Under the Radar

Veteran Nick Palmisciano Tells the Story Behind the 'Range 15' Documentary

Not a War Story is an upcoming behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Range 15, last year's veteran-made zombie thriller with an all-star cast that includes military heroes Leroy Petry, Clint Romesha and Marcus Luttrell. Actors William Shatner, Danny Trejo, Sean Astin and Keith David also appear in the movie alongside UFC Fighters Tim Kennedy and Randy Couture.

Range 15 is fun to watch and an impressive accomplishment by a group of first-time producers but Not a War Story is the more interesting movie. Accomplished documentary filmmaker Tim O’Donnell planned to shoot some making-of material for DVD bonus features but everyone involved quickly realized that Tim's footage deserved its own movie.

Veteran Nick Palmisciano is one of the writers and producers of the movie. He served as an Army infantry officer and graduated from Ranger School. He's a founder of the Ranger Up apparel company and partnered with Article 15 Clothing to raise the money for and make Range 15. He talked with us about both movies.

Nick on the set of Range 15.

The first five minutes of your documentary definitely sets out to separate the people you want to see it from the people you don’t. 

We've had a lot of conversation about that opening.  And we tried a more traditional opening, slower opening, talking about the reasoning for all of it; it just didn’t feel right.  We went the way we did because that’s kind of who we are.  We're going for it on this.

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Was the documentary in the plan all along?

Jarred Taylor and I were talking about the documentary from the beginning and initially we were talking about just having a cool behind-the-scenes as part of the disc.  The story got richer and richer as things went on and as more people started getting involved and the community came together. We ended up with 210 hours of really compelling footage. Frankly, we thought the story of the film was more important than the movie we made.

We ended up bringing Tim O'Donnell onboard early on. That was great luck because he's an accomplished documentary filmmaker. He was coming on to do the behind-the-scenes almost as a favor to me.  Tim said this isn't a short, this is a real movie and this might be the best movie I've ever shot. That’s how we started to end up with Not a War Story.

Did you have to raise more money to finish the documentary or did you have money left over from Range 15?

We were fortunate that we've made some money on the movie that allowed us to finish the Not a War Story. The success of Range 15 allowed us to do all the editing and whatnot for the documentary.

So you managed to make both a movie and a documentary when most aspiring filmmakers never get their project off the ground. What happens next?

That’s a great question.  I try to kind of focus on one thing at a time. The answer for that is different for everybody involved. The first thing is to get this documentary done and then Tim O'Donnell and I have been working on some other veteran documentaries.  The guys and I have been talking about future films.

Right now, the only thing that’s locked in stone are some of these documentary projects that Tim and I have been working on. One of them is Through Burnt Eyes. It’s about Michael Schlitz, who is a double amputee and burn victim, but he is the most motivating human being you're ever gonna meet in your life and he's devoted his life to doing charity work. We'll be premiering that trailer soon.

We're doing a series on veterans that is similar to ESPN's 30 for 30, but we're calling it 22 for 22. We want to tell 22 compelling veteran stories of overcoming adversity and being successful.

I have to imagine that there’s a group out there who think Range 15 is inappropriate or disrespectful. How do you respond to them?

You don’t. There's really nothing you can do to change the way people who have already made up their mind look at a situation.  You can only control your life, you can only control your decisions, you can only control what you do. I won't even speak for the other guys, but I am very proud of my small part in bringing this together.  I'm very proud of the fact that we succeeded, I'm very proud to be part of this community, and I'm thrilled that some people love it.  It's unfortunate that some people hate it, but none of that hurts my feelings. We tried to do a good thing, we put our best efforts into this, we gave it everything, and know a lot of people are really happy with the product and there's nothing else that you can really hope for.

There's no art project anywhere that everybody loves. There are people that hate Star Wars. That’s just the way it goes.

I just interviewed David Michôd about War Machine and he’s definitely having that experience.

That’s a tough one, right?  War Machine is tough because it's a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic look at something that’s very important to a lot of people. I've got friends who have said, “Man, that’s hilarious, that hits so close to home.  And I've had friends that are like, “F**k this guy.  How dare he make light of something? These men are heroes, these men are great.”

It's like anything else, right?  One person's piece of art is another person's piece of crap.  Different things speak to different people.

I'm really happy. By and large, most people have been very happy.  The community came together to do the film and they have a lot of pride in the fact that the film got done.  There was personal risk for of everyone involved: Article 15, Ranger Up, the individuals who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign.

Mat Best took the lead in this thing. He had a very successful YouTube channel.  If this movie had failed, if he turned out to be a terrible actor and this thing had failed, it could have torpedoed his channel.  Both companies had to walk away from focusing on the business.  We both lost money doing this movie.  There's so many examples of things where people took personal risks in order for this to succeed. And we did it and like that’s all you can do.  You can't do anything else. I see comments like, “Oh, college students could make a better movie” or “Man, they had that huge budget and this is all they could do.”  You find out pretty quickly that a million dollars goes very fast in Hollywood.  That is not a huge budget.  That is one day for a lot of big movies. Those movies are shooting for 30 or 40 days and we had 13 days.  We had an inexperienced crew and inexperienced actors. Everybody worked hard and we're very proud of what we did. The documentary shows that effort and shows us coming together to make it happen.

In a weird way, I have more appreciation for the documentary story than I do for the movie.  The movie was the goal, but the journey is captured in the documentary.

Marcus Luttrell is having a blast in Range 15.

Some people believe that the military experience should only portrayed as something sacred and solemn.  You take guys like Marcus Luttrell and Clint Romesha, two guys who have become symbols of that, and you let them run wild and be themselves.

Yep.

When some people see the film, they're really shocked.

Marcus Luttrell spends most of his time reliving the worst day of his life for other people. He's standing in front of a crowd of people that have no idea what he's gone through and he relives the worst day of his life.  He relives losing his friends, he relives almost dying, he relives thinking he wasn’t gonna make it.  He relives all of that so that other people might be able to pick up a nugget of wisdom. Then they go home and say that was cool and he has to deal with the aftermath of that every single time.

Before that mission, he was Marcus Luttrell.  After that mission, he was Marcus Luttrell.  That was one very short period in his life and obviously it is the defining moment of his life. That being said, he should be allowed to have a sense of humor, to be a happy person, to spend time with his kids, to do all the normal people stuff. We see it time and time again. There's an expectation from our nation's heroes that he's supposed to just spend his entire day saluting the flag and giving these hardcore speeches, but he should be able to live life.

We wanted to go after those taboos and remind people that we're not caricatures.  The thing that Hollywood does is paint us as either broken or flawless heroes. The reality is that all of those are just a cross section of society.  We all have faults, we all have strengths, we have senses of humor, some of us are more serious, some of us are less serious, but when you watch the documentary I don’t think you can see broken people and I don’t think you see flawless heroes.  I think you see a bunch of men and women that are proud of their service, that are trying to do something cool, and working their asses off to make it happen.

That could be anybody. We could have been any population.  A big thing that we wanted to get across with the documentary is that we're regular people. I think it humanizes the military.

Both companies had strong followings before they made this film.  You talk a lot in the documentary about the responsibility you feel to the people who invested in the film.  How has the communication with that group been since the movie came out?  Do they feel some real participation in this?  Is there a real community sense of ownership of the final product?

For sure.  Actually, the coolest thing ever just happened the other day. The backers of the film got together, built a secret group, and they made this two-volume work that outlined everything that happened from the day that we announced that we were going to try to do Range 15 all the way to the day we released the trailer to Not a War Story. It's a professional work that they built and they had delivered to all the principal producers simultaneously. This was like a top-secret operation where literally at the same time, like at 10:00am, somebody walked into all of our offices and hand-delivered this two-volume work to each one of us with a really nice note about what it meant for the community. I'll be honest with you, it was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.

You get wrapped up in it, you know? It’s been a three-year grind.  We started writing this movie and then we were trying to raise the money, and then we were rewriting it, and then we were trying to get actors, and then we were training for preproduction and then we're producing, then we're in post, then we're doing distribution, and then we're starting on the documentary, and we're producing it and we're trying to get distribution.

You forget sometimes, when you're in the middle of it, when it's 2:00am and you're trying to go through a cut one more time to see if it's right, you forget that there's a reason you're doing this.  You forget that people care. You get lost in those moments when you're just grinding it out.

I didn’t expect anything like that, but it was the one-year anniversary of the movie release and they wanted all of us to know how much it meant.

How are people going to be able to see the documentary?

We're trying to get much broader distribution for the documentary than we did with Range 15.  With Range 15, we made that movie for our audience. After Hollywood originally rejected us, we did not want to put it back in their hands and on their schedule or anything like that.  We made the movie, we released it through Tugg into theaters, and then we released it onto Amazon and iTunes.

With Not a War Story, we have meetings the next few weeks with most of the major houses.  There is interest in this film, so we would love for this thing to end up in theaters, we'd love for this to end up on an HBO or a Showtime, we'd love to see this on Netflix, but nothing is locked in stone yet.

The worst case scenario is we do exactly what we did last time, which was very successful. But we're hoping for more than that this time around.  Range 15 is still going strong, still selling on iTunes and Amazon.  You can still get the DVD at Range15.com or RangerUp.

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Do you think you'll make Range 15 available on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime or cable at some point?

Amazon Prime is very interested and Netflix is interested as well. We would like to pair the two.  Whoever wants to distribute the documentary, we also would like them to distribute Range 15 because they belong together. Whether that’s on Amazon Prime or that’s on Netflix or wherever that is, we think it's important that they're together.

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November is Military Family Appreciation Month