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Hey boys and girls, the Temple was pleased to host a visit by Kimberly Pierce, the petite, powerhouse director of the powerful, poignant piece Stop-Loss (Which we praised here) shared her thoughts on her controversial pro-soldier movie.

Dig in for some words about Good Dad Ryan, Gorgeous Abbie, how Hilary Swank speaks with forked tongue and when it’s not too prudent to profane the President.

Enjoy.

 

Kimberly Peirce

 

Mighty Ganesha: I understand that the stunning ambush sequence was shot in Morocco. Were you free to shoot as you liked despite the subject matter?

Kimberly Peirce: Yeah, I mean I didn’t try to do anything super-outrageous. I’ll give you the backstory, we looked at shooting in Spain, we looked at shooting in Mexico, also looked at shooting in Texas, cos it would’ve been much cheaper. They tried to get me to shoot at the Alamo set, which would not have worked. They always say, “Never say never until you try,” and when it doesn't work, we don’t do it. But I was very fortunate that the studio spent the money, cos it is an expense to go to Morocco. I wanted to shoot in an Islamic country. It’s always important for me always to get it as culturally accurate as possible. Cos I learn things whenever I’m on a location, y’know I go out and I hang out with the people. I get to know kinda what the vibe is like. So when I’m shooing it I actually have a sense of it.

{With regard to the “stacking” of the soldiers the ambush}.We block off escape with the Humvees, the guys come out. The stacking is very important. Remember this is something that’s unique to this war, is that the soldiers form a unit together and they move in unison. The guy who’s second-in-command – it’s funny, the soldiers were like, “He holds the first guy like a dog. He goes in by his collar.” So you’ve got Channing, who plays Steve number one, you’ve got Ryan, number 2, but Ryan’s really in control, but he controls the stack, “Go!Go!Go!”. So you hear the guys. They have to hit each other with their bodies - that’s how they have to move. So we had to make sure the walls were perfect cos it allowed us a great stack. Then you end up going into some of the houses, we had to block up most of the doors, because otherwise the movie would’ve been 10 hours of clearing houses. And you have to clear every open entranceway, so we clear a couple, block, block, block, we move on.

 

MG: And you had support from the Moroccan government to film despite the fact that it had to do with the Iraq War?

KP: Well, the king is very supportive of filmmaking. They make a lot of money and actually the people, from what I understand, have a better standard of living than most countries in that area because of the film revenues. Y’know, Black Hawk Down was shot there, there’s a history of it. I think if want to do something that was egregious they probably wouldn’t let us, but I was so treading lightly because the last thing I wanna do is add one more image in the world of a violent American. So I was being very careful. It’s like I’m gonna put these guys in suits and give them guns. I was trying to get to know the community a little bit and try to make it a little more gentle.

 

Q; Could you talk about writing that powerful scene after Brandon finds out he’s being stop-lossed and blows up and at his commander yelling, “Fuck the President”? 

KP: Sure. You know it was a very delicate scene. I mean it’s not a scene that I take lightly, and it’s also a scene that again, this was a story from the soldiers’ point of view, right? I wanted to make sure that it was honest and accurate to them. What we didn’t want was a guy who suddenly became a political activist, right? Who suddenly had an agenda, because it wouldn’t have been truthful to soldiers. So, I interviewed a number of soldiers about that scene, and we were very clear about setting up the circumstances that it had to be a completely patriotic guy, who signed up for what he considered all the right reasons; to protect his family, his home and his country. And he gets over there and this is revealed in that scene in the car, and he’s like “It wasn’t about anything that we signed up for. Instead of being in the desert instead of fighting the enemy we thought we were fighting, we were in the bedrooms and the hallways and the kitchens, and it was impossible to not kill innocent people and not have our men killed and not have our men injured. So, what did we do, we fall back on the one thing that all soldiers can agree on, it’s about comradery, right? It’s just about survive. So, we had to take him all the way there. That’s why you see that opening battle scene, that’s why he wants to come home. I’ve always had a sense that if it was World War II and the country needed him, this guy would go right back. But something didn’t seem right to him, he couldn’t prot4ect his men. So he comes home and he thinks, “I’m gonna put that behind me. I don’t even have to process this,” right? When they stop-loss him – what’s so interesting to me is it just maximizes all the problems that everybody’s been going through. So here’s a guy who feels he’s did everything right –‘I’m the Golden Boy, I gave my country and my life’ – and when the system does that to him, we wanted it to be a reactive moment, we wanted it to be a moment where he says something that he’s never said in his life, he never imagined saying. It just comes out. It’s a true expression of how he feels, but it’s not intellectualized, because we thought if he’s intellectualized it’s just not gonna work. So he spurts it out and that’s why you hang on him. He’s kind of not sure he’s said it, he doesn’t wanna back down, but he’s really gotten himself into something, and he spends the rest of the journey catching up with his emotions. We needed it to be an irrational moment, so that’s one thing in terms of how I had to direct it.

 

Q: Doesn’t he say it twice?

KP: No, he says it once. He says, “Fuck the President.” And then the commander says,”Fuck the President?” Now what was interesting about the commander saying “Fuck the President?” in interviewing guys like this, a lot of them are in the position where they’re managers. They love the men, it kills them to see the men being recycled, destroyed. We didn’t want it to be the political activist guy and the angry, dumb commander, no, no. It was a sergeant who was coming to normal realisation and out of frustration saying this, and his commander who doesn’t totally disagree with what he’s saying. That’s why he’s like “Fuck the President?” And that was a very delicate thing to get across. We were sort of looking at people like McCain, in a way, for that commander. So that was a very interesting thing that we had to get clear and you didn’t want it to turn into like, rhetoric, or anything. So it’s a very emotional scene of two men who are fundamentally agreeing that our men are being chewed up and that’s the heartbreak. He {The commander} says, “I’ve lost more men than that.” They’re both saying, “Losing men is killing me.”

 

Q: Is your brother still in the war?

KP: My brother has gotten out. He would have been stop-lossed, but he got out on a medical.

 

Q: Can you talk about the poignant scene when the families are in the dance hall and they can’t listen as the soldiers are speaking a little graphically about their experiences?

KP:  Coming from a military family and being home when the war stories were going on and we were playing those soldier’s videos {The homemade videos made by soldiers in Iraq that inspired Peirce to begin the Stop-Loss project} and my mother walked out of the room and she said “I don’t wanna hear it, I don’t wanna see it, and I don’t wanna know the details.” Because when my brother was gone, my mother would call me crying, saying, “You will never know what fear is until you have had a child shot at in a combat zone.” “I oftentimes don’t wanna come home from work because I know that if I’m there, I have to be there in person for them to tell me that God forbid he’s dead or he’s injured” So that was profound. And she had such a distaste for the details of the combat stuff. And yet, maybe because I’m his sister, maybe because I’m younger, maybe because it’s fascinating to me, I could listen to it. So that was when I knew we needed a scene where they were talking graphically about their experiences, as soldiers do. When they come back – it’s graphic, they’re in it. So I knew that we needed a scene that was just as graphic as boys talk, but they were sort of tuned out and they were insensitive to what was going on around them, and that’s why the father says, “Steve, pay attention to how you’re making the families feel.” But I feel like we do need to share those scenes more and more, we need the soldiers and the civilians, we need to be sharing these experiences, it’s all of our experience. So that’s where that came from.

 

Q: It’s part of the healing process for the soldiers.

KP: They need to get it out. And it’s interesting I’ve gone to 22 cities now with the movie and done Q&A’s at every single one – people stay. And what do they do? This is unusual; everybody in the field tells me people don’t stay usually to Q&A’s like this. Not only are they asking me questions and listen, they stand up and they tell their story. I’ve had vet after vet after vet, stand up and say “thank you,” and share some incredibly emotional story. I’ve had Vietnam vets come up to me and say “Thank you, it took years for me to speak.” One of them said in San Jose, “I lost my humanity; I’m only now getting it back, slowly” They should be telling their stories. I believe deeply in the power of healing through storytelling, but that scene came directly out of my mother and I.

 

Q: Abbie Cornish is great in the film; can you talk about casting her?

KP: She was my first choice I had seen Somersault and I had Candy – phenomenal – and she was not available. Which is heartbreak when you know somebody’s right, and then you have to go cast and you’re like, “Okay” and you make do. So I was interviewing all these great young actresses and they weren’t right, but I was trying to make it work. And all of a sudden her agent called, she said “Kim, Abbie read the script, she loves it she wants to audition and she wants the part.” First of all I was like “Oh my God this is like the most ridiculous phone call to get.” I would have hired her, but if she wants to audition, I love auditions. So we flew her in and I just got a chance to work more, and she’s phenomenal. We had an old-fashioned screen test in Texas, Chris Menges shot it. I mean, it was gorgeous. You fall in love with her, right?

 

Q; Will you tell us what it was about Ryan that made him right for Brandon King and made you believe he could carry the film?

KP: Sure. Well, I looked at his work and what’s interesting is we haven’t seen Ryan in a lot of leading roles. So it wasn’t from that, but it was from the different roles that I saw that he had a deep integrity; I saw that he was very charismatic, that he commanded your attention; he certainly has the All-American-boy quality. I needed somebody who could pass as a soldier, somebody you would buy. So I brought him in and I’m lucky that he auditioned, because they don’t always audition, especially at his level, but I love the audition process because I get to know them. And he felt like one of the guys I had been interviewing and he actually said he would have been a soldier if he hadn’t been an actor - and I don’t know if he was telling the truth. But Hilary {- Swank from Boys Don’t Cry} told me she was four years younger than she was when I hired her. She said, “I lied to you,” I was like, “How could you lie to me?” She said, “I’m an actress.” But not that actors lie, she’s like “I acted the part that you wanted.” So what was great was we were on the same page, he seemed like a soldier. But also Ryan has a sensitivity, a gentleness he’s a guy’s guy. So, he actually became friends with all those boys, so the brotherhood and the comradery worked very well. And in addition he is a wonderful father and I really believe that you draw from yourself. He loves his kids, you feel that and he’s a father of these men. So I think that he brought a unique ability to both be their brother and be their father and take care of them.

 

MG: There are so many interesting subplots and characters in the film. You have the story of the distressed soldier, Tommy, the story of the women like Brandon’s mother who is ready to drag her son to Mexico, it seems like you could have made separate films on a few different subjects. Was the film always meant to be about the stop-loss clause and did the other subplots plants a seed for other films?

KP: The first question, was it always a stop-loss movie? No, it wasn’t at all. It really did start as wanting to tell the story of these soldiers and wanting to tell the emblematic story of this generation. Which is after 9/11 they signed up to patriotic reasons, to defend their home, their country and their family, They go over there, they realise that it’s incredibly difficult to fight a war where you can’t always know where the enemy is or who the enemy is – urban combat., When you don’t have that to rely on one, you fall back on survival, right, because that’s the only thing you can count on, and that means protecting the guy to your left and the guy to your right. So you fall back on the survival, but there’s a kind of heartbreak that’s going on that you can’t defend your men and that you could potentially kill innocent people. So he comes back right, and he says “I wanna hang up my guns.” It’s kinda like the Western, right? “I wanna move on.” That’s what we were building – that story - and really what it was was it was the story of these two best friends who were being cleaved apart by the fact that one of them came of age during the war and realised, “I don’t wanna go back. I did what I had to do for the time I had to do it, I wanna move on.” And another one who was so profoundly changed by the war, that he never could come home, which is something that I noticed, with so man - not as many soldiers - I found more that wanted to come home and didn’t want to go back, but I certainly found some that feel that they can only go back. And what was beautiful to me was it was two boys who had had a completely synonymous outlook and the war changed them and they found it was kind of like a heartbreak, that their lives could no longer be as simple as they were before the war.

So that was the story we were writing, then I found out about stop-loss and it was from a patriotic soldier who was in service that I found out about it. We were IM-ing, cos I would IM with soldiers and he said. “Do you wanna hear something fucked up?” And I always wanna hear something fucked up. I mean, right? Fucked up is interesting! So I said, “Yes,” and he wrote s.t.o.p dash l.o.s.s, and I had a reaction probably like most of you when you first saw it, it’s a weird word, it’s a weird combination of words. So I said “What does that mean?” and he said “It’s a back-door draft.” And I said, ‘Okay I don’t understand, “I know what a draft is, we had one in Vietnam, but we don’t have one now,” and he said “They’re recycling the soldiers who’ve done their time and should be getting out” and it’s a military term and he said that they’re involuntarily extending the tours of soldiers who’ve already done their duty, their contract. So stop-loss is so interesting to me because the soldiers are stop-lossed, at least 81,000. The families are stop-lossed, if you on read my website they’re all writing in saying “My husband is stop-lossed, he’s not seeing the birth of our child.” “My nephew is stop-lossed, he got killed”

So the families are stop-lossed, right? And in a way America’s stop-lossed, because what it means is you’re just recycling those resources that need to be utilised in a better way, and clearly we need to figure out some solution. So stop-loss was such a great way of organizing the movie. First of all, it was the complication that fueled the drama, right, because if he didn’t want to be there before, boy he really doesn’t wanna go back. But also just as a paradigm it was wonderful to have something unique about this war. Only this war has stop-loss and only this time, these soldiers.

 

Q: Did the movie always have the ending we see? What kind of reaction would you get if it ended differently?                                             

KP: If the movie ended differently, the movie wouldn’t work. Right? I don’t choose an ending that satisfies and audience or satisfies me or anybody. To me, it’s all about A leads to B leads to C. So here’s a guy for whom comradery and protecting his brothers was everything. The only necessary ending that can be is this. It’s interesting we tried writing him going to Mexico, and we were like, “Okay, but the story’s not done.” We tried having him sit at the ranch and there was like a shootout, it was ridiculous. We were like, “Oh my God, that’s another movie.” So you try these things and you’re like, ‘Okay we’re not done.’ *Cue anti-spoiler inviso-text* The ending that we chose was just like, God damn, tragic inevitability - It’s the ending you don’t want, it’s the ending you don’t want. God damn, it’s the ending that has to happen. I mean Aristotle, Oedipus, like I’m a big lover of that causality, and once we hit that ending it was right. And I’ve actually screened it in 22 cities and almost everyone loves the ending, knows its right. Some people say, “I really wish he had done the other thing,” and I just say “Good.” You should wish that he’d done the other thing. And you know what, I wish that the boys who were going back could do the other thing, but they can’t. *end inviso-text*

And I wanna tell you one thing about Canada, why it’s really not viable right now. In Vietnam, it’s fascinating, I think 50,00 people, that’s the conservative estimate, crossed the border and got citizenship, it may be 80, but lets just say 50. That was because you could go to the border and you could get citizenship and you could walk right in. Now, you can only get citizenship by applying from the country that you’re from and you have to wait two years. So we have between I think we have 12,000 soldiers who are AWOL right now in America, Look up Harpers 04, great article. And we have 200- 300 soldiers who are up there, but they won’t give them citizenship, they won’t give them refugee status, and they’re on the verge of deporting them or at least deciding whether they’re going to be deported.

It’s a fascinating time that we’re living in and I believe in storytelling, because I believe it’s the way to really open people’s eyes and the rest, well, we’ll see what happens.

 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

March 21st, 2008

 

Please visit Kimberly Peirce’s amazing website for stories and insights direct from the soldiers and their families: www.StopLossMovie.com/SoundOff

 

 

 

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