CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 10, 2015 – Southeast Missouri State University alumnus and Jackson, Missouri, native Christopher Shank lost his first friend and younger 18-year-old brother Jeremy in September 2006 while serving his country in Iraq.
Chris, then a 23-year-old Southeast student pursuing a career in movies, turned to writing a script to help deal with the painful, emotional loss. In 2009, he graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in mass communication, TV and film option.
Nine years later and now working on a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting at National University, Chris hopes to turn the project into something much more.
“It started looking more like a feature film, something I could actually look at making,” he said.
“The Reservist” is the story of a young soldier who learns his brother has been killed in battle.
“At the beginning, you have this kid who very much still is a kid,” said Chris, a 2001 graduate of Jackson High School. “He’s focused on living in the moment, partying, just being an attractive guy, having people like him.”
He sees his brother off, thinking he’ll see him again soon because he himself is being deployed. Before he leaves, he is told his brother has been killed.
“He looks at the future and he realizes that he might not make it through this,” described Chris. “On top of that, he has to deal with his best friend, his brother, not being in his life any more. He’s scared because he can’t talk to him about life and deployment any more and he’s very much on his own.”
Chris wanted to tell the story of loss and what happens to those at home — something he feels is not only missing in the news but also in movies about war.
“You see movies that show what people go through in battle, but you don’t see what goes on at home,” he said. “You don’t get to live in the life of someone who has to deal with this day in and day out.”
Chris says you see glimpses of this loss in film, like when the mother collapses at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan,” but his experiences go much deeper than that.
“I try to keep my eyes on Hollywood as much as I can, and there have been people who have tried to tell this story, but nothing from the point of view from someone who’s actually been there,” he said.
Sharing his brother’s story through film is a passion as well as a healing process for him.
“I’ve always believed that the best way to deal with something is to make it into art, even if it’s just a photograph, or a picture you can draw – it helps you deal with things by externalizing them,” he said. “All the stuff I’ve been dealing with on my own will now be in the public sphere for people to see.”
Friends and family will recognize himself in the main character, but anyone who has ever lost a loved one will connect with the movie, said Chris.
To get his project off the ground, he recently started a fund-raising campaign online. His goal is to raise $20,000.
He’s already found support from members of the U.S. Army Survivor Outreach Services and soldiers from Jeremy’s duty station in Hawaii.
Chris says he plans to film in Huntsville, Texas, where he currently lives, as well as Jackson, Missouri. Having the local support and outreach will be crucial for recreating certain scenes he hopes to only film back home.
“At my brother’s funeral, there were hundreds of Reservists, National Guardsmen, active duty soldiers from any branch you can think of, they were all standing out there outside of the church when we came out,” Chris said. “I know that the support is here.”
The project has also put him in touch with people from beyond his immediate family and friends.
“People I’ve never even spoken to in my life have donated two or three times,” he said. “People I didn’t know existed are sharing my status online. It’s nice.”
Even if people can’t donate, Chris encourages them to share his story whether it’s by word of mouth or online.
“You never know who that one person might be that the story really connects with and helps,” he said.
What he can accomplish will be determined by how much money he can raise. Having the proper sets, costumes and locations will help raise the film’s production value.
Chris said he hopes to start test shooting by the beginning of 2016 and have the film finished by next winter. His goal is to have it played at local film festivals and even distribute it online and on DVD.
He hopes the film not only pays tribute to his brother, but also helps jumpstart his career and passion.
“I don’t know if it could get into a place like Sundance necessarily, you can always hope,” he said. “Maybe I’ll never make it. But at least I’ll have some level of fulfillment.”
For more information about or to support “The Reservist,” visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-reservist-video-project/x/8935144#/.