SULA hosts Hollywood, vets to bridge divide
SULA, Syracuse University, and SU’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families hosted a panel discussion of how veterans entering the film and TV industry can help bridge society’s military-civilian gap. “Creating and Telling the Stories of Service and Sacrifice” was held on February 9 at Paramount Studios and attended by 300 military veterans who are both currently in and entering the film industry, along with prominent actors, executive producers and industry executives.
The moderated discussion focused on the role of the television and film industry in “telling the stories” of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans. The panel included:
- Contessa Brewer (moderator), Syracuse University alum and NBC reporter
- J.R. Martinez, actor and post-9/11 veteran
- Scott Williams, executive producer, NCIS
- David Gale, CEO, We Are The Mighty and former president of MTV Films
Many of the veterans in the room were aspiring actors, writers, and directors. They drew on the experience of the panelists to see how to tell their stories. The panelists agreed that veterans need to hone their craft until they get their big break.
The panel discussed the importance of raising awareness of the uniqueness of military culture. J.R. Martinez explained that it is important to get past the uniform and see the human being. “A veteran is more than a veteran. A veteran is a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. There are dangers in stereotyping; we need to understand who they are as a person.” Martinez also said there is not enough being done to highlight PTSD (post-dramatic stress disorder) or TBI (traumatic brain injury) the challenges and hardships they face when veterans come home. “Yes, they are heroes for what they did overseas and on that battlefield, and they’re still heroes when they come home, but they’re dealing with injuries and mental distress. Those stories are the ones that need to be told to help eliminate military stereotypes.”
“The way to reach the television and movie audience is to create entertainment,” David Gale explained. “Let veterans tell their stories, because if you let them tell their stories, they become the filmmakers and creators and they become three dimensional. The American public starts to see them not as just people who go to war.”
Scott Williams told the audience that they currently have around 100 veterans in the NCIS crew working as grips, camera operators, construction, etc. “When they cast actors playing military personnel, it would be nice to have a little addendum stating that military experience would be preferred. If I have actors who know how to speak (Navy terminology), it helps a ton. It’s nice to have veterans around for authenticity and inspiration.”