something, so I asked him, what is one of the worst things? He said that he was lonely. I think that when people leave and walk out his door, the expectation is that he's not going to see them again. I wanted to make sure that I stayed in that mindset during the scenes when Schumann comes to visit."

No amount of training or observation could replicate the vet's appearance, so production turned to makeup effects department head JAKE GARBER, who created a silicon prosthetic of Emory's scar "down to the millimeter of where the bullet entered and exited the head and how the scar appears. They made a full head prosthetic, which took around two to three hours for application," supplies the actor. In trying to re-create the character's isolation, Haze chose to have the piece applied away from the rest of the cast and crew, in a hotel room, arriving on set in makeup and wardrobe as Emory.

Hall notes, "This headpiece gives him the scar of a guy who took a bullet to the brain-the bullet ran along the skull. To get a steel plate into his head, they had to cut more away, so the scar runs the length of his head. The piece that Scott wears weighs quite a bit...but as real as it looks, I don't think it would be real if he hadn't found his way to this character, and he really, really did."

Other actors discovered parts of their characters by also spending time with the actual servicemen and their families. Bennett reports, "These people have been so generous in the way that they have shared their stories. I found Saskia to be a fascinating woman. She married a good man and he happened to be a great soldier, who then came home from the war deeply affected and haunted by the things he had witnessed. Saskia had high hopes for the life that she wanted, and they were taken away from her by the war. It became not just about how Adam was going to heal, it was about how Saskia was going to heal, too. It's not just her saving Adam; it's how she saves herself."

Amanda Doster spent time with Schumer, inviting her to her home, and visiting James' grave together. Later, Doster also visited the production. Hall remembers, "We were lucky to get Amanda to come to set, and it happened on a day when both Adam and Tausolo were there. When she saw Adam, she broke down in tears-even though they don't know each other that well, their lives are so inextricably linked. They hadn't seen each other in years. To see them come together that day, it was especially powerful, particularly for the actors, to see what we're doing has real meaning for these people. Amanda has a relationship with Adam that will last the rest of their lives, and the third piece of that triangle is James, who is gone. But it's a lifelong bond."

Schumann recalls the day: "We asked, 'Why the hell haven't we talked?' I told her that I didn't want to make things any harder for her than they already are. She reassured me, 'No. We'd love to have you as a part of our lives,' and that was something that James would have wanted. It was probably one of the best experiences during this film, reconnecting with Amanda and her daughters."

Of the work Schumer did to portray Doster, Bennett comments, "I don't think of Amy as a comedienne anymore. She's hardworking and passionate about everything that she does. She disappeared into this role of a woman who is wracked with grief. This transformation made her unrecognizable as 'Amy.' Amy's very intuitive. She understands people and that makes her a good artist, whatever she decides to take on."

Hall speaks for the production when he reflects, "Soldiers come home, and they see Hollywood turn their experience into movie tickets and popcorn. There needs to be a level of respect in honoring what they did and what they sacrificed. It was very important to get it right-for Adam and Tausolo and all the 2-16, but really for every soldier who served out there. We didn't approach this like entertainment; we approached this like it was somebody's life. I believe if you can create something very personal, it can take on a universal truth. We are reaching for that truth, hoping to deepen our understanding of these soldiers, and find a better way to welcome them home."

Here and There: Kansas and Iraq

"I know this don't look like much of a life. But every morning I get up, I'm grateful. I'm grateful I'm alive." -Michael Emory in Thank You for Your Service

To re-create the Kansas locations of Fort Riley, Topeka and surrounding towns, production sat down in Atlanta, which boasted both the realistic communities to ground the settings, plus a developed and prolific filmmaking infrastructure facile enough to cater to a smaller production's needs.

And just as filmmakers had taken great care in the search for their cast, they kept certain criterion in mind when building their crew.

Producer Kilik observes, "We weren't just looking for talented and professionally skilled people to make up our platoon on both sides of the camera-we gathered a special group of incredibly accomplished individuals, who also happen to have great human qualities. They were doing it because they were just as committed to making this as right as Jason and I are."

For his part, production designer Keith P. Cunningham began where many of the cast started-with the truth. For the Kansas setting, he studied the two homes of Schumann's (one rented, one owned), photographed each in detail and went about reproducing them as sets. He cast the same studied eye on rooms and offices in the VA and military buildings, re-creating them as well, including "our great big waiting room-the purgatory of the VA," quips Hall. (Location scouting discovered structures that would stand in for the exteriors, with an adequately institutional building on Emory University's Briarcliff campus standing in for Topeka's VA.)

Costume designer Hope Hanafin also committed to accuracy in her wardrobe. Hanafin says, "The military audiences are very attentive and specific...and ready for criticism, if you get anything wrong. It was essential that we understood exactly what they wore, when they wore it, what the badges were, what the protocol was. We checked that constantly."

To embody the displacement of the returning soldiers, she strove to create looks that, as the costumer puts it, "conveyed no sense of ease or comfort. There is the expectation of things getting better, but they actually enter purgatory. So, it was important to show a home life, not as something that was quaint and homey, but something that had a real sense of struggle to it-people who are trying to make their way stateside."

The choice was made to eliminate most patterns, so that "the dominant pattern is the camouflage, the ACUs [Army Combat Uniforms], the digital camo," says Hanafin. "The palette is muted, a little flattened. For the women, we kept them mostly in pants. They have worked too hard, carrying too much of the burden, to spend a lot of time glamming it up. They've also had to discover a kind of uniform that they can wear while getting through the day and managing their lives. There's a commonality of struggle and a utilitarian approach to life.

"The actual ACUs the guys wear are very practical, kind of ill-fitting, and are just suited for battle...and we've done the same thing with the civilian clothes. Nothing is ironed. It's cottons, knits and jeans-the same jewelry throughout. No one is spending time accessorizing," Hanafin completes.

A couple of special pieces do figure into the daily civilian uniform for Emory. Haze explains, "In real life, Emory wears this arm brace that he cannot physically put on by himself. Once Jason found that out, we added a new scene with it. Also, he wears a leg brace, because his left side has dropped, and this keeps his foot elevated and in place. Both of these braces that I wear, Emory gave to me."

Military advisor Wachter (who actually would have crossed paths with Schumann, being in country right before and after Adam's tours) was also relied upon to ensure protocol in uniform costuming...among other things. Hall says, "Mark's experienced a couple of tours of duty and he came to the project with an educated, organized process. He's also very calm. It wasn't just about the uniforms or the medals being right, it was also making sure that weapons were handled correctly. But even more than that, it was about being able to articulate to the actors a sense of who these guys were and what they had been through...and what this process is like to come home and try to seek help, and then finding many closed doors and a lot of waiting."

Wachter was in keeping with the production's commitment to the utilization of vets wherever possible. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sequence shot inside that "purgatory" of a VA waiting room, when extras casting head ROSE LOCKE was charged with finding around 165 veterans to fill the seats around Teller and Koale. ("Vets know other vets when they see them, and I wanted the vets in the audience to recognize themselves," shares Hall.) Among those vets is the actual Michael Emory.

Locke explains, "There is a lot of waiting in line-it's what they do. We wanted to capture that and filled the room with veterans-ranging from those from the Iraq wars to a nurse from WWII. Ordinarily, I would just go to my database of people who do extra work, but I went out and spread the word for two months. In addition to the VA, we also lined the tarmac-when Adam comes home-with vets and families." (The real Adam Schumann is the weapons officer, who welcomes his screen incarnation home.)

During the day's shoot in the VA, Koale was able to connect with a number of families. "Every hand that I shook, I made sure that I knew what their story was," he says. "Knowing that I was, in some way, representing these people-it got me pumped up. I respect the men and women who serve this country...I'm not even from this country and I respect them. I found a lot of pain, but I also shared some funny stories and some laughs."

Hall learned that the majority of the vets in the scene live within 30 miles of the shooting location, yet none of them had previously met. Throughout the day, he watched them exchanging information, and later heard they had come together in an informal network-some had gone fishing together. "I was trying to create a sense of truth," he explains, "but what came out of it was much stronger and more important. Knowing that we are telling a real story, we took every measure to make it authentic and give everything a ring of truth. As a result of that, some unintended good came out of it."

Kilik addresses some of the challenges of shooting a smaller production when he says, "With any independent film, there are budget challenges, also time, which can push toward decision making based on nothing but economics. We avoided that. The creativity of our team enabled us to shoot in locations that were able to help not just the look of the film, but provide the actors with a realistic environment.

"When it came to the decision of where to shoot the Iraq sequences," Kilik elaborates, "there are places in the States where war films have shot. Still, we were able to figure a way to go to Morocco and get the safest and most realistic version of Iraq-with the support of our studio and the help of the Moroccan crew, our production design, props, stunts and the rest of our team."

Hall notes that American Sniper also utilized Morocco, which provides architecture similar to Iraq and a sizeable pool of personnel with previous experience supporting motion picture production. "But," he is quick to point out, "we had to bring in lots of trash this time, because Morocco is very clean."

Designer Cunningham scouted several cities and locations and found the right elements in Rabat-the crew required a building with a high rooftop that provided a view of the rest of the city (production termed it "Building 20"). The traditional red awnings of Morocco were switched out for the blue of Iraq-graffiti (and the famous trash) were added to help with the transformation.

Cunningham says, "One of the biggest challenges was just the scale. It's a lot of square footage, a lot of driving, four Humvees, and we had to find the appropriate streets with the right width and height to accommodate the vehicles. Iraq, at that time, was war torn. To create that without leaving our mark permanently there was a big challenge. The trash is there because all services were suspended during the war, so no garbage pick-up. That trash becomes significant to Adam, as potential hiding places for IEDs. We also brought in telephone poles and layered in cables. Suspended services also meant busted water pipes, so we have standing water. We added some livestock, feral animals to show what Iraq became during the war."

As well, the Moroccan performers needed to appear as Iraqis, circa 2007. Hanafin explains, "Everyone had to be dressed from head to toe-men, women, children." Hanafin staffed her department with an Iraq veteran, along with members who had been married to servicemen or were children of soldiers; their collective experience was brought to bear on the uniforms during the Iraq scenes. She continues, "We were meticulous-is that patch in the right place? There are three different kinds of flags-which one do you use at this point? Part of using facts to tell the story was discovering not just what the 'uniform' was in battle, but also in formal situations or coming home."

Hanafin went so far as to reproduce a shirt that the real Schumann had worn to the set-his commanding officer had made them for the platoon back in Iraq. While the soldier's version had seen better days, Hanafin created them anew, as they would have been before the years had taken their toll, with fresh colors and strong stitching, and integrated them into the battalion uniform.

In addition to the site-specific props and set dressing added to convert Morocco to Iraq, Hall and his art team brought along items that had previously been on set stateside for inclusion in the Iraq sequences-with a specific thesis in mind. Hall: "Trauma, for some of these guys, reveals itself as a sort of mystery...that if they had done something differently, said something, or made a different gesture, that bullet would have been for them and not the guy behind them. The chronology leading up to the traumatic event is played and replayed, every sight and sound and movement. That's how it goes for many of these guys, they relive the same events over and over again-and it unravels in the brain as a mystery. Some people spend years trying to get at the bottom of it-what was the moment or origin where things went wrong? Which choice was it that affected everything else afterwards?

"So, we visually wanted to create that sense of mystery within the film," he continues. "We planted objects throughout that we bring back at the last few minutes of the film. Dolls, chairs, lamps and things that have been a part of the architecture of the film, reappear here. It's not something people will consciously recognize, but the subconscious tracks it-and the addition of that information at the end-is meant to mimic the replaying of traumatic memories and give the audience a sense of snowballing closer to solving this thing. You go to great lengths hoping your audience can participate in feeling like our hero feels...who may be close to getting the answers there."

Hall points out that, in his discussion with Amanda Doster, that there's still a feeling in the back of her mind that she doesn't quite have all of the information. "That if she just knew what James was feeling or thinking-or what he said earlier that morning that caused him to be in that exact place at the exact moment this blast went off-that if she just had the answers to that, there would somehow be a resolution," he expands.

Per Schumann: "I've been going to therapy since after my first deployment to Iraq in '04. Coming down and seeing this stuff on set, it does bring it to the surface again...but I think I'm at a point where I'm far enough away from it that it doesn't have the effect on me like it once had. I can see it for what it is now-I can see the reasons I reacted in the ways I did. It's been interesting, to sit there at night, and feel that ball of anxiety in my stomach, guilt for things that you wish you could have done better or differently. But it's been positive to feel that stuff again. I think my feeling that means that the authenticity of this is there-it solidifies how well they're doing this."

Finkel comments, "I've known Adam since the day he left the war, through some of the darkest periods of anyone's life, where he very nearly killed himself. Somehow, he's slowly recovered. So, for him to be on the set, to reach the point in recovering where he's well and healthy enough to be in a movie where he welcomes home the fictional wounded version of himself...that was a meaningful day."

Hall adds, "Adam was reluctant to show up for the movie at all-once we got him to boot camp, he saw that we were serious about how we were going to tell this story. Then after he showed up, he kind of never left. He went back home a few times to visit the family, but he pretty much was here for the duration. Over that process, he went from being our sounding-board to being co-military advisor with Mark Wachter-telling guys how to hold their guns or making sure that medals were in order. Then, when our film was concluding, and Wachter wasn't able to go back on a movie he had been working on for reshoots, he sent Adam in his place. It was beautiful to watch Adam go from a guy who was reluctant to talk to me on the phone, who wasn't sure that he wanted a movie to be made about his experience, to going off to work with Ang Lee on a big Hollywood movie set," smiles Hall.

t was Schumann's presence on the set of Thank You for Your Service that also led to the special song that plays over the final credits of the film. He shared a cadence-one he and his fellow soldiers used to sing while marching-with filmmakers, and Kilik recorded it. "It just rang with emotion," the producer recalls.

Kilik has a long friendship with another fellow New Jersey resident, Bruce Springsteen, who provided songs over the years to some of Kilik's projects (including Dead Man Walking). When he joined Thank You for Your Service, the producer shared a copy of Finkel's book with Springsteen. As principal photography wrapped, he felt that Springsteen and his wife, Patty, would respond to the power of the cadence and forwarded the video of Schumann to Bruce and Patty, who were, indeed, moved.

Nearly a year later, Kilik brought a cut of the picture for them to screen. After viewing the film and then re-watching the video of Schumann singing, Springsteen told Kilik to return in a couple of weeks with Schumann, "and hopefully, I'll have something to play you."

When Schumann and Kilik returned, they found the 23-time Grammy winner had expanded and orchestrated the cadence. Soldier and film producer were invited into the collaboration and lent their voices to backing vocal tracks. By the end of a snowy January day in New Jersey, the film had its closing song, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen...with a little help from one Adam Schumann.

Final Thoughts: Voices Responding to the Call

"You should have told me I was married to a hero..." -Saskia Schumann in Thank You for Your Service

"The attempt in Thank You for Your Service is to take this ubiquitous phrase, this thing that we all say, and put grit underneath it. If you read the stories of these people between the covers of this book, and when you finish-if I've done my job-these people will be so in mind that the next time you say the phrase, you'll have a better sense of who you're thanking...and what you're thanking them for." - David Finkel

"What you get to experience as an audience member is a story that takes you inside of a world that is not over in Afghanistan or Iraq, it's next door. These are real people who are suffering from things that are not being taken care of. We're putting it front and center. We're telling a story that is not only entertaining, but pushes the level of what you have to look at as an audience member. When you walk away from this movie and you meet somebody who says, 'I served,' there is a new set of lenses through which to view this soldier." - Scott Haze

"These guys are fighters. Over there, every day is Day One. You can't reflect on what happened yesterday, or the day before. You have to hit the reset button, or you're dead. They always have to be moving forward. These men and woman come back from war with physical, mental and emotional scars, which are incredibly complex and difficult to come to terms with when they return to civilian life. No one can relate who hasn't seen it up close, and obviously those things are very difficult to try and cope with one they're back.  What I admire about these guys is that they want to get better. Adam, every day, is still living his life and trying to fight through it. I appreciate that spirit of overcoming...and in that, there's a lot of hope." - Miles Teller

"Educating an audience is something that you cannot force, and that's not what we are trying to achieve. It's about giving an experience. What I try and do in my films that deal with societal issues is provide the experience-what it is like to walk in these people's shoes. It's not something you get a chance to do very often-to be in that room with two people going through something, having that breakdown. But if you could be in that room, and it's real and authentic...that experience is an education in itself. Ultimately, if we understand people better, then we're able to support their situation in a more productive way, without sympathy or pity, but with tolerance and compassion." - Jon Kilik

"Thank You for Your Service is about soldiers coming home; it's about their return. But home is not two sofas and a TV. Home is a place inside ourselves where we feel safe. For some of these guys, it's a long journey finding a way back to themselves. In the old days, there was a tribe-you come home from a war and you re-enter the tribe. There was a communal understanding of what you'd done and an appreciation of what you'd gone through-that communal understanding presented a way for them to process grief and trauma. Now, many of these guys come home...and they don't have a life here. Their brothers are gone; their identity's been taken away with the uniform. The work they know how to do is no longer useful in society. They've come home alone, and they don't fit in. It's important that we find a way back to that communal understanding of their experience, so we can find a better way to welcome them home." - Jason Hall

"Once you realize you're not alone, that you're not the only one that's f***ed up, you can start building on that. The more you know about a machine and how it works, the more you can understand it. When it breaks down, you know what to fix. I was on the fence most of the time-I didn't want to sign off on it, I didn't want them to use my name, because, to me, my military career ended as a failure. I didn't care either way about the movie. And here it is. After being here, watching what goes on, meeting the people involved in it...I walked down there and saw my bunk, like my room was cut from Iraq and dropped here. After seeing all of this, I couldn't be more proud, about the direction that the books went, and the way the movie turned out...and all from running into a journalist in the middle of Baghdad." - Adam Schumann


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