Alumnus Paul Merryman talks ‘Outpost’ production, SXSW cancellation

Brooke Sjoberg

Paul Merryman, UT radio-television-film alumnus and producer, was set to premiere his debut feature-length project, “The Outpost,” at South by Southwest this year. With the festival’s cancellation, the premiere of “The Outpost” has been delayed.

“The Outpost” is based on Jake Tapper’s nonfiction book of the same name, chronicling the series of events leading up to a small battle between United States soldiers and the Taliban. The Daily Texan spoke with Merryman about his work on “The Outpost” and the cancellation of SXSW.

The Daily Texan: How do you feel about the cancellation of SXSW?

Paul Merryman: I mean, we’re all very disappointed, but we understand why it was the right thing for the city and the community. There was a lot of disappointment because this was a really exciting premiere for the filmmakers. For me personally, as a resident of Austin and UT grad, to be able to premiere my movie in my hometown at the festival that showed my student thesis film back in 2006 as part of the Texas Shorts program would have been cool. It was going to be awesome to return to the festival. A lot of friends and family were going to be in town, obviously, to see it. One of the Medal of Honor winners portrayed in the film is pretty much an Austin resident. He lives in Bastrop. But he’s sort of like an Austinite now.

DT: How did you get involved with producing “The Outpost?”

PM: I learned about the book from a colleague, and I read it. This is when I was working as an executive for the film’s director, Sam Raimi. I learned that there were screenwriters attached to the book, and they were taking it out and shopping it as a pitch to various studios. I had them bring the pitch in, and we said yes, in the room, we wanted to do the movie with them. We began developing the screenplay. At a certain point, you know, directors tend to be choosy about what their next projects are going to be or what they are going to direct. When Sam decided that he wasn’t going to direct this, we began looking at other choices, and we brought in Rod Lurie, who I was always a fan of. I loved his movies, and him being a military guy and a graduate of West Point, he had a very particular point of view about the story. That’s who we ended up choosing to direct the film. Then it just took a while to set it up and get a cast and actually finance them into production.

DT: What drew you to the screenplay?

PM: What I found intriguing about the book and the story was that the U.S. military could make such a terrible miscalculation to put an army outpost at the bottom of three mountains in a very indefensible position. It’s really a high-risk kind of move. Reading through the book, there were army officers and lieutenants who lost their lives from accidents, not just in the gunfire, but there was a lieutenant whose truck literally slipped off a mountain road, and it rolled down the cliff. And he lost this life. That was one of the most shocking pieces of the book because about the last hundred pages is that battle. Everything else leading up to it is why put the base there, how they put the base there, different people that served with that base and what the men went through.