Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Prologue

The Vietnam War happened nearly 40 years ago. Many people, like me, could tell you very little about it. I knew two facts when I first started working on Abandoned Allies: (1) the war wasn't supported by the American public like WWII was, and (2) it lasted longer than any other war in our country's history.

Since I knew so little about the war when I started working on this film, it was tough for me to make sense of how the Montagnards began fighting with the U.S. Special Forces. For years I have felt like going into details about it during the film would take too long. It was the setting, and therefore we shouldn't dwell on it. It just wasn't key to telling the story succinctly.

Now that I'm sharing the film with small audiences, I see the need for more backstory shared in a way that people can easily process it before interview clips start coming on screen. There are very basic details that need to be shared to set the stage a bit better before we jump in.

Therefore, for the past week I have been adding a prologue. It's been a challenge. I know just enough to be dangerous now, and it's hard to distill down facts so that the audience can absorb it quickly.

For example, I want to say that the war started during a certain year so that people have an idea of where this story started. But to say that the Vietnam War started during a certain year excludes so much information. Just that particular name makes it an American perspective versus a global perspective. (It has different names in other places like the Vietnam Conflict or Second Indochina War.) It also excludes so much of the conflict that happened before the United States started supporting South Vietnam militarily. It also could be argued that the war started during a different year. Did it start with military advisers or when combat troops arrived or when the first battles took place?

The truth is, those are the specifics that derail the entire film. They're important to setting the stage, but they aren't all that important to telling this particular story. What matters most is that Americans started coming to Vietnam during the mid-1950s, the highlands were key to a military victory, and the highlands have been home to the Montagnards for thousands of year, and that's where these friendships began to take shape.

Who knew writing a few introductory sentences could be so difficult?

I'm doing the best I can. I know that the people who know these specifics may argue about it all, no matter what I choose to include. As a filmmaker, though, I have do to my best to inform the audience of certain details while simultaneously entertaining them.

While I have gotten stuck in the weeds, I don't want my audience burdened with such information. I want them to know these few facts so that they have an idea of where we are in history, and how these pieces fit together so that they can then enjoy the story as it unfolds.

The prologue is only about a minute long, with just a few sentences to set the stage. It's taken about a week or two to get it in place, but I think it works well. I just want audiences to love these people as much as I have come to love them. I hope that I can take viewers on the same emotional journey I've been on while learning these things. And I hope, with all my heart, that this tiny little project might lead to some very big changes for the better.

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