AFTRS to develop training program for veterans

Warwick Young. 

Actor and filmmaker Warwick Young is currently working with AFTRS to develop a film training program for veterans.

The news comes as Young, who completed active service in Iraq in 2006, was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on Saturday for his service to veterans and their families.

To receive the OAM was humbling and unexpected, Young tells IF, because his work with veterans “is something I do to give back to a community of people I think give us a lot.”

In 2013, Young was approached to advise the production of play ‘The Long Way Home’, a joint venture between the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Together with wounded, injured, and ill defence personnel, the play was written and developed via a workshop at the STC and then went on a national tour in 2014 with a cast of predominantly veterans who were recovering from both mental and physical disability. Young was also a cast member and mentor to those working on the play.

Through this, Young was then enlisted to assist the ADF on an arts therapy program for veterans, which includes drama, music, visual arts and creative writing as mediums for recovery. The head drama coach, Young regards the initiative as a transformative. “You saw little miracles every day in people who had been unable to communicate or express their emotions, or share things with their family.”

The actor also knows the cathartic power of the arts first-hand; he says his lead role in 2008 play ‘Brilliant Monkey’, written by Alan Dukes and directed by Jeremy Sims, helped him the process of dealing with what he had witnessed in Iraq. He played a character who had returned from active service in Afghanistan and was seeking treatment for a brain trauma injury. “I realised the benefit I got out of telling my story through a character.”

Young graduated from AFTRS with a Masters of Arts Screen: Directing in 2013, and began discussing a film program for veterans with AFTRS CEO Neil Peplow after a talk to students about his time at the school. Peplow had mentioned areas of the screen industry where there were skills shortages, and Young suggested he look to the defence force. Together they identified there are certain skill sets that military personnel have that would be highly valuable to the screen industry. For instance, someone who worked in reconnaissance potentially has skills valuable in a location manager.

“We see a call sheet, but you put that in from of anybody who’s a logistician in the military and they’ll see a task order. It’s exactly the same thing. All you need to do is take those skills and help them translate that into the film industry.”

Young notes the course would not just be for wounded, injured or ill veterans but anyone who is transitioning from the defence force. He predicts not only practical benefit for the screen industry, but also potential therapeutic benefits for the participants.

“The beauty of working in a creative space or in a creative environment is you are compelled and are encouraged to speak about how your’e thinking and feeling. That’s one of the things that happens in the film industry that I’ve always loved.”

He also sees veterans lending an authentic voice to stories of war and conflict. “I often see war films and they’ve just got it wrong. It’s completely wrong, they’ve got the characters wrong, and consequently there’s an important part of the story that’s missing.”

The program is still in the early stages of development, with AFTRS currently hoping to implement it later this year.

Young is currently working on two projects related to the armed services: Vietnam War film Last Man, with director Fred Schepisi, and a feature version of Brilliant Monkey, which he intends to direct.

Last Man is based on novel ‘Uncertain Fate’ by Graham Brammer, and follows a group of Australian SAS soldiers through a patrol in Vietnam and then what has happened to them 12 years on.  The film has gotten up twice previously only to fall down at the last hurdle, with Young and Schepisi now working on the film’s “third iteration”.

“It’s a magnificent story, it’s very timely and it’s got a level of authenticity that you just don’t see,” Young says.

In addition, Young is also adapting his AFTRS Masters short Stuffed, about a taxidermist who does all he can to keep his beloved mother with him after she dies, into a feature film. The short won best student film at the UK Film Festival and Best Foreign Film at the Beverley Hills Festival.