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Q&A with Director Jason Hall

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Jason Hall, Director of Universal Pictures film

Jason Hall, Director of Universal Pictures film "Thank You for Your Service."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Jason Hall, Director of Universal Pictures film "Thank You for Your Service."

Chandana Kamaraj, Associate Arts Editor

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Filmmaker Jason Hall takes on the reigns this time for his directorial debut for the film “Thank You for Your Service.” Hall who previously acted in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as Devon MacLeish takes on a more wholehearted role as director after his previous work as the writer in “American Sniper” under the guidance of director Clint Eastwood. Hall took what he learned from that film, which was loosely based on the memoir “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History” and worked on his debut, which was also based on a book, “Thank You for Your Service” by David Finkel.

Hall gives his most sincere project to date as he explores his characters Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) and Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale). Hall portrays the lives of these men during their physical suffering at war and their emotional suffering at home. The film maintains a serious tone as the characters experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have a difficult time adjusting to a civilian life after their time in Iraq.

The University News recently got an opportunity to sit down during a round table with director Jason Hall and really learn what this experience meant to him and how he was affected by the subject matter.

Q: How was the screening last night?

A: It was great. It was really impactful for people. It’s great when a veteran continues to work with other veterans because it immediately cuts through that trust barrier. They know who they’re taking to and immediately opens up to them.

Q: Do you think that working on “American Sniper” kind of helped prepare you to make some relationships with guys and clear up some trust issues with these veterans, which helped the shoot go smoothly?

A: Yeah. I think it helped them, trust me. But what I thought was “oh it’s going to be a snap and I’ll walk right in here and know who these guys are and the language,” and that wasn’t true. These guys fought in a different war and came from different places and have different backgrounds and most had different types of training. Chris and the training that Navy Seals have— they’re put through such rigorous training and so many of them are eliminated so you get the best and the brightest and mentally the sharpest minds that are going to be able to endure the most. You’re taking some guys who have faced some challenges in their life and you’re putting them into a home. When you start adding trauma and a brain injury to those challenges, then you’re looking at some consequences.

Q: Why did you choose to not show some of the treatment that the soldiers went under?

A: There is such a hurdle to getting that treatment— which is very esoteric— [and it] is an entirely different thing to begin with, and would have probably taken a whole different route to go through that treatment. But I definitely explored that [when] taking that into the script, but once you write the script, many times you have to write the story that it isn’t rather than the story that it is. Initially the story was written for the character who is only on the phone throughout the film and you only hear his voice. That character was going to the protagonist in the first draft.

Q: Are soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan damaged mentally in a distinct way as compared to other wars?

A: The majority of these soldiers come home and they are not damaged and these guys are assets. 1 out of 5 soldiers come home and have some form of PTSD. Between this and say Vietnam, the differences are the blast waves. Once you start dealing with IEDs [implosive explosive device] and the way that that affects the brain and trauma, it’s closer to World War I. With all the shelling and the concussive nature of that than it is to anything before that. It’s not the explosion that does the most damage, it was the blast wave. It’s the wave that comes and hits you like a brick wall.

Q: How does this movie compare to other films that are pro-war where you can get some veterans to come and support the war? This is more about the PTSD and coming back and the mental issues. Do you get worried that your audience is not necessarily veterans because they won’t want to relate to this? Have you noticed any resistance to the film?

A: The only resistance we have had are from combat veterans, who immediately think that I’ve lived that war, and why would I want to go through that again. But when they do come they realize, “wow this is my story.” We get the veterans to believe that this isn’t some Hollywood-ized version of the story, but we went to some extreme places to make sure that this is very realistic and authentic of what these guys have been through for a reason. That reason is that as a society we can understand what they went through so that we can have a conversation with them.

Q: Every character was very authentic and I know that they’re based on real people, so how hard was that to capture those soldiers?

A: It was challenging in just the regard that you have to reach out and you almost feel like you’re preaching… and Hollywood comes up and they usually mess things up really good and you’re reaching out to these people — I have the benefit of having done “Sniper” and [I] have the benefit of having Steven Spielberg behind this project, but these people were all aware. So it was a challenge to get the people to be invested, to get them to trust me, and to get them to trust the actor who is going to play them. Many of them were unknown actors and in every case they go to know their people and involve them in the process.

Q: Regarding the original work by David Finkel, he gets into the psychology of those things. What is it specifically about his work and his reporting that spoke to you?

A: Well it’s the fact that he dedicated himself enough and went over with them and spent 10 months with them, and riding around with them. He then came home and documented it in a way that I had never ever seen before. He also articulated the cyclical nature of trauma thought. It always circles back to the excessive thought he had. I loved the nature in which he wrote and affected the story.

Q: What did you learn from working with Clint?

A: Clint is a personality and I was the first writer he let stick around and was very generous with me. What I learned from him is to be flexible, and if he has an instinct he turns the scene on its head and takes it in a different direction. What I learned from Clint too is truth. He is trying to put truth up on the screen. That difference from Spielberg in the sense [is] that he is trying to figure what is that we want the audience to feel from this scene.

Q: Miles Teller has brought a few true stories onto the screen, did that make it easier to cast him in this one?

A: My favorite performance of Miles is in “Rabbithole.” He brings in such a sense of truth and authenticity even when he’s being a wiseacre in some of these comedies he’s done; there’s a truth to him. He’s got an ability to disappear into these roles. ***

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Q&A with Director Jason Hall