An actor and screenwriter who lived some of his formative years in Copperas Cove while his father was stationed at Fort Hood as a helicopter pilot is set to hit the big screen in an Indie film titled “American Desert,” a gritty drama from RBW International Inc.
Will Brandt, known for his roles in “Animal Kingdom” and “Jane the Virgin,” co-wrote the film with Sundance alum Adrian Bartol, who is directing the movie. The film centers around Matt Benning, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan who finds himself entangled in a dangerous web of drugs, violence and toxic love that eventually has him running — and hiding — for his life. Production on the film commenced July 28 in the Mojave Desert and is set to be released mid-to-late 2019.
A lot of things got Brandt interested in doing the film.
“My conditioning as a child and growing up in the military was a nice background for this,” he said. “As compared to being in Hollywood and seeing how ... detached everyone is from that world, how foreign it is for them, and also seeing the types of films that were coming out and their lack of scope of reality they were doing justice to.”
A lot of veterans, many of them combat vets, end up in Los Angeles after their service, Brandt said, giving him and his writing partner the opportunity to run the idea by the “experts” to see if it was a story they would be interested in.
“We started exploring it and found there was a story there,” he said. “A lot of doors opened. One of the gentlemen in the film, named Tim Abell, is an ex-Delta Force operator, and I did as much research as I could with him. I grew up in the military, but I don’t know what it’s like to go fight. So to stand in their shoes and say, ‘oh, I know what it’s like,’ is a complete fallacy. That was my biggest struggle — to step into those shoes ... those are big shoes to fill.”
Abell was able to introduce Brandt to a host of other combat veterans who had experienced some of the things Brandt’s character is facing — to include dealing with Veterans Affairs for medical care, the over-prescription of pain killers and the fight to get off the drugs once addicted.
“American Desert” is set in 2010 during the big draw-down of forces, and Brandt’s character is caught up in the middle of it.
“He’s an Army infantryman and he’s trying to assimilate back into society,” he said. “He comes back to small-town America and tries to get a job, and there’s not a whole lot of jobs to be had, despite his real-world experience. He’s also seen some stuff and has been described a myriad of different medications. He’s just trying to make sense of his new life.”
The character, Benning, meets a girl named Brandi Wells (played by Ruby Modine from “Shameless”) who isn’t quite the best for him. Both have their own demons, which tend to play off of each other in negative ways.
“He’s on a lot of narcotics, this guy that I’m playing, and that doesn’t allow for the healing of (post traumatic stress) — the brain just keeps swelling,” Brandt said. “Matt’s having a hard time sleeping and at the same time he’s a normal young man, wanting to do the normal things young men do. He’s finding it almost impossible to do that, his PTSD is getting worse and he can’t find any sort of relief for that, so he turns to other things. We kind of deal with that in the film.”
Brandt said he hopes the story will appeal to not only veterans, but to those who don’t understand them.
“I hope it also appeals to civilians so they can understand service members a little better,” he said. “I hope that I represent everyone well in the movie, and I’m grateful for everything (the soldiers) do for us and our country.”
The film also stars Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers, Top Gun), Robert LaSardo (Nip/Tuck, Death Race), Callum Blue (The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Colombiana) and Amber Coney (Dead of Summer, Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?).
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