Known for his roles on The English Teacher, Michael Clayton, Mad Men, The Americans, The Good Wife, Weeds and Blindspot, Remy Auberjonois makes his directorial debut with Blood Stripe. Blood Stripe was featured at the LA Film Festival and received by the audience with praise. The film follows a PTSD-ridden soldier struggling to cope with life back home after three tours with the Marines in Afghanistan. I got a chance to speak with Remy about the process behind making the movie and the importance of a movie like this in today’s time. Read what he had to say below!
Let me start by saying, I really enjoyed the movie! It had a lot of beautiful visuals and this was your first time directing a feature, so how long has it been in the making?
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it! It actually went really quick. We started writing in October/November of 2013 and we had finished shooting it by the beginning of September 2014. Then there was a break where we had to get more money and go through a whole editing process. We ended up doing a recut after that. So, the post-production process took longer than the development and the production process.
The whole project took two and a half years or so and it was really nice. You know, I’m at this filmmaker’s retreat right now for the festival, and some of these people stood up and said, “this was a fifteen-year process and I used 15 different formats to shoot this film, etc.” (laughs). That’s not the way it was at all, for me. We had to come out of the gate with it quickly, it’s a very timely subject matter and we felt that there was probably going to be stories like this starting to be told, and rightfully so. But we wanted to be on the crest of the wave as opposed to after it. So once we found the subject and the topic we were interested in, we just went with it.
We’ve seen the male perspective of this a few times in films, but never really a woman’s, what made you want to use a woman as opposed to a male soldier?
Well, I think your question answers it (laughs). My writing partner and my co-creator on the film, Kate Nowlin, who’s also the main actress; she really was a part of the whole process from concept, writing, editing and sound mixing. She’s been a part of the whole creative process. I knew that I wanted to direct the film and the approach was to start with what resources I knew I had, and what I could muster. It was sort of an exercise in the “doable”.
We decided we wanted to make a film in Northern Minnesota on this lake where we spent quite a bit of time as a family anyway. I knew I wanted to make a film that really focused on one character. I felt like that would be more manageable for me as a first time director. The character sort of grew out of that landscape, because there are a lot of people that serve. Plus it was sort of organic to the place.
Once we landed on ‘Our Sergeant’ as a suitable character for Kate to play, then the story really started to grow. We discovered that there are lots of women veterans who are in this position. The added bonus was that this is a new type of character. It’s a new character for an old story which is intriguing to me. It gave me space to explore new dynamics in a day age-old story that we all know but haven’t gotten to explore. We’re also exposing part of the population to stories that are coming to the forefront now. There was all that talk about women in film and stories that are lead by women and I just felt like this was the right moment. We now have all these women veterans returning from the war making 20% less for their services, so of course these stories exist.
Kate’s such a phenomenal actress and it was an opportunity for me to step into a new role as the director. It was also an opportunity for her to stretch and challenge her capacity and do what I was confident she could do, which was carry a film. And a quiet film at that where you’re just sort of watching her all the time. So I felt we gave each other that permission to stretch and do something new for ourselves. Because she conceived the character and we wrote the thing together she was so deeply knowledgeable of the character.
As we were approaching the production we had a conversation that we weren’t going to get any rehearsal, we were going to shoot the whole thing out of sequence. I said to her, “you’ve been preparing for this for nine months in the writing,” the writing was structuring the emotional journey, which is what the screenplay was, and we did that together, so she was really working on it the whole time. Then she had real prep where she changed her body and got a rock solid six pack (laughs).
Are you trying to open up the subject of mental health and the dangers of untreated PTSD?
Yeah. Right when we were financing the film there was that VA scandal where it was revealed that there were incredibly long wait lists for people who were in need of services for PTSD. They weren’t getting it. In a way, the film is about what can happen during that waiting time. I also read somewhere that PTSD is a cultural thing as well. It’s affecting the whole culture and the whole culture is a part of it because we as a culture don’t understand. As a culture, we don’t provide processing time for our returning warriors. There’re ritualistic methods that other cultures use to traditionally bring their returning warriors back into the fold.
In ancient Greece, warriors had the Odyssey where they traveled from Troy back to Greece. That travel itself was the processing of the war so that you re-entered your domestic life after going through a process between war and life. Now it’s like you’re on the battlefield, you’re put on a plane, you might pass through some other country and then you’re back home in 36 hours. In the US, there’s no process really, so then as a culture, we’re not incorporating that experience or helping our veterans with that. And not to say that all veterans deal with this. It is a mental health issue that some people deal with differently than others, but that is what we are examining.
The screening at the festival on June 2nd sold out, was that the biggest audience you’ve screened it to?
It was! We were really excited. The 2nd sold out so they gave us another screening on the 7th which will be good. It will give us further opportunities to get more of an audience. Previously we’ve had 10-15 person audiences of family and friends, so it was great to have a wider audience of people experience it. I was really looking forward to seeing how a mixed audience would perceive it. It plays really well on the big screen; some of the pictures and sound and such, it really opens up. It’s a pretty spare movie so seeing it with the full sound in the theater helps the experience. It really taps into some of the psychological stuff too.
Funny you mentioned the sound, I was going to bring up a particular scene where the construction worker is talking to ‘Our Sergeant’ and the sound cuts out. It’s sort of just this loud other noise, I thought that was done really well.
Good, I’m glad you like it! We played throughout with sound and how ‘Our Sergeant’ is affected by sound and toyed with her reliability as the narrator. It’s her POV that we’re following and that’s sort of a signal that it’s not entirely reliable what her experience is. The things the audience see and hear may not be entirely reliable and the noise was a literal way we could show that. ‘Our Sergeant’ is disconnected from reality, she is standing right there but also is not really there mentally.
One last thing, our site is called Talk Nerdy with Us, what’s one show or movie that you completely nerd out about?
Well, it depends on how nerdy we want to go (laughs). In college, I watched way too much Batman. The animated series and that says a lot. That’s pretty nerdy. I nerd out about The Wire and Breaking Bad too.
I could go nerdy on movies too! In terms of this movie (Blood Stripe) and movies that inspired me while making it, there were a lot of them. Those real psychological movies. There’s a movie called Repulsion by Roman Polanski, and a pretty obscure Robert Altman movie called Images which, my father is in. Both of those are about the mental collapse of the central female character. So for this movie I nerded out about those. (laughs).
*Featured image Photo Credit: Peter Hurley