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Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 10:28 am

Brothers in Arms - Teller, Hall & Schumann Discuss “Thank You for Your Service.”

 Imagine that you’ve served nearly three tours of duty in an incredibly dangerous warzone and when you return home, all that you thought you were sure of – your job, the relationship with your wife and that with your children – is put into question. You struggle to come to terms with all this and then, a Hollywood filmmaker comes knocking on your door to tell you he’d like to make a movie of your life.

That’s the shorthand version of what happened to Iraqi War Veteran Adam Schumann whose experiences are told in the bracing new film “Thank You for Your Service,” a gripping look at one man’s struggle to readjust to civilian life.  The filmmaker who approached him was Jason Hall, the Academy Award nominated screenwriter for “American Sniper,” who wanted to tackle Schumann’s story as his directorial debut. 

 

Adam Schumann, Miles Teller and Jason Hall during a recent stop in Chicago to promote "Thank You For Your Service."
Photo by Chuck Koplinski

 I had the great privilege of sitting down with Hall, Schumann and actor Miles Teller who portrays the veteran in the movie, recently when they made a brief stopover in Chicago to promote the film.  While all three are distinctly different in personality, it soon became evident that the experience of making this movie had created a bond between them that was unshakable. However, that always wasn’t the case as Schumann was a bit leery when Hollywood came knocking on his door. 

“I was apprehensive at first,” the veteran recounts, “but they did a great job from the start in introducing themselves and explaining the moviemaking process.  I have no idea how a movie works and they took a lot of time in explaining everything and making me feel comfortable. But that’s why the film is as good as it is.”

Hall was well aware of the responsibility he was taking on in regards to getting Schumann’s story right, because he wasn’t simply telling one man’s story but in a sense one that belongs to every veteran. “I set a high bar for myself all the time and I think it was important to set that bar high because of how important the story was and because of the men involved,” he says. “There’s a lot complexity as far as what these guys went through. There’s a high demand by the military as they like to pick things out that are wrong and I knew they would do that with this film so that was in the back of my mind. But more importantly I wanted to get the feeling of what these soldiers had been through and how alien home life can feel.”

Jason Hall guides Miles Teller through a scene in "Thank You For Your Service."
Courtesy Universal Pictures

Hall was able to succeed in doing this as the film has a fly-on-the-wall feel to it, as if the viewer is an intruder on these men’s most personal moments. This approach helps produce a story that’s hard to shake.

Equally tasked was Teller who fully realized how important it was to do right by the man he’d be portraying and in turn, his brothers-in-arms. “Of course, talking to Adam was invaluable because he answered any question that I had,” recalls the actor. “He feels this film can help people so he was very gracious with his time. One of the first things I noticed was that Adam’s a military officer and the way people in that position use their voice as an instrument to command and talk to other soldiers was something I immediately knew I could use.  I also read a lot of books on PTSD and got all that I could from there in regards to how trauma affects a person.”

All of this work pays off for the actor as he gives his best performance in “Thank You,” a raw turn that’s devoid of ego that ultimately proves poignant.  I asked how Hall, as a first-time director, was able to help him delve into his character’s most difficult moments.  “Jason was a great resource to have on this project because he was well-versed in this world I was stepping into,” Teller says.  “He made it comfortable enough that I could ask him anything I wanted.  As far as how things worked, whenever there was something to talk about it was always a conversation; he has no ego which is a bit surprising as it’s his first film as a director and it’s his script.  He knew when to push me and knew when to lay off. But it just seemed that everyone on the film knew this was an important story to tell and they all put their egos in their back pockets, which was a nice change.”

Miles Teller as Adam Schumann in "Thank You For Your Service."
Courtesy Universal Pictures

Paramount in everyone’s mind was that everything had to be as accurate as possible because to get something wrong would be interpreted as a slight against veterans everywhere.  This dedication to accuracy had some unexpected benefits.  Hall says, “We were conscious of the accuracy of the film and so we talked to as many veterans as we could.  We hired veterans wherever we could.  The scene we shot at the VA, we filled it with 200 veterans to sit in the waiting area to film that sequence. It really built a community with everyone on the shoot.  One of the neat things that happened was I saw a small group of guys who had never met each other begin to talk and over the course of the day they got to know one another and by the end of the day they had exchanged phone numbers.  Now they all go fishing together.”

After all he’s been through, ultimately seeing his life portrayed on screen was a surreal experience for Schumann. I asked if, in the end, this experience helped him come to terms with things. “It did.  It was heartbreaking. If it wasn’t heartbreaking then we didn’t get it right.  It was therapeutic to watch.  The more I see it, the more I can talk about it and unload.  It’s nice to be able to see how far I’ve come.”

Moved by Schuamnn’s statement, Hall adds, “Adam brought a tremendous amount of hope to this.  To watch him over the last four years, it was like watching him be reborn.  There was some skepticism on his part at the beginning but once he saw Miles and the other guys crawling through the dirt and show a willingness to do right by him and his story, he was won over. It’s been our pleasure to be around to watch this transformation.”

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