In the short film, Blood Brothers, aspiring writer/director Max Chernov tackles the heady topic of war and its effects on soldiers.

Set in WWI in France, the film centers on a British soldier Charlie (Robert Dylan Bare), who finds shelter in a barn after being separated from his unit. There he encounters Paul (Cameron Cowperthwaite), a German soldier who has deserted because he doesn’t believe in what he’s supposed to be fighting for. After initially viewing each other as a threat, the two end up spending the night, bonding as the young men that they are, only to face the reality of their situation in the morning.

Even though Blood Brothers is short in duration, Chernov is able to capture a very poignant moment in the life of a soldier, who might be questioning why he is fighting an enemy he knows little about. Then, when the two enemies meet, they realize they aren’t so different after all. Chernov keeps things simple and compact, in his presentation and setting, as the young men make an albeit brief connection, and guides his cast into giving fine performances.

ScreenPicks recently had the opportunity to speak with Chernov about his thought processes behind making his first film, which is being released and distributed by Shorts International Ltd and premiered on ShortsTV. It has also been submitted for Oscar consideration in the Short Live-Action category.

What was your inspiration for the story?

Max Chernov: This was my first film and the collective “they” tell you never to do a period piece or a war movie for your first movie. I decided to do both [laughs]. I found that my main inspiration was that “grey” area. Between nationalism and morality. And I kind of drew on WWI poetry, like from Rupert Brooke and Carl Sandberg, as well as the disillusionment of the time. I did a lot of research, but I found the poetry to be really telling. The emotions of all these young people near my age. The average age of a soldier was 19, which was only a year away from my own age at the time of production. It really help me get in their shoes and really understand the shock and the magnitude of the situation.

It’s also why I gravitated to WWI. The amount of people who were forced into it for no clear reason whatsoever. And everyone was so young. Most of them of them had never left their small towns and villages, and going across to some country they’ve barely heard of to fight a war for someone they don’t even know. That leads to all kinds of interesting positions.

WWI also was such a horror show of a war, more than others, don’t you think?

Chernov: I’m at the USC Film School [and graduates this year], and I was talking to a history professor there. She explained it really was a tipping point for modern war. It was a really unique situation. They were fighting brutally, in many ways prehistoric, but it intersected with the new chemical warfare. The combination of the two – the old-fashioned trench warfare with the chemical mustard gas, which is prevalent now, but brand-new then. It lead to an atrocious four years. And it’s kind of overlooked by WWII because it was more recent and popular. But WWI was more intriguing to me because it lead to WWII and the reason it started is still a little vague. So that interested me. Authenticity was a big thing for me, as well. It was fun to do that on a short film constraint.

As for your two actors, were they friends of yours or did you find them through casting process?

Chernov: They are both American. We worked with a few dialect coaches, and they were really great. They worked on their accents and their mannerisms. Trying to figure out where their accents came from – like Paul was from Berlin and Charlie from West London. We worked with a casting director, so they didn’t know each other, and I didn’t know them, and we went through a pretty extensive casting process. Multiple rounds with actors in that age range. At the end, we did a chemistry tests, and I paired the ones I thought were the best, sort of a round robin of sorts. I thought that was really important since it is such a character piece. I think [Bare and Cowperthwaite] really shined together.

I was also amazed on how much range you were able to capture in such a short span.

Chernov: Thank you! We kind of called it 15 minutes of a feature. It had elements of a short film but we also wanted it to capture the magnitude and gravitas of the situation. And the best way to approach that was in a feature mindset. I really have to give a lot of tribute to the actors. They were a pleasure to work with.

What was it about this process that you loved the most?

Chernov: I am a writer and director, and there were many things I loved, but I think the collaborative effort I loved the most. Like working with my producers Nicole Falsetti and Jean de Meuron, my production designer – just kind of seeing what everyone can bring to the table is always interesting. They bring up things you haven’t thought of before and being challenged is the best thing for me. You get the best ideas when you don’t know what to do next. If you think you have it all planned perfectly, you might feel good when you’re walking in, but I find you get the best results when something goes wrong. Or you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Definitely the collaborative part is what is most rewarding to me.

Are you a war buff?

Chernov: I’m a history buff, with a war specification. I like war a lot, Civil War, but history in general, even like pop culture, recent history, I like as well. I think it’s like one big story. It kind of lends itself to that and interesting to see how it evolves. It’s repetitious at times but those can be good, too.

Speaking of a war movie that’s most recent, did you like Dunkirk?

Chernov: People are asking me that question because of the war similarities and the young men. I loved Dunkirk; I think it’s a technical masterpiece. And some people are calling Blood Brothers a companion piece to Dunkirk. What’s interesting is that it goes from point A to point B to point C. They get off the boat, they need to get somewhere else, and then somewhere else. So you lose some of that emotional core like we get in Band of Brothers. And that’s what was important to me in Blood Brothers, who the characters are. Who Charlie and Paul are and how that leads the story.

What are your feelings about becoming a filmmaker today?

Chernov: I think there’s a lot more information about the business now and about what everyone does in it. But I still think it’s always been as hard as it is now. There are a lot of channels that you can tap into and content outlets, which is amazing. And TV is thriving. I’m optimistic about it. I also love how short films have garnered so much attention. It’s promising and new. With ShortsTV, which picked up Blood Brothers, they do a lot of great work, and the Oscars recognizing it now. It’s interesting. Our attention spans are so short that you think short films would be a bigger thing but they’ve been lagging behind. I think ShortsTV is leading the way. And the new company Jeffrey Katzenberg is creating, Wonder, is great. There’s a lot of amazingly talented and smart people making really great short-form content. A lot different avenues than just the traditional movie, but… I love the traditional movies. So I’ll always be a hard advocate for it; it’s here to stay.

Check out the official website for Blood Brothers, which was just selected for the Culver City Film Festival.