Over and done with one-dimensional and overwrought Hollywood portrayals of soldiers as either degenerate drunk Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder victims or puritanical war gods, a group of veteran-entrepreneurs decide to take the storytelling into their own hands. The creators of the film were adamant that veterans would be involved in as many aspects of the film as possible from the outset. There was a particular interest in the common appreciation of dark humor found within the veteran community, which is so prevalent that it could almost be considered a language of their own.
Veterans like Mary Dague, one of the stars of Range 15, discuss the reactions of friends, family, and strangers to her brand of comedy. While serving in Iraq, Mary put herself between her team and an explosive device, a decision that caused her to lose both arms. When she cracks jokes about “being all thumbs”, people around her cringe. “I realize I don’t have hands,” she says dryly. Mary and many other veterans interviewed describe their experiences at war and their assimilation back into civilian life. The tragic to the mundane is expressed with unexpected candor, providing viewers with a rare glimpse into a tightly knit community.
We learn that without this community, Range 15 would likely never have made it to the casting stage. The film, in fact, was entirely funded by contributions from the veteran community after traditional Hollywood funding routes were denied. For the first time ever, veterans played a major role in every aspect of a Hollywood film: writing, producing, acting, art direction, prop creation, and even set-design. Unlike traditional films, where the cast and crew maintain separate roles, on Range 15, it was quite common to see the stars of the film helping the crew pack up for the day. No one left the set until all the work was done. One team. One fight.
Not A War Story takes you from the screenwriters’ table to the director‘s chair and everywhere in between. The writers, director, and producers of Range 15 talk openly about the often rocky but always entertaining path to creating the first film of its kind. It goes without saying that every brand of stress you can imagine was experienced, from passionate arguments over the script to watching bad actors in Tinseltown extort money from the team. The fact that novices were taking on such an enormous endeavor with the added challenge of having to execute on a small budget that forced a breakneck timeline of making a feature film in just 13 days is a story unto itself, but the manner in which they did it is truly astounding.
It shouldn’t have worked, but it somehow did. We see these veterans not only release their trailer at Sundance, but attend premieres nationwide. True to their roots, they remarkably take the movie deep into war zones in Iraq, Kuwait, and Africa, at one point showing the film on a small portable projector roughly a mile from intense combat, to make sure the people that this movie was made for, receive the best Hollywood experience the team could muster.
The cast is comprised of Hollywood and military heavy-hitters alike including “The Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell, Medal of Honor Recipients Leroy Petry and Clint Romesha, William Shatner, Randy Couture, Danny Trejo, Keith David, and Sean Astin. On the morning of the theatrical release for the film, which screened in 500+ theaters, ISIS issued a death threat to all military gatherings in movie theaters. That didn’t stop thousands of veterans from all around the country to come together and turn Range 15 into an instant cult classic that premiered #1 on Amazon and #2 on iTunes.
The story though is less about the success of the film. It’s simply about a community that grew up fighting for each other on the battlefield coming to do it once again in Hollywoodland. They committed to a mission and regardless of the challenges that came their way, they overcame and in the process, managed to show the world the raw love that veterans have for each other. It’s an eye-opening account that shows both strength and weakness. These men and women aren’t broken, nor are they perfect. They’re simply human. But when they are together they are far more than that, and for one shining moment, they are all once again, a unit.