Filmmaker Todd Robinson has been in the movie game for quite some time. The Philadelphia native (Robinson grew up in Media) has been writing, directing, and producing noteworthy films such as “White Squall” and “Lonely Hearts” with the likes of Ridley Scott, John Travolta, Jared Leto, and more for over two decades.
But with Robinson’s latest film, “The Last Full Measure,” the Emmy Award-winning writer and director may have tackled his most inspiring story yet, and it has been quite the journey from start to finish.
“I discovered the story in 1999 when I was working on another story involving pararescue. Everyone that I talked too when researching wanted to make sure I heard the story of William H. Pitsenbarger Jr.,” says Robinson.
Pitsenbarger was a United States Air Force Pararescueman who flew on almost 300 rescue missions during the Vietnam War before his death in 1966. Although the sad nature of his demise is the premise of the story, it’s the valor he displayed aiding and defending a unit of soldiers pinned down by an enemy that makes for one incredibly moving tale — which is exemplified even more by showing how the characters in the story (who are all based on real people), are fully advocating for Pitsenbarger to receive the Medal of Honor almost 33 years after the fact.
After Robinson heard the story, he was hooked. Then after meeting the brave young man’s father, the story became personal.
“I got to meet Frank Pitsenbarger, who was William’s father. He said to me ‘I never got to see him marry, or have his own child — if he had, he might know just how much I loved him.’ That made me think about my own kids, and my own father. The story to tell here was not just about [William’s] valor, but also about how the men and women around him supported him.”
Robinson wanted to show a courageous story but also showcase what many forget — that behind every brave soldier is a group of people who are just as affected by the outcomes of war.
Getting the story out there was a battle of its own.
“We shopped the story around town — we just couldn’t sell the pitch. It’s been an odyssey ever since,” says Robinson. That ended in 2017 when the long-awaited production of the film started and Robinson, along with a star-studded cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Ed Harris began to film.
Fast-forward to 2019 and the film finally hit the screen — although the official theatrical release of the film is Jan. 24, 2020. “The Last Full Measure” has already been screened across the country for active service members and veterans, some of who were involved in the very same war.
“I like to say it’s an exercise in futility or insanity — it’s very difficult and challenging but very gratifying when you finally get to see it in front of audiences,” says Robinson when asked how it felt to see the long-awaited story he so desperately wanted to tell come to life onscreen.
But what does Robinson think the film brings to veterans specifically?
“Healing. The connection it brings, and how it restarts a conversation, veterans of all walks of life can relate to this story.”
Talking to Robinson, it becomes clear that he fully puts himself into each story. That notion was confirmed about 10 minutes into the conversation
“What draws me to a story? Transformation,” says Robinson. “I’m reluctant to start working on any story if I feel as though I can’t learn something from it myself. If I can’t identify anything in the story that will allow me to grow, I’ll reject it. I like stories where humans can find empathy, and that happens through trials and tribulations.”
Robinson learned a lot working on “The Last Full Measure,” but specifically one word held a lot of depth.
“Valor—how does a man do that? When everyone leaves, what pushes one man to stay? How does the service become greater than self? [This story] served me as a storyteller, a filmmaker and also as a human being. I’m always going to be interested in those stories that are greater than myself.”
Robinson also was able to give a sneak peek into what he has coming up on his project list, and he hopes to film locally in his hometown.
“I can’t go into much detail, but I’m looking to make a true-crime story in my hometown. The more I think about where I grew up, the more sentimental I get. I’m grateful for things that I never really thought about when I was younger,” says Robinson.
Even though Robinson has had immense success in Tinsel Town, he still remembers where he came from, which also according to him plays a huge role in how he got to where he is today.
“The stories we tell are about where we came from in some way, shape or form. Pay close attention to who you are and where you came from, it’s there where you’ll find the authenticity and what makes you unique.”
“The Last Full Measure” hits theaters Jan. 24