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1) Act of Valor is the number one movie in America. When you first began writing the screenplay, did you know you were creating something special?
I did know it would be very special. I trusted the filmmakers Scott Waugh and Mike “Mouse” McCoy completely. This was a rare moment to create something from the ground up and honor the men of the Naval Special Warfare Community and their families. This is a film about 5 acts of valor that did happen to SEALs in combat in the last decade of sustained deployments and combat. It had to be right. The film wants to celebrate to courage of these men. It is a Navy centered film. But for me it is all people of serve in the 5 branches of the military. Also, firemen, police officers, first responders. Let’s open up the conversation. What is an act of valor? What can we do in our own lives to author our own Act of Valor? You don’t need to be a SEAL to do this, a kid on a play ground standing up against a bully. That in it’s own way is an Act of Valor.
So it is a special film and is a deeply personal film for me. At the end of Act of Valor the filmmakers roll the names of 60 SEALs that have been killed over the last 10 years and 21 of those men I knew personally. So writing a clear and authentic account of their sacrifice for my country and myself was very important to me.
2) What are some of the challenges, if any, in writing for non actors? Do you script scenes differently?
There were many challenges. First find a Geo-Political story that was possible. This was done by speaking to friends I have within both the U.S. Military and Intelligence worlds. Without sounding like an alarmist. Threats to our country come in all shapes and sizes from all over the globe. Lucky for most of us, there are many men and women serve our country and protect us. I think the biggest challenge was we all knew that no actor could do what these guys do, but could they do what actors do? So I created the keel and structure of the film, wrote out the action and dialogue. But if the SEALs were in a scene and wanted to use their own words or would say, this is want I would do or say here. Everyone was flexible enough to allow that to happen. It was truly a once and a lifetime experience for everyone involved.
3) Did the Navy SEALs give feedback early on, letting you know what would and would not work?
I knew several of the SEALs that are in the film before hand. Yes, I was able to weave in things about their personal histories that gave their character depth. For instance one of the SEALs Chief Dave has two brothers that are firemen in NYC. Both his brothers serve at NYFD station houses that responded to 9-11. They were very proud of their little brother, serving in the U.S. Military and bring justice to those who murdered so many people for on our soil that day. In closing we had a screening for NYPD and NYFD a few weeks ago, Chief Dave has there with his family and it was pretty cool to have everything come full circle.
4) You began your career in film as a tech. What drew you to screenwriting?
I think is was the idea of finding my own voice and getting a voice to the voiceless. It is the process of being quiet and in solitude that interested me. Creating a world and showing it honestly. Many people in the film world, need others to do their craft. Directors, actors, camera departments and grip departments, all need each other, it is a team. But I am able to work my craft from the start with just me. I always can be writing and getting better without having to wait for someone else.
5) You have said you find yourself attracted to projects about warriors. What is a warrior, to you, and why are those specific characters so appealing?
The code of their world is attractive to me. I live a very martial life. Discipline and honesty are important. Integrity and character are things that are important. All qualities to live daily. I think true warriors look to prefect themselves and their lives. To live with honor and be humble about it. That is pretty cool thing, it is a life well lived, to serve something greater than self-interest.
6) Can you tell our readers about some of your upcoming projects?
I co-wrote a film called 300 and just finished co-writing the prequel/sequel for Warner Brothers. They start shooting this summer and it comes out summer of 2013. I wrote another film called The Last Photograph, which has Sean Penn and Christian Bale attached. Zack Snyder who directed 300 and is finishing the new Superman movie will direct this. I also just completed a re-write for Jim Mangold on a project called The Gunslinger, a modern day western. Lastly, I am hoping to start working on a project with Harrison Ford called Black Hats, where Harrison plays an aging Wyatt Earp. There are some more irons in the fire, but I can’t speak about them at this time.
Mad Mike’s America thanks Kurt Johnstad for sharing his insight with our readers. We congratulate him on his success and look forward to enjoying his upcoming projects.