Local priest's book to become feature film
Wounds heal, scars remain — that's the lesson that Father Richard Berg wants readers of his 2013 book on the impact that post traumatic stress disorder has on people and the loved ones who surround them.
The reaction to Berg's book, "Scars: the effects of post traumatic stress on family, relationships and work," was wildly positive, and now the Mary's Woods chaplin has teamed up with Los Angeles-based filmmaker and Lake Oswego-native Shaun Kosta to turn his work into a feature length film.
As a licensed professional counselor and longtime University of Portland psychology professor, Berg interviewed nine active duty service members being treated for and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress at Cedar Hills Hospital in Washington County in 2012. They included Army Rangers, a colonel, majors, sergeants and two specialists who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They all divulged to Berg their most intimate moments of depression and joy, of triumph and anguish.
Using these interviews, Berg crafted "Scars," which follows Eric, a fictional character inspired by the interviews Berg conducted, as he's shipped off to Afghanistan as a member of the Oregon Army National Guard. Readers are shown how the experiences affects him, his family and friends, and how he copes upon his return.
In 2016, Berg began working with Larry Overmire and Nancy McDonald at the Lakewood Theater Company to adapt his book into a short stage play, which ran as part of the Fertile Grounds theater festival that took place across the metro area at the beginning of 2017.
Berg took it one step further and helped to establish drama therapy at the University of Portland last fall to provide patients dealing with post traumatic stress a unique method to examine uncontrollable feelings resulting from war-related or other debilitating stress.
Now Berg has connected with Kosta, an award-winning writer, director, producer and garduate of Lake Oswego High School. Kosta went on to study film at the University of Colorado, Boulder and screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles before breaking onto the Hollywood scene in 2007. He's since directed two of his own films, one short and a feature length film called "The Republic of Two" which played at festivals all over the world and won him the 2014 Chris Brinker Award for Best New Director.
It all started when Berg sent a copy of his book to Kosta last year. After reading it and taking in it's message, Kosta saw how he could help Berg widen the impact of his message by turning it into a film. He sees PTSD as a mental health issue that at one point or another will affect every American family.
"I have an uncle who's a Vietnam veteran. I love the guy, he's the most badass mountain man you'll ever meet. He's tough as nails, funny, but he's a little closed up," Kosta said. "With ( Berg's) incredible book as the foundation, I think I can make this into something that's going to speak to someone and their family about the things they don't want to talk about or acknowledge."
Berg gave Kosta free reign to take the book and translate it into a screenplay which he recently finished. The pair had a table reading at the Lakewood Center just last month and are currently seeking avenues to get their film funded.
"It's dark, raw stuff," Kosta said, "And we really need to acknowledge that, but I want to do it in a way that's not didactic or too preachy."
In fact, Berg himself told Kosta he wants this film to speak not just to Catholics or Christians or religious people in general, but everyone who has ever dealt with trauma and the resulting stress that lingers from it.
"It's funny being a priest and telling the agnostic not to make this overly religious," Berg laughed.
According to the pair, the film will not only delve into the complex issues around PTSD, but also serve as a showcase of Oregon's natural beauty. The book — and subsequently, the film — is set in Oregon's wine country, with many scenes taking place on a vineyard owned by the protagonist's family.
There will also be some haunting images of dreams told from the protagonist's point of view that will serve to show the horrors of war and how that stress can spill over into civilian life.
"But it will also have humor and joy," Kosta said. "It's about finding levity within that darkness."
According to Berg and Kosta, they're currently seeking funding of approximately $3 million to get this film made. They've been reaching out to nonprofit organizations and famous actors/producers who have expressed interest in telling stories about veterans.
Author's Note: A previous version of this story stated Shaun Kosta graduated from Lakeridge High School. Kosta is a graduate of Lake Oswego High School.
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