Saturday, July 19, 2008

Social Media

The impact social media has had on this film, has been really impressive. I'd like to write on it more, but for now I'll post a video that I found on YouTube. If you want, you can see others that are part of the series on YouTube. Fairly interesting!

We had a full day today. More information to come.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Research, Filming Continues

My father is an historian. He's an underwater archaeologist, actually. For a living he surveys things that were once above water but have now found a semi-final resting place below the surface. Using sonar, remote operative vehicles (ROVs), SCUBA equipment, and his wisdom from years of experience he finds things and tells other people what he thinks they are--whether they are small artifacts like shoes or china, or larger targets like when he identified the Monitor or the Water Witch.

My point is that a lot of folks see what they want to when they talk with him: media attention, globe trotting or the adventure of being at sea a lot. Often they fail to recognize the amount of research that goes into the work he does, though. The hours that he spends reading, writing and reporting on the work he does. This is the work that is done in quiet, behind the scenes. And I think it's because of my parents, because of the background they gave me as a child, that I truly appreciate the research portion of any project.

When we first began this adventure in March, I dove straight in to the research trying to learn as much as I could. Now I'm revisiting the articles and books with a new appreciation for them. And I continue to be showered with more information daily. It is wonderful!

There is some small part of me that wants to be a Ph.D. like my father, a respected expert on something historical. (Although he would never label himself as such.) I have learned so much from my parents! The research is so mom never let me get away without looking up the definition of a word on my own when I asked her what something meant. "Go look it up!"

In an attempt to learn more about the Special Forces, I signed up to "get more information" on the U.S. Army website. A few days later, I got a letter and brochure in the mail touting the benefits of serving:
Dear Camden:

Thanks for your interest in the United States Army's Special Forces. As you know, the Green Berets are an intensely focused team made up of Soldiers with outstanding mental and physical skills. These specialized units undertake missions that are often highly classified and require greater responsibility than the lager more general-purposed forces. In many ways, they are on of the Army's greatest assets.

Being a Special Forces Soldier, you will be among a highly trained few that are equipped to carry out crucial missions. You'll be expertly skilled in small unit warfare and equally skilled in humanitarian efforts to aid indigenous populations. The foreign language training we give you will be useful as you help in building first time democratic societies. In addition, you will provide the American military with deep reconnaissance. As you push yourself to new heights mentally and physically, you will be proud to wear the Green Beret. It is truly an extraordinary accomplishment...
They go on about joining, but these two paragraphs sum up what I have learned thus far about the Special Forces. I spent some time on June 9th doing research in a Wake County library so that I can better understand what it's like to be in combat. Having never lived through anything like it, I have only my research and imagination to fill in those holes. I have never been to Vietnam, and so I rely on pictures and stories to help me understand what it was like to be there--all of which will help me retell the story as a documentary film.

The Art of War and Masters of Chaos
There were two books that I skimmed while I was there: The Art of War and Masters of Chaos. Ironically, I had picked up The Art of War when I was in Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago, but decided that I shouldn't spend too much time on that so I could focus on other things. (Using one's time wisely is so important in this process!) But now I realize that might have been a bit short sighted because it is so connected to the Montagnards after having a conversation last night. The way their culture developed and was impacted by others is directly tied to the art of war. A nation that cannot defend itself will fall to outside forces.

During one of the interviews, someone looked me deep in the eye and said something to the affect of, "Why start a war that cannot be won? That's wrong!"

The Vietnam War, and the details surrounding it, are critical for my understanding because I was not there and did not live through it. And, more importantly, because the events had a direct impact on the Montagnards. Understanding the art of war is the essence of what we're exploring!
"Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the Tao to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed."
--Sun-Tzu, The Art of War
The second book has helped me recognize patterns and connections as well. It is interesting to read the conclusions others have drawn, similarities between the Vietnam War and what is happening right now in the Middle East. I am fascinated by it, and wish I had more time to explore the topic (but want to instead focus on learning more about the Montagnard-American history right now). Nevertheles, Masters of Chaos explores the history of the Special Forces which has been helpful information for me as well:
This is the story of the Special Forces soldiers and the missions they have carried out over the last 15 years. Through them the larger story is told--of the renaissance of a unique military unit that was nearly disbanded after the Vietnam War but which now is in high demand. The war in Afghanistan brough the deeds of the Special Forces onto the front pages of the newspapers, which captured in vivid photographs and stories the men on horseback who used lasers to direct precision bombs at Taliban targets. Far less has been written about their subsequent roles in Operation Iraqi Freedom where even more Special Forces soldiers were deployed than in Vietnam. Although the image of the Special Forces soldier now may be more familiar to the average American, the reality of who he is and what he does remains largely shrouded in mystery and misconceptions.
The two books, as I previously mentioned, have helped me recognize (again!) that the topic we're exploring is of great importance. And that sharing this information with the greatest integrity is crucial. So that the same outcome is not duplicated in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must do our homework and be sure that every step of this project is done in excellence.

My hope for this film is that it will stir Americans to seek more information so that we--as individuals, as a people, as a country--can be better world leaders. I sat across from a man last night who gently told me that his people had been abandoned by my country. He said that his people had fought with us and died for nothing, and that is unjust in every way.

Being Politically Correct
Last night I also learned more details about the terms 'Montagnard' and 'Dega', as I have been very curious what names should be used for one to be politically correct. There are many similarities between this group of people and the Native Americans / Indians. The different tribes, languages and cultural traditions are vastly different once you learn the details, but for an audience that needs a point of reference the American Indians are a good start. I am realizing that American audiences might benefit from such a point of reference to minimize confusion when I tell them that the Montagnards are not Vietnamese.

Dancing Between Filming + Post
We have a few more interviews to go, and post-production has already started. I'm incredibly anxious to get the tapes transcribed at this point, knowing that we have a lot of work to be done before the rough cut of the film can be shared with our collaborators. I am anxious to get to that stage, but am trying to be patient! The rough cut is going to be the hardest part, from what I can gather.

Once we have the footage digitized, I know selecting the preferred clips will be easy. And that part does not have to wait for the transcription process to be complete, since I will have access to the clips and can sort, or prioritize, them easily. Since I conducted each interview, I have a photographic memory of certain quotes and think that pulling those needles from the hay stack should be fairly easy to do. Hopefully.

It is the process by which we construct the rough cut that I keep thinking about, though. We have to find a way to tell this story so that it is visually and emotionally interesting. We have to find a way to construct the stories and images so that we portray the events with integrity, and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. It is a great weight to bear, but we have support from many talented people that are helping guide the process.

Call to Arms
Volunteers are knocking on our door now. It is humbling! To have a zero-dollar budget, and have such qualified talent willing to volunteer is unbelievable. I am caught in disbelief at others' gravitation to the project, perhaps because I have convinced myself that not many others are willing work for experience and no pay. But low and behold, there are others who are equally dedicated, and are volunteering to help--people who are taking the initiative to make sure the film is done in excellence! It is a very rewarding feeling!

If you (or someone you know) has a talent or skill to offer, we most certainly welcome the support. There is much work to be done! Just send me an email: