While the CGI laden films that are populated by the perfectly sculpted physiques of beautiful film stars are immensely popular, sometimes the more realistic stories are best communicated in a stripped down manner. The performance of Tom Hanks in Castaway is a prime example of how a filmmaker can wield great impact by focusing on the internal conflict of a character. Of course this requires both those in front of and off-camera to share a singular focus. Producer Wendi Sun confirms this to be the case for the film Damaged, a disturbing tale of how the military experience has destroyed one man’s sense of self. Sun’s film credits are populated with productions which serve to do much more than entertain, though this is a requirement as well. Wendi is the sort of film producer who requires an emotional investment of himself to become attached to any production he takes on. Most of these take on difficult and uncomfortable subjects but which demand exploration to illuminate the motivation behind the actions of very realistic characters. As a filmmaker on a mission to use the power of film to unite unlikely companions, Wendi Sun has breached a highly controversial subject matter with Damaged.
Much of the success of a film is rooted in the filmmaker’s understanding of how the story should be told; Wendi admits that his dual roles of co-director and as producer of Damaged gave him a large amount of influence in how this decision was made. Seeing this tale of military injustice as a personal story rather than one which is based in action and “shock and awe”, Wendi persuaded his fellow filmmakers to take a more streamlined authentic approach to Damaged. His decidedly low-tech approach rejected CGI for a more practical set in a warehouse, the primary location for filming. Vast space, ideal acoustic insulation, easy access/proximity for cast and crew, and a minimal cast, these can stretch and Indie film budget and allow for a higher production design. Communicating a film might be the role of a director but enabling that is the arena of a producer; in combining these roles, Wendi was able to elevate the level of the entire production.
With a script written by Edward Coffee of the Fort Drum New York based 10th Mountain Division, Damaged originates from a source within the military. Sun had asked Mr. Coffee to write the script for Damaged as he felt it imperative for the story to be imbued with an honest and authentic tone. The film centers on a military man who murders a fellow soldier and then covers it up with the assistance of his US Army Sergeant. As the soldier becomes overwhelmed with his guilt and feels compelled to confess, the story depicts how the lives of all involved parties become infected by this offense. Convinced that so much of the impact of the film rested on the performance of actor Trestin George (who also served in the U.S military) as Michael Smith, Sun made the decision to spend the lion’s share of the production budget on high end cameras, lenses, and the set. He communicates, “Michael is the keystone to the story. It’s Michael’s story. In this film, we’ve shown a lot of middle close-up shots for him at plot changing moments so that audience will know it’s his decision. It’s designed this way to build suspense and promote the development of the plot. Michael’s kindness impacts the increasing guilt that Warren feels, eventually causing Warren to break down. This spiral continues to a climax of even greater tragedy. I wanted the audience to see the internal struggle on the faces of these characters as it veered in this direction. There’s so much of this story that is reliant on the visual component in relating the emotion.”
Awards from events like the International Independent Film Awards and recognitions from the Los Angeles Film Awards, Muscatine Independent Film Festival, and others prove the impact and powerful message of this film. Alongside all of their skill and talent, the most genius component of Wendi Sun and his team in creating Damaged may be in seeking out those who have the life experience to relate such a story in a way that resonates because they are a part of that military world. Audiences these days are increasingly concerned with whom the story originates from as well as how it is delivered to them.