writer/director + DP

AWARDS & PRESS

 

AWARDS & PRESS

 

AWARDS

2010 Panavision's New Directors Achievement Award 

2011 FujiFilm's Cinematography Grant

2013 Panavision's New Directors Award 

2013 Cannes Gold Lion - New Directors Award for short subject film - Be The One. 

2013 SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY 100,000K writing award. "A FIGHTING SEASON" - Past winners include Beasts of the Southern Wild, Short Term 12 and Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station. 

2015-2016 A FIGHTING SEASON - Official Entry WAR ON SCREEN (France), Best Director BYRON BAY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Australia), WARM FESTIVIAL, (Sarajevo), Official entry SXSW (USA)

2017 GRINDADRAP - Official Entry SXSW (USA) 

PRESS

A Fighting Season Review - Filmink

…a strong debut and a fascinating look at an under-represented facet of the military machine.

Cinematographer Oden Roberts makes his directorial debut with this low key but closely observed drama which puts the focus firmly on the business side of the military-industrial complex.

It is 2007 and America is ramping up its involvement in Iraq, necessitating more feet to fill the boots that will soon be on the ground. Our field of play here is an Army recruiting office, where two very different soldiers are tasked with convincing largely young, impoverished, and uneducated people to find out if they can be all they can be. Sergeant Harris (Lew Temple) is a veteran of the recruiting office, a cynic who knows how to work the recruiting system to maximise his results. Sergeant Mason (Clayne Crawford) has recently returned from combat deployment and has first hand knowledge at what these young people are getting sent into. Conflict is, of course, inevitable.

Has there ever been a film that looks at the coalface of marketing the military before? Our characters’ remit here is to sell the idea of a life in the Army to a never-ending parade of young hopefuls, and the techniques they use will be familiar to anyone who has put in time in a commission-based sales role – or, indeed, seen Glengarry Glen Ross. Of course, the motivating force being applied isn’t the carrot of a fat bonus, but the stick of overseas deployment – something Mason relishes, but Harris, a rear echelon lifer, is mortified by. Thus, to save his comfortable position (and his own skin) Harris uses every trick in the book to hit his recruiting targets, while Mason, himself suffering PTSD, becomes increasingly disgusted with the whole operation.

The film, made on an incredibly low budget, lives in the interplay between the two, and thanks to strong performances, it works a treat. A Fighting Season‘s area of inquiry is the morality of marketing the military, and the dubious snake oil tactics used to entice the vulnerable to sign up for a hitch. It’s a workplace drama, in effect, but never lets you forget the stakes are literally life and death. This is a strong debut and a fascinating look at an under-represented facet of the military machine.

A FIGHTING SEASON REVIEW - Back to the Movies

Director Oden Roberts (Cannes Golden Lion winner 2012), draws on his own experiences of being recruited by the Army in High School, allowing us a look behind the curtain of the controversial recruiting practices of the US Army post 9/11.

Driven by powerhouse performances from Lew Temple and Clayne Crawford, A Fighting Season really shines a light on the mental effects of war and the harsh and immoral recruitment of dis-advantaged and under privileged people just to achieve an office target. Forever questioning the morals involved in the recruitment as these new recruits are essentially just another number to be sent out to their deaths, in most cases talked into the role through manipulation, abuse and sometimes outright lies.

Clayne Crawford’s character Mason displays common PTSD symptoms after coming back from a tour and losing his squadron on the battlefield. His fallen comrades forever playing on his mind as he battles his own demons and he once again finds himself on the frontline this time but at home, seeking out new recruits. Whilst his days on the battlefield are now behind him, he’s now fighting with his own morals, his own experiences and constantly questioning whether or not he’s doing the right thing.

Lew Temple plays the patriotic machismo ‘Harris’ as his morals are firmly on the side of whatever gets the job done. His brash and unconditional methods are a heavy reflection of the personal experiences of director Oden Roberts when he was recruited into the US army.

A Fighting Season leaves quite a sour taste in the mouth on an ethical note. A real eye-opener and one hell of a movie driven by stellar performances and a shockingly honest truth being projected for all to see.

(Writer-director Oden Roberts’ A Fighting Season  received production funding from the San Francisco Film Society and is now available on VOD starting Friday, May 26 via Fighting Chance Films.)

A FIGHTING SEASON REVIEW - Hammer and Nail 

Writer-director Oden Roberts’ A Fighting Season begins towards the end of Sgt. Mason’s (Clayne Crawford) final tour in Iraq. There is a telling interview sequence with Mason early in the film, during which drastically contrasted shadowing splits his face into light and dark halves, suggesting the split duality of his personality. The anger, paranoia, and unbridled intensity that he inherited from the battlefield exists in dramatic opposition to his good old boy gentility.

Visibly suffering PTSD from traumatic experiences on the battlefield, Sgt. Mason soon finds himself stationed in an Army recruiting office in a rural town somewhere in the middle of the United States. While Mason would much rather be back on the front lines protecting his homeland by killing potential terrorists, his superior officer (Lew Temple) tries to convince him that recruiting newbies into the Army is just as important.

You see, the year is 2006 and we are on the brink of the U.S. troop surge in the region, thus more recruits are desperately needed. Army recruiters are making a living by preying upon defenseless teenagers who are looking to escape small town ‘Merica by offering them easy money, a college education, or a path to avoid prison. Under constant pressure to meet quotas, the recruitment center plays like a military version of Glengarry Glen Ross. Not making their quotas equates to failure, and failure equates to more U.S. soldiers dying on the battlefield due to sheer lack of numbers. In many ways, this atmosphere is just as stressful as what Mason experienced on the front lines of battle.

Their sales tactics are just as we would expect. Sure, there is the aforementioned financial carrots, but there is also the possibility of becoming a national hero like Mason. By joining the Army, you have the chance to destroy evil and protect your country, more specifically, protect your loved ones. Another notable tactic is the superior officer’s reliance upon religion to suggest that the Army is somehow doing the work of the Christian god.

While I expected a film about PTSD, A Fighting Season is not necessarily a film about PTSD. And that’s not such a bad thing. Instead, A Fighting Season does an admirable job of revealing the immoral practices of the Army’s recruiting process, specifically in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Empty promises, blatant lies, and manipulation are all perfectly commonplace, as is sexual harassment of the female recruits. It is an ugly practice that makes Mason’s actions back in Iraq seem not so bad (even though they are quite demented). The proud U.S. citizen in me wonders why the Army would have to go to such extreme (and highly irresponsible) measures to convince U.S. citizens to risk their lives on its behalf, but then reality clicks in.

A FIGHTING SEASON REVIEW - ScreenSpace 

Oden Roberts’ A Fighting Season is a film about a soldier’s heroism, although it takes place a world away from the hot zones of international war. A searing character study, it examines the courage needed to fight for the honour of a soldier’s life on home soil, while summoning the strength to battle one’s own inner demons. Set amongst a team of recruiters stationed in an everyman enclave of middle America in 2007, it is a dark, disturbing take on the swirling maelstrom of national pride and muddied morality that swept through Roberts' homeland post-9/11.

An NYU Film School graduate, Oden Roberts’ debut feature had its world premiere where a rapturous response from festivalgoers secured it a ‘Jury Special Mention’ honour and earned the filmmaker the Best Director trophy. Roberts was a popular attendee, his droll humour and engaging love of cinema proving a winning combination. SCREEN-SPACE spoke with the LA-based auteur about the personal journey that inspired his narrative, the function that film plays in dissecting the impact of war and how dissenting voices are crucial in a true democracy…

The ‘recruitment office’ dynamic is a setting that will be unfamiliar to many outside the US, although the target-oriented desperation and the immoral methodology recalls films such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Tin Men. Were the characters drawn from men and situations you have known? 

My work always draws from personal experiences and people I’ve met in my travels. A Fighting Season is based on being recruited during a six month (period) in my senior year of high school. The characters are based on an assortment of real people and hundreds of hours of private interviews with Army recruiters, so I hope it feels very real. I drew from my own recruiter’s charismatic, machismo personality to create the characters. In fact, (the) supporting cast features former military recruiters and some of the recruits are now serving overseas. A kind of ‘art depicts life’ moment. 

The conflicted complexity of your lead character, Mason (Clayne Crawford; pictured, right, on-set with the director) creates a tangible tension throughout the narrative. How did his character develop, from your first thoughts in the early stages of the script to Crawford’s contribution?

My goal for Mason was to depict (a) modern day hero but avoid the clichés seen in Hollywood, such as American Sniper's Chris Kyle, where one man takes down the entire enemy - the Rambo film. The subdued nature of Mason is an honest depiction of a PTSD-affected soldier, trying to survive after being torn apart by war. And Clayne’s alpha-male persona, coupled with his ability to keep a stiff upper lip, made him a perfect choice for the role. After the first two screenings of the film, I had a handful of audience members ask me how I received permission to shoot the actual recruiters. This comment says so much about Crawford’s performance, (that) he’s the real thing. Sometimes heroes aren’t larger then life, they are normal people just like you and I under extraordinary circumstances. 

Was there an extended rehearsal period that allowed for the actors and yourself to detail backstory and foster the on-screen chemistry?

I always write with an actor in mind, one that represents the tone and mannerisms I hope to achieve on and off camera. I’ve known both Lew (Temple) and Clayne (pictured, left; in uniform on set, with co-star James Hechim) for years and admired them as performers and as individuals. With A Fighting Season, I was extremely lucky to get the two leads I wrote for. Our rehearsal process was short because I knew what to expect out of the gate from these two talents. Lew and Clayne were only with us for 14 days, so my initial choice for chemistry was create on the page and in casting. 

Your film will draw comparisons to two of the decade’s most acclaimed war films – The Hurt Locker and, as you’ve mentioned, American Sniper. As an interpretation of the plight of the returned serviceman, what does your film have in common with those films and what is its point-of-difference?

A Fighting Season makes a commentary on the controversial recruiting practices post 9/11, particularly the Army policies that support the cherry picking of the meek or underprivileged and the taking advantage of woman sexually. The film points out very clearly that recruiters are under extreme pressure to make their numbers and in doing so are often pushed to make immoral decisions. The major point of difference is to not celebrate the war, but hone in on what is important about soldiers and the battles they face internally when returning home. Other films about war are often blockbuster action hits, used to feed the American image of ‘no guts, no glory’. A Fighting Season is what I consider an honest film about real American soldiers, not a poster boy from a polished “Army Strong” commercial. 

Cinema takes a while to process the costs of war – M*A*S*H came well after the Korean conflict; Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, a decade after Vietnam. In the wake of 9/11 and the Bush/Cheney administration’s morally ‘murky’ deployment of troops, is portraying wartime heroism on screen harder than it should be?

We lack cinema that portrays troops with any real accuracy. There are documentaries on the subject, (but) even there you find a collection of films that are financed by the Army and military branches. The film is meant to lend an alternative opinion to that fuelled by 9/11 propaganda. We can never know the costs of war until decades later, but for now the film serves as a reminder that troops are suffering by the hundreds of thousands, returning with trauma, and battle scars. It’s extremely hard to get past the superhero complex that American audiences buy into. In war, there aren’t always heroes, sometimes, just survivors.

How do you answer those inevitable protesters who will claim anything less than glowing portrayals of US soldiers is ‘unAmerican’ or ‘unpatriotic’? 

Our first amendment right is freedom of speech, (so) I encourage any protest through words. But I’d challenge the critic by asking them to create something they consider American before they’d cast A Fighting Season as anything less. We live in interesting times and under a cloud of ‘American Propaganda’ that casts around the world. This film offers a different perspective on how many Americans who protest the current war perceives the issues. Diversity sparks conversation, leads to debate then results in more diverse thinking. A Fighting Season is a film that brings the debate of war and terrorism to the forefront. It clearly states, ‘what is the war on terror and why are we in it?’

A FIGHTING SEASON REVIEW


Synopsis: It is 2007 and U.S. Sgt. Mason (Clayne Crawford) who was injured in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq is sent back home and reassigned to a regional recruiting office run by Sgt. Harris (Lew Temple). He finds himself trying to enlist young men and women who have no idea of the realities of war.  Nor for that matter has Sgt. Harris. 

Although the specific historical context for writer-director-cinematographer-producer Oden Roberts’ film has passed and that lessens its impact somewhat A Fighting Season nevertheless remains a powerfully eloquent film, one that particularly for a debut feature makes astonishingly effective use of its evidently limited means. Whilst of course there is a creative team that underpins the production, the success of the film depends most crucially on Roberts’ script and the compelling performances by Lew Temple and Clayne Crawford. 

A 2003 graduate of NYU's Film School, Roberts’ based his script on his own experiences of being recruited by the US Army while he was still in high school. The film’s primary agenda is to expose the dubious mix of manipulation and lies that the Army used to persuade naïve kids (and their parents) from the lower socio-economic sections of society, including juvenile offenders. to sign up with Uncle Sam. Dramatically this  purpose is embodied in the contrast between the two leads. 

With impressive economy Roberts sketches in Sgt. Mason’s back-story, opening the film with him abusing Iraqi prisoners, behaviour inspired perhaps by his having being injured by an IED (improvised explosive device) attack on his troop carrier. The good news is that as a result the Army believes him psychologically unfit and repatriates him, the bad news is that he is given the task of recruiting young men and women to take his place. Compounding Mason’s problem is that his boss Sgt. Harris is a blow-hard and a bully who despite his macho swagger has never seen action.  In fact, Mason is the only person in the recruitment office who has. 

The phenomenon of  battlefield PTSD has been seen before in Jim Sheridan’s Brothers (2009) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) but A Fighting Season gives us a fresh take on the subject by looking at the Army’s own cynical culpability and the gulf that lies between rhetoric and reality.

Clayne Crawford gives a marvellous performance throughout  - taciturn, obdurate and one feels, just below the threshold of breakdown as he silently struggles to make sense of his commitment to a hollow system.  Lew Temple is equally good as the cowardly enabler of that system, one on which he depends to validate his tough guy self-image. 

Like, another late entrant, 2014’s Camp X RayA Fighting Season is a powerful look behind the lines of war.