We see plenty of entitled schoolchildren today, especially on our college campuses. What they all might need is a dedicated Marine to square them away. That’s the basic concept behind “The Colonel,” a film screening at the GI Film Festival on May 28.
The kids in the film aren’t actually college age, but they’re attending private school and about as entitled and sheltered as the ones we see protesting on television nearly every day. In “The Colonel,” a medically discharged Marine (Kevin Durand) takes over a private school’s football program at the height of the Vietnam War — and attempts to unify the coddled kids through collected struggles, much as his own military background did to him.
Director Tim Williams, a commercial director in Dallas, Texas, took some time to speak with LifeZette about his movie, its inspiration and what it means to him to be screening the film at the GI Film Festival.
Question: Tell us a little about your film and why you wanted to make it.
Answer: The story of entitled kids having a charismatic Marine show up to turn them into warriors always seemed like a great story to me. Having lived through the actual events and, now adapting the story into a movie, has been illuminating. I had to take a hard look at the colonel’s iron-nosed methods: mandatory participation in football, little tolerance for pain, none for excuses. He wanted everyone to go past their limits, to break down. He believed only past the limits of your endurance would you find your true and best self.
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My motivation behind making “The Colonel” was simple. I’m honoring Lt. Col. R. C. “Rocky” Rosacker for his exceptional leadership in guiding a group of average kids to learn what excellence meant for each of them. It’s been 40 years, and not a day goes by that I don’t use his lessons of courage, integrity and responsibility in my daily struggles. Colonel was a magnificent human being without ever wanting to be one. If the greatest generation needed a poster boy, he’d have been a perfect candidate.
Colonel used middle school football as his classroom. Asked years later why he didn’t coach high school or college, he replied, “If I can teach them when they’re little dudes, they’ll be set from then on.”
He wanted kids to experience hard work, character-building challenges and personal responsibility. He had a no-coddling policy. The disrespect from entitled kids found all too often today would have been cleaned up in a week by the colonel. Instead of rebellion, he made everyone who played for him want to be better in everything they did.
“If the greatest generation needed a poster boy, he’d have been a perfect candidate.”
Q: Kevin Durand is an impressive actor to lead this project — he’s been in major projects like “Lost” and “The Strain.” What kind of passion did he bring to the role, and how did he come to star in it?
A: The role of the colonel was a complex part to cast. When I was looking for candidates, the criteria I looked for was: a powerful, physical presence, keen intellect, and the charisma and sensitivity of a great leader. I told a producer friend I was looking for a young Clint Eastwood. He suggested Kevin Durand.
Not long before that I’d seen “Fruitvale Station,” and I remembered Kevin’s role as the lead transit cop. Very tough, but a real human being. Kevin was fantastic. It wasn’t the same role, but holy cow, Kevin dominated the screen.
After he read the script, Kevin told me he loved the character and story behind “The Colonel” immediately. While he’s taller, Kevin’s physique and personality are very similar to the colonel’s. When he got to Texas, our first stop was a Marine barbershop. After he got the authentic “high and tight,” Kevin worked intensely with our military advisor, Rex Hood, USMC CW05, on becoming the colonel.
Everyone on the shoot in Fort Worth fell in love with Kevin. We had a major storm with 50-mph winds blow in while filming our practice scenes. It looked the tornado scene from “The Wizard of Oz.” Kevin was running to his trailer as the storm hit and saw Colonel’s son, Nails Rosacker and his wife, Suzie, getting blown across a field. Kevin made a detour, grabbed Suzie and her gear, and got her safely into her car. That’s exactly what Colonel would’ve done.
Q: Were there specific films or performances you and Durand looked at for inspiration in bringing his character to life?
A: The colonel was such a one-of-a-kind individual, it’s tough to compare him to other characters. There’s a little bit of Patton, Mr. Chips, and Wil Andersen from “The Cowboys” mixed together. Except for some brief discussions, Kevin and I really didn’t look to other films for inspiration. Kevin has a great combination of charm and intensity. He understood the character at a gut level. As far as I’m concerned, Kevin was the colonel in the short.
Q: What does it mean to have this film screening at the GI Film Festival, and what are your plans for it after the fest?
A: I’m thrilled to be showing “The Colonel” at the GI Film Festival. It’s a perfect venue. I’ve recently completed a rewrite of the feature script. My goal is to be shooting the feature later this year. That may sound ambitious, but so was believing Kevin Durand would want to play the colonel. As the colonel might say, ‘It’s just another limit to stretch past.’
“The Colonel” screens at The U.S. Navy Memorial Theater in Washington, D.C., this Sunday, May 28.