I had to blog about this one eventually. This is the best known of my films and it has the most interesting story involving its genesis, from inception to completion. It also has a title that I’ve always been unhappy with, but until recently didn’t come up with anything better – Purple Heart Attack. How awesome a title is that?! I would change it, but at the toll of over 26,000 YouTube views plus numerous others at film festivals, it seems a bit late in the game at this point.
Purple Heart’s Final Beat marks the first time I directed a film that wasn’t my original idea. After the fall of Starshowz in late 2008, I was scavenging through Craigslist, looking for any and all possible work that would help me make ends meet. For a little while, I was even writing papers for lazy college students – hey, I was desperate and more than $4,000 in the hole thanks to Starshowz, so keep your morality lessons in your back pocket. Nah-nah, nanny booboo. But I digest… Going through Craigslistings for video gigs, I found one looking for a director for a small film project. I answered it figuring, What do I have to lose?
That weekend I met Sergeant Terrence Popp, a war veteran in his early forties with two Purple Hearts to his credit, and an idea that immediately got me interested: He wanted to make a movie that exposed the reality soldiers face when they come home. A reality that pushed them to suicide; a fate that a close friend and mentor of his had succumbed to very recently. We spoke for a little over an hour, and I agreed to make the film for only $500 because of the special feeling I got listening to Popp talk so passionately about it. I knew that making this film would change my life.
I wrote the script in a blitzkrieg piece of screenwriting – it was done in under an hour. The finished script was sent off to Popp, who responded with genuine shock and awe. I don’t think he expected a young filmmaker with no military experience to actually get what he was going after and truly understand it. Compared to someone like Popp, a war veteran who is a victim of the divorce court industry and a non-custodial father of two kids, my life reads like Chicken Soup for the Soul.
The filming itself took four shooting days over the course of two months. Not because it was planned that way, but because a one man crew and a war horse with a head injury tend to forget things. In a nice bit of serendipity, the things we forgot about – usually props needed for a particular shot – ended up creating a better film because of what we were forced to work around. New ideas were constantly ricocheting between us, and as frustrating as it sometimes got, the energy in the air was electric. I remember the moment we both reviewed one of the pivotal shots in the film: The canted low-angle view of the plastic sheeting slowly and silently gliding to the floor. Both of us got chills and then laughed with utter triumph to each other.
Another two months of sound design followed the shooting… because I had no idea what I was doing. Even as I was editing the final cut together, I was making a list of sounds that were lacking. I would take hour breaks from the computer to set up my camera – lens cap on – with the microphone to capture sounds as I threw myself repeatedly to the floor, swished liquor bottles around, ripped pieces of paper, etc. Finally, on my birthday of 2009, the film was posted to YouTube, and the results were far from immediate. However, over time, the film found its audience, and helped Second Class Citizen to gather members and operators all over the country.
Popp and I continue to knock ideas back and forth for more films. To date, we’ve made nine together, and have concrete stories for at least five more. Fairly soon, a video will be posted to Kickstarter.com requesting financial support for production. In our current economy, it’s become harder and harder to find the extra time to make these films, as much as we love to and need to. I hope we can gather the support we need and keep driving for the change the system so desperately needs.
Now, for those of you who haven’t seen it: Purple Heart’s Final Beat. Please spread the word.