MCC students involved in WWII film shoot | News, Sports, Jobs
When Dillon Jacobson and Lane Schnathorst first got involved with “Reveille,” the Marshalltown Community College (MCC) students — who were also high school classmates at BCLUW — could never imagine how far the project would take them.
Their professor at MCC, Steve Muntz, first invited Jacobson, a camera operator who dreams of directing his own films someday, and Schnathorst, an actor, to a trailer shoot in Iowa Falls in September for what was then envisioned as a short film about a little known World War II battle between American and German soldiers along the Winter Line of Italy in 1943.
The goal of the film, as writer/director Michael Akkerman and others involved have repeatedly reiterated, was to be honest and unflinching, stripping away the glitz, glamor and theatrics that have often characterized blockbuster war movies in the US particularly. What remains is a shared humanity between enemies and a simple desire to survive.
For the trailer, Jacobson ran one of the backup cameras, and Schnathorst played a German soldier. Because Akkerman and the producers were striving for authenticity, however, he would’ve been required to learn the language to play the same character in the actual film, and he ultimately ended up in a smaller role as an American soldier.
After the trailer was shot, additional funding for the project was secured — including money from a member of the European Parliament — and a decision was made to make “Reveille” into a full-length feature film. Although the initial plan was to shoot in the Los Angeles area as a stand-in for Italy, the filmmakers ultimately settled on an area of the Ozark Mountains near Sparta, Mo. Jacobson spent 10 days on the set, and Schnathorst was there for 11 .
“I ended up helping out the main sound guy for about the first week, and then after that, I was put into my acting position. After that it was just sit back and watch everything play out,” Schnathorst said.
Interestingly enough, Schnathorst’s other job working for Anderson Funeral Homes came in handy because of his ability to make dead bodies look “the way they’re supposed to” on the set. He was told it was realistic enough that he could potentially secure a position as a mortem advisor on future productions.
Jacobson’s main duty as an assistant camera operator was to determine which sections of the frame should be in focus, and he said the difference between the trailer shoot and the film shoot was night and day. The cast tripled in size, and the production crew was exponentially larger—in all, there were between 50 and 60 people involved in the film.
Both Schnathorst and Jacobson said they had learned the basic facts about WWII in high school classes, which Jacobson noted were more focused on the Pacific Theater and the battles against Japan, but “Reveille” provided a whole new education on the conflict.
“We were working with people that have put hundreds of hours (and) years worth of studying into WWII and just war in general and the humanity side of it,” Schnathorst said. “I didn’t go into this movie looking at things black and white. I kind of looked at both sides. You know, just the conflict between them is gray… You kind of have to get into the mindset of war is hell, and nobody’s really benefiting from it.”
Along with Jacobson and Schnathorst, some other Iowans from the area ended up playing huge roles in “Reveille” — specifically, German immigrants Bernd Wittneben and Jorg Rochlitzer, both of whom live in Wellsburg. Wittneben, himself a veteran of the West German border patrol, played German squad leader Walter Brander, and Rochlitzer, who served in the German military after the reunification and is currently a professor at Ellsworth Community College, worked as a technical advisor and executive producer.
“Because we had seen other war movies, we decided to make this one because they’re all so wrong,” Wittneben said. “And what we had very strongly in this setup is we had actually American advisors. We had actually German advisors. We had actually somebody from Germany to be with us on the set and help us… We wanted to create a movie which is historically absolutely correct.”
Due to the authenticity, Wittneben added, moments during which actors or crewmembers left the set because they were so emotional were common, and he hopes audiences will experience a similar visceral reaction. Many of the actors themselves came to “Reveille” with real-life military and combat backgrounds.
“That is the way this movie goes. It tells of real suffering. It doesn’t matter if it’s Germans or Americans, no winner in this one,” Wittneben said. “Whoever goes out there is damaged for life — if he’s still alive… This movie will change the way war movies are seen.”
Now that filming has wrapped, the editing process is underway, and Wittneben hopes it will be shown at festivals early in 2023. Wittneben and Rochlitzer are already developing other film projects, and Jacobson has been inspired to turn one of his old shorts into a full length feature.
The experience of shooting “Reveille” and the subsequent inspiration it has provided were nothing short of life changing, and all of the people involved became a family in the process.
“Everybody had each other’s back. When they were down, when they had to step away, there was always somebody with open arms. There was always somebody to basically just be there for them,” Jacobson said.
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 gold