Kickstarter has become one of the most effective ways to find backers for films that might not otherwise find enough funding to go into - or in some cases, finish up - production. The most successful case of the general public backing a movie is Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars Movie Project Kickstarter campaign. Fans have demanded a Veronica Mars movie since the end of the series, yet funding just wasn't available through the normal channels. Thomas turned to Kickstarter and within days broke records for the amount of funds received. Setting a goal of $2 million, the Veronica Mars campaign actually collected $5,702,153 from over 91,000 backers.
Other filmmakers have turned to Kickstarter for funding, and recently Spike Lee was in the news because of his campaign to raise money and his offer of dinner and court-side New York Knicks ticket for donors who contribute $10,000 to his project. But most filmmakers who turn to the funding source don't have the resources at Lee's disposal. Case in point: Matt Dallas, Charlie Bewley, and Steven Grayhm's Thunder Road Kickstarter Campaign kicking off on July 31, 2013. Their goal is to raise $1 million in order to get Thunder Road, an independent film about the post-war lives of three soldiers who served the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, into production. Grayhm, Dallas, and Bewley did extensive research, traveling the U.S. and talking to real veterans who've experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their time served in the military. The film will examine how difficult it can be to return to civilian life and the psychological effects of trying to fit back in the civilian world.
I had previously spoken with Steven Grayhm, Matt Dallas, and Charlie Bewley during their lengthy road trip visiting veterans in order to get the Thunder Road script as accurate as possible. At that time they were busy collecting stories and in the process of writing the screenplay. Now, with the script ready to go and an eye on starting filming next winter in Detroit, I caught up with Dallas, Bewley, and Grayhm as the Kickstarter Campaign is ready to launch.
Exclusive Matt Dallas, Charlie Bewley and Steven Grayhm Interview
How important is the Kickstarter campaign to getting Thunder Road off the ground?
Matt Dallas: "It's absolutely crucial. We've have been seeing a lot of filmmakers react to the industry right now and it's just getting harder and harder to get a film made, especially as an independent filmmaker to get your actual story told, the actual story that you always set out to tell. So now being able to raise your own money, whether it be through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, it allows you to be able to hold onto the original intention of the film from the beginning as opposed to selling it to a studio or some other producer who then can go and completely change your film.
We had actually been talking about Kickstarter for the past two years, but we never really pulled the trigger. And then when Veronica Mars had such success with theirs, we decided to go that route. And then as we were putting our Kickstarter together, Zach Braff's came about and he had a huge success as well. That kind of was just the confirmation that we needed that this was the right avenue for us."
Charlie Bewley: "It really is just helping a neighbor out, helping out that community. Veterans are amongst us every day. It's like one in 15 people now is a veteran and people who have been affected by military life and veteran life, that goes up to like one in 10, one in nine. It really is just helping out your neighbor, and in fact the point of this project is to put it in people's faces exactly what is going on with the veterans. [The film] will help take the veil off this sort of secret subculture of people and in doing that we're hoping to help veterans integrate into our society. In doing this Kickstarter campaign, we are really trying to bring them all together in one community and show the world what they go through."
You've been working on Thunder Road and putting in time on the research and script over the past few years. Since we last spoke two years ago, have you been doing further research or has most of the work been finishing the script?
Steven Grayhm: "What's happened basically in the last two years, I worked on the script full time when we got back from the road trip and I felt there was just one piece missing which was there was a particular soldier that a lot of people across the country that we met with had insisted that I meet with. We weren't sure if he would take my phone call, if he would be receptive to me, but he wasn't a guy that we could actually have met that summer two years ago. So in December of 2011, I connected with him and he invited me to come stay with him in Pittsburgh. For the next month I worked on the script with him, and he's a veteran who suffers from severe PTSD. He saw his best friend get killed right in front of him in a sheep pen in Iraq and that story now exists within Thunder Road. His journey as a civilian and as a soldier is very much what I based the character Calvin Cole, which I play in the film, on. So, there was that.
Then I went to England to research more for Charlie's character and I met with Allied Forces there and veterans. I met with a disabled veteran who had stepped on a land mine and lost both of his legs from the waist down. We spent some time with him and, so yeah, it didn't just stop at the road trip. And then from that point on I was just writing every day and then we began to take meetings."
Matt Dallas: "And just to build on that a little bit too, coming home from this road trip and having gathered all of the stories and accounts that we had, we realized that our story had taken a turn. There was absolutely so much that Steven had changed from the original idea or from the original script that was what we originally set out to make, because as you met with people you just started to realize that there was so much more story to be told. So over the past two years, on top of building on his original story, it's been implementing all of the research that we had gathered and then being open to the story changing to accommodate all of those stories."
Have you stayed in contact with the veterans you've spoken to over the years as you were doing the research?
Matt Dallas: "Oh, absolutely. We're actually meeting up with a lot of them again going out on the road trip this time. We even have some of the guys that we met in Minnesota, they've set up fundraisers for us. So, absolutely. Steven, I know, is on the phone with them daily, talking to the guys from all over the country. I shouldn't say guys: men and women."
You're planning a road trip to coincide with the Kickstarter campaign. What do you have lined up and why will you be on the road again?
Steven Grayhm: "We'll be leaving Los Angeles around, I believe, August 3rd. We'll be doing press locally first and then leaving Los Angeles and we'll be going in a similar sort of trajectory that we did last time. The plan thus far, and without listing off everything, we'll be going to Texas, to South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Minnesota, stop in Toronto because there's going to be a premiere there for the film. We didn't really do middle America on our first road trip and this time we are going to stop through Matt's home town of Phoenix. We'll basically go where people will have us, where we can spread the word."
Charlie Bewley: "It probably is worth saying at this point that Steven really is the glue that binds us in this whole thing. He has taken this from the word go and he worked hard and tirelessly for three years. He really needs a holiday, so hopefully when we get out on the road we'll have a good time."
Why have you remained so passionate about this particular story and what is it you're hoping to share with audiences worldwide in Thunder Road?
Steven Grayhm: "I think the biggest thing, the most serious thing about this project is there's 2.3 Americans veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars and at least 20 to 30% of them have PTSD or depression or both. The military counselors are saying that that is just what's being reported and that there's actually much more. It's an epidemic. I feel like if we can do anything out of this project, it's just giving a voice to the ghosts that walk amongst us. That's it.
And I just want to reiterate or to add to what Matt said about how the story changed. I had no way to anticipate that, but in such a beautiful way it changed from the road trip and from the research that I did. There was just so much more heart to it and it just really spoke to the human spirit. It spoke to my spirit and I hope that it speaks to our audience's spirit."
Matt Dallas: "I just think we don't realize how affected everybody is. We're at a point in society where we've never been as disconnected from a war as we do feel now because we just have a way now with technology to kind of like live in our own bubble. So to be able to like lift that veil and present this issue to the world has been something that we're so excited about."
Charlie Bewley: "It's the idea that I have so much in my life, I have to give back at every opportunity. This has always been that opportunity to give back on a massive scale, because we've got so many veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The type of people that actually know what's going on in their heads...you can make many assumptions, we did before we started our research on the basis. And then to almost forget about them once they get back, I just think it's an absolute travesty and so to actually have a public forum to highlight that is important. I think the public awareness on the lives of veterans is lacking right now."
Why do you think this story about the recent wars and the return of veterans with PTSD hasn't been done yet?
Matt Dallas: "I think because people are afraid it's not going to make money. The bottom line, and this is actually the meetings we've had with actual producers, there are people that are obsessed with, 'Dramas don't make money.' They believe you can't put people in the theaters and they want big action stars and big action movies. That I can tell you from experience from sitting in these meetings. But we don't believe that to be true. I believe that if you have a good story and especially something like this that speaks to many people out there right now, that so many people are affected by, I think that people will absolutely go see this movie because already with the amount of veterans that are coming back right now, and their families, and the people that are affected, I think it's absolutely a story that people would want to see. I think it's a story that people need to see."
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