The Guys Behind ‘Range 15’ Want Their Zombie Comedy to Destroy Veteran Stereotypes
Not all vets are alcoholics, ‘The Hurt Locker’ still sucks and no one cries when you kill a zombie
by MATTHEW GAULT
I interviewed Mat Best and Nick Palmisciano on Memorial Day. No pressure.
Best is a former U.S. Army Ranger turned Internet entrepreneur. His satirical YouTube videos score millions of viewers, he runs a successful clothing line and now stars in a movie alongside William Shatner and Danny Trejo.
Palmisciano spent six years as an Army infantry officer, went to business school and now spends his time managing several successful companies. He’s launched clothing lines, founded consulting firms, and produced and starred in an apocalyptic zombie comedy.
The movie is Range 15 and it’s disgusting, crude and hilarious. It’s easy to see that the cast and crew had fun making it. Keith David — who plays an Army colonel — looks as if he might lose it and start laughing in every scene he’s in.
“It was an absolute blast,” Palmisciano tells me. “The actual three weeks that we were in L.A. … were probably the three coolest weeks of my life.”
“I agree,” Best says. “Those three weeks were a great time. It’s not everyday you get to spend two years with your best friends and create a product that we all want to make successful.”
Then, before I can even suggest that the film is the brainchild of one or the other, the two old friends rush to compliment each other and defer to the film’s crew. “Mat was an incredibly supportive lead in the movie,” Palmisciano explains.
“If he wasn’t in a scene he was there supporting us. The whole way through, it was a group of people trying very hard to produce the best product they could. And the fact that that we were so engaged with the crew, which is not a common thing, just made it really fun. Everyone was a family.”
“If there was a problem that came up,” Best adds. “It wasn’t, ‘Oh the crew will handle it.’ Nick would say, ‘I’ll be right back,’ and go and fix the issue.
Range 15 stars both men. Palmisciano produced and wrote the film alongside director Ross Patterson and friend Billy Jay. Best is the charismatic lead, but to hear Palmisciano tell it, he busted his ass working behind the scenes, too.
The plot is basic — Best and his buddies wake up in the local jail after a hard night of drinking to discover America is overrun by zombies. Best rallies his friends, and they tear-ass across the country to cure the plague and save the world.
“It’s every military guy’s dream — the apocalypse,” Best says. And zombies make a convenient antagonist. “You don’t have to demonize or romanticize the war. It’s a dead creature that’d be fun to hunt with your buddies.”
Zombies also gave the crew a chance to poke fun at one of Range 15’s many satirical targets — bad dystopian cliches. “You watch The Walking Dead and you’re like, ‘What the Hell is wrong with these guys and why have they learned nothing in five seasons?” Palmisciano says.
“Why are they still trusting everybody? Why aren’t they better at killing zombies? … It’s frustrating to watch. We know we can do better so we wanted to show people we could.”
But Range 15 isn’t just a sendup of zombie movies, it’s a satire of Hollywood’s portrayal of the military. More importantly, Best and his friends want Range 15 to destroy the wounded warrior stereotype so pervasive in American culture.
Best and crew funded the film using Indiegogo and the project’s pitch video showed the friends sitting around a bar and decrying the terrible state of military cinema.
“That conversation happens thousands and thousands of times, every day throughout the military community,” Palmisciano explains. “Almost every movie that I’ve ever seen is just terrible. Veterans are either completely broken or they’re white knights that are dramatically saluting — perfect in every way and emotionless.”
Palmisciano tells me that vets are just like any other group in America — they’re a complete cross section of the country.
“We’re all different. We all come from different places. We all have different personalities. We don’t accept the Hollywood stereotypes … so we wanted to do a movie that burned all those stereotypes.”
So they got together, wrote a script, found a director and crowdfunded the flick. They succeeded. Range 15 sends up war-movie cliches while including cameos from porn stars and real-life Medal of Honor recipients.
But Best and company are still fighting the wounded warrior image.
The cliche of the broken, PTSD-riddled vet is so pervasive that the group couldn’t even escape it while promoting the film. The guys recently screened Range 15 at the G.I. Film Festival, a yearly event where veterans and civilians get together to celebrate the American military with movies.
The festival screens mostly indies and short films … mostly made by civilians.
Best and Palmisciano weren’t impressed with a lot of the what they saw — sad, short films full of alcoholic veterans popping pills and flashing back to the war in the desert. “That’s a narrative we want to break,” Best explains.
One of the short films was so bad that Best leaned over to his buddies and told them he was positive the filmmaker was a civilian. When the director came out to discuss his film, he admitted he’d never been to war.
Best confronted him about his lack of military experience. The director told Best he’d read Lone Survivor and felt that the book gave him a good idea of the veteran’s perspective. “It’s a good thing I have patience,” Best says.
Of all the bad military films in recent memory, Best and Palmisciano say Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 megahit The Hurt Locker is the worst.
“This guy going off on a solo mission, putting his fellow soldiers in trouble, sneaking off base … I mean, not only is that stuff illegal and dangerous, it’s not in the best interests of the people around him,” Palmisciano explains.
“He’d be the worst soldier ever. If you had a platoon of those guys, it’d be a nightmare,” he continues. “I guess it makes for great cinema, but I don’t know anyone in the military who looks at that and thinks it was good. It’s everyone else.”
Best, Palmisciano and their friends made Range 15 for themselves and for the veteran community, but they also want to reach that “everyone else” who loved The Hurt Locker so much. It’s important to the creators that citizens see vets as, well, people.
Palmisciano thinks most Americans treat vets with kid gloves because they don’t know any. He tells me more than 10 percent of the population served during World War II. Now, it’s less than half of one percent.
“So you have more and more people who do not know [war],” he says. “That don’t have a vet who served in their family. So they’re left imagining.”
“Most people can’t imagine a situation where someone is trying to kill you,” Palmisciano continues. “Most people can’t imagine a situation where friends are killed, where you’re killing someone … and so they take that to the nth degree and say — ‘That’s such a horrible thing. I wouldn’t be able to handle it.’”
So the American public thinks vets come home scarred from seeing the horrors of war, take a bunch of drugs and then commit suicide. Palmisciano says that’s all wrong. “The kids and friend I served with that killed themselves have not done so because of what they’ve gone through in combat.”
Palmisciano tells me that the troops come home and feel unimportant and adrift in civilian life — soldiers with no mission. “They go from having the most important job in the world to having a normal job. They feel like their life is meaningless. They get depressed. They start drinking.”
“That’s when suicide typically happens,” he says. “That’s the playbook for veteran suicide. It’s not because war is horrible. It is horrible, and there are certainly people that can’t deal with that. But, in my experience, to a person, everyone who has committed suicide had problems fitting into civilian life because they were missionless.”
For Best, vets need a new mission and purpose when they come home, but too often society tells them they’re broken and medicates the problem away.
“That’s what we’re hoping to change,” Best explains. “It’s the lack of understanding about the military that hurts the veteran community. It’s not what people have seen, it’s when they come back and try to acclimate and find purpose in their life.”
“They’re treated like victims,” he continues. “That’s how general civilian society looks at us. They’re trying to throw you to the V.A. and give you pills and say that it’s O.K. to be depressed. It’s the completely wrong method,” he tells me.
Range 15 is just Best and Palmisciano’s latest mission. It won’t be their last. In fact, there’s already another movie in the works. Fans who sit through Range 15’s credits will see some behind-the-scenes footage from it.
Limbless veterans made up like zombies writhe on the ground. The camera moves through the crowd, moving from smiling face to grinning ghoul. Everyone is active, happy and impassioned.
Palmisciano tells me there are plans in the works to turn the footage into a separate, 90-minute feature. “To be able to show that to the world and show the positive way the [veteran community] came together to make this movie, in a lot of ways, is more special and more cool than the movie is,” he tells me.
As the conversation winds down, I ask them what we civilians can do to bust up the stereotypes and bridge the civilian-military divide. They both give me good advice — have an open mind and don’t prejudge.
When Palmisciano left the military, he went to business school at Duke University. “People treated me with kid gloves for a while,” he explains. “Because they had feelings about who I was supposed to be.”
He tells me his veteran status made the students assume he’d be an intolerant, right-wing jerk. “Have an open mind when you approach us,” Best tells me. “You’ll be surprised. A lot of veterans are educated and intelligent. Don’t generalize. I try not to do that with anyone else.”