Interview with the director Sam Medina
by Alice Lussiana Parente
I had the great honor of interviewing Sam Medina, the actor, director, and writer of the feature film ‘22 – The Unforgotten Soldier’: a touching story about two marines bonding and helping each other to survive the statistic of 22 suicides per day among veterans. In this interview we dive deep into the soul of the film, we talk about Sam’s artistic background, the writing process, and the preparation behind those gut-wrenching and brilliant acting performances. Enjoy!
1. Can you tell us something about your background and what brought you to filmmaking? Originally, I was a music producer. After Hurricane Katrina, I lost everything. This event led me to become a construction worker outside of Homedepot and Lowes. The Film Incentives in the State of Louisiana brought many productions here. I chose this path after being sick from breathing in all of the mold from the flood. 2. Sam, you began your career as an actor. How was for you the transition from acting into filmmaking? I have been an actor for 16 years now and it was natural to progress over to be a storyteller from my perspective growing up as a child of The Vietnam War. Having been directed by Legendary Directors such as Oliver Stone, James Cameron, Antoine Fuqua, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Campbell, Edward Zwick and Peter Berg, I studied their processes immensely to infuse my work as a Director. 3. What are the toughest aspects of making a film today? Making a film today can be tough due to the fact that the process is slightly different. It used to be about “The Story”. But now, It’s more about who is trending on social media. To complete a full length Feature Film is a monumental task in itself. I believe every aspect of making a film is tough but we are tougher and it can be done despites all the obstacles. Our film survived 4 Hurricanes. There is a section at the end reserved for our Cinematographer Larry R. Mckee as he tragically just passed away recently and has not even seen his work in this film. 4. What is your favorite war movie and who is the director that inspired you the most while working on this project? My favorite war movie is Lone Survivor. Peter Berg, who I was extremely fortunate to spend months with on Mile 22, inspired me to tell this story under the harsh conditions we were facing.
5. You wrote and produced 22 – The Unforgotten Soldier during the pandemic. How did the lockdown and the isolation affected the writing process and how did the restrictions change the production schedule and filming?
The original script had 12 pages written from 2015. I locked myself in our spare bedroom for 3 months to finish the script. Due to the lockdown, we chose locations that my wife/producing partner were able to acquire through our resources over the years. We kept it simple. Most of the scenes were filmed in our home.
6. Can you tell us more about Overlook Entertainment, your production company?
The Birth of Overlook Entertainment came from so many years of rejections and being overlooked. As the old cliche in Hollywood says, “if you want something”, you have to go out and create it for yourself.
7. Directors work in very different ways with actors. Stanley Kubrick rehearsed every single take a hundred times until the scene came out exactly the way he envisioned it, others like Drake Doremus and Derek Cianfrance improvise on set most of the script. How do you personally work with your actors especially being an actor yourself? Do you leave space for improvisation, or do you prefer to rehearse every single moment?
Because I am an actor, I take the greatest care of my actors’ emotional state of mind. Our emotions as human beings are extremely fragile. I don’t rehearse if a scene requires our actors to reach deep down to pull from the hardest and deepest parts of themselves. I do believe in leaving room for some improvisation due to the nature of this being a film. For a TV Series, It has to be words for words verbatim from The Studios or Networks.
8. I particularly loved the locations in the movie. Where did filming take place and how challenging was the location scouting especially during the pandemic?
Thank You. I have to give this to Carla Seneca and Our amazing producing partner Michael Halverson. Carla was responsible for all Louisiana locations. For those Flashback Scenes, it was Michael Halverson through his years of contacts.
9. The character of Daniel reminds me at times of Lieutenant Dan Taylor in Forest Gump, especially when he says that he should have died on the field, in truth the character is based on a real person Daniel Gonzales, and you did a great job portraying his struggle. How did you prepare for this role?
Thank You once again for your kind words about Lieutenant Dan per Gary Sinise. I‘ve known Daniel for about 5 years. Through our friendship, I was able to get inside his mind and dissect the PTSD and TBI that our soldiers face once back home from WAR(s). I also infused some inspirations from Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July.
10. The scenes of the support meetings are especially touching and slightly move into a more documentary direction. Was that the intent? How did you prepare them with the actors? Are they inspired by real stories?
Thank You for noticing those sections. I never intended to write any dialogues for those scenes nor cast “ACTORS”. Those were all Veterans. We wanted to make a film with Veterans to help save other Veterans. I could have never written anything remotely close to what those Veterans brought to the Film. There are many awards and achievements in that room. Among those are 3 Purple Heart Recipients. 2 of those in these segments are still active in The Army.
11. There is a lot of “searching for faith” in the movie. Daniel struggles to find himself being an injured veteran but nevertheless keeps on fighting and believing that becoming what you want is possible and that somehow, we are guided by God. What is the message that you wanted to communicate to the audience? I believe that anyone or even for me, life can lead you to become tormented, hopeless, despair and lose your way at some point. On our journey through life, we must find hope, strength, courage, faith to push through somehow and redefine our purposes. 12. How did you choose the soundtrack for the film? Can you tell us more about the collaboration with your composer? Now that is a full story in itself. Every morning, I would head to the gym and listen to countless music tracks on Youtube for the entire year. I came across Idan Itzhayek, a music composer with a track titled “ Stop The War”. I chased him down and convinced him to join our journey to tell this story. This particular track is the Theme of our film because Idan composed this track as he sat by his window and War was happening outside. He is in Australia, with a 15 hour difference in time. Needless to say, I have not had proper sleep for over a year. (insert a laugh here) 13. SPOILER ALERT – Daniel does find happiness by the end of the film but more importantly he finds a support system. How important do you think it is for veterans to find the right therapy and emotional support to overcome their trauma? It is of the utmost importance that Veterans get the help they desperately need. Any small flashes of nightmares can trigger their PTSD. Spoiler Alert- Those voice overs are from Jocko Willink- Ex Navy Seal and now author. I listened to his Podcasts as I was writing the script for 22 and during the time when I had to become a tormented soul. I was extremely proud when he gave us permission to use it for our film. It meant a lot to me personally. It is also a stamp of approval from a decorated soldier who is willing to help us help our Veterans. Over 90% of our Cast and Crew are Veterans. 14. What’s next for you? What are you working on right now? We hope to save the lives of Veterans who may be thinking about going down that path of becoming a statistic of 22 through watching this film. Hence the name 22 The Unforgotten Soldier. I have put Carla Seneca’s career on the backburner so now it is time for me to prepare for her Action, Thriller film – EXILE – I would also like to add: Thank You for this in depth interview of asking these great questions about a project that is a fruit of love from the entire Cast and Crew. We appreciate you!