Los Angeles, California, United States - 07/19/2021 — Andy Winstead is an actor, writer, producer, and director, known for being the first Native American Indian (Sioux descent) to pilot an F-16 fighter jet. After 20 years, he pursued his second childhood goal and moved into the entertainment industry.
His latest film THE TREATY OF COVID-19 has already won many Film Festival awards, despite its creation during a worldwide pandemic. Hitting international markets including the L’hospitalet - Barcelona International Film Festival, New York Cinematography Awards, LA Shorts Awards, Golden State Film Festival, the Imagine Rain Independent Film Awards, and the World Film Carnival in Singapore, THE TREATY OF COVID-19 has been seen by many worldwide and has been recently accepted in Academy Award Qualifying Film festivals including the BronzeLens Film festival in Atlanta, GA.
We spoke with Andy about how he went from F-16 fighter pilot, to acting and even filmmaking.
Military life is very different from civilian life. What was that transition like, and was it easier or harder than you expected?
Andy Winstead: Yes, military life is very different from civilian life. The military demands discipline and accountability. You are given an order, and you complete that order in the time allotted. You are held accountable. The level of accountability can be so high that it can cause death or save lives. In the civilian world, that same discipline and accountability is needed for success, but it is often something that the individual must summon from within themself, and at varying levels. It is much easier in the civilian world to lose discipline and accountability because we aren't held to the same high standards that are required in the military. I was a person of discipline and accountability before I entered the military. I am fortunate, for me the transition from military life to civilian life was a smooth transition.
What motivated you to become a writer and actor?
AW: I wanted to be an actor because I grew up watching movies. I remember as a child, thinking of how much fun it would be to become someone totally different than you actually are, by acting.
My desire to be an actor is what motivated me to become a writer. Allow me to explain this..... As an actor, there may be 400-600 people auditioning for the same role in a film or television show, so statistically speaking, it is very difficult to get cast for any role. Most of the acting jobs are day players, meaning they only work on that project for a day or two. It is estimated that roughly 1% of acting jobs are full time gigs. Sadly, the odds are stacked against you to find sustainable work as an actor.
Considering this, I thought to myself, "If I want to play a specific character, and i want to work as an actor, then what better way to cast myself in that dream role than by writing it myself?" I became a writer to create acting jobs for myself. This is also why I became a director and producer. I decided to invest in myself and create my own opportunities. This allowed me to make my own way into the entertainment industry. Now, while I still audition for roles, I often have producers and filmmakers finding me from the work I created, and asking me to play a part in their project.
Becoming an actor was one of your childhood dreams. When and what made you realize it was the right time to pursue this dream?
AW: As a teenager I knew that I wanted to do two things in my life, I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I wanted to be an actor. I retired from the military as the first Native American Indian to fly the F-16 fighter jet. In my 20-year career, I flew 102 combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. After I accomplished my first childhood dream, I knew the time was right to move onto my second dream. In addition to this, I noticed that a lot of attention was being placed on diversity and inclusion in the film and television companies. Unfortunately, Native Americans were being left behind it this process. Most people do not know that opportunities for Native Americans in film and television are lagging far behind other underrepresented groups. Native American actors make up less than 1 percent of all roles in film, and Native American lead roles are virtually nonexistent. I thought after retiring from the military, it would be perfect timing for me to increase Native American representation in the entertainment industry. I sold my home and invested in myself. I incorporated my own production company, Native Warrior Productions. I started writing, directing, and producing my own work. I am now an award-winning actor, writer, producer, and director!
Your short film has won many awards. What was the process like to create it during the pandemic, and did you find it difficult to act, produce, write, and direct the film?
AW: "The Treaty of Covid-19" has done very well on the film festival circuit. It has won numerous film festival awards internationally ranging from Best Short Film, Best Original Story, Best Debut Filmmaker, Best Actor, Best film made during Pandemic, and several Audience Awards.
Just before the pandemic started, I sold my home to invest in my own production company. Soon afterwards, the pandemic hit and shut down production on everything. OUCH! At first, I thought that it was horrible timing, and extraordinarily bad luck, for me to have started a production company as the pandemic ravaged the world. Then, as I thought about it, I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. The pandemic gave me time to write and create a unique story! It gave me a storyline, the pandemic itself, that the entire world could relate to. Most of us grow up seeing the world, and its issues, from our own point of view. I suddenly had an opportunity to use the pandemic, as well as other issues, to see the world situation from another point of view, or a different perspective. That is why I wrote, directed, and produced the film.
The next trick for me was to figure out how to make a film when nobody was filming anything. In writing the script, I wrote the story so that all of the actors could be separated from each other by 6 feet. That was not easy. For example, in one scene the main character is talking to the President of the United States. I wrote the script where the President is hidden away in an underground bunker, while the main character talks to him via video link. This allowed me to separate everyone as I filmed them both actors on separate sets. I used a film crew that I had previously worked with on another film. It was very helpful that we all knew each other and worked very well together. This helped in the directing of the project. The entire team understood what I wanted to accomplish with this project.
Out of all of the festivals you’ve been to, is there one that comes to mind that meant more than the others? Do you have any specific memories from it?
AW: Unfortunately, all of the film festivals for "The Treaty of Covid-19" have been virtual. I have not been able to attend any of them. The good news is that the film has 68 more festivals that have not yet reached the judging phase, so I may still be able to attend some festivals this year.
My favorite film festival so far has been the "Fight Back Film Awards." In order to submit to this festival, the film must have a military veteran somewhere in the cast or crew. Fight Back aims to showcase and honor the work of veterans in the film industry, promoting the use of film and creativity as a way of combatting mental health struggles for veterans. As a military vet, I appreciate the concept and the opportunity. In addition, the people involved with the festival are wonderful people to work with.
Here is a funny memory from the "Fight Back Film Awards." They asked me to do a filmmaker roundtable via Zoom with them. I happily agreed to do the virtual roundtable question session. They told me the date and time via email. The time was 1215 BST..... remember, I have flown jets around the world for many years, and thought I was familiar with all time zones, but I had not heard of BST. Google helped me to learn that BST stands for British Summer Time. The festival is located in the United Kingdom and I am in Charleston SC. Next, I had to do the math to make sure I understood the translation of BST to EST (Charleston's time zone). I did the math and triple checked it! I logged onto my zoom call 5 minutes early only to find nobody there. I began to have that bad feeling you get in your stomach when you think you've made a big mistake..... Luckily, they zoomed me in 5 minutes later at exactly 1215 BST! We had a great roundtable!
What’s the biggest take away you want people to gain from your film?
AW: In the film, a descendant of Chief Sitting Bull is given a weapon allowing him to fight back and reclaim all of the lands that he feels were unjustly taken from his ancestors. He faces a decision, should he be merciful to his perceived enemies, or should he be vengeful to the people he feels took everything from him. I hope people will watch the film and put themselves in the same situation. Hopefully, after watching the film, they will be inclined to be more forgiving of other people.
Personally, I hope to present myself as a role model for anyone who has a dream in their life. You may not want to be a fighter pilot or a moviemaker like me, but you may have other goals and dreams in your life. I hope to encourage other people to reach for their dreams. I hope to show others that if you work as hard as you possibly can, and never give up on your dreams, you can accomplish any goal you set for yourself in life!
It’s not every day that an actor has also been in the military. Can you tell us a little bit about that career?
AW: Yes, I flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon, also known as "The Viper." I had a BLAST! The F-16 goes a little faster than twice the speed of sound, and it can pull 9G's. Pulling 9G's means that if you turn sharply in the jet, your body will now take on 9 times the force of gravity! So, if you weigh 200 lbs, your body will now weigh 1,800 lbs!!! (9G x 200lbs. = 1,800lbs)
It takes about 2 years of training to be a combat ready fighter pilot. One year of flight school, 6 months of F-16 school, and another 6 months of various schools such as prison of war (POW) training and water survival, etc. Daily training in the squadron was usually 12-hour work days. Deployments could last a year or longer.
There are so many people involved in keeping our country safe and free! The people that serve in the military, and that I worked with, are the finest people you could imagine. They sacrifice so much for our freedoms.
Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?
AW: Yes, I have a full-length film entitled "The Radcliffes" that is currently in post-production. Plans are being discussed to remake "The Treaty of Covid-19" as a full-length feature film. Hopefully you will be able to watch the full-length movie in a theater or on a streaming service soon. Until then, you can watch the award winning short-length version on my Facebook page, Andy Winstead Acting.
When you’re not bust working, what do you like to do in your free time?
AW: I like to go to the gym in my free time. I try to find an hour to exercise most every day. I vary weight training with cardio training. I enjoy exercising because it makes me feel better physically and mentally. Also, I have a nice group of friends that I see regularly at my gym, so it offers some social interaction.
Where can people follow you on social media?
AW: Please find me on my Facebook page, AndyWinsteadActing, and on Instagram @andywinsteadacting
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