Filmmaker would talk with Obama about PTSD

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The son of a famous stunt family, Ric Roman Waugh grew up on movie sets, performing stunts in blockbuster films including “Gone in Sixty Seconds” and “Total Recall.” Waugh is passionate about making commercial films that also have a social conscience. He’s written more than 30 studio-based feature film screenplays and is currently in production on the documentary “Return of the Shadow Warriors,” which follows the first Delta Force operator post-9/11 to openly discuss issues of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and what special operations solders are going through in the longest war in U.S. history. 

Next up is the feature film “Deepwater Horizon,” for producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura, Participant Media and Lionsgate. The large-scale film will focus on the courage of those who worked on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the final minutes before the well’s explosion, and the attempt of more than 100 others to stay alive while stuck 45 miles out at sea. 

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Also on the horizon is his latest screenplay “Evel,” a bio-pic on the life of Evel Knievel, which Ric also will direct, for Exclusive Media. As a director, Ric helmed the critically acclaimed Sony film “Felon,” a prison-based drama starring Val Kilmer, Stephen Dorff and Sam Shepard. His latest directorial effort is Summit Entertainment’s action-thriller currently in theatres, “Snitch,” starring Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt and Jon Bernthal.

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

RIC ROMAN WAUGH: I would talk about the documentary “Return of the Shadow Warriors” that I am currently filming and which follows the first Delta Force operator to go on record about how hard it is to reintegrate back into society while dealing with PTSD. We are looking at a lot of unfortunate criminal acts that are happening in our country right now due to PTSD. I really want to talk to President Obama about ending these wars, getting us out of Iraq and figuring out Afghanistan. But, most important, we need him to know that he better really lay a pipeline down to help our soldiers, because it’s going to be at least two decades of dealing with fallout from the ten years of combat. We really are going to have to help our soldiers. This is a huge, huge thing that I don’t think people are really paying attention to. Forget the gun laws. Forget all that. Deal with PTSD, really focus on that.

 RB: If you could ask the president one question, what would that be?

RRW: Well, my movie that was just released, “Snitch,” deals with the mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the war on drugs. So, my question to the president would be: We are imprisoning drug traffickers for longer sentencing periods than child molesters, rapists and people charged for manslaughter — what can we do to reverse this equation and fix our penal system and fix this war on drugs?

 RB: What piece of advice would you give President Obama as he settles into his second term in office?

RRW: Stay the course of what you are doing and create a legacy for us that really fixes our system for the next few decades. Really think about longevity as well as fixing our country, and healing it in a way that we can all come together. I think that this country has gotten so polarized, that everybody has forgotten about just being in the middle and working together as a society. 

That is also going to dovetail when all of our soldiers come home. When these wars are over, they are not going to be over here. We are going to have a lot of work to do to help our soldiers reintegrate back into society and understand that they haven’t been demonized — that they are heroes in their own right, and we all have to understand what they are going through and accept who they are now.

RB: You seem to be pretty well spoken about PTSD and the aftermaths of war. Do you have a personal connection to this issue?

RRW: It started with fascination and it became very personal for me. I had met a Delta Force operator through some contacts when I was looking for a technical adviser on a film project. I was introduced to Tyler Grey, a Delta Force operator who was severely injured and, as a result, was no longer able to serve as an operator anymore. He confided in me about how hard reintegration is when you’ve been rewired from so much combat. In my upcoming documentary, Tyler is the first Delta operator to go on record and talk. As I got deeper into the film, it has become a very personal journey, and I care a lot about these special operations guys whom I have been following. The Armed Forces Foundation is my partner on this documentary. What I’ve learned is that we are going to have a huge epidemic in our country of people who are returning from combat. Let’s get ahead of the game, and really start helping our soldiers when they come home. 

 RB: You clearly make movies and use your entertainment to message. Do you think that movies can move the needle?

RRW: Yes, I do. Look at “Silver Linings Playbook,” for example. The director of that film put his own kid’s situation about being bipolar out there and made a very entertaining movie that allows us to understand the disease and the impact on a family. If “Silver Linings Playbook” helped one citizen, let alone the millions who’ve seen it, don’t you think that is moving the needle? 

I want to do that. My latest film, “Snitch,” is a true story of a father whose 18-year-old son is wrongfully accused of dealing drugs. He was set up by another friend just to get his own sentence reduced. The bigger thematic thread of this film is about us as parents, as family members. We are all about personal success nowadays, but the more we become workaholics, the less attention we can give to our kids. So we wonder when these things happen, when we take our eye off the ball, were we not connected to our kids enough that we put them into harm’s way? Hopefully this movie shines a light on finding that balance in life. Let’s get engaged with our kids. Let’s understand the peer pressures they are facing. Let’s get involved. I have twin five-year-olds, so this really hit home hard for me when making “Snitch.”

RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

RRW: That would be easy. Austin, Texas. This is where I live and it really captures two things in America that I think make this country great: the communal feel of diversity and everybody together, nobody caring if you are on the right or the left, everybody being a part of the community together; and in Austin nobody cares about “class levels.” You can be sitting next to a billionaire in Birkenstocks having coffee and you would never know his net worth. Austin is a great place for kids to grow up, and for families in general. 

RB: What CD/piece of music would you recommend that the president add to his collection? Why?

RRW: A new home-town guy in Austin that I just fell in love with, Gary Clark Jr. He reminds me of Jimmy Hendrix meets modern-day Black Keys. It’s like old school and new school all together. What is great is that he has real soul in what he is making. 

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

RRW: No, I wouldn’t consider a political career. But you can hear my passion for certain things, especially dealing with our soldiers and PTSD, so I would absolutely get into the game from a different view of doing public service from the nonprofit side.

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.