Sunday, July 23, 2017

A taste of Hollywood acting as a U.S. Army soldier in the war drama INDIVISIBLE

When I think back to last month when I had the privilege to act as a U.S. Army soldier in the film INDIVISIBLE, I am amazed at how the whole opportunity came about, and how well the shoot was completed. It began with an e-mail I received from the film's casting department on May 26th. They were looking for healthy background actors to play U.S. Army soldiers in California. The plot summary intrigued me. It was a war drama about an Army chaplain who suffers with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after a long deployment to Iraq. This neurosis almost ends his marriage. Throughout my 15 year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force I have had friends with similar stories. I knew of the Director, David Evans, from the first film he made, GRACE CARD (I had watched it several times, and had been moved by its intensity and emotion). Also, Sarah Drew, the Executive Producer, was familiar to me from the movie, MOM'S NIGHT OUT. Also, Bob Scott, known for his work on WAR ROOM, FIREPROOF, and the NASHVILLE TV Series (as camera operator) was working as the Director of Photography.

The following Sunday I prayed about the casting e-mail with a friend at church and had confirmation through a vision that we shared that I should pursue this further. There were three problems though: the movie ranch where they were shooting this for ten days in June was over two-thousand kilometers away; I didn't have enough money saved up to afford the trip down south, and our unit at work was having a formal mess dinner which no one could take leave from without the submission, and approval, of a memo. I wrote up the first draft of my memo and leave pass, and submitted to my chain of command the next Tuesday. In order to make it to the first day of filming in California the latest I could leave Vancouver Island was by early Saturday morning, June 3rd. Thursday, June 1st, I got some encouraging news; I was getting a 6% pay raise, with three years back pay. I would now be able to afford the trip down to California. At work my memo went up the chain of command all the way to the Major. Friday, June 2nd, around noon, I received the signed memo and leave pass. With the encouragement of my superiors, and co-workers, I left for home at the end of the day, making a mental list of the items I would need for the long drive and stay in California.

The next morning, around 9:30 am, I crossed the border into the U.S.. My van was searched, and I was interviewed by a Customs and Immigration Officer who seemed to think my reason for traveling was a little odd. I showed them my approved leave pass, the e-mail inviting me to participate in the film, and the memo. These documents all backed up my story. I was approved by U.S. Cutoms to gain entry. I was happy to find out that whoever searched my van ended up fixing the automatic passenger's side window that was stuck.

Over the next twenty four hours, along with a couple of short naps, I made it all the way to a rest stop just south of San Francisco. I phoned my wife, Olivia, from there to let her know that I had made it safely that far. Seven hours later I was at a campsite near Castaic Lake, just off the I-5. It was the perfect spot; quiet, yet a short drive away from a busy truck stop with restaurants, and a 7-11 store. From there, it was a thirty-to-forty minute drive to the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch where I'd be volunteering.

I arrived to the set early on the first day of shooting. The Hollywood Catering van was setting up for breakfast outside the building that would serve as our cafeteria and holding area for actors, crew, and extras. A row of tables set up just inside the door was spread with craft foods. The smell of French toast and fresh brewed coffee wafted into the air. Four rows of make-Up, wardrobe, and cast trailers were parked in the next parking lot where I was told to leave my van. The 2nd Assistant Director found me there and directed me to wait in the cafeteria where a few of the other volunteer actors were seated. I was surprised to see so many crew. It takes a lot of people to make a feature film. After signing release paperwork a group of us were taken to get costumes and make-up done. Being in the Canadian Air Force my hair was already at the right length for a war drama. One of the men in our group had to get clipped.

Because I don't want to give away any spoilers in this blog, I can't go into the details of the scenes we shot over the course of the ten day shoot. I can say it was a lot of physical work. I felt that the cast and crew I worked with over the twelve-hour long days became like a family. The Director, Executive Producer, Producers, Director of Photography, and starring cast, were patient and kind to us. Though many of the scenes I was involved with were intense and emotional they would inject enough humor from time to time to keep things fun. Though we came to be volunteers a background actors we were given opportunities to play featured acting parts. Nathan Kimball, one of the volunteers, had his first speaking part in a feature film on this picture. Throughout the shoot in Santa Clarita in several scenes we were honored to work alongside some veteran Hollywood actors, many with the common trait that they had acted at some point in their career in the ABC TV Series GREY'S ANATOMY.

As volunteers we were given privileges. A big bonus was being able to eat from the Hollywood catering food truck. Freshly prepared salads and hot meals twice a day helped to get us through the long days. I especially liked 'Taco Tuesdays' when beef burritos were served. During the final days of the shoot in Santa Clarita it became very hot. Thankfully someone arranged to have natural frozen fruit Popsicle, and a freshly cut fruit, vendors stop by. As talent we felt appreciated.

Sunday we had the day off so I went to CBS Studios in Studio City to meet up with an old friend, Kevin Renel, who was the best man in my wedding in Pasadena in 1990. He was part of a Christian film artists' fellowship that met for prayer and worship in a small studio on the CBS lot. Before the service started I stopped at a cafe on Ventura Blvd for a dark roast coffee and sat on the outdoor patio taking in the view of the tall palm trees that lined the street. It was nice to relax after working so many 12 hour days in a row.

The most blessed part of being involved in the INDIVISIBLE movie shoot was meeting other Christian volunteers like myself, who were invited, and felt led to serve in this production. They saw it as ministry. I was able to pray with some of them as we waited for the camera and lighting crews to set up. At times we felt God's presence on set. Hopefully this will carry over to the audience after its theatrical release in the Fall of 2018. Watch it then, and you will find out.

To sign up for e-mail updates on this movie visit here:INDIVISIBLE MOVIE