Hollywood is on its way to the He-artland and this time it's with the intention of getting it right. A team of actors and filmmakers will be in Granite Falls to interview veterans Saturday of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Since they left Los Angeles on July 15, the filmmakers have been traveling across the nation to listen to first-hand accounts of what veterans of these conflicts experienced as soldiers and how they re-assimilated into the lives they left behind. Their goal is to produce the movie "Thunder Road'' that will offer an honest portrayal of the war experience.
The research has taken many turns they had not expected, said actor Charlie Bewley, a star of the "Twilight" series, but remains true to their goal. "As filmmakers we get more and more excited because we know that something we are making is novel really.
This sort of film cannot be Hollywood-ized.
... it's a real account of what they are.''
Bewley was speaking by phone on the road in Tennessee earlier this week. He was joined by fellow actor Steven Grayhm, star of "The Five People You Meet in Heavan," and Matt Dallas of ABC Family's "Kyle XY.''
The traveling team also includes a documentarian, Brad Baudot, and a disabled veteran, Elizabeth Cook.
Their cross-country circuit -- dubbed "Into the Heart of America: Soldier's Story'' -- has included stops in communities from Texas to Niagara Falls to the Veteran's National Wheelchair Championship Games in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Granite Falls made it on their map thanks to their pre-travel research. They came across accounts of how Yellow Medicine County Veterans Service Officer Michelle Gatz worked with veterans to develop a memorial to those who served on the courthouse grounds in Granite Falls.
The group contacted Gatz and said her enthusiasm was the deciding factor in Granite Falls being added to their itinerary. Gatz has the mayor lined up to present a key to the city to the group upon arrival they arrive.
Gatz said local volunteers are hosting two days of activities for the film crew, including a tour of the area and kayak trip. She has also lined up six veterans from the region who will share their stories in a one-on-one setting with the film crew.
Gatz is inviting other veterans to come and meet informally with the filmmakers so they can hear other perspectives as well. There are opportunities to meet with the filmmakers starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the American Legion near the municipal dam in Granite Falls. The Legion is hosting a public, free will offering barbecue for the film makers and all guests, followed by an evening of music and dance.
Bewley noted that while Hollywood has produced all manner of films about war, few really have focused on the psychological realities of what it is like for veterans returning home.
He said the crew has come to appreciate just how much of a sacrifice veterans must make to serve their country, and how great their challenge is in returning to it. "The mental scars of war are something you don't really see until you sit down with someone and gain their trust and suddenly their eyes well up over something very innocuous and suddenly, you have the gateway to what they are covering up, the walls they have put up.''
He said the crew has heard stories that veterans have kept from spouses and loved ones. It has served to make the stakes all the higher, he and Grayhm noted. They want to be true to the veterans.
After their visit to Granite Falls, the crew will return for a wrap up interview with veterans in Texas. They hope to begin pre-production work this autumn with the goal of producing "Thunder Road'' in the coming year.
Gatz said she hopes their visit to Granite Falls will help them gain insight into the veterans' experience from a rural, Minnesota perspective. And, she added, she hopes it might plant a seed that western Minnesota offers the perfect setting to make a movie.