News Column

Hollywood actors thank local seniors for support of film depicting veterans' struggles with PTSD

August 12, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 12--Every morning a photo of Stella Schnipper's deceased husband greets the 96-year-old by the dresser.

Her husband, Norman, was an Army veteran in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Schnipper said. The war stayed with him, though, and his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) influenced her to help three actors in their quest to create a film exploring the struggle of other soldiers.

Schnipper and other seniors, some of them military veterans, living at the Atrium of Belleville were featured in a video in which they spoke of their struggles with the disorder and support for Thunder Road -- a film seeking funding for production. Schnipper was filmed holding a photo of Norman and was joined by five other Belleville residents in their video of support.

When asked why she chose to support the film, Schnipper said it was a natural choice because of her husband's struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He couldn't watch any kind of war picture without it effecting him," Schnipper said. Norman passed away four years ago.

The video of seniors supporting the film was the brainchild of management of Arrow Senior Living, the parent company of the Atrium, and also featured residents from two other independent living communities. Atrium Executive Director Megan Jones said residents and staff were inspired by the cause and hope to bring more awareness to the disorder.

"Some of our seniors have PTSD and deal with it daily," Jones said. "So we made a film supporting Thunder Road and the actors wanted to stop by to thank us for the video."

The thespians behind Thunder Road's production, Matt Dallas, Charlie Bewley and Steven Grayhm, traveled from Los Angeles to thank Atrium residents on Sunday for lending their support for production of the film Thunder Road.

Dallas said it was a pleasure visiting with the residents who lent their support to the project and their loved ones. Dallas is known for his lead role in ABC Family's show "Kyle XY."

"This is an issue that needs to be brought to the surface," Dallas said of PTSD. "Millions of veterans are coming home and in need of proper care." An estimated 22 veterans committed suicide each day in the United States in 2010, according to a recently released reported from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

The film project was spurred by a nationwide road trip 2 1/2 years ago when they met with veterans, active duty military members and their families, along with PTSD clinicians and neuro-psychologists, Grayhm said. Grayhm wrote, directed and produced an award-winning short film based upon a Polish couple's attempt to save their son from a Nazi labor camp in World War II.

"Our aim is to create an authentic and accurate piece. To lift the veil on post-traumatic stress disorder, to learn more about our soldiers returning home and the veterans as they attempt to integrate into civilian life," Grayhm said. "Our aim is to bring about change and awareness. As much as we're looking to entertain we're looking to educate as well. This is an epidemic. ... We want to bring this cause to the forefront and we believe strongly Thunder Road will do that."

Grayhm began working on the script for the film in 2003. The story details the struggle of a returning U.S. soldier suffering from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury in the wake of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bewley said PTSD is not just a war issue and can affect anyone who experienced a trauma in their life, such as losing someone close to them. Bewley played the vampire Demetri in The Twilight Saga films and has a recurring role in the television series The Vampire Diaries.

"It's a loss or memory that causes present day pain and we find there are terrible cases of people who cannot get over those hurdles," Bewley said. "It comes to the point they would rather die than actually relive those moments. By the same token, there are people who have successfully leveraged that pain to lead great lives in their community. The whole process is so curable if we approach it from the right angle."

The film also explores the psychological repercussions of the war among the returning veterans, many of whom do not meet the stereotype of the older veteran, Dallas said.

"Going out and meeting with these people you see these are men and women in their early 20s, or even younger, that have seen some of the most horrific and extraordinary things and are dealing with PTSD," Dallas said. "It was shocking to me they walk among us and we're absolutely clueless what these men and women have gone through."

The trio is raising funds for the project and aims to raise $750,000 to produce the film. To make a contribution or for more information about the film, visit the website www.thunderroadfilm.com.

Bewley said they chose the nontraditional path to fund the film's production after some Hollywood investors passed on the film in search of other films catering towards the expendable income of 14- to 24-year-old women. Those investors ignored an awaiting audience, he said.

"There is an existing audience out there who want to see this movie made," Bewley said. "That existing audience hasn't been considered by some people we were approaching to get this investment from. Typical Hollywood investors tend to look at certain demographics and cater towards them. ... So it's basically taking the power out of their hands and putting it back into our own. We become the producers of the whole thing and get to keep our creative license."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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(c)2013 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

Visit the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.) at www.bnd.com

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