During the inaugural Fandemic Tour Sacramento weekend, I found myself coming across a variety of things. At nearly every vendor, there was something I was interested in purchasing or picking up, or there was something at which I just wanted to stop and take a look. While I wandered the main floor, I came across a booth for a movie called Warfighter. I had never heard of the movie prior to Fandemic, but, having a love for military-related history and cinema, my interest was immediately piqued.
I had briefly chatted with Jerry G. Angelo - the film’s star, producer, writer, and director - on my first day attending Fandemic, but then decided I wanted to pick his brain a little more in regards to the movie. So, the next day, I went back to his booth and asked if he would be interested in doing an interview. He agreed to do so, and also had another one of the film’s actors, Scott Engrotti, as well as Army veteran Christine Maag share a few words about the movie as well.
How did this come about? Where did the inspiration for it come from?
Jerry G. Angelo: I was on the set of Lone Survivor. Do you know who Marcus Luttrell is?
JGA: I was with Marcus Luttrell. We were off to the side, like 100 yards off, and we were shooting the helicopters on the hydraulics. That was the day we were recreating the moment in which all of his brothers and sisters got killed in the helicopter. And we were talking, and all of a sudden, he kind of just went quiet. There was a gaze and I was just there, and there was just this incredible weight that was between us. And, as I tell everyone, that’s when the first little ember of inspiration started. It was like, “Wow!” Here we are, everyone’s doing their regular job on the film set, and here we are recreating this moment. No one really caught on with that for him. I just felt this weight. I took that feeling, and three and a half years later, we have Warfighter. That’s it in a nutshell. There are a million other things that happened in between it.
Is this more about the [soldier’s] struggle with PTSD? What’s the main synopsis?
JGA: The main synopsis is a Navy SEAL with nightmarish PTSD and his teammates rescue American POW in a heartfelt story of family, brotherhood, and sacrifice. That’s the nutshell on that part. The movie is a full encompassing, smart story about this particular group of people, family, and them going through the transition of what it’s like to be at home, to be a family, and also be like a military family. [It’s about] someone who deals with PTSD and how it affects everyone. It carries on to getting to meet the team together in a social situation, where their camaraderie as just family and friends back home and then they transition to get the message that they’re going to be on a mission and you see how there’s that weight that comes with the territory. They say goodbye to their families and they go on their mission. That’s a one-way ticket.
You said this is the first feature film that you directed?
JGA: Yeah. Well, I’ve produced 10 feature films. This is my first that I’ve really directed. We actually also have a film… do you know Fangoria?
Yes, I do.
JGA: So, our follow-up to Warfighter is called Artik, and it just had an exclusive release with Fangoria. You can check out the trailer on that. It’s like Silence of the Lambs and Saw, kind of. It’s a smart, psychological thriller with horror aspects to it.
What was the directing experience like for you as a first-time director? Were you nervous at all?
JGA: Oh, no. I’ve been directing… I’ve probably directed two or three dozen short films, web series, commercials, and music videos. Directing, writing, and producing [are] just something that is just very natural for me. Directing is just knowing your story, understanding the characters, and understanding the people you cast for the roles and knowing their ability to let them to bring whatever it is that they want to the table. You can make adjustments and stuff. It’s fun. It’s just a fun experience to see the story develop.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about the movie or working on it?
JGA: Yeah, totally. First, I would like you to speak to my friends, Scott and Christine, if you could do that as well. Warfighter is available on Amazon. We are self-distributing. We had hoped… we talked to hundreds of reps, sales distributors, so we’re going to be going to different countries and all that as well. But we got started on Amazon. And, yeah, the trailer is online.
OK, thank you.
JGA: Thanks, bud.
Scott Engrotti: Yeah, I just want to add one little quick thing to what he said. This movie started as a vehicle for us to actually progress our careers, and it ended up being a movement. After the question and answer [session] we had, the involvement of all of the veterans in the audience with their emotional stories kind of puts things really into perspective about what it means to be an actor. We get to act like how they live every day. We get to go home to a nice little house, nice fire. They’re going back to their corridors, their bunks, their battlefields. When they do come home, they’re still fighting the same battles they were fighting over there - probably worse. This thing has turned into the movement that it is, and we’re going to take it city by city, base by base, and grow it from the ground up with vets for vets and do as much as we possibly can. [Jerry] told you about Christine. This lady is a phenomenon. I think she wanted to say one thing as well.
Christine Maag: Yes.
Thank you, Scott.
SE: Thank you.
What was your involvement with the movie?
CM: I actually got associated with the movie after its first premiere. They reached out to some of the organizations in the veteran community - VFW, American Legion, stuff like that - on social media, and I responded to Jerry’s comment on social media and he answered me back, “Do you know any veterans?” Do I know any veterans? [laughs] So I told my story, and that I served almost 18 years in the Army and that I took the option for early retirement after serving in three tours in Iraq with 68W as a U.S. Army combat medic. I did earn my combat medic badge for being directly engaged in combat in Iraq for my second tour.
Right around the time that they were looking to do their movie premiere was the 10th anniversary of the loss of my best friend. He was also a fellow combat medic. So, they asked me, “Would you like to become our veteran representative for the film and be in these Q&A sessions?” They explained the platform for what they wanted to do and everything like that, and I was very honored to do that. I watched the film. I think the film is something that has a lot of integrity in the way it represents the sacrifice and the aspect of it all. I loved [the way] that they represent the families as well. So, like [Scott] said, this whole thing has become more than a movie, it’s a movement now. We go to cities and towns, and they take their film and they reach out to veterans and veteran service organizations and try to get the vets involved. The actors come and they do the Q&As afterward, and I’ve moderated most of them, and the vets just get up and tell their stories and share their stories. It’s a really moving and cathartic moment for everyone involved. It helps them, because they’re providing inspiration for these guys to get more veterans’ stories out there. It helps the vets, because it gets the vets to share their experiences.
So, you guys are here at Fandemic. Is there anywhere else you’re going to? What’s the next big event?
CM: I think the next big event for them is going to be a premiere. They’re going to Chicago. There’s a farm that’s [for] PTSD therapy. They also teach you how to do agriculture and everything. They’re providing a life after military service as well. They provide training and therapy. The people who run the farm are friends of Scott’s, and they invited him up there. They’re going to do a premiere up there, and it’s going to be free to veterans.