Imagine that it’s 1968, three weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and you are one of two African-American soldiers in a US Army unit. The war is beginning to enter its most brutal stage and you are told that you will be on point for the next patrol. As you head out on patrol, you don’t walk past the American flag as you leave the base, but the Confederate one.
It’s a tough story from a time in American history that is so complicated that we’re still wrestling with the issues today. And a filmmaker here in Greensboro is tackling it, as both his first screenplay and his first major film production.
“In its most basic form, the movie is about a couple of guys who get separated from their platoon,” writer and producer Phil Blattenberger said. “But it’s really an ambitious project. I took the setting from a situation that happened at a fire base in Vietnam and started doing the script in March. The script just wrote itself.”
There’s a lot to tackle in the two-hour movie’s script. The overarching Vietnam War story isn’t one that Hollywood has brought to the screen very many times, only 43 times in major movies by Blattenberger’s count, in part because of the turmoil the war caused here at home. Beyond the war itself, the movie is set in the crux of the Civil Rights movement and the main characters are at the sharp end of that stick, trying to stay alive and wondering just who and what they are really fighting for.
“The Vietnamese were watching what was happening in our country and they were masters of psychological warfare,” Blattenberger explained. “The Vietnamese knew to jump on this and in firefights they would shout in English ‘Go home Soul Brothers, this isn’t your war!’ It had to weigh heavy on those guys.
“These were 18-year-old GIs who were sent off to fight,” he continued, speaking of both the main characters and US soldiers at the time. “They didn’t have a philosophy at the start but to fight alongside each other and try to get back home.”
That’s both the macro and micro story of Point Man when you distill it down, whether it’s just making it back to a base that is barely less hostile than the actual battleground, or a hometown an ocean away that might be a battlefield itself before you make it back.
How do you tackle making such a movie, especially if it’s your first and you don’t have a movie studio on speed dial? In Blattenberger’s case, you grab some folks with know-how and just get to work.
“I was a one-man band here for a while â€“ director, producer, doing the writing myself, getting the period authentic gear together for costuming,” Blattenberger said. “Then my friend Dan Black, who works as a casting director, jumped in and we started looking for actors.
“I thought we might have 50 people to pick from,” he continued,” but over 3,000 people contacted us, wanting to be a part of this. There were actors contacting us from all over the U.S., Europe and even India. We whittled that down to 250 and then we spent a week watching videos to get the number down to 80. Two weeks ago we asked them all to come in and we did auditions at the DoubleTree Hotel here in Greensboro.”
After working with the actors both in individual and group tryouts, they were able to cast both of their lead roles and fill out their supporting cast. Immediately afterward the group were in costume and filming the first trailer for the movie on a plot of land in Kernersville.
Kernersville? You might be surprised by where some of the locations for movie shoots have been located. The producers of Forrest Gump chose South Carolina for filming the Vietnam war segments, and if you’ve ever watched M*A*S*H* you probably noticed that their version of South Korea looked a lot like Southern California.
And a good portion of Point Man will be filmed locally, Blattenberger said. The US Army post at Long Binh will be recreated using local real estate and many of the interior and close shots will be done here as well. He will be working extensively with his director of photography Daniel Troyer to bring the necessary scenes to life.
Some things, however, just can’t be done in the confines of the Triad.
“We’re headed down to Atlanta on Sept. 27 to shoot scenes with a Huey (Vietnam War-era Bell UH-1 helicopter) from the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation,” he said. There they will shoot LZ approaches, landings and take-offs with the cast. In post-production they will use CGI and composite shots to create a wave of Air Cavalry helicopters coming into the battlefield.
“When we ran the numbers, it became clear that we could actually save about $10,000 by filming part of the scenes in Cambodia,” Blattenberger explained. “So we’ll be heading over there with the cast and crew in January to film.”
Blattenberger’s experience backpacking through the area will pay off, not just in location selection and knowledge of the local culture, but in picking up extras to work during the shoots. Plans are to not just cast locals in the roles of the Vietcong, but to also bring in a lot of the backpackers visiting the area to fill in for GIs.
It’s a huge endeavor, and plans are to finish Point Man before next May. In the near term, there’s still costuming and equipment to gather, gear to ship and shots to work out to make the most of the time available. Editing a film is easier now than ever before, thanks to digitized production, but there’s still the labor of getting just the right pieces together to tell the story. Add to that the CGI work of adding in explosions and muzzle flashes for each combat scene, plus color correction and adding in all of the needed sound effects and the team has its work cut out for it.
Right now, there isn’t a distribution deal lined up, but once there’s a finished product in hand, the sky could be the limit. It’s a monumental task, but somehow they will get it done. Local screenings will probably come first and then the traditional route of working the film festival circuit.
It might seem like a long way to go and a small chance to make it, but something says that Point Man will eventually make it home.
If you’d like to take a look at what’s happening with Point Man, you can take a look at the teaser trailer on YouTube. If you’d like to be even more involved with the project, there is a funding page on Indiegogo where you can be a part of the production.
On Sunday, September 18th there will be a special fundraising event held at Churchill’s On Elm in Greensboro. You can come down and meet some of the folks involved and participate in a raffle where the prizes include Vietnam-era gear and even a chance to Huey helicopter in full gear in the movie, Blattenberger said. If you’d like more information about the event, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. !