Director’s NoteWith the Army as his answer to a slew of college rejection letters, my older brother shipped off to the Middle East in 1991. Our family huddled around the TV watching dust-clouded news feeds of U.S. forces as they drove Saddam out of Kuwait. After a speedy victory, my brother came home with his arms and legs and sense of humor intact. He told us war was boring and hotter than hell, but another story seemed to vibrate behind his pale eyes. Ground combat lasted a mere 100 hours, but it had altered him. Like my uncle who fought in Vietnam, and my grandfather who flew in WWII, my brother would never talk about it. It became the unspoken space between us.
In 2013, I was introduced to “Thank You for Your Service” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel. The book seemed to explore all that my brother had left unsaid. It follows the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, home from Iraq, back to Topeka, Kansas—into what the author calls the “after-war.” Exploring the trauma haunting our soldiers, the veteran suicide crisis and the bureaucratic nightmare otherwise known as the VA, the book was a sprawling, winding masterpiece. Still, it needed a narrative structure, a heartbeat and a hero if it were ever to become a film.
We found our hero in Adam Schumann. Like my brother, he came home changed. The war still echoed through his existence, fracturing his identity and uprooting his future. But in his struggle I found a tale of survival and hope. That was the story I hoped to tell anyway. At that time, I had just finished writing American Sniper and had watched Chris Kyle emerge from his own battles with PTSD only to be tragically murdered. Adam’s story struck me as a way to continue the conversation, to transition from Achilles to Odysseus, and see a warrior home.
The men of the 2-16 didn’t come back to book deals or popular acclaim—they were normal grunts hoping to return to normal lives. But for many of them that dream was gone. Finkel earned their trust by following them into battle; I endeavored to do the same. They carried me across their war, reliving every lacerating memory that still echoed inside them. In doing so they empowered me to paint a personal picture of their sacrifice, in hopes that it may lead to a deeper understanding of the unthinkable sacrifice that all our veterans have made in the service of this country.
“I was a good soldier. I had purpose and I loved it.”
—Adam Schumann in Thank You for Your Service
For Sergeant Adam Schumann (MILES TELLER, Whiplash)—and many soldiers like him—the process of leaving combat back in Iraq was as seemingly simple as getting on that plane. But standing on the tarmac again in the arms of loved ones would turn out to be merely a first step in the long and exacting journey of actually returning home.
Based in part on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist DAVID FINKEL’s book of the same name, DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment’s Thank You for Your Service follows a group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield.
Joining Teller in the ensemble cast are HALEY BENNETT (The Girl on the Train) as Saskia Schumann, Adam’s wife and mother of two, who vacillates between compassion and frustration as she searches for the new normal; JOE COLE (Secret in Their Eyes) as Will Waller, a warrior who made it through being “blown up seven times in one deployment,” only to return to a broken existence; BEULAH KOALE (The Last Saint) as Tausolo Aeiti, now dealing with the aftermath of the bomb explosion that left him with a traumatic brain injury, hero status and nightmares of the one soldier he couldn’t save; AMY SCHUMER (Trainwreck) as Amanda Doster, haunted by unanswered questions and the loss of a husband just days shy of scheduled leave; and SCOTT HAZE (Midnight Special), as Michael Emory, who survived a sniper’s bullet in the brain to fight his way back to speaking, walking and savoring life.
JASON HALL—Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter of American Sniper—makes his directorial debut with Thank You for Your Service and also serves as its screenwriter. Fellow Oscar® nominee and two-time Golden Globe Award winner JON KILIK (The Hunger Games series, Babel) produces the film, while ANN RUARK (Biutiful) and JANE EVANS (The Light Between Oceans) executive produce.
The cast also features KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES (Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith) as Tausolo’s wife Alea, BRAD BEYER (42) as Sergeant James Doster, OMAR J. DORSEY (Selma) as Dante, SEAN BRIDGERS (The Magnificent Seven) as Sergeant Mozer, ERIN DARKE (Love & Mercy) as Will Waller’s fiancée Tracey and JAKE WEBER (White House Down) as Colonel Plymouth.
Hall and Kilik are joined by sterling behind-the-camera talent that includes cinematographer ROMAN VASYANOV (Fury), production designer KEITH P. CUNNINGHAM (The Accountant), editor JAY CASSIDY (American Hustle), costume designer HOPE HANAFIN (Love the Coopers), music supervisor SUSAN JACOBS (Split) and composer THOMAS NEWMAN (American Beauty).
Thank You for Your Service is distributed by Universal Pictures.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
A Journalist, a Filmmaker, a Call to Attention
“As adept as we are at fighting, we’re not very good at bringing them home.”
It was during journalist David Finkel’s eight-month tenure embedded with the soldiers of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion that he met the man who would largely serve as the bridge between his account of “over there” (detailed in “The Good Soldiers”) and “coming home” (“Thank You for Your Service”). Ten years later, the memory is still vivid.
The author recounts, “One day, during a quiet period, I was asking around: ‘Who’s a great soldier? Who do I need to meet?’ Somebody said, ‘You’ve got to meet this guy Schumann; he’s our best.’ A couple of weeks went by before I had the chance to introduce myself—and this great soldier was a rather thin, gaunt, haunted-looking man, sitting alone on his bed. It turned out that the great Schumann—after two-and-a-half tours in Iraq, after 1,000 days in combat—had reached his breaking point. He simply couldn’t be in the war anymore, and he was leaving that day…and that’s when I got to know Adam.”
When it came time for Finkel’s second book, “It was a very easy call to build the book around Adam and his attempts to recover. The truth of war turns out to be that you’re in it for the guy next to you. The truth of the after-war is that you’re pretty much on your own. Recovering is a lonesome business, whether you’re truly alone or you’re with a family. It’s a long, hard, unspooling road and with the example of Adam Schumann, you can see how long the road is and what it’s like to travel it.”
Finkel is quick to point out that the journey undertaken by Schumann and others like him is not trod by every returning soldier—but, since 9/11, about two-and-one-half million Americans have entered military service and of the two million who have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or both, “roughly 500,000 have returned with some level of psychological wound. They now get to spend years, if not the rest of their lives, trying to outrun and recover from the invisible wounds of war. That’s a lot of people—it shouldn’t be ignored, and neither should these people be pitied. Attention should be paid and effort spent to understand.”
For Finkel, who continued to follow Schumann and others engaged in the after-war, it became about the resilience of these men and women, struggling to endure. He notes, “The closer you look at the lives of the soldiers in this battalion who fought at that time, resilience comes with complications. Life is a day-to-day act of willing yourself into the next phase of what comes once you’ve come home from war.”
Finkel’s second book was enthusiastically received by critics (with NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Economist and others naming it a Best Book of the Year) and readers, among them, filmmaker Jason Hall. While in early collaboration on the feature American Sniper, Steven Spielberg had handed a copy to Hall, who says, “I found it so interesting because it’s about everyday heroes. It’s about our grunts—the blue-collar warriors who are coming home and assuming the role of husbands and fathers and brothers. It’s challenging to step off an airplane and immediately step into that role, with a lack of understanding from the general public—and even their families—on what they’ve been asked to do over there. We thank them for their service but we don’t really know what we’re thanking them for.
“The story was about stepping into the boots of a returning warrior. Being able to explore that from within the home was fascinating to me,” the filmmaker continues. “We’ve been accepting these soldiers home since as long as we’ve been an empire, but we have so far to go in understanding what they’ve been through—and learning how to embrace and create space for the changes that have occurred within them. That’s the challenge for any family welcoming a soldier home.”
Hall spent two years adapting the multi-storied work into a screenplay. Finkel remarks, “It was strange at first, because the work I’ve done is reporting. It’s journalism—I wrote a book about what happened, but that book doesn’t necessarily lend itself to becoming a movie. Watching Jason take the work I did and refashion it into this film has been fascinating. It is true to the intent of my work, and he did a great job.”
Hall approached the script with his own set of objectives: “David wrote what seemed like a poetic work of journalism—he followed these guys around for 18 months, lived with them in their homes and recorded their most private moments. My goal was to accomplish the same thing cinematically—to cut as close to the bone as we could and take a peek inside these lives. I wanted to give the audience a raw look at a world they haven’t seen before. Cinema has the ability to create understanding and bridge empathetic gaps in a way that no other medium can.”
As he traversed the largely psychological terrain of these men’s stories and translated that onto the screen, Hall was also confronted with a distinct set of challenges: “The after-war is the war these soldiers bring home in their heads and their hearts. They walk away from the battlefield and leave it behind—but it doesn’t always leave them. These memories, images and instances of trauma have been recorded and built up over the course of a war, and they echo around inside of them like sharp objects. The challenge was to dramatize that and to create this war back home that’s going on inside while they struggle to find their way back to themselves.”
Producer Jon Kilik, who has collaborated with filmmaker Spike Lee from his days on Do the Right Thing to 2015’s Chi-Raq—as well as shepherded The Hunger Games franchise since its inception—has long been fascinated by stories of untold (and unassuming) heroes.
The producer was likewise moved by Finkel’s book, which he read shortly after its publication, even looking into acquiring the rights (nabbed by DreamWorks). The same time that Hall was busy promoting American Sniper, Kilik was likewise involved on his latest, the moving sports drama Foxcatcher (which went on to net five Oscar® nominations). Although the two were in each other’s orbit, they wouldn’t connect right away. “And I’d heard a lot about him—that he and Spielberg were developing Thank You for Your Service—but we weren’t able to meet,” says Kilik.
Nearly a year later, in summer 2015, Kilik received a call from Hall, upon recommendation from Hall’s agent. The now screenwriter and first-time director was searching for a producing partner. Kilik remembers, “At the time, I had no intention of taking on anything new…but what sometimes happens is that a story comes along that is so strong and special. Getting to know Jason, and where his research had taken him, excited me, as did his passion as a first-time director. The story has everything—heroism on and off the battlefield, commitment, real people, coming home…”
The producer continues, “I try to make a career of telling stories about people that need a voice, a light shone on them.. As a filmmaker, it’s the only way I know how to improve or bring attention to a situation. By calling this the after-war, it’s a bit of a call to arms for us to understand the gravity of this, how important it is—for us to be there, a part of their return. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and that deserves us holding up our part of the bargain.”
Filmmakers were in agreement on the transition from book to screen being governed by the production’s unofficial watch word—authenticity. Kilik says, “In taking this book to screen, there were the usual practices of restructuring, compression of time and sometimes, of characters. We took great care, because these are people’s lives, and there was tragedy that came along with it—we had to treat everything with the utmost respect, always. In the end, we are telling a story of incredible strength and courage.”
Everyman / One Man
“I swear, it’s like the whole time you’re out there, all you wanna do is come home.
Come home, and home’s just f—ed.”
—Will Waller in Thank You for Your Service
Hall was adamant in honorably moving the source material to the motion-picture screen—and for the writer/director, this meant gaining the trust (and blessing) of the men and women whose lives Finkel had chronicled before typing one word of the script. And the centerpiece was to be Adam Schumann. Hall notes, “The fact that we had real people who went through this added a weight and an importance to the work that we were doing, that we needed to get it right.”
Having spent months working with Navy SEALs while researching and crafting American Sniper, Hall felt the experience would give him a leg up in approaching the members of the 2-16. He recalls, “I phoned Adam and introduced myself. It was an interesting process. There was a ‘getting-to-know-you’ challenge and a trust barrier that I wasn’t totally prepared for it. In talking to the Navy SEALs, I’d come to understand the war through their eyes. But moving on to a different branch of the military in the same war wasn’t the natural progression I had assumed it would be. I had to unlearn what I thought I knew, and start over. It’s another language and another take on things—everyone’s war is different, branch to branch, battalion to battalion, soldier to soldier, they don’t fight the same war. Tactics, language and demands are different, but more than that, I came to understand how everyone’s war is personal. It belongs to them and them alone.”
Further contact with the soldiers brought a heavy realization, and brutal honesty: “In my next call, I wasn’t prepared for what this guy had been through and how that bore out on his daily existence. I asked a question that contained an incorrect assumption, it didn’t go over well…and he let me know it. I immediately felt unqualified to tell this story, and that I had been insensitive. I considered dropping out of the film because I didn’t want to be responsible for causing more pain to someone who’d already been through so much. Then I realized that if I walked out at that point, there was a chance nobody else would take the reins and that this story would never get told. I also realized there was reluctance on my part to get too personal with these guys; I had gotten close to Chris on Sniper, and his death affected me profoundly. So, I tried to use that loss to understand them better. What had they lost? And what did that loss do to them, and what did that feel like? I dove back in, headfirst.”
Hall went back to the men with an openness that began their trust-building. “I said that I didn’t understand everything they’d been through, that I had no idea, and that the story I’d previously told had been much different. We began building it from the ground up there, and they walked me through all of these moments in their stories, every second of the trauma that still resonates inside them. It’s a hard place to get to and a dark place to go; there is guilt and remorse and a tremendous level of emotion. I did my best to adopt and try relive every moment of it with them. It was tough. But I came out of it with this hope that these guys can heal—they need someone to hear them, and understand them…to wrap their arms about them and validate the experience. Still, they can grow through this. I saw that first-hand, and I’m forever grateful they trusted me with it.”
Hall came to comprehend a sense of the whiplash these soldiers experienced in shifting from deployment to civilian life. “They are coming from these experiences filled with adrenalin and anxiety…and importance, a sense of purpose and mission,” the filmmaker observes. “Then, they step back into this world where a lot of that is stripped—they’re taken from their brothers, there is no mission and they’re separated from everything they knew. We subtract all of these things from them, then shove them out into what no longer seems like the real world, because it’s not their world anymore.
“When we talk about an invisible wound,” Hall continues, “we’re talking about trauma. When it occurs, it’s seared into the brain like a muscle memory. These traumatic seconds, the images they witnessed, are triggered by sights, sounds or gestures. They say trauma destroys the fabric of time because, after trauma, time doesn’t just move forward—you move in circles, sucked back to these traumatic events, then dumped back into the future, only to be bounced back again. That’s the struggle with someone like Adam or Solo, who comes home with this entire other life they’ve lived—this life of stakes and purpose that is outside of everything his family knows. The family has heard some of these soldiers’ names, but they don’t know them; they know some have died, but not how or why. So the soldier comes home with this whole other existence. The family expects them to be the same people they’ve sent off to war—the dad, the husband, but there’s this shadow life, there in the periphery. Much of this is invisible to the family—and I wanted to dramatize that, to put the audience in that seat. When we meet Adam, we know little about what happened to him or the men in his unit; but on his return, the names of people we haven’t met and questions about things we didn’t see suddenly present themselves and take the shape of a kind of mystery many of these families wade through. From that unknown, we come to understand the purgatory of the soldiers return.”
Kilik underscores the point and adds, “I grew up in the Vietnam era, and every night on television, we saw what was happening—things that are not necessarily being shown now. I felt the need to explore—to do what I could to shine a light on them.”
Listening to Adam Schumann recount his first meeting with Finkel illustrates just how much these experiences influence a soldier’s perception. Schumann tells, “He was always around—he was the fly on the wall, never intrusive. Right before I was medevacked home, I was packing my stuff and he walked in my room and introduced himself. Being sent home away from my guys, not being able to finish my job and the mission and basically falling apart when everyone needed me was a huge guilt trip. Now, I’ve got this reporter coming in my room, and I assume he’s there to capture this shitty moment in my life. I almost told him to get the f— out of my room. But instead I asked, ‘I suppose you’re here to cover my evacuation and want to know why I’m getting sent home?’ He said, ‘No, not at all. I keep hearing your name, every time I ask about who I should talk to this in battalion. I wanted to meet the guy everybody’s talking about.’ It blew me away. I immediately felt drawn to David, and almost guilty that I had made those assumptions about him. He walked me to the medevac helicopter that day in Iraq.
“He followed up a couple of times with me,” Schumann continues. “I never would have thought in a million years that he’d come to me a year later and say, I want to do a follow-up. I think the story isn’t done yet—what you and everybody is going through needs to be captured for all of us. I didn’t have anything to lose. I trusted him.”
Schumann assumed that Finkel would “show up for a weekend and then disappear.” He (and the others) were genuinely surprised at the amount of time Finkel dedicated to life as an observer of their lives. “He was there for the fights, the car rides. In the middle of the night, when I couldn’t get my shit together and get to sleep, I would go fishing—and he would always tell me, whatever you do, just give me a call. He was a trooper. This is the middle of winter in Kansas, in the middle of the night; it’s 28 degrees, and I’m going fishing. I’m standing on the bank of a river for two or three hours, and he’s just sitting behind me, asking me questions, talking to me and writing. At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to the therapist I’d just met at the VA, my wife, friends or family. It was David who I can honestly say got me through a lot of shit after I got back.”
And yet, all of the good will and trust generated between the men was not enough to compel Schumann to read Finkel’s second book, which opens with Schumann and a mention of an especially traumatic episode with a comrade. For Adam, it was too much. He explains, “I literally put it down, and I’ve never read it. I lived it; I don’t need to read it. It is his perception, his unbiased version of all of our stories.”
Still in touch with Finkel, Schumann later received a text saying that a movie version was in the works and that the screenwriter would be getting in touch. The soldier received a voicemail from Hall. “Some Hollywood guy calling, and I laughed it off—what is this guy going to be like? I didn’t know what to think,” recalls Schumann.
A first conversation ensued, and the two men stayed in touch, exchanging question-and-answer texts and emails over the course of months. Then, a break in the communication occurred, during the American Sniper production. Later, Hall reached back out to Schumann, who recalls that Hall was “like a dog with a bone. Jason said that they were still doing this, and I’m like, ‘What’s with you? Let it go.’”
Flash forward, through months of more in-depth discussions, “And still,” recalls Schumann, “in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how many ideas get thrown around Hollywood that actually never get put on film. Then, all of a sudden, it seems it’s been right there in front of my face the whole time, and I’m involved in it…and it’s this giant thing.”
Actor as Portal—The Way into Schumann’s Story
“What’re they doing for ya now? Gotta make your own way now.”
—Dante in Thank You for Your Service
Hall sought to cast an actor with the same type of appeal as the reticent hero at the center of the screenplay, giving moviegoers an identifiable viewpoint. The director offers, “Miles Teller has got that everyman quality to him, but at the same time, he is someone who has lived—he has suffered loss that you can read in his eyes, and the scars still mark his face. Adam was a good soldier, he was brave and fearless, and loved what he did. He loved to fight alongside these guys, until he didn’t. Miles brings that honor, that everyman’s dignity to this, and he brings the weight of loss.”
Jon Kilik asserts, “Miles is strong and physical, with a sensitivity, depth and humanity to him, very similar to Adam. As well, he is very hard working…did his homework. His build—matched with that humanity—is something pretty special—and we thought it a perfect fit.”
Teller was aware of Schumann’s initial reluctance to participate with Finkel, then Hall, and respected that the man he would be portraying on screen needed space to get used to him as well. The performer comments, “Adam had a healthy fear of what was going to happen, because it felt like he was basically signing his life away. There are moments in the book when he’s not a perfect person—David showed what these guys were like when they came home from war, which wasn’t always the best version of themselves. I was very sensitive to this piece of material and re-creating Adam’s personal life on screen. I absolutely had some nerves flying up to meet him. But those feelings were quickly dissolved as we all got to sit in Adam’s apartment, hang out and share stories with each other.”
Actor and soldier swapped stories the first night, which stretched into the next day of hunting. Schumann recalls, “Miles impressed me because he started asking me all the right questions immediately. He wasn’t asking stuff that didn’t need to be asked. He asked questions that I would have asked—and I appreciated how much he wanted to get into it. Next day, I threw them in the truck and we did a little hunting, and talked some more. That night, my uncle and a good friend of mine joined in, which gave Jason and Miles the chance to talk to them about who I was before the army and before I deployed. I used them as a barometer on Miles and Jason. I felt confident that their hearts and minds were in the right place, and they were going to take this thing the direction it needed to go.”
Teller comments, “Adam was an open book; he was more than willing to share everything. Very early on, Adam said there was no question that was off-limits. To me, this story is about that brotherhood among these guys—the inner circle, the fraternity.”
Teller’s experience with the military is informed by a history of family and friends in the service. He says, “My grandfather was a Marine. My grandmother’s brother was a Marine who took the beaches of Normandy. My uncle has a Silver Star from the Army—he was in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Some of my closest friends are Navy SEALs. It takes a certain kind of a person to hear gunfire and walk towards the bullets. All of the qualities that I hold dear—loyalty, bravery, heroism, dignity—these guys hold as absolute truths.”
Schumann returned to Kansas after three deployments, to a wife, Saskia, and two children. It is into their world that this altered version of husband/father Adam returns. Hall matter-of-factly states, “The women in this film are the heart of the movie. When these soldiers come home, it’s the women who are the heroes. It’s the women who are the ones who are asked to open up the home and welcome this person back in…and make them feel, at once, useful, loved and like they never left. That’s a challenge.”
“Haley Bennett is from the Midwest, and to her role she brought that sensibility of an everyday woman who has been through something,” continues the writer/director. “She is real and raw. In welcoming her husband home, you understand through Haley’s eyes what she’s thinking and feeling with every moment. That roots us in her experience. Through her, we realize the man coming through the door has changed. How is she going to embrace this new unfamiliar side of him, and save her family?”
For Teller, it is in those situations where the film distinguishes itself. He explains, “We’re dealing with things on a familial level. We’re showing what it’s like to get men back who are broken, and maybe they’re not the best husbands or fathers anymore. They’re different. We’re showing them coming to terms with that and the process of trying to get help, with and without the VA, and that can be frustrating.”
For Kilik, Bennett was a terrific choice, with the inherent qualities of the actress dovetailing perfectly with the script’s character. “Haley put herself on tape for submission for the role, and it was the most authentic, real, emotional work. That sensitivity and vulnerability, mixed with strength, was evident from the start. We were lucky to have a studio behind us, deferring to us to handle this project correctly without pressure to look at what might make a good marketing package. At the time, Haley was not yet as recognizable as she is now—but she was perfect to play Saskia.”
Bennett immediately felt for the character. The performer says, “Saskia was somebody I understood right away, and I was invested in what she was going through. I found myself rooting for her and wanting her to win. I realized that this wasn’t just about Adam; it wasn’t just his story. It was her journey and her struggles, too.”
Like Teller, Bennett’s familiarity with the lives of servicemen comes via family: “My grandfather was in the Army, my father was in the Navy and my childhood boyfriend became a Navy SEAL. It’s interesting to learn about the effects of the war on these soldiers, because it pieces together my understanding of my father. By untangling these characters, we can understand the lives of these soldiers and the reality of what they go through. The tragedy doesn’t end when the deployment is over—it comes home with them and touches the lives of their wives, children, families, everyone around them. I love how Jason’s script focuses on this process, and makes for some loaded situations.”
Hall gives due credit to Finkel for his commitment and keen observation when he says, “David lived with Adam and Saskia through this transition process, and that made it easy for me to dramatize it. And the actors did a wonderful job of bringing a humanity to those moments, because it isn’t the lines of the dialogue that holds the meaning—it’s what they’re doing, their behavior. There’s a lot of testing that goes on; she’s looking to see if this is really her husband who came home, how he’s changed, what’s different.”
Finding the Supporting Cast
“We had some bad days, bro. Maybe that’s all they were—just bad days.
We had some good days, too.”
—Tausolo Aeiti in Thank You for Your Service
For Hall and Kilik, it was always about honoring the men and women who’d allowed Finkel to catalogue their journeys to and from war. Kilik summarizes their approach to every facet of the project when he says, “We promised ourselves that we were going to do all of this correctly—whether it was the casting, the shoot, the longer post-production process—and we weren’t going to settle for anything less than this story, and these people, deserved.”
To play the role of Tausolo “Solo” Aeiti, filmmakers took submissions from around the globe—yet another testament to their commitment. Hall expands, “Beulah Koale comes to this role with the same heritage as Solo, but also, he brings that same dignity to this guy’s suffering. You can see it in his eyes—he has a nakedness about his experience that I find relatable. When we found him, out of New Zealand, we had auditioned 1,500 actors for the part. He sent in a self-tape, we did a couple of phone interviews and then he flew out to audition. Twice. It was very important to me to find someone who shared Aeiti’s Samoan background. That nationality, that ethnicity, that pride of tribal heritage—it was all integral to who this guy is. It meant a tremendous amount to the real Tausolo Aeti that we went out and found a Samoan actor to play him. And that grew a deeper level of trust with Tausolo. But it was Beulah who convinced him to come out to Atlanta and be a part of the film, not me. Beulah earned his trust quickly, and they became friends. Having Tausolo in on the process was a gift.”
Kilik adds, “Beulah brought authenticity. He brought physicality. He brought a complexity, because there is just a lot going on there, and you aren’t sure where it comes from. It just all fit what is written—and then he added his own natural pieces, because he is so similar physically and culturally to Solo. It was good bedrock, a jumping-off point, and then he worked extremely hard with Jason to sharpen his acting skills.”
For the newcomer, it was all way more than he ever expected. Koale confesses, “I almost didn’t audition. I was going through a rough time in my life and—another American audition? I thought, ‘Who’s going to pick me?’ I guess I brought what I was going through to the audition, and Jason saw something. During our first Skype session, we really clicked. He works in a way that I like to work—raw, authentic, and he gave me permission to use the stuff that was going on in my head to help with the work.”
The actor brought training from time in a theater company, “where you work from the real.” He spent a lot of time with Solo, delving into the soldier’s experiences, during and after the war, particularly the ramifications of the IED explosion. “You have to build those memories around the explosion, the way it feels and looks, the smell—all of it.” Following the incident, Tausolo was regarded as a hero among the soldiers—then, back home, things were vastly different. Koale elaborates, “You’re home, and you’re no one. You can’t find a job. You don’t know where anything is, and you don’t know where you parked your car at the supermarket. Those worlds are totally different. That’s why he wanted to go back—he felt like he was on this planet and no one understood who he was or what he’d been through. You feel more at home with your brothers in a war.
“What I learned in training [for the film] is that you suffer in silence,” Koale recounts. “Solo took that to the extreme: He didn’t tell anyone about these dreams he was having, and he ended up imploding. It’s like being in a different country without understanding what’s going on around you…but it’s actually your country. It’s the best research any actor can get, being surround by the people you are playing.”
For Scott Haze, cast as Michael Emory, he took his search for character truth right to the door of the man he was to portray. Hall supplies, “Scott went above and beyond—he visited Emory and spent a week with him. He was able to communicate with him in a way that I was never able to. He also spent weeks in a wheelchair at the VA, learning about all of the recovery processes Emory had been through. He came away with a psychic understanding of the character that was remarkable.”
Haze’s experience with the military began in his teens, when—following repeated oustings from a series of other schools—he was shipped off to boot camp at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas. The actor says, “I endured massive amounts of hazing and was beat up quite a bit. But I didn’t understand what it is like to serve until this film. The glamorization of warfare—there is none of that. This is showing another aspect of the experience.”
For Emory, his decision to join the service was fueled by a desire to better himself. Haze reflects, “He signed up because his life was in a position where the Army provided him a way to get out of where he was. He wanted a new life—he enlisted, and got shot in the head, which is not what he signed up for.”
For a large part of Hall’s cast, the roles they are assuming are based on the real men and women featured in Finkel’s non-fiction book. That is not the case for one pivotal character. Per Hall: “Joe Cole is playing a character who will remain anonymous. I based him on a story I heard from a widow about a friend of hers. It wasn’t in the book but it’s a story that’s all too common, so I built it into the screenplay. Joe brings a fierceness and toughness to this character named Will Waller. Joe is British, but you wouldn’t know it from his work in the film.” In a moment of levity, Hall reveals: “We didn’t allow him to speak with his British accent, ever, or he had to do pushups.”
Similar to Bennett and Koale, Cole was compelled by the power of the project and its message to “self-tape” and submit himself for consideration. Kilik recounts, “He did possibly the character’s toughest scene, when he goes to the bank to confront his former fiancée. It was incredibly moving and powerful—we got the chills watching. His connection to the material was undeniable. He brought a depth and a fragility that were essential to the role.”
Cole comments, “Coming from the U.K., having a slightly different perspective on the military genre, doing an Army movie can be quite a taboo subject. I wanted to do something human and emotional. That’s what got me about this film. Jason’s script taught me about what these guys go through—I feel like it’s told in a truthful, understanding and empathetic way. It looks at the truth behind all of this.
“My character has been blown up seven times,” Cole goes on. “He tries to make it into a bit of a joke—a bravado sort of thing, saying, ‘Look at me, I’ve been blown up seven times and I’m still here.’ As his story progresses, we see that these things haunt him. That juxtaposition is quite interesting, between making fun of it and being almost proud of having been in fire and survived—contrasted with how it actually affects you, how it actually affects your brain. All my character wants is to come home and walk into somebody’s arms. To not have that there? Imagine how difficult that must be.”
To experience that ultimate loss is central to the story of Amanda Doster, wife of Sergeant James Doster, who is killed just before he is scheduled to return home on leave. Hall discusses the selection of actress Amy Schumer for the part, “Amy brought a seriousness to this role that I didn’t know she was capable of. When she came in, she was raw and ready. There was a sense of her being present and carrying this grief, and it was palpable in her performance. It was there when she auditioned and she brought it to the set, having put in a tremendous amount of preparation for the role. It’s an extremely key role, as she delivers probably the defining lines of the film in a scene with Miles as Adam.”
Kilik notes that he was surprised that an actress primarily known for comedy would be able to plumb such depths of drama. He says, “Amy really made her interest in the project known, but we weren’t quite sure if she would fit in and become part of the fabric of the story. She came and gave an amazing read, and she was extremely willing to work with us to create a look different from her norm. She just became Amanda, took on a different physicality and worked hard to help create an amazing transformation into this character. She is a very important part of the piece.”
Much of the litmus testing that registers the changes in Tausolo Aeiti are supplied by his wife, Alea; fellow New Zealander Keisha Castle-Hughes was assigned the part. Koale enthuses, “Keisha and I are really good friends, and I was stoked that she was going to play my wife, because we already have this chemistry. Back in New Zealand, we were cast in a film as love interests—it didn’t end up shooting—but we spent a couple of years getting to know each other. And having two Kiwis in the film is just awesome. I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to take over the world!’”
Castle-Hughes comments, “It’s nice to work alongside someone you know so well—we created the chemistry of a husband and wife quite easily. In the story, we got together when we were very young, and then, after his latest deployment, he comes home a very different man than the one that Alea married. It’s about her trying to navigate that and gauge how the rest of their life is going to play out. This story of the soldiers, is also very much about the wives. Although they haven’t been through what the men have, they’ve also been on their own journeys, dealing with life alone, or as a single mother. By the time the men do return, both of them have changed, sometimes almost to the point of being like strangers. In addition to the solders’ side of the story, Jason has written rich female characters, and everyone is trying to deal with things the way that they are in the here and now.”
Kilik is quick to thank DreamWorks for allowing them to cast the film with actors “who didn’t always have a name or the experience, but did have the honesty and authenticity.” Thank You for Your Service is also full of characters who appear for perhaps only a scene or two, but who greatly impact the story and shape the lives of the returning warriors. These include: Brad Beyer as the fallen Sergeant James Doster, a kind leader who steps in for one of his men; Omar J. Dorsey as former soldier Dante, who now commands a small army of criminals back home; Sean Bridger as Sergeant Mozer, manning a stop along Solo Aeiti’s endless sojourn to complete VA paperwork; Erin Darke as Tracey, Will Waller’s vanishing fiancée; and Jake Weber as Colonel Plymouth, who compliments Sergeant Schumann while refusing to see the man named Adam standing before him.
Again, Kilik: “DreamWorks was incredible to support the vision we had for this. Without that kind of support, it’s enough of a challenge to try and make a film like this one, even with movie stars. Aside from Miles, we have a group of discoveries or lesser known actors on the rise. We have the perfect cast, the one we wanted from the start.”
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 way…so 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.
It 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.
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
DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment present a Rahway Road Production: Miles Teller in Thank You for Your Service, starring Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze. The casting is by Ronna Kress. The music is by Thomas Newman, and the music supervisor is Susan Jacobs. The costume designer is Hope Hanafin. It is edited by Jay Cassidy ACE; production designer is Keith P. Cunningham; and director of photography is Roman Vasyanov RGC. Executive producers are Ann Ruark, Jane Evans. The film is produced by Jon Kilik p.g.a. It is based on the book by David Finkel. Thank You for Your Service is written and directed by Jason Hall. A Universal Release © 2017 Universal Studios and Storyteller Distribution Co., LLC. www.thankyouforyourservicemovie.com
ABOUT THE CAST
MILES TELLER (Sergeant Adam Schumann) had the distinct honor and privilege of making his feature screen debut opposite Nicole Kidman in the film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole.
Teller was born in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and at the age of 11 moved to Citrus County, Florida.
Teller was then cast in Paramount’s film Footloose that was released in October 2011. He was also seen in the Todd Phillips produced Project X the following year.
In 2013, he starred in 21 & Over, written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. That year, he began reaching critical success after starring in the James Ponsoldt film The Spectacular Now, for which he won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, with co-star Shailene Woodley.
In 2014, he co-starred in the comedy That Awkward Moment, alongside Zac Efron and Michael B. Jordan, and appeared in the sci-fi film Divergent opposite Shailene Woodley. In fall 2014, he starred opposite J.K. Simmons in the Sony Pictures Classics critically acclaimed and Oscar® nominated drama Whiplash, which received the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance and the Deauville Film Festival. Teller also earned a Best Actor nomination at the 2014 Gotham Independent Film Awards.
In 2016, he starred in the Warner Bros. film War Dogs alongside Jonah Hill, with Phillips directing, and the critically acclaimed Martin Scorsese-produced film Bleed for This that reunited him with his Rabbit Hole costar, Aaron Eckhart.
Next up, Teller can be seen in Only the Brave with Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges to be released by Sony Pictures Entertainment on October 20. Only the Brave is based on the real-life firefighting squad that grew against all odds to become an elite group of wildland firefighters and courageously battled one of the worst wildfires in history—the Yarnell Hill Fire—to save an Arizona town.
Teller will soon start production on Too Old to Die Young, the Amazon series created by Nic Refn (Drive) and Ed Brubaker. The series explores the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles by following the characters’ existential journeys from being killers to becoming samurais in the City of Angels.
Teller now makes his home in Los Angeles.
A natural talent with a striking presence, HALEY BENNETT (Saskia Schumann) is quickly establishing herself as one of Hollywood’s most dynamic actresses.
Bennett currently is in production on Gideon Raff’s Red Sea Diving Resort opposite Chris Evans. Based on a true story, the film follows a team of Mossad operatives as they work to rescue and deliver thousands of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel in the early 1980s.
Most recently, Bennett was seen starring in the film adaptation of The Girl on the Train opposite Emily Blunt. Based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, the film is about a recently divorced woman (Blunt) who becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to a young woman (Bennett) who goes missing. She also recently co-starred in Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven opposite Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. The film, which is based on the 1960 Western of the same name, is about a group of gunmen who band together in order to save a poor village from savage thieves. Last year Bennett also appeared in Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, which is loosely based on an affair Howard Hughes had in his later years of life.
Her other film credits include Fuqua’s hit film The Equalizer, which also starred Washington and Chloë Grace Moretz; Gregg Araki’s festival darling Kaboom, which also starred Thomas Dekker and Juno Temple and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 as well as Sundance the following year; Sleepwalking in the Rift, a series of vignettes directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; and the role of Justine in The Weinstein Company’s Kristy, an elevated genre film from the producers of Half Nelson and Blue Valentine; and first-person action film Hardcore Henry.
Bennett made her on-screen debut opposite Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant in Marc Lawrence’s Music and Lyrics. She then went on to star in David Frankel’s Marley & Me, which also starred Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson; Arcadia Lost, which also starred Carter Jenkins and Nick Nolte; and Shekhar Kapur’s short film Passage, opposite Lily Cole and Julia Stiles, which premiered to critical acclaim at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
JOE COLE (Will Waller) announced himself as a leading man of sturdy conviction and considerable daring in A Prayer Before Dawn, based on the international best seller and true-to-life experience of Billy Moore, who survived his Thai prison ordeal by becoming a Muay Thai boxing champion (Variety). Recently acquired by A24, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
This year, Cole will star alongside Kirsten Dunst in Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s independent feature Woodshock, and Kim Nguyen’s independent feature Eye on Juliet, which tells the story of a drone operator who falls in love with a young Middle Eastern woman.
Cole is best known for his recurring role of John Shelby, younger brother to Cillian Murphy’s Tommy in the BBC and The Weinstein Company’s acclaimed Peaky Blinders, which will return later this year for a highly anticipated fourth season. He has been carving a career for himself through complex and versatile characters such as Luke in the Channel 4 series Skins, the lead role of Tommy in Offender, Reece in Green Room opposite the late Anton Yelchin, and Marzin/Beckwith in Secret in Their Eyes alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman.
AMY SCHUMER (Amanda Doster) has proven herself one of the entertainment industry’s leading forces as a standup comedian, actress, writer, producer and director.
Schumer is the creator, star, writer and executive producer of the award-winning Inside Amy Schumer, the popular Comedy Central television series, which premiered in April 2013 to the network’s highest season-premiere ratings of that year.
Inside Amy Schumer won the 2015 Writers Guild Award for Best Comedy/Variety Sketch series. In 2015, the show was honored with the first-ever Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. Schumer was also nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. Schumer received honors for Individual Achievement in Comedy and Outstanding Achievement in Comedy from the Television Critics Association in 2015. Additionally, she was awarded The 2015 Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Among the show’s many accolades, it also received the prestigious Peabody Award in 2014.
Schumer’s first book “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo” continues to live on The New York Times Best Seller list. Additionally, the book earned her a 2017 Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word Album and will be released in paperback this August.
Schumer was most recently seen on the big screen in the highly anticipated Snatched, a comedy opposite Goldie Hawn for director Jonathan Levine. The film centered on a mother-daughter duo trapped in a vacation gone wrong.
Schumer will next star in Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn’s I Feel Pretty opposite Michelle Williams, and Rebecca Miller’s She Came to Me opposite Nicole Kidman.
Schumer’s Universal Pictures hit Trainwreck dominated the 2015 summer comedy worldwide box office. Schumer wrote the film, which co-starred Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, LeBron James and Vanessa Bayer. Judd Apatow directed the film which was nominated for two Golden Globes including Best Actress - Comedy or Musical, as well as Best Picture - Comedy or Musical. Additionally, she won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actress in a Comedy and was nominated for a Writers Guild Award in the category of Original Screenplay. That same year, the British Academy of Film and Television honored Schumer with The Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy.
Schumer’s latest one-hour comedy special titled The Leather Special is currently streaming on Netflix.
Her one-hour HBO comedy special, Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo, directed by Chris Rock, premiered on October 17, 2015, and was HBO’s most watched Saturday night comedy special debut since December 2009. The special earned her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Variety Special, Writers Guild Award nominations including one for Outstanding Variety Special as well as a 2017 Grammy Award nomination for Best Comedy Album.
She continues to tour to sold-out shows around the world. Schumer’s hit one-hour stand-up special for Comedy Central, Mostly Sex Stuff, stands as the network’s highest-rated original stand-up special since 2011. She was also one of the featured comedians on the Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne, which followed her memorable and quotable performance on the 2011 Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen.
She made her network debut in 2007 when she starred on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and soon after co-starred on 30 Rock and received her own Comedy Central Presents special. Her other television credits include FX’s Louie, HBO’s Girls and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as Adult Swim’s Delocated.
Additional film credits include Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which starred Steve Carell and Keira Knightley; and Price Check, an independent feature opposite Parker Posey, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Her album “Cutting” placed in the top five of the Billboard charts and has been included on multiple Best Comedy Albums of the Year lists.
Schumer is a founding member of The Collective, a New York-based theater company, and a graduate of The William Esper Studio, where she studied for three years.
BEULAH KOALE (Tausolo Aeiti) makes his feature-film debut as a lead in Thank You for Your Service. Most recently, Koale was added to the cast of CBS’ hit show Hawaii Five-0 opposite Alex O’Loughlin. He will star as Junior Reigns, a former Navy Seal who just returned from serving his country hoping to repurpose his skills as a member of Five-0.
Koale recently wrapped the independent feature Ni’ihau from EastEnders writer Gabriel Robertson, in which he stars opposite compatriot Joe Naufahu, about a pilot who crash-lands on Hawaii’s forbidden island and the repercussions from the locals when they find out the true reason behind the crash. In 2010, Koale starred in the short film Manurewa, which was selected for the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival.
Born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Koale, who is of Samoan descent, regularly performed in church productions before becoming associated with Massive Company, a professional contemporary physical theatre ensemble group in which he performed in the acclaimed productions of Havoc in the Garden and The Brave. Prior to landing his first major studio film role, Koale worked locally in New Zealand, starring in Tusi Tamasese’s critically acclaimed One Thousand Ropes, and appeared on the television series Shortland Street and Harry.
Koale currently resides in New Zealand.
SCOTT HAZE (Michael Emory) is an American actor, writer and director best known for his breakout role in the 2014 film Child of God, directed by James Franco and based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. He will next be seen in Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Only the Brave opposite Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Jeff Bridges; set for an October 20 release.
He most recently wrapped filming Robert Zemeckis’ Medal of Honor for Netflix. Haze’s other film credits include Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special opposite Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton, Between Us opposite Olivia Thirlby, and multiple Franco films such as The Institute, In Dubious Battle, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and Bukowski.
KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES (Alea) was recently seen as a series lead in Cameron Crowe’s Showtime series Roadies, which also starred Luke Wilson, Carla Gugino and Imogen Poots. Castle-Hughes most recently reprised her role of Obara Sand in season seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones. She can also soon be seen in the Discovery Channel limited series Manhunt: Unabomber alongside Sam Worthington and Paul Bettany. Castle-Hughes started out with a breakthrough performance in Niki Caro’s Whale Rider. Her portrayal of the title role Paikea earned her international acclaim and an Oscar® nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2004. In 2005, Castle-Hughes played Queen of Naboo in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith as well as the lead role of Mary opposite Oscar Isaac in New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story, which Catherine Hardwicke directed.
BRAD BEYER (Sergeant James Doster) played Kirby Higbe, the Dodgers pitcher who was the main proponent of the petition against playing with Jackie Robinson, in Legendary Entertainment’s baseball biopic drama 42, written and directed by Brian Helgeland and which starred Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.
Beyer starred in the CBS series Jericho, a show whose fans went nuts when it was cancelled and delivered over 20 tons of peanuts to its network, thereby securing an additional seven episodes. Beyer was a series regular on ABC’s GCB, which was created by acclaimed Steel Magnolias playwright Robert Harling.
Beyer had recurring arcs on CBS’ Extant with Halle Berry; NCIS, in which he played a soldier with PTSD; HBO’s Sex & the City, in which he starred as Charlotte’s punch-throwing boyfriend; and on Freeform’s Recovery Road. He also has guest appearances on Scorpion, Royal Pains, CSI: Cyber, Bones and Perception. Beyer also starred as Don Meredith opposite John Turturro’s Howard Cosell in the TNT original telefilm Monday Night Mayhem.
Beyer does a comic turn in HBO’s season-two finale of the Danny McBride comedy Vice Principals and guest stars as an illegal-alien-hunting ICE agent in Showtime’s Shameless.
Film roles include the comedies Mr. Woodcock, Sorority Boys, the indie favorite Trick, The General’s Daughter with John Travolta and Antonio Banderas’ feature directorial debut, Crazy in Alabama.
Beyer studied acting with William Esper and Wynn Handman in New York. He remained loyal to his theatrical roots, starring in the off-Broadway production The Chili Queen, Lighting up the Two-Year-Old for The Actors Studio and Wonderland at The American Place Theatre. Beyer is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio.
Beyer currently resides in Los Angeles.
Classically trained actor OMAR J. DORSEY (Dante) is widely known for his critically acclaimed roles in multiple award-winning films and television programs.
Dorsey currently stars in Oprah Winfrey Network’s Queen Sugar, a dramatic television series created, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay alongside Oprah Winfrey. The series is based on the novel by Natalie Baszile and follows the story of three estranged siblings who inherit an 800-acre sugar cane farm in the heart of Louisiana from their recently departed father. Dorsey plays Hollywood Desonier, the younger lover to Tina Lifford’s character, Violet Bordelon, who is the aunt to the siblings, played by Kofi Siriboe, Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner.
Queen Sugar debuted to record-breaking ratings in September 2016 and was immediately picked up for a second season, which is currently airing on OWN.
On stage, Dorsey recently wrapped the West Coast version of Barbecue, a play from Helen Hayes Award winner Robert O’Hara and Tony-nominated director Colman Domingo. Called “an American classic” by The New Yorker, Barbecue is a raucous comedy that skewers our warped view of the American family. The 2016 play ran at the Geffen Playhouse to rave reviews.
Dorsey recently co-starred opposite Liev Schreiber in Showtime’s critically acclaimed crime drama Ray Donovan, which follows a “fixer” (Schreiber) for a powerful law firm representing the rich and famous. Dorsey’s character, Cookie Brown, is an ex-con/hip-hop mogul who stirs up trouble for Ray Donovan.
In 2014, he was featured in the Academy Award®-nominated Paramount Pictures’ film Selma, a drama based on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that changed America. Dorsey co-starred as James E. Orange, a pastor and top aide to Dr. King whose 1965 jailing sparked the bloody Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Selma was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt and co-starred Common, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and David Oyelowo.
In 2013, Dorsey co-starred with Danny McBride in the critically acclaimed HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down. He portrayed Dontel Benjamin, a flashy former NFL player turned loudmouth talk-show host who goes head-to-head with McBride’s character, Kenny Powers.
An Atlanta native, Dorsey studied acting at Georgia State University and trained under storied actor Afemo Omilami. In 2009, he co-starred with Sandra Bullock in Warner Bros.’ The Blind Side, which was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Picture and grossed over $309 million worldwide. In 2012, Dorsey co-starred in the Academy Award®-nominated western Django Unchained—which grossed over $425 million worldwide and starred Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio—directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Dorsey’s television credits include roles on television shows, such as Bones, Rizzoli & Isles, K-Ville, NCIS, CSI: NY, Castle, Aquarius and The Mentalist.
He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.
Atlanta native JAYSON WARNER SMITH is an actor in film, television and theater.
Since the age of nine, he has been in a play, television show or film every year of his life. Performing mostly in theater, he amassed quite the resume of roles; and, in 2010, he landed a supporting role in the remake of Footloose, which marked a new chapter of his acting career.
Smith received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the death-row serial killer Wendall Jelks on Sundance television’s original series Rectify and as a recurring guest star on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Other notable television roles include The Vampire Diaries, NCIS: New Orleans and One Mississippi.
Since 2015, his support for the independent filmmaker community has helped him move to the next level in the eyes of Hollywood’s storytellers with appearances in 99 Homes, Mississippi Grind, The Birth of a Nation, Christine and The Book of Love.
In addition to Thank You for Your Service, Smith can be seen in American Made with Tom Cruise, also for Universal Pictures.
Atlanta remains his home where he lives with his wife Lisa, and teaches acting at The Robert Mello Studio.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JASON HALL (Written and Directed by) is an Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker whose films seamlessly blend incisive social commentary with emphatically human stories, turning real people and challenging issues into gripping, entertaining cinema.
Hall is the product of a military family: His grandfather was a WWII vet, his uncle was a Marine in Vietnam and his half-brother was disabled in the Army during Desert Storm. Having witnessed the effects of war on those who fight, he was inspired by the remarkable story of Chris Kyle. After meeting Kyle and hearing his story firsthand, Hall was honored to be entrusted with authentically rendering his journey on screen. American Sniper, written and executive produced by Hall and directed by Clint Eastwood, was released in 2014 by Warner Bros. and earned six Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Hall.
Hall currently has several diverse projects in development, including Rasputin for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way.
Born in Lake Arrowhead, California, Hall attended Phillips Exeter Academy and USC. He began his career working as an actor before transitioning to filmmaking. Additional screenplay credits include his debut feature Spread, which was produced by and starred Ashton Kutcher; and the thriller Paranoia, which starred Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman.
Hall currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.
DAVID FINKEL (Based on the Book by) is a journalist and author who writes about war and conflict. Among his honors are a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2006 and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2012.
His most recent book, the critically acclaimed “Thank You For Your Service,” chronicles the challenges faced by American soldiers and their families in war’s aftermath. It was the recipient of the Carla Cohen Literary Prize for non-fiction, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. It was named a top 10 book of 2013 by The Washington Post and a best book of the year by USA Today, The Economist, The Seattle Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
His previous book “The Good Soldiers,” a best-selling account of a U.S. infantry battalion during the Iraq War “surge,” won multiple awards, was named a top 10 book of the year by The New York Times and a best book of the year (2014) by the Chicago Tribune, Slate.com, The Boston Globe, Kansas City Star, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Christian Science Monitor.
An editor and writer for The Washington Post, he has reported from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe and across the United States, and has covered wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities, was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2008, and was a senior writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
JON KILIK, p.g.a. (Produced by) is a leading independent producer renowned for his collaborations with visionary directors and for entertainment that integrates powerful stories with human values and social issues. He has partnered creatively with such directors as Spike Lee, Julian Schnabel and Alejandro González Iñárritu, and he has produced all four films in the blockbuster The Hunger Games series based on the dystopian modern classic by Suzanne Collins. In 2015, he completed The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 and also produced Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, which starred Steve Carell and garnered widespread critical acclaim and five Oscar® nominations.
Kilik has produced 15 of Lee’s films, including the groundbreaking (and Oscar®-nominated) Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Clockers, He Got Game and 25th Hour. Kilik also developed and produced all of the films by artist and director Schnabel. He produced Schnabel’s debut Basquiat, the Oscar®-nominated Before Night Falls, Lou Reed’s rock documentary Berlin and the Oscar®-nominated and Golden Globe Award-winning The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Kilik first worked with Iñárritu on the intricate, multinational production Babel, for which he received a Best Motion Picture of the Year Oscar® nomination and the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture - Drama. They reunited for Biutiful, which received an Oscar® nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Kilik produced Gary Ross’ inventive directorial debut, the fantasy-drama Pleasantville, and went on to work with Ross in shepherding the first installment of The Hunger Games to the screen, setting in motion the global cinematic phenomenon. Their collaboration continued with the Civil War drama Free State of Jones, which starred Matthew McConaughey.
Other highlights of Kilik’s producing career include Robert De Niro’s celebrated directorial debut A Bronx Tale, adapted from Chazz Palminteri’s play; Tim Robbins’ Academy Award® winner Dead Man Walking, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s work with Louisiana death row inmates and which starred Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn; Robbins’ 1930s tapestry Cradle Will Rock; as well as Ed Harris’ Academy Award®-winning directorial debut Pollock, which starred Harris as the iconic abstract painter Jackson Pollock.
Kilik has also produced Oliver Stone’s period epic Alexander and Stone’s exploration of the Bush presidency, W.; Jim Jarmusch’s intimate comedy Broken Flowers, which won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize in 1995; Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop rock documentary Gimme Danger; and Chris Eyre’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation-set Skins.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Kilik grew up in Millburn. He graduated from the University of Vermont, then moved to New York in 1979, where he began his filmmaking career and has been a significant presence in the filmmaking community ever since. Kilik delivered a controversial and inspirational keynote address about the potential for the film industry’s future at the 2013 IFP Filmmaker Conference at Lincoln Center. He also received honorary doctorates and delivered the commencement address at the University of Vermont (2003) and Monmouth University (2013). Kilik also serves on the advisory board of the Producers Guild of America.
Film credits for ROMAN VASYANOV, RGC (Director of Photography) include Hipsters, End of Watch, The Motel Life, The East, Fury, Suicide Squad, The Wall, the upcoming Bright and the upcoming Triple Frontier.
KEITH P. CUNNINGHAM (Production Designer) most recently designed the sci-fi thriller Captive State for director Rupert Wyatt. Cunningham also collaborated with Wyatt on The Gambler. He has teamed up with Gavin O’Connor twice, designing both The Accountant, which starred Ben Affleck, and the TV movie Cinnamon Girl.
He designed the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy for director Bill Pohlad. He was also the production designer on Nicole Holofcener’s critically acclaimed film Enough Said, which starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. He served as the production designer on Amazon Studios’ TV movie Browsers, marking his second collaboration with director Don Scardino. The two previously teamed up on New Line Cinema’s comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which starred Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi.
Other design credits include Jonathan Kasdan’s The First Time, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and the pilot for the hit series Suburgatory, directed by Michael Fresco and executive produced by Emily Kapnek for ABC.
As an art director, Cunningham has worked with some of today’s most respected production designers. With his involvement, the following films were nominated for Excellence in Production Design awards from the Art Directors Guild: The Social Network, Angels & Demons, Star Trek and Ocean’s Eleven.
Other art direction credits include Bridesmaids, Zodiac, Van Helsing, Solaris, Signs and Traffic. During his time as an art director, Cunningham worked with several world-renowned directors, including Paul Feig, David Fincher, Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams, Doug Liman and Steven Soderbergh.
Born and raised in Chicago, Cunningham attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied fine arts and architecture. His first job after relocating to California was designing scenery for exhibitions and theme parks for an industrial design firm in Costa Mesa. He later moved to Los Angeles to pursue film studies at the American Film Institute under the mentorship of legendary production designer Robert Boyle. In between projects, he enjoys family time with his wife and two daughters.
JAY CASSIDY, ACE (Edited by) began his career as a film editor in the 1970s working on documentaries and political advertisements. Over the course of his professional career, Cassidy has edited more than 30 films. He has collaborated on all films Sean Penn has directed, most notably Into the Wild (2007), for which Cassidy was nominated for an Academy Award® for Film Editing.
He received two more Oscar® nominations—in 2013 for his work on David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and the following year for Russell’s American Hustle. Other credits include Fury, Foxcatcher and Joy.
Earlier credits include An Inconvenient Truth (2006), which won the Academy Award® for Best Documentary in 2007, Brothers (2009), Conviction (2010) and Waiting for “Superman” (2010).
He received Primetime Emmy and Eddie Award nominations for his work on the first episode of Steve Zaillian’s The Night Of, which aired on HBO summer 2016.
Cassidy is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® and American Cinema Editors.
HOPE HANAFIN (Costume Designer) is best known for the variety of her work.
Nominated five times for the Costume Designers Guild Award, winning once, and twice for a Primetime Emmy Award, her work includes contemporary, period and fantasy films.
Her contemporary films include 500 Days of Summer, Love the Coopers, Dolphin Tale, Cedar Rapids and Bean. Among her distinguished television work are 32 projects that include Confirmation, Warm Springs, Winchell, Lackawanna Blues and HBO’s The Newsroom.
Hanafin values working with first-time directors Marc Webb and Jason Hall as well as veterans John Sayles and Paul Mazursky. A recipient of New York Women in Film’s career achievement award, Hanafin graduated with honors from Santa Clara University and received her MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
THOMAS NEWMAN (Music by) is widely acclaimed as one of today’s most prominent composers for film. He has composed music for nearly 100 motion pictures and television series and has earned 14 Academy Award® and 10 Grammy Award nominations.
He is the youngest son of Alfred Newman (1900-1970), the longtime musical director of 20th Century Fox and the composer of scores for such films as Wuthering Heights, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Diary of Anne Frank and All About Eve. As a child, Newman pursued basic music and piano studies. However, it was not until after his father’s death that the younger Newman, then age 14, felt charged with the desire to write.
Newman studied composition and orchestration at USC with Professor Frederick Lesemann and noted film composer David Raksin, and privately with composer George Tremblay. He completed his academic work at Yale University, studying with Jacob Druckman, Bruce MacCombie and Robert Moore. Newman also gratefully acknowledges the early influence of another prominent musician, the legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, who served as a great mentor and champion.
A turning point in Newman’s career took place while he was working as a musical assistant on the 1984 film Reckless, for which he soon was promoted to the position of composer. And so, at the age of 27, Newman successfully composed his first film score. Since then, he has contributed distinctive and evocative scores to numerous acclaimed films, including Desperately Seeking Susan, The Lost Boys, The Rapture, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Player, Scent of a Woman, Flesh and Bone, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, American Buffalo, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Oscar and Lucinda, The Horse Whisperer, Meet Joe Black, American Beauty, The Green Mile, Erin Brockovich, In the Bedroom, Road to Perdition, Finding Nemo, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Cinderella Man, Jarhead, Little Children, The Good German, Revolutionary Road and WALL-E. His most recent projects include The Debt, The Adjustment Bureau, The Help, The Iron Lady, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Skyfall, Spectre, Side Effects, Saving Mr. Banks, The Judge, Finding Dory, Passengers and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Newman also composed the music for HBO’s acclaimed six-hour miniseries Angels in America directed by Mike Nichols. He received a Primetime Emmy Award for his theme for the HBO original series Six Feet Under. His current project is director Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul.
In addition to his work in film and television, Newman has composed several works for the concert stage, including the symphonic work “Reach Forth Our Hands,” commissioned in 1996 by the Cleveland Orchestra to commemorate their city’s bicentennial, as well as “At Ward’s Ferry, Length 180 ft.,” a concerto for double bass and orchestra commissioned in 2001 by the Pittsburgh Symphony. His latest concert piece was a chamber work entitled “It Got Dark,” commissioned by the acclaimed Kronos Quartet in 2009. As part of a separate commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the work was expanded and adapted for symphony orchestra and string quartet, and premiered at Walt Disney Concert Hall in December 2009. In October 2014, Newman and musician Rick Cox released “35 Whirlpools Below Sound,” an evocative, contemporary collection of avant-garde electronic soundscapes, which the two collaborators developed over a period of 25 years and which constitutes a fascinating departure from Newman’s work in film music.
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