new movie Point Man -
in a few words, what is it about?
is a story about a couple of GIs that get cut off from their platoon
and have to find their way back to their lines. But it's the place -
Vietnam - and the time - 1968, shortly after MLK's assassination - that
flavor it and give its punch. Moral quandaries, exploitation of black
GIs, the fog of war. Point Man
is an exploration of good and evil set in
the sweltering jungles of Southeast Asia.
Man being set during the Vietnam war, how much research did go
into that aspect of your movie, and is any of it based on actual events?
studied Vietnam for years academically before penning the Point Man
script, so the story emerged as a sort of distillation of many of the
anecdotes I encountered during that process. It's fully fictional, but
real events influenced plot points and character dynamics, from black
GIs' experiences of prejudice to helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson jr's
intervening in the My Lai massacre by ordering his door gunners to open
fire on American troops if they shot at Vietnamese civilians.
you're an African-American soldier hearing Vietnamese soldiers call out to
you "Go home, it's not your war" in the middle of combat.
Imagine the psychological effects of feeling like you're fighting for
people who'll lynch you in your uniform when you get back home. Imagine
being the door gunner on Hugh Thompson jr's helicopter, told to fire on
American troops, caught between allegiance to a flag and a moral
imperative. It's sticky, it's hellish. That's Vietnam. And that's Point Man.
sources of inspiration when writing Point
genesis of this whole thing comes from an obscure martial arts memoir
called My Journey with the Grandmaster. I trained in karate as a
kid, and my teacher handed the book to me when I turned
sixteen. It was written by Bill Hayes, a retired USMC Major who I'd met
briefly at a tournament. In the book he talked about the challenges of
being a black man in the armed forces in the 1960s, and as a white
suburban kid who'd never dealt with prejudice it was startling. It
opened my eyes in a new way and, though I didn't know it at the time, laid
the groundwork for a screenplay.
pulled a lot of inspiration from my personal journey with Vietnam and how
my understanding of the war evolved. During my first visit to Ho Chi
Minh City I ended up at the War Remnants Museum, basically a Vietnamese victory
museum and memorial. I grew up among American Vietnam veterans and
thus naturally had always framed the Vietnamese as
bad guys, so walking through a museum declaring a very
different truth was a punch in the gut. That narrative flipped. I had to
contend with photo evidence of war crimes and a room filled wall-to-wall
with portraits of Agent Orange victims. Suddenly things weren't so
black-and-white anymore, and what makes a "good guy" suddenly
didn't have very much to do with nationality. That's
one of the big themes Point Man
the difference between good guys and bad guys? Is it your personal code?
Is it the patch on your shoulder? It's an age-old question.
You of course have to talk about your
locations for a bit, and what were the advantages and challenges filming
shot most of Point Man
in Cambodia. It offered us unparalleled production
value - you can't get those Southeast Asian berms and palms and rice
paddies in LA studio lots - and it was ridiculously inexpensive. We
picked up a few scenes in Vietnam as well, becoming the first original
narrative Vietnam War movie in American cinematic history to shoot on
location in Vietnam.
challenges were mostly logistical. We had some issues with permits and
found out days before production the government wouldn't let us have our
weapons props. Disaster! We ended up renting Vietnam-era weapons from a
Cambodian army general and shooting the scenes on an army base 60km
outside Phnom Penh. High stress, but the results delivered.
Asia was hot, and that predictably presented challenges, but we arrived in
the middle of dry season. No rain, no bugs, and relatively cool. We had a
few minor medical maladies but outside of that it was smooth sailing.
Man does feature its fair share of action - so how did you go
about filming the actual war sequences of your movie?
was pretty stringent about wanting to keep a dirty frame: every shot full
of smoke and fire and torn foliage. Nothing neat, nothing picturesque. We
took a run-and-gun approach to everything combat-related. We wanted to
capture the chaos and I think the shots accomplished that.
Huey helicopters played a big part in the authenticity as
well, from dropping guys into the LZ to their arrival in some later search
and rescue scenes.
can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at
performed an enormous amount of rehearsals, probably more than most films.
Because we stressed preparation months in advance of the shoot dates, once
we arrived we were able to rip off entire scenes with precision and
minimal takes. All we had to do was get the camera coverage.
a project goes beyond on-set duties. You've got to have an overall vision
that affects every decision you make. Even stuff like color grading can
completely alter the effect on an audience. Look at Saving Private
colorists took the grays and browns and enhanced them by casting a blueish
tone across the film. It cooled it down, made it feel gritty and dreary. I
went the opposite way with Point Man. Vietnam is green and lush and wet
and hot and sticky and humid. We went with slight oranges to warm up the
tone of the film, draw out that lurid heat and sticky saturation from the
jungle, get it up on screen the way the guys feel it as they're traipsing
Every decision I made was a
means to that end. Immerse the viewer in Vietnam. The sweat, the bugs, the
muck - it's all real.
Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly these
was a very popular project. Casting director Dan Black and I
screened about 4,000 individual submissions for roles. We asked
about five hundred of them for audition tapes performing a pair of scenes,
whittled it down to eighty candidates, and then held a live audition. Point Man
is very much an ensemble performance, so seeing chemistry
between groups was crucial to our process.
single actor we cast was a slam dunk. Christopher Long [Christopher
Long interview - click here] delivered a quiet
intensity that we couldn't resist in the role of Casper. Jacob Keohane's
Meeks bore a subtlety that stood out over everyone else. Chase Gutzmore
(Joe) and Marcus Bailey (Felix) had performed together in college and
their chemistry as a pair was off the charts. Matthew
Ewald auditioned for Meeks, and we were set on Jacob Keohane for that
role, but we desperately wanted to find a way to get his talent on set. We
had him audition for Lt. Sutter and knew right away we had our guy. We
brought Bryan Bachman in as Lt. Marsh the same way. Cody Howard was
brilliant as Private Ham. We knew Shannon Williams was our Colonel
Abraham the moment we saw his tape. Paul de Havilland was the only
audition to deliver Sgt. Calhoun's raging monologues with the gravelly
intensity we wanted.
runs all the way around. Point Man
is the movie it is because of the
caliber of actors we managed to find.
A few words about the shoot as such, and the
can't brag enough about our on-set atmosphere. It was utterly selfless.
The adversity we faced in Southeast Asia bound as together as an
inseparable unit. I had actors jumping in to do extra grip work without
skipping a beat. Actors. Nobody was hiding in trailers, nobody had
an ego. They just worked. We
all became lifelong friends in the process.
never been a film set like Point Man
and I don't think there ever will be
Anything you can tell us about
audience and critical reception of Point
time you delve into period pieces you've got to pay attention to as much
detail as you possibly can, especially in war films. Vietnam, like every
other war, has its history nerds, God bless 'em, who are going to pick
apart every single missed detail. I haven't heard too many complaints in
this area so I think we dodged a bullet there.
overall tenor has been positive. People who come in expecting an hour and
a half of Hollywood explosions and nothing more walk away disappointed.
What critics have raved about is the strength of the story, the writing,
the performances. Point Man
is drama more than action, part ideological
thriller, part crime drama with choppers and machine gun fire thrown in
for pacing. Audiences appreciate the originality of a fresh take on an old
Any future projects you'd like to share?
in preproduction on Condor's Nest. It's set in South America during the
1950's, a few years after thousands of Nazis fled fallen Germany to
set up shop in Uruguay and Argentina. It's going to be all kinds of
got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal
training on the subject?
got into filmmaking to shoot Point Man. That's it. I had no prior training
or experience. I just wanted to tell a story in the most effective medium
possible, and that was film. As you might imagine, the learning curve was
What can you tell us about your
filmwork prior to Point Man?
was my first film. My only on-set experience prior to that was
volunteer grip duty on a pair of student films. Again, the learning curve
would you describe yourself as a director?
think the most important part of directing is having an uncompromisingly
clear vision of your film. As a rookie director that was my saving grace:
my vision was unwavering and I knew exactly what I wanted in every scene
and every line.
who inspire you?
a huge Tarantino fan when I began writing Point Man. The opening scene of
Inglourious Basterds is masterful and was a profound early influence in
how I wrote, and some of the dialogue structure reflects it (or did
in the original uncut version). I think some of the deliberate
anachronisms I use have shades of his work as well.
really admire how Alejandro Inarritu and his cinematographer used space in
The Revenant to pit Hugh Glass against his topographical nemesis and I
attempted to draw from that as I first immersed the protagonists in
dense, choking jungle and then hurled them into the negative space of
unconfined, exposed rice patties.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
love anything that uses desolation, visually and thematically. The
Revenant was brilliant.
No Country for Old Men was riveting. I think I
need to make a Western.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
check out Condor's Nest! We're about to start building a full-scale
crashed B-17 bomber - it's gonna be a spectacle:
for the interview!