It's a new world for military movies, a world where realism is just as important as the story. While movies like Heartbreak Ridge, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings are memorable and entertaining, they just aren't grounded in reality. That's a big problem for a lot of veterans. It's difficult to be immersed in a story set in your world when everything you see is slightly off in some way.
But the filmmakers behind Tango Down want to do more than produce a film that gets it right; they want to be able to produce other veteran films — with as many veterans working the films as possible. That vision just starts with Tango Down.
That's where Andrew Dorsett and Rick Swift come in. They are Marine Corps veterans who decided to start writing after leaving the service.
Dorsett (left) and Swift (right).
Dorsett was in Marine Corps aviation between 1998 and 2010. After he got out, he became pretty sick of the corporate world and decided to start writing.
"Veterans are the most critical audience you can have," says Swift. "One chevron out of place and you've lost them. And so many feel like Hollywood just doesn't get it."
Swift has loved movies his entire life and became a writer as soon as he got out of the Corps (he also writes a review blog called Film Grouch). He soon started working with actress Julia Ling (Chuck, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) on the web series Tactical Girl. Now Ling, Swift, and Dorsett are collaborating on their short film, Tango Down.
"It's very important to work with veterans when creating stories like this one, because they have the real experience," says Micah Haughey, a producer on the film.
Tango Down also includes actor Ryan Stuart (Game of Thrones, Guardians of the Galaxy), actor and Marine Hiram A. Murray (Lethal Weapon), as well as social media personalities and supporters of the veteran community Terrence Williams, Mercedes Carrera (NSFW), and Army combat vet Jesse Ryun of American by Hand.
Carrera and Williams have a huge military following on social media.
Where Tactical Girl was a funny, tongue-in-cheek series, Tango Down is a serious film, with a serious subject. It's a film by veterans, for veterans. Still, don't assume that's what Tango Down is about. The team is serious about their work with the veteran community, but Tango Down isn't about PTSD.
"There will be some levity in it," says Swift. "It's geared towards the veteran community, so there's going to be some inside jokes that only veterans will get with insider things that only veterans will understand."
The film is about the bonds formed through military service. It's a film with action – but not so much an action film – that shows how real veterans might overcome significant challenges using the morals and integrity instilled in them through military service. From Afghanistan to the U.S., the film follows the paths of two friends after they leave the military.
If that sounds vague, you're right. The filmmakers are careful not to give too much away.
"It's going to be controversial," says Dorsett. "It's not about the broken veteran and that's an important part. But it's a very positive message. No politics, no criticism of policy. It's a character study. We aren't taking ourselves too seriously. We laugh, we crack jokes, but we know when to be serious."
Ling and Stewart behind the scenes on the set of Tango Down.
There are number of veteran-produced movies that made or are currently making the rounds on social media. Most famously was the film Range 15, an entirely crowdfunded effort by a group of prominent veterans to make "the best military movie ever." Marine Corps veteran Dale Dye is pushing project designed to be as historically accurate as possible. And they all want to include as many veterans as possible.
So does the team making Tango Down. But Dorsett, Swift, and Ling aren't just trying to make a movie, they're trying to build a community of veterans who come together to make movies. In their view, a lot of veterans are adrift right now, seeking a voice. They want to show the world that vets have talent and don't want to be viewed as a faceless mass.
Tango Down wants them to come and rejoin a unit with a mission – the first of hopefully many opportunities, including feature-length films.
"For all of the veterans working on Tango Down, there's a genuine mission behind it to connect veterans, to create a community where veterans actually can connect with each other," says Ling. "At the same time, we hope civilians can watch it and say 'Wow, I appreciate the military a little bit more after watching this film.'"