Q+A With Two DePaul Film Professors That Created a War Film to Reject All War Films

 

 

Synopsis [IMDb]: In the labyrinth of suburban America, a soldier wanders through streets not as dead and empty as they may appear. A ghost story in digital camouflage.

About the directors:

Andrew Stasiulis has been a part of the DePaul community since 2005. He went to DePaul as an undergrad and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for his graduate degree. He returned to Chicago and secured a job teaching in DePaul’s film program. His filmmaking endeavors really took off after reuniting with his close friend from undergrad, Eric Marsh, after returning from Scotland. They began collaborating in 2011. The last four of those six years was spent collaborating on this feature.

Eric Marsh was part of the first graduating class of DePaul’s 4-year Digital Cinema program. In 2003, he received an offer from DePaul and began to add teaching to his resume in 2012. Orders is actually his second feature-length film. He jokes that his first feature (Frontwards) was a complete failure but also acknowledges how it was a success in a lot of ways.

MM: So what is it that you think attracts you to filmmaking the most personally?

EM: “I mean I don’t want to speak for Andy...but I think both of us certainly grew up watching a lot of movies, being sort of film obsessives. I was always sort of music, film, culture obsessive. But, you know, you eventually realize film contains everything in one way or another. It’s culture; it’s history; it’s architecture; it’s music, it’s theater.”

AS: “Getting into film, for me personally, was through theater because I had been in a lot of plays growing up. Then, I went to college and actually started out in theater. And then, I just became really frustrated by the limitations, I guess. Film just became this sort of natural extension for me just because it was a way to go anywhere, to do anything, to not be bound by the stage.”

EM: “There’s something subconscious, or maybe not so subconscious, about the actual making of a film. I know Andy and I both like to be around people, talk, hang out, and get a group together to do something. I think it’s just basic impulse.”

AS: “Yeah, the collaborative aspect of it all.”

MM: Were there any particularly challenging moments during production?

EM: “I don't want to say anything that could go wrong did go wrong but plenty went wrong. I mean our actor broke his elbow, our lead actor, who's in every scene; he fell off a ladder at work. One time, he had a bad haircut. We had to cancel shoots. We had shoots cancelled because of weather. We had entire days lost because of corrupted footage. But we also still did it.”

AS: “Yeah, you know I think that Murphy's Law really governed our production. They say that it governs every film production but I really felt that Murphy was making an example out of our production.”

EM: “I don't see those things as negative, and I return always to what Claire Denis, the French filmmaker, said: ‘That a filmmaker must always be fighting against something, whether that's the producer or the weather or anything tangible or imaginary’. And I think that definitely drove us to finish this monumental production.”

AS: “Even if it's just yourself.”

MM: Who or what would you say inspired the film?

AS: “For myself, you know, I have a lot of friends who served in the military. I've always been sort of fascinated by the combat image. I grew up just watching tons and tons of war films. The war in Iraq, specifically in Afghanistan, the lumped-together conflicts of the war on terror were really monumental to every American and probably even in ways that we don't often think of consciously. I always wanted to address that sort of existential terror of terror - the terror of just living in these times. A very good buddy of mine who served, Mark Metzger, told me a lot of stories and made a lot of suggestions about how to look at these things in a different way. Then, I approached Eric and just said: ‘I want to do this. Can we do this? Can you help me do this?’ Because I just didn't think I could do it on my own. Whenever Eric came on board, it really started to take shape and become a reality. So, in terms of who and what inspired it, it's really complex. Once we started working together, lots of things that we really liked about filmmaking in general and people who've made films that we've admired and respected, they then also came into the mix beyond the content. It really shaped what we wanted to accomplish.”

EM: “I've been thinking about this question a lot lately. But, certainly, for people our age, the Iraq war was a very formative experience - for all of us. I had friends who served as well. It was really fucked up and we were eighteen years old when that happened. It makes you think about a lot of stuff. On one hand, it's the American people and all these things we interact with on a daily basis, but also the cinematic influences. This isn't just a war film; this is also a film about war films in the sense that it rejects the certain cliches or tropes of war movies that pretend to capture some kind of experience. It is total bullshit. New war films are just disgusting in a lot of ways. That pushback against simplifying things and trying to bring all this emotion out of people and war is a cheap thing to do. We wanted to do a make a movie that didn't do that.”

AS: “We both wanted to to make a film that was critical of not just the war on terror but the ways in which the war on terror is and has been captured -  by filmmakers and by television shows. The problem is that so many films claim to be able to show you what war is like. It oversimplifies it. We’ve always said that’s a joke; it’s ridiculous. Talk to anyone who’s ever served.

EM: “The filmmaker, Sam Fuller, who was in the infantry during World War II and landed at D-Day, has a great quote where he says: ‘If you want your audience to experience war in a film, you would have to fire guns at them.’ And this guy made war movies! Arguably, one of the greatest - The Big Red One - but again, he acknowledged that you can't represent it. He was there; he saw everyone dying around him; he was being shot at. How can a film accurately represent that? It can't - in any way, shape, or form.”

AS: “And that was something we wanted to avoid.”

MM: Can you explain the plot of the film? The trailer leaves a lot up to the imagination.

AS: “I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Our film is somewhat the form of an odyssey… the classical Greek God odyssey of a soldier who may or may not have returned home from war or may or may not be trying to find his home. But he's searching and what he's searching for remains elusive. He wanders through this sort of labyrinth of of the American suburbs. He encounters a lot of people along his journey - a lot of really unhelpful helpers. All they do is just manage to get more and more lost along this path to what we don't really know.”

EM: “A lot of films just start with an image in your mind. After Andy pitched it to me, my image was ‘American Soldiers in the Suburbs’. Now you have to remember, he had this idea before the police were extremely militarized and carrying machine guns and driving tanks in the streets.”

AS: “What was supposed to be a very powerful collision of imagery of the peacefulness of suburban America with the ultra-militarized full battle-rattle of the United States Army has unfortunately become all too familiar a sight in the last couple years. Maybe some of the shock value of that is gone, but I still think it's provocative.”

EM: “Want to hear a funny story? So in the script, there was a scene in a pool and we didn’t know anyone with a pool. So we're shooting. Nothing planned; no location. Someone drives by us while we're shooting and it's this woman that Andy knew from high school. And she was like ‘I have a pool’.”

AS: We shot in the middle of the summer. It was very hot and some days were just oppressive. We tried to go for a lot of authenticity in what the soldiers wore so they're wearing real helmets and real body armor which gets so hot. But yeah, she drove by and we must’ve looked drenched and miserable as a crew. She was like: “I got a pool. You guys want to cool off?”

EM [laughing]: “We were just like: ‘Actually, we want to shoot a scene at your pool!’ She was like: ‘I actually have to leave but you guys can just film at my house’.”

AS [laughing]: “Yeah. She just left us - a full crew of people. She hadn’t seen me in years. So, yeah, we shot there. And I certainly jumped at that damn pool. We were saying so many things went wrong and delayed us but there were also so many things like this that just popped up out of nowhere that were kind of magical. We were like: ‘We’ll worry about the pool later’. And then, lo and behold somebody just drives up and is like: ‘You wouldn’t happen to need a pool by any chance, would you?’”

MM: What was it like being co-directors?

AS: “Our colleagues or other filmmakers often approach that question and they assume it must have been nightmare. I don't want to speak for Eric but I didn't think it was problematic in that sense. There's so much ego involved in directing, and certainly Eric and I have egos. I think that for us we started this as friends and we ended it as as friends. Our instincts were so similar that we didn't need to always be together, which made things go smoothly. We knew that we could trust one another.”

EM: “Andy and I weren't afraid to speak our minds to each other in a sort of friendship way. Also, if you don't have any money, you don't have any need for hierarchy. We weren't just co-directors; we were holding the boom; we were getting coffee; we were driving.”

AS: “I would encourage people to try to go through the process of co-directing because I think you learn a lot about yourself when you do that. When you have somebody there, it's like checks and balances. No one could be a tyrant; there's no room for that.”

MM: What’s your distribution strategy? How can people reading this see the film?

EM: We’re submitting to festivals right now, but we’re also pursuing other channels like people we know that can get it shown. But we're still in the early stages - we all have to reckon certainly with the fact that it's the 21st century, and eventually the film should be online and hopefully for free for everyone to see. This is not a money-making venture; it’s money-losing, for sure. We didn't make the film to make money. We just want it to be seen, and we want people to enjoy it or take something away from it. This is not a film that is going to get into Sundance. It doesn't make anyone feel good. This film doesn't have any easy answers. It doesn't have a lot of the conventional cliche things…”

AS [laughing]: “Yeah, like a plot…”

EM [laughing]: “It’s a strange little film and I have no illusions about that. It's not a film for a lot of people I'm sure. I'm interested to share it with other filmmakers.”

AS: “I feel like you just need to take that direct approach sometimes. Don’t wait for someone’s permission to show your film. Nothing about this film was made on anyone's terms but our own.”

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/198403414

IMDb Page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6215104/?ref_=nm_knf_t1