EXCLUSIVE: Producer and international sales veteran Mark Damon’s latest film, The Last Full Measure, releases domestically via Roadside Attractions on about 600 screens this Friday. The drama is based on the true story of Vietnam War hero William H Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force pararescueman who saved nearly 60 men in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division during a devastating 1966 battle, losing his own life in the process. In the film, set 32 years later, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman investigates a decades-long Congressional Medal of Honor request for Pitsenbarger and uncovers a high-level conspiracy prompting him to put his career on the line to seek justice for the fallen airman. Todd Robinson wrote the screenplay and directs.
Damon, who has produced or exec produced more than 70 movies and is widely credited with pioneering the foreign sales business, says bringing the independent film together was an “enormous task.” An investor “who initially started off by pledging half the budget disappeared into thin air. I already had money in the movie and had to go forward putting people together who believed in the script and believed in the film,” he tells me.
Before his involvement, in late 2002, the screenplay became the object of a bidding war and was bought by New Line Cinema. Ultimately, the rights reverted back to Robinson who decided to go the independent route. With the help of producer Lauren Selig, Robinson connected with Damon and his Foresight Unlimited (which late last year was acquired by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment).
The $20M indie was shot in three different countries and has a famous ensemble cast that includes Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Irvine, William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, John Savage, Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd. Helping to keep the budget reasonable, stars shot for just three or four days each.
The film also features Peter Fonda in his last role. An In Memory Of title card is dedicated to the actor. Damon says that during shooting, “We didn’t know he was dying at the time and I’m not sure the extent to which he knew. He was fragile. He screened the movie in LA which was the last time we saw him and the director asked what he thought. His response was that it was one of the greatest films he’d ever seen and was so proud to be a part of it.” Fonda’s wife attended the premiere last week.
Adds Damon, “I have been in this business over 60 years, and have produced more than 70 films during that time, but none has been more important, nor more meaningful than The Last Full Measure… This film profoundly touches those who see it.” Pitsenbarger’s mother Alice (played by Ladd in the film) is 95 and an important figure to Air Force families. After screening the movie, she called it “a marvelous ode to her son,” Damon tells me.
To boost the film, a campaign was set in motion specifically for the military and their families, upon whom Damon says “the picture is fully dependent. The task is to get them in time to spread the word out that there is this indpendent film playing to their audiences.” It is also being marketed as a faith-based movie, says Damon. There are echoes of Hacksaw Ridge in the story of The Last Full Measure, although Damon says this one “is not so much about this hero as about what happened to the survivors.”
For Damon, The Last Full Measure has become even more relevant in the years since his involvement began. “In these divisive times in the U.S., it’s a pretty wonderful symbol of a man who gave of himself unselfishly and completely for his comrades.”
He allows that the he was not sure at first about the title, concerned it might be difficult to remember. But because the phrase comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the decision was made to keep it. In that historic speech, Lincoln paid tribute to the soldiers who gave their country “the last full measure of devotion” resolving they would not have died in vain.
Damon is pleased to see the indie getting a significant release in the U.S. and praises Roadside for joining the project. “As streaming takes over, pictures don’t go wide or are in theaters for one week. Streaming has hurt independent distributors who are loath to put P&A money up unless they have major stars to attract an audience and know you’ll get people in the first week which is about all the time you have. What’s the point of losing so much P&A, you might as well put it into the ancillaries.”
As for the dwindling international presales model, Damon laments, “I have seen this more and more. Where we used to sell theatrical and get 10% out of Germany, that’s all out the window. In the UK, maybe two distributors can put up big bucks. Very few pictures can be presold.” (Italy, Germany and Middle East releases are currently on deck for The Last Full Measure.)
Over his storied career, Damon has been a creative producer and money man for directors including Hal Ashby, Wolfgang Peterson, Robert Evans, John Badham. Roland Joffe and many others. His films have received 10 Oscar nominations including Monster, for which Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Academy Award; and World War II drama Das Boot. Other credits include The Upside of Anger, 9 ½ Weeks, The Lost Boys, 2 Guns and Lone Survivor.
A fixture on the market circuit, Damon says The Last Full Measure marks another important moment in his career. “This will likely be my last film as a physical producer,” Damon tells me. He was so physical on this one that when scouting locations in Thailand, he fell into a foxhole and broke his shoulder, he recounts. But he’s not wistful — and intends to continue putting films together and overseeing creative. “I look forward to the next iteration and I hope to be ahead of the curve for the rest of my career… I gave my last full measure on this one.”
Along with Damon, The Last Full Measure is produced by Timothy Scott Bogart, Robert Reed Peterson, Nicholas Cafritz and Shaun Sanghani. Producers are T.J. Steyn, Louis Steyn, Sidney Sherman, Julian Adams, Lauren Selig, Peter Jakl, Jordi Rediu, Adi Cohen, Michael Bassick, John Watson and Pen Densham.
Here’s a look at The Last Full Measure: