After playing a special operations serviceman on television for four years, actor Max Martini is looking to use his Hollywood chops to help out the real troops. Inspired by servicemen he met though his television show "The Unit" – a CBS series that ran from 2006-2009 about a Delta Force special ops unit – Martini is raising money through GoFundMe to make a film about a military veteran who struggles with his return home.
"It's a story that rarely gets told," says Martini, who can be seen in "Pacific Rim" opening this weekend. "It's about an unsung war hero, and I think a lot of people will identify with it."
Martini based his story, titled "Will Gardner," loosely on an army ranger Martini befriended during a USO tour he went on through the show. The two kept in touch – and continue to this day – and Martini learned his friend returned from his tour with not only two Purple Hearts, but also having suffered a traumatic brain injury.
"As a result of that, things in his life started to collapse," says Martini. His friend lost his job and was homeless for some time.
"It inspired me to write a script, being that it's my real platform from which to speak and it's what I can do to reach a broad audience," Martini says. "Will Gardner" is the first full feature Martini has written, but he has worked on a number of television and miniseries screenplays before.
Though Martini doesn't know when he was first motivated to write "Will Gardner," his friend's story is unfortunately very common. According to a 2011 Department of Veterans Affairs Study, there are almost 70,000 veterans homeless on a single night , many of them disabled by traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder.
Martini has been able to recruit many of his castmates from "The Unit," as well as its crew, to participate in "Will Gardner." Martini is seeking $2,500,000 in pledges during the next 32 days to make the film (he is also going after corporate sponsors – "Anyone with a philanthropic heart," he says) and he will donate half the film's profits to a group of veterans' charities. This promise is also why he turned to a crowd-funding approach rather than a conventional production model.
"It was difficult to find investors willing to give up their profit pool," Martini says.
In addition to charity donations, Martini hopes to screen the film on military bases in an effort to lift some of the stigma of TBI and PTSD, something he says his army ranger friend encountered.
"While he was in combat, we were emailing and he was very apprehensive to come forward and say, 'Hey, I don't feel right.' His fear was he would get shuffled to the right or sent home or ridiculed," Martini says.
"Because our military is voluntary and because so many veterans are suffering right now, I feel if we don't actively do our part for returning soldiers, what kind of message are we leaving for future volunteers?"