“The Last Ounce of Courage” is opening today in 1400 screens across the United States, and is the only film ever to be given a “Chuck Norris Seal of Approval,” even though he has no part in the movie. AMFM Magazine asked Producer/Director Kevin McAfee about the film, which he took great care to explain is not a faith-based film. Rather, it is a film about the freedom our forefathers granted to us as an ideal that all men should guard, an ideal which shaped the United States of America. Freedom is not free, and comes with a sacrifice which is lives of the men and women of our armed forces, who voluntarily defend this birthright and give their lives so that others may not suffer tyranny. McAfee feels this ideal of freedom is being steadily eroded in our lifetimes, and the film is a call to action to protect all our unique freedoms, the right to bear arms as well as the right to worship as we choose.
AMFM: In your opinion, why is this movie being made?
KM: It’s interesting because it started five years ago, before Obama was in office. This movie was not made to be a political statement at all. It’s not a Republican movie. It’s not a Democrat movie. It’s a movie about what we believe as Americans and what it is that we should be doing together, and that is ‘What should we rally around?’ Do we rally around our freedoms? I think we should. And no matter what party we are from, what background we are from, in this country we have freedoms. Those freedoms are cherished whether is is the right to free speech, the right to assemble, the right to worship or the right to not worship at all. And because of that men and women in our military and in the armed services have given their lives so that we can have these cherished freedoms. That is why this movie is being made. It’s to elevate and to honor those who have stood in harms way so that we can have the freedoms we share in this country.
AMFM: Were you in the military yourself or was anybody involved with the movie?
KM: I have family members that were in the military, and the people that started this movie, Richard and Gina Headrick came up with a concept about a combat-decorated veteran that had sent his son off to war and, unfortunately, in the first ten minutes of the film the son is killed. I share that not to give away the film but for the military families (which literally consists of 124,000,000) in America that watch this movie, i want them to go with their hearts prepared. We showed this to the Purple Heart Veterans in Branson, Missouri and some of them had a real difficult time with it. I want to be sensitive towards the heartstrings of those who have suffered and died, or have lost limbs. So we know that the movie has a strong impact because of the death that occurs early on, but it has a purpose. The rest of the movie is about the young father, who later becomes a grandfather, and his grandson grows up 14 years later and asks the same question that many of us do, “Why did my dad have to die?” and from that I cast Bill O’Reilly in the film, to start a rant like he sometimes does, and it incites an entire family to think ‘What are we going to take stand for?’ Thats really the ethic for the film.
AMFM: What was the difficulty that the Purple Heart Veterans had with the movie? What were those heartstrings that were being tugged at?
KM: The difficulty is the feelings and suffering that they went through is the same type of experiences that happen on the screen. It makes the film emotionally very sensitive. ‘How did their family back home deal with it? How did they deal with it? What were they sacrificing for? What were they believing in?’ Well they were believing that our freedoms are worth fighting for. That we, as a great country and a great nation filled with patriotism, are thankful that they made this sacrifice. They don’t regret it. They don’t like to call attention to themselves, they’re not the kind of people that want to elevate what they’ve done. They don’t even talk about winning a Purple Heart. What they do is serve. They do this in love and devotion, and for their God and country. That kind of allegiance to our nation and to our people is rare and those heroes and patriots changed my life being around them and have changed many peoples lives. So this is our way to say thank you.
AMFM: So this movie is about the ideal of our country.
KM: Yes, and it’s also about a battle. There’s an ideal and a battle. There is a war going on, and the war is to take away our freedoms. One of those freedoms is religious liberty. Religious freedom, that is one element important to me. If you’re a Muslim you have the right to bow down five times in the town square and pray. If you’re Jewish you have the right to display with your Menorah or blow your Shofar. If you’re a Christian you have the right to put up a Christmas tree or to put up a cross in public. But what is happening is, those freedoms are slowly being taken away; they are being removed. Christmas trees in Tyler Texas are no longer lawful. Red and green lights can’t be shown in Plano Texas. When I showed this to governor Rick Perry he said ‘You know it amazing how everything is just turned upside down.’ And we believe that it’s really true. That’s why Chuck Norris gave his seal of approval to our movie because he said freedoms are being lost, they are being taken away. He saw the movie, he saw that it was relevant and of course he is not even in the movie. He doesn’t gain anything financially from this. He just loved the thought of what it was about. So we’re excited that he feels the conviction and the passion to invest in helping promote a little movie with a big heart.
AMFM: You should have made a promotional video for your movie “I’m Chuck Norris and I approve this message.” That would be funny.
KM: Well it is funny because he asked me; and I say “you know this isn’t a Republican movie, it’s not a Democrat movie. It’s not an anti-Obama movie.” This movie is made out of a pure heart, of a group of filmmakers. I’m directing it with Darrell Campbell who made the movie The Pistol and I had done the movie The End of the Spear and we together talked about this. We’re filmmakers, yes we have a faith. That is an important part of who we are. But we are not faith-based filmmakers. There’s a difference. We both started at Disney, we both have backgrounds in film that are on the corporate side so therefore this is really a film that we believe in because of it’s message.
AMFM: So you’re not trying to preach with it.
KM: No, and we don’t want to. Everyone has their own pursuit in life and their own spiritual pursuit. But the point is that if you want to have a spiritual pursuit, you have the freedom to do it. Even if you don’t want to worship at all, you should have the freedom and that is what it’s about. Men and women have served to give us these freedoms and for some reason those freedoms are being taken away. That’s not right. We have to stand up and say ‘Wait a second, you know I’m going to stand up for my Jewish brothers. I’m going to stand up.’ And you know what, I might be a Christian but i have friends that believe differently. But they have that right in this country. They should not be put down or persecuted anyway. I believe, unfortunately, the Christians have been persecuted and as a result that is why there is a war going on.
AMFM: So this movie i about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for us all, and it’s not necessarily about religion it’s just that you are talking about the freedoms that have been taken away from us and are being eroded. Would you attribute this to the political action committees? Would you attribute this to political correctness?
KM: I think so. I think it’s hard to point a finger and go ‘Ok, now these are the real bad guys.’ I think it is the combination of many things. It is a cultural change and a cultural shift that is happening. It is a political administrative shift that is happening. It is even a spiritual movement that’s happening. I have never seen the Catholic Church for instance take such a bold stand as I have in the last three months. I was invited to speak at a rally for religious liberty in Oklahoma City, where I was born. There were three to four thousand people in this auditorium talking about religious freedom. Where did that come from? Well it’s come obviously because there are some governmental issues that are coming back upon the religious sector and it’s not being met well by the religious community. The timing of this never factored into the filmmaking process, it’s more than serendipity that this tapestry is coming together the way it is. And it just so happens that we are falling into a time in history when even a presidential debate is talking about religious freedom. It’s like, REALLY?
AMFM: We were supposed to have that a long time ago – that is what this country was founded on.
KM: I know! It’s like, what are we doing? Why are we talking about that? We are talking about it because there is an erosion and The Last Ounce of Courage is a movie that is saying ‘Look, whatever background you’re from, you have a right to take a stand. You have a right to say something.’ We don’t have to be quiet anymore, we don’t have to be embarrassed about our faith. We don’t have to be embarrassed about what we believe. I think though that there is a key here that people miss; It’s not what we say it’s how we say it.
I’m going to use a biblical story to illustrate. Mark 4:11 Christ to his disciples, and the disciples are saying ‘Why don’t you just cut to the chase? Just let them have it. Tell them what the truth is!’ and he said ‘Now wait a second, what about the people that don’t have the ears to hear and eyes to see. What about those people?’ and then he told a story about a farmer planting his seed. Eugene Peterson in the message version of the Bible says ‘Now Christ was always found telling stories gently, nudging them towards receptive insight.’
I think that is where the mistake is made. I think that sometimes when we become militant or when we superimpose our values that we are big entry based or that we are fanatics and that we don’t care what other people think. Oh I think we’ve really missed it. What about kindness, what about gentleness, what about nudging people. What about saying ‘Have you thought about this?’ And I think that’s what the polarization of our country, the states and the political agendas, have not really allowed us to dialog. To have open dialog to talk about these things. To sit down on both sides of the aisle. I’m a statesman; I believe that both sides of the aisle have something to say. So we stop and listen to each other, or we remain polarized.
AMFM: So Last Ounce of Courage is gently nudging?
KM: It’s gently nudging and it’s trying to say ‘What’s not separating us as a nation but what can bring us together as a nation.’ I believe in patriotism, I believe it is the hope and inspiration of this experiment called democracy. And I believe that George Washington didn’t stop and say ‘Well i want to be politically correct.’ he made the statement, and I cant believe he said it, but he made the statement ‘Without God and the the Bible, a nation can not govern.’
Wow! You know if a president said that today, WOW! But our founding father said it, and it was ok then. Why?, because we founded a nation upon this. I want to apologize for not being as bold and courageous as i could, because it’s not so much in the movie what the people do overseas… it’s what are we doing. What are we doing to take a stand. What are we doing to believe. Are we taking up for our brothers? That maybe they’re not like us or maybe they don’t worship like us. Suppose we should take up for them too? I think so. That is the message of this movie.
And I’m going to tell you something I just found this out, this is an absolute fact. A few minutes ago I got a call from Rocky Mountain Pictures, who is doing our distribution. They told me they just found out that we are going to be in about 1400 screens, which is the second largest film of our type ever launched into the public, behind Passion of the Christ. So this is a very substantial release and uh, it’s always a little scary because you hope people go see it but most importantly it is what it is, and if it going to resonates in it’s audiences. It will have to stand on it’s own as a film and be competitive in a highly competitive marketplace.
AMFM: What is your ultimate hope for the movie? What is the “best” scenario you’ve envisioned after the release?
KM: The best scenario for us is that the film will touch the military audiences and the veterans and the families of veterans. Active and inactive. That it will give them encouragement. That they would walk away not only feeling inspired but thankful for the service rendered by the brave people that have stood in harms way. That’s number one; second would be that somehow it would impact culture. We go to movies largely to be entertained which in the Greek means to distract or divert one’s attention. But I think that more importantly we go to the movies because we are looking for a fantasy or a journey. The lights go down and we try to become the characters. We are looking for a way to inspire. Our film company Veritas is about family, faith and freedom. Years ago, John Wayne would make Green Beret and it was all about thanking the military, God, country… It’s just that we don’t have movies like that anymore. They don’t make them.
AMFM: What theaters are you going to be screening it? Are you going to hit the military theaters on base?
KM: It’s interesting that you say that because we are strategically placing our screenings. One of the first things that we did is to make sure that we had theaters around Fort Hood, Langly, you know all over. In every major city in a metroplex we are within a ten mile radius. 1400 screens is definitely nationwide in every state. So we have, last night, a 9/11 screening in 28 states. 600 screenings where we gave away tickets to military and then their families, really just to say thank you. We wanted to do that not just as a promotional movement for the movie but because we had trouble with the government going overseas and try to screen it for the troops. So we said ok, because of the red tape and how long it takes to get in, we’ll just try to do something for the troops here, and that’s what we did yesterday. We thought that the patriotic day 9/11 would be a good day to do it.
What is hindering us from sending our movie to the troops that are deployed and the militia has control as to what they allow to be shown. And what is polarizing the militia is that they are afraid to take in anything that talks about religious freedom even though we are in a religious liberty neutral message. It has been more dictated as to what the chaplains can and cannot do. I’m talking about erosion and liberty of freedom. You’ve got to be kidding me. And so yes, they will put Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer on and they won’t take The Last Ounce of Courage. It’s so frustrating and that is the very thing that our movie is about. The very freedom that we are fighting for, and this would really encourage our troops. And because we are not vampires and we don’t have some supernatural thing going on and landing on the moon or we’re not transformers, whatever the movies are that are getting accepted to entertain to troops or to make them laugh. I would hope that they would give us the chance, but so far we have just not been successful.
AMFM: Well maybe if there is a response from the public that is overwhelmingly positive then they will then have a different idea about it.
KM: We hope so, we want to do something special for them, let them see it first. And secondly our lead actor, Marshall Teague, is a United States Navy veteran. Chuck Norris is a United States Air Force veteran. And so they were willing to go and to promote the movie but, even so, we had door after door close on us. So I think it is a statement to the people who control the government and that’s the only people that are the administration. So i would encourage the administration to change their policies because i don’t think they are any good. They’re wrong. Sometimes when policies restrict freedoms you need to take a stand and that’s the direction we’re going. We are not going to bow down to anything that is against right and wrong.
I want to add one thing that I think is important. Part of this movie came from Richard and Gina Headrick. They were the genesis of this film. They felt in their heart that they wanted to make a statement and they used a combat-decorated veteran concept to build a story concept in a weekend. The handed handed that to Darrell Campbell, who had done the movie The Pistol, a very talented screenwriter who is part of the Writers Guild of America. He created a wonderful script and directed it. And then about halfway through the picture, I came in to direct and produce the picture. This was three different units of several hundred people spanning four years and it all got finished in May. All of us together realised that it was a village that helped put this movie together. There were many times where the movie almost completely died and went away. But because patriots came alongside to fund and market the picture because they believed in it, we were able to present Last Ounce of Courage to audiences everywhere. DVD sales open December 4th into Walmart and other stores across America. I feel very grateful to had been a small part of the picture. It really does take a lot of people working to make something happen, not just one. I wanted to make sure that everyone that was behind the scenes, that maybe they don’t get their name out there.
They are such a valued part of the Veritas family and that’s why we are able to share the picture with the world.
There are several groups that have come alongside with us. The American Family Association is partnering with us. The National Rifle Association is partnering with us, because they care about rights and they are worried about freedoms being taken away there. StandUSA.com has come alongside us which is a thought leader in social media network that’s very conservative and is promoting the film. So theres many different organizations, Dr. James Dobson’s, Family Talk is coming along side us that are faith based organizations. And then veteran organizations like Veterans for Freedom. We are taking a portion of what we do and giving it back to the veterans through that nonprofit.