“Sand Castle” screenwriter bases film on military experiences

Charles Liu

Iraq War film “Sand Castle,” to be released on Netflix on April 21, tells the story of an American platoon tasked with repairing an Iraqi village’s water supply. The platoon encounters resistance from local insurgents – and from the villagers they are trying to help. The main character, Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), learns that success does not come easy in war. In anticipation of the upcoming release, the Daily Texan interviewed debut screenwriter and veteran, Chris Roessner.

Daily Texan: How did your military experiences in Iraq inform the writing process for your screenplay?
Chris Roessner: I didn’t start writing the screenplay until I was back from the war seven or eight years. What I think makes my Iraq experience somewhat unique is that success for my unit depended upon our ability to work alongside the Iraqi people. I had never seen that fictionalized before. I don’t know if it would have had this film not been made.
I wanted the audience to fall in love with the characters so that when they were hurt or when they died, people felt very intensely. I also wanted people to feel what it’s like to want something to happen so desperately, to work so hard to fix a problem, and know that it’s a worthy cause, but realizing that wanting to be successful enough. That’s kind of what war feels like – it’s the realization you paid a heavy price, but you probably only steered the ship like half a degree.

DT: Nicholas Hoult stood by the film for years before it was filmed. What was the process like working with him from the beginning to the end?
CR: Working with Nick all those years was incredible. I trusted this guy so much, and I gave him the journal I kept (as a nineteen-year old). I’m sure there’s a ton of things in it to be embarrassed about, but I didn’t really care. What I really cared about was that Nick got a better understanding of where I wrote the screenplay from and why I wanted to make the movie so bad. It was tough emotionally for me, but it’s what makes the movie so strong. His performance is the cornerstone of this movie, and he delivers, and that’s because he was so serious about it before the movie started shooting.

DT: Why did you become a screenwriter?
CR: I’d wanted to be a writer for a long time. I thought I’d be a novelist initially. I may try that later on, but I love actors, I love directors, I love the participatory and collaborator nature of filmmaking. Films also have a reach that novels don’t. It’s also kind of how I think – I think in pictures. I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker for a long time. So it seemed appropriate to me that making a film was the right way to say what I wanted to say and reach as many people as possible. In that regard, Netflix has been phenomenal. They have a subscriber base of 90 million people. Our film is going to be blasted out all over the world and people are going to like it or not like it, but the point is it will be a representation of what’s happened and have a reasonable shot at affecting culture.

DT: What projects are you working on next?
CR: I adapted a book for Ben Affleck to direct, I’m very proud of that. In recent years, I’ve turned to lighter fare. I’m really interested in pulpy, noir kind of things to cleanse my palette.