Zombie Thriller From Military Vets on ISIS "Kill List" Finds Success in Theaters
'Range 15,' featuring William Shatner and Danny Trejo, was made by highly decorated U.S. military veterans who encourage moviegoers to bring guns to theaters.
At a movie theater in Los Angeles last week that was showing Range 15, an independent film whose most prominent actor is William Shatner, a man shouted out a question to the audience: “How many people here are carrying a firearm?” Two-thirds of the audience raised its hand.
In theaters across the country — not just in Los Angeles, where permits to carry concealed weapons are difficult to obtain — the number of audience members packing heat at showings of Range 15 is off the charts, judging from several interviews of people who attended screenings at venues nationwide. They’re doing so not to protect themselves from zombies (those onscreen) but from real-life terrorists.
That’s because Range 15, a film most mainstream moviegoers probably never have heard of, was made by several military veterans, two of whom are on an ISIS “kill list": producer Nick Palmisciano and Tim Kennedy, who fought with special forces in Iraq multiple times before becoming a UFC fighter and now a stunt-man and actor.
Palmisciano spent six years as an infantry officer before co-founding Ranger Up, an apparel company aimed at military personnel. His line includes T-shirts that disparage ISIS (or ISIL) and he also makes YouTube videos belittling the radical group of Islamist terrorists. Since he was included on an ISIS kill list, Palmisciano says he has reinforced his house in various ways and he now sleeps next to body armor, his $3,000 M4 rifle and more than 200 rounds of ammunition.
Range 15 opened last week through Tugg, a distribution system whereby theater chains let enthusiasts choose a film to appear in non-peak hours, then the fans help the theaters sell tickets. In Los Angeles, the Cinemark chain is showing the film.
It was shortly after the attack by a lone gunman who killed 49 people in Orlando, Fla., on June 12 while pledging his allegiance to ISIS that Palmisciano’s film was set to open, and the producer says he received several messages from the military community warning that ISIS had marked military personnel and movie theaters as potential next targets.
A federal agent shared with The Hollywood Reporter details of a “joint intelligence bulletin” issued after June 12 warning that “ISIL supporters worldwide” were instructed to use the Orlando attack to motivate “violent homegrown extremists” to attack “a range of targets with little or no warning.” The threat mentions movies and places where military families might gather, but no titles of films.
Since Palmisciano and the other filmmakers — including Marcus Luttrell, whose story was told in the film Lone Survivor starring Mark Wahlberg — knew their audience was going to consist mostly of current and former military personnel, along with police, FBI and various other first responders, they shared their intelligence with theater operators.
So when Range 15, which also stars Sean Astin, Danny Trejo and Randy Couture, opened last week, several theaters were patrolled by military veterans and cops — some on-duty, some off-duty. At an AMC theater in Dartmouth, Mass., for example, police chief Robert Szala told the local newspaper he ordered extra personnel after viewing emailed warnings from various law-enforcement agencies. In another city, two armed men patrolled outside the theater while at least 20 were carrying concealed weapons inside.
At a theater in Durham, N.C., Rob Ulrey, an agent with Homeland Security, volunteered his services as security and plans on doing so five more times. It's no great sacrifice, he says, because he loves the movie, which is a horror-comedy that tells of a group of vets who wake up after a night of partying to discover the U.S. is in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
“I was fully aware of the ISIS bulletin that came out a few days earlier. It mentioned military gatherings and movies,” says Ulrey. “That’s one big happy family at theaters showing Range 15.”
Likewise, Paul O’Leary, a six-year infantry veteran who’s now in law enforcement in Florida, volunteered his services as security at a theater in Salt Lake City where he was traveling last week, and did do so again this week in Tampa. “We’re maintaining additional vigilance; just making sure nothing appears out of the ordinary,” he says.
The veterans-turned-filmmakers made Range 15 with $1.2 million they raised at Indiegogo (their crowdfunding video included a plea from Dakota Meyer, a former Marine who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2011 and married Bristol Palin a few weeks ago.) The movie made $493,119 last week at 342 screenings for a per-showing average of $1,442.
“While no threats were made directly against any Range 15 screenings, Tugg takes security seriously and worked with exhibitors to ensure our moviegoers’ experience is safe,” says the company's COO Pablo Gonzalez.
This week, Range 15 is on at least 79 screens, and moviegoers can expect to see an armed guard or two, and there will invariably be more who are carrying weapons no one will see. Some will be paid, but many are volunteers, anxious simply to make sure that theaters showing a movie made by vets, for vets, remain safe.
Concealed-carry laws differ from state to state, though law-enforcement officials are allowed to carry even when off-duty. In Los Angeles, a private citizen needs to show he or she is in a “clear and present danger" before obtaining a license. Theater chains generally ask patrons who are allowed to carry to refrain from doing so, but personnel don’t generally search moviegoers. One veteran who volunteered for Range 15 security said that where laws forbid concealed firearms in theaters, they are packing batons and knives.
“There were intelligence reports that Jihadi websites were saying to go after military families and movie theaters, and it oddly coincided with our release,” says Palmisciano. “If I hadn’t warned our promoters and something had happened, it would be completely on my shoulders.”
The filmmakers ostensibly went public with their concerns when they put the word out that they needed security volunteers, and some in Hollywood, behind their backs, accused them of a publicity stunt, which ticks off Palmisciano.
“It’s been made very clear over and over again since we began making this film two years ago that your town doesn’t appreciate my kind,” he told THR. “Who would ever want to kill veterans? It’s not like we’re Brad Pitt or anything.”