Film crew takes flight to shed light on PTSD

If you've ever wondered what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder feels like, imagine a mouse getting attacked and being swooped up in the claws of a hawk, then dropped back in the field to live his life, but always looking over his shoulder for the return of terror.

That was the description of PTSD given to the makers of the documentary "Half Way Home" — and to illustrate the chilling metaphor, producers shot the raptor-mouse scene from an auto-gyro Friday in the fields and hills by Ashland airport.

Flying an auto-gyro, Shawn Adams of Rotor Head Inc. in Medford, made the shot look easy, swooping down grassy slopes just inches off the ground with his high-definition camera strapped beside the seat of his open-cockpit aircraft.

After several passes, Adams would return to the hanger and show "rushes" of the scene, representing the point-of-view of mouse or hawk, to the film's director of photography, Alexandre Naufel, who would direct further shots.

Faced with permit problems, expensive helicopters and urban congestion in their native Los Angeles, Naufel and writer-director Paul Freedman contacted Ashland's Gary Kout, executive director of Southern Oregon Film and Television, who quickly connected them with experienced and affordable aerial photographer Adams, lots of handy fields — and a minimum of red tape.

"They envisioned a sequence of aerial and ground photography in a pastoral setting to underlie this powerful description. But with dwindling time and funds, the hopes of pulling off an expensive shoot with the proper equipment — namely a helicopter — and in a remote locale seemed unlikely," says Kout.

The key emotional scene will be used to open the film. It would normally be shot by the director of photography, but, given Adams' experience shooting from the tiny, one-man auto-gyro, producers decided to use him as the camera man, says Kout.

"The scenes will be cut together for a creative sense of tension and doom (for the mouse), then comes the moment of the strike," said Kout, marking the onset of PTSD.

The metaphor, showing the vulnerability of the mouse and the dominance of the raptor, came from the documentary's main character, former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee from the Vietnam War — whose PTSD was submerged during his long political career, only to emerge, full-blown with his election defeat in 2002, said Freedman.

"Vietnam came rushing back and nearly put an end to him," said Freedman, who interviewed many veterans, "but he became, for the film, the spiritual guide saying 'you can get through this.' " The film features interviews with combat vets, gathered during shoots at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Memorial Day events at American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg and other sites.

Southern Oregon Film and Television, or SOFaT, is a 70-member organization for networking, promotion and work opportunities for the film industry here.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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