One Halloween — Telling the Story of a Wounded Soldier Returning From War

By in Video Editing

I had just returned from Afghanistan in 2011, and was interviewing wounded soldiers at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) when the idea for the short film ONE HALLOWEEN (premiered on HBO digital October 1st) came to me.

I was interviewing all of these soldiers, and remembered one of them telling me a story. He said, one Halloween he decided to dress up in a costume and lay on the front lawn to scare the neighborhood kids who were trick or treating. The kids in the neighborhood loved it and it became an annual thing. It was a way that he used humor to cope with his new body. And the kids would ask him questions about his legs, and it opened up a discussion. I knew this was a story I wanted to tell.

We tailored the story around a young man named Joey Banagas who served in the US Army. Joey was a specialist and a 50-caliber anti-tank gunner assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division when he was one of about 100 soldiers detailed to support a Special Forces unit assigned to a remote area of southeastern Afghanistan. Joey was tasked with a resupply mission in 2004 when a bomb went off under his Humvee, causing him to lose his leg.

When I met Joey, and listened to his story, I knew I wanted this film to be about him and his experience. So we cast Joey for the part and decided to use as many military veterans as possible in the film. We looked in our group, Veterans in Film and Television, for hiring cast and crew, as we knew there would be wounded warriors on set and we wanted to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

I was lucky enough to have an incredible DP Michael Rizzi, a wonderful Producer Karen Kraft, and an incredible editor Jeff Casteluccio, who all worked together to help develop the workflow and post production process. Both the DP and editor are amazing storytellers in their own right. We spoke about what we wanted to do, and obviously, working on a limited budget, there were limitations on what we could do.

We knew we wanted to cut on Avid Media Composer. I had worked at FOX for three years as a media manager and know what a benefit it is to cut on Avid for various reasons: workflow, media management, etc. But most important our editor Jeff loves Avid and wanted to make sure he was using the platform that he was most comfortable with.

The DP, Rizzi, and I decided that we wanted to shoot on the Arri Alexa and Primo lenses for the look and feel of what we were going for. We had a small grant donated by the National Association of Independent Latino Producers (NALIP), but we couldn’t afford the package. So we reached out to Panavision. We applied for, and were awarded  the Panavision New Filmmakers grant. So shooting on Primo lenses, 2K, Scope, with the Arri Alexa. I love the look and feel of the film. The DP and I spoke about the look of the film, and I referenced a lot of Spielberg’s work in ET for this film.

“I love directing because there is real power in storytelling that allows a filmmaker to take point of view. For me, it was an opportunity to tell stories about military veterans in a way they had not been told before.”

—Rebecca Murga, director ONE HALLOWEEN

The most difficult scene of ONE HALLOWEEN was the opening scene. When Joey wakes up and puts his prosthetic leg on in the morning. It was difficult for a few reasons. It was the first scene we shot with Joey, and Joey, not being an actor by trade, I think was concerned. But he was a natural and a champ. Taking his leg on and off for that scene caused him to develop sever blisters at the end of filming. But never complained. He said, “I just want to help tell this story.”

I think it was pretty intense as well for crew members who never dealt with a soldier who was an amputee. Crew members came up to me and thanked me for being a part of the film. It was the first time some of them had worked with military veterans who were wounded in combat and I think that really impacted them.

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Rebecca Murga is an award-winning filmmaker who works in Los Angeles as a writer and director. She produces and directs films, commercials, documentaries and branded content in both English and Spanish. Her work has been featured on Mundo Fox, ABC, CBS, A&E, and HBO digital.