Ehrlich’s pieces used to decorate set of “Thank You for Your Service”
By Mike Courson
From Desert Storm to a small woodworking shop at his home in Galva, the last place Darren Ehrlich expected to hear from was Hollywood. Yet in May 2016, Ehrlich received a call that set into motion his own small role in a feature movie now available in theaters across the country.
Ehrlich, a disabled Desert Storm veteran, has enjoyed working with wood for some 30 years at his home in Galva.
“It’s something that I’ve always done,” he said. “Of course, when I was active duty, you move around so much it’s hard to move stuff around or know if you’ll have a place to do anything. It really wasn’t until I got out in 2000 that I really started back up with it.”
Woodworking was mostly a hobby until health issues forced Ehlrich out of a regular job in 2012. Since then, the hobby has become something of a job. “I wouldn’t call it full-time because it’s not like I work at it for eight hours, but it’s basically what I do,” he said.
Working out of a large two-car garage attached to his house, Ehrlich does mostly small items like clocks, coin banks, and plaques of all kind, including licensed NCAA items. It was Ehlrich’s military plaques that eventually got Hollywood calling.
“I’m a veteran and have always been proud of that,” he said. “It’s always been a major theme I’ve tried to do. All the ones they used in the movie, those are all original designs I came up with.”
So in May 2016, producers from the film “Thank You for Your Service” called to ask about using some of the military and veteran-themed pieces in their movie. (Click here to view the movie trailer).
“As far as I know, they found my website and gave me a call,” Ehrlich said. “My initial reaction was what kind of scheme are they trying to run here? No one is going to call some guy from the middle of Kansas looking for artwork for a movie.”
The film is Jason Hall’s directorial debut. He was an actor in Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” released in 2014. “Thank You for Your Service” stars Miles Teller, a young actor who has appeared in a score of movies, including 2014’s “Whiplash,” which won three Academy Awards. (Click here to view the movie trailer for “Whiplash.”)
Eventually, the legal paperwork arrived and Ehrlich realized it was the real deal. He sent them a photo of his work and the studio selected eight pieces, renting them for about two weeks for use on the set in Atlanta before returning them.
Upon sending back Ehrlich’s work, the studio also sent a thank you note for helping with the decorations, and Ehrlich received a wrap gift usually reserved for workers on the set. His gift was a camouflage jacket with an embroidered patch that includes the name of the movie and production year.
While all that was happening, Ehrlich was still unsure how his work had been used in the movie. For about 13 months he waited.
“It was one of those things, the whole time between May 2016 and now, at least once a week I’m sitting there searching the Internet, trying to find information about when it will be released or find the trailer,” he said.
He was sitting at a craft show and looking on his phone when he finally found the trailer. As luck would have it, his service was poor and he had to wait to watch it.
“I had ants in my pants, waiting to get home to my computer so I could see it,” he said. “Literally, the first time watching the trailer, you only see them on screen for a second but I spotted them the first time. Probably no one else in the world would have spotted my stuff on the wall the first time. I was so tickled it’s not even funny.”
The movie hit theaters on Oct. 27 and Ehrlich was there to see it. “The movie is a really powerful piece and super well done,” he said. “I hope people don’t think it’s only for a certain kind of audience. This movie is for everybody. Whether you’ve known people who have been in the military, or you’ve been in yourself, you’re going to get something out of it.
“It’s about what happens when you get home. It really highlights the difficulties these guys have to get help from the VA and to get help in general to figure out how to deal with all the things that happened.”
Along with enjoying the movie, Ehrlich was able to see how his pieces were used. Several are featured at a glance as the camera pans over men in a VA hospital. Others can be spotted on various walls throughout the movie.
Since the movie’s release, Ehrlich’s story has been featured in a two-minute segment on KAKE News in Wichita. The director of the movie has seen that clip and congratulated him on the piece.
“None of that matters,” he said. “Having even this tiny part to do with this movie is just the thrill of a lifetime.”
Darren’s mother, Karen Ehrlich, lives and works in Lyons. His son, Ryan Tabolt, is currently serving on a second tour in Afghanistan.
For more information on Darren’s woodwork and to see stills from the movie featuring his work, visit kansaswood.com.