Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for June, 2011

Guest Blogs

June 29, 2011

Part IV

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In the latest update to the saga of Bravo!, co-producer Betty Rodgers remembers the people who made the film possible. And the events. And a few places.

The next step on our serendipitous journey was hearing the news from our profoundly creative editor, John Nutt, that he had arranged to complete our final sound mix at Skywalker Ranch in northern California.  Yes, as in Lucas Films, as in George Lucas!  John had said all along it would be great to mix it there, but these fledgling filmmakers knew little of the possibility.  The thought sounded very exciting, but when the mixing room was actually scheduled, it was nearly overwhelming.

John also explained that we needed to call and make arrangements to stay at Skywalker Inn because the days would be very intense, and we wouldn’t want to make the long drive to and from Skywalker Ranch every day.  It is located out in the hinterlands of Marin County.  So yes, we have confirmed our reservations.

As if that weren’t enough excitement, we then learned from John, a Stella recipient himself, that his colleague Mark Berger would do the final mixing.  Mark has won four Academy Awards and several Stellas (the British equivalent of an Oscar) for his work.  The thought of being in the mixing room…at Skywalker Ranch…with Mark Berger…and John Nutt…and my own husband who was a courageous Marine and is a brilliant mind, author and teacher in his own right…wow.  This is the stuff of which filmmakers’ dreams are made.

And it’s not just in the film end of this enterprise, but in all the avenues down which we need to proceed.  We can’t help but remember one of the first people to volunteer their expertise.   Dave Beyerlein, a website developer and cousin of a dear friend of ours, knew we were trying to put together something for Bravo!  A former Marine himself, Dave patiently guided us through the steps and did most of the work setting up www.bravotheproject.com.  Our feeble attempts to learn social networking skills were then rescued by Eric Jacky, Amanda Turner, and now our nephew, Galen Rodgers.  All these youngsters are carrying us, Bravo Company, and this film with them into the future. 

Bravo! has also received media attention:  The Springfield, IL, State Journal-Register, the Alamogordo Daily News, the Idaho Statesman, the Casa Grande Dispatch, the Arizona Republic, Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, and probably others we aren’t even aware of.  A friend of mine since high school, Frances Rae, wrote about Bravo! in northern California’s Territorial Dispatch.  Author and radio personality Amanda Turner has scheduled Ken for her show, the Writer’s Block, on September 15.  Tune in for live streaming on your computer at Noon MDT at www.radiowritersblock.com.

And so here we are today, scrambling to make all the final decisions and tie up loose ends, dealing with licensing and rights and permissions and where our dollars will best be spent.  And we realize how this project would have never come this far, this fast, without the continuing support and encouragement of our generous donors, friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, strangers, and people who know and respect the veterans who gave so much.  There are people who have checked in with us regularly with an inspiring thought, a word of encouragement, a nudge in the right direction, who understand the enormity and complexity of our undertaking.  There are people who have bent over backwards to provide helpful advice and information as we walk this path.

And all of this…all of it…because of the 18-year-old boys who were not afraid to put their own lives on the line, to go off to war on foreign soil in order to help preserve freedom and save a country from oppression.  They saw horrors they never want their children or grandchildren to experience, they did exactly what they were trained to do, they lost buddies and witnessed and exhibited heroism, and they will never forget this experience that changed their lives forever.  This is the story we are telling in Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.   We are telling it because these men speak for all veterans, everywhere.

In the words of Alan Heathcock, author of VOLT (www.alanheathcock.com), “This film is an important historical and human document, priceless in its truth. I saw an early cut of this film and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. The men of Bravo Company, who survived the siege of Khe Sanh, deserve to have their voices heard.”

Carol Caldwell-Ewart, Team Bravo’s online impressaria, says, “I saw the current cut of the film last night for the first time, and I believe that all who see it will be powerfully moved. It tells the story of this siege and its aftermath in the lives of the men who fought there with no flash and no glorification—it simply reveals the beauty of their love and sacrifice, their pain and courage and endurance.”

We have two days left on our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.  Donors have carried us over the top, but there are many more expenses ahead.  Please help spread the word so more people can join our other generous donors and be part of telling this important story.  www.indiegogo.com/bravo-common-men-uncommon-valor.  

Bravo! co-producer Betty Rodgers is getting her camera ready to take to western Marin country.

Guest Blogs

June 27, 2011

Part III

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Co-Producer Betty Rodgers continues comments on the creation of the movie Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.

And then, serendipity stepped in…the delicate thread that weaves a web we could never have conceived.  After returning home from Washington, DC, and cataloguing all our materials, Ken and I went to visit our son and his family before Christmas of 2010.  His hometown newspaper, the Casa Grande Dispatch, published an article on Ken and Bravo!, and old acquaintances commented how they were eager for the film because they’d finally get to know the story of Ken’s experience.  He had never talked about the war after returning home.

It so happened that the Associated Press picked up the story, and it was published in several Arizona newspapers. At the same time, a sound and picture editor from northern California visited his daughter in Tucson.  He, John Nutt, and his wife Ann saw the article, and Ann suggested that John contact us and offer to help with Bravo!.  He was reluctant because he said it appeared the project was nearly complete.  Ann persisted and one day our phone rang. The caller said he was looking for Ken Rodgers the filmmaker.  It was John, who explained he was a Vietnam Veteran and had worked in film for 40 years.  He was interested in working with us, and we discovered his credentials were impressive.

While considering John’s offer, Sharon Larson of Larson Sound here in Idaho worked with us on all our audio recordings, cleaning them up and making them more intelligible where needed.  Sharon has been another “You can do it” cheerleader and referral source from the first time we met.

We took a little time to respond to John’s offer because we were considering local editors, and working with John would be a long-distance affair.  But we went to meet him, and that was the beginning of a thrilling and eye-opening adventure.  This was a man who believed so deeply in giving voice to these 15 survivors that he has lived and breathed their story for months, patiently guiding and teaching us along the way.  We are able to work with him closely thanks to telephone, email, and Federal Express/UPS.  The first rough cut was a revelation.  We were stunned by John’s insight and mastery of this story that speaks for all veterans, and at his ability to move it into the dimension of film with the materials we had provided.

We invited a few folks over to view the first rough cut with us, eager for their reactions and feedback.  Their response was strong validation…two thumbs-up from all. 

Backing up a bit, after our interview with Bravo Company Marine  Steve Wiese, Steve found some old cassette tapes in his mother’s belongings.  Come to find out, she had sent him tapes while he was at Khe Sanh, and he had recorded daily life in the trenches.  Steve thought she had taped over his recordings long ago, but no, they were still intact.  Very clear were the sounds and experiences of Bravo Company, as true and authentic as one could hope for.  It was an incredible find.  When he contacted Ken about whether of not we could use them, there was no hesitation in our positive response.

We also did some research on two very famous photographers who were at Khe Sanh, Robert Ellison and David Douglas Duncan.  Ken remembered Mr. Ellison taking his picture at least twice, and that he had perished in the crash of a C-123 at Khe Sanh.  We tracked down his work, did not find images of Ken, but did find images of Bravo Company during the siege.  They are held by an agency, and we are deciding how many of them to purchase licenses for.

David Douglas Duncan is still alive.  He is 95 years old and lives in southern France.  His body of work is held at the University of Texas.  We wish to use 4 of his images.  The procedure was to compose our request to him in the form of a letter, fax the letter to the university, who in turn faxed it on to Mr. Duncan in France.  We did this, and about a week later, Mr. Duncan called to discuss our project.

First of all, as a fellow photographer, talking to a man of his stature was such a privilege.  He is lively and wise, and asked many questions, among which was, “Where was your husband’s company located at the Khe Sanh Combat Base?”  When I said, “Next to the ammo dump,” there was a long pause, and then he said, “Oh my God.”  (This huge store of ammunition was targeted and blown up by the NVA.)  More questions, and a discussion about his latest book to be published soon, all images taken with a Nikon COOLPIX point-and-shoot.  Then he said, “I approve the use of these photos,” and this remarkable conversation was over.  Now we are working with the university to purchase licenses for those images.

The magical thread takes us to another remarkable person, a friend of John’s, Christopher Beaver. John showed Chris, an award-winning and passionate documentary filmmaker, the first rough cut to get his reaction.  He offered to speak with us, and told us we had a very important film, to take our time and not rush into things, to submit it to film festivals, and allow it to take on its own life.  Here, in Chris’ words:

“Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor is an important and deeply affecting film about the sacrifices and the courage of the Americans who fought in Vietnam. The emotional message of the film is as timely today as when the first American troops entered Vietnam.

“After watching the film, I sat in a deep personal silence remembering the friends who returned from the war and those who did not.  I wanted to express my gratitude to the men in the film for sharing what they went through, to say to each one of them that after hearing their words and seeing their faces I better understood what they endured then and what they still endure today, and that I hoped in the future that together we might find a better path to follow than more warfare. 

“To participate in the creation of this film is to honor those who served in Vietnam and to help heal the wounds that remain from the war that took so many lives and so deeply divided our country.”

To participate today, please click on www.indiegogo.com/bravo-common-men-uncommon-valor.  With 4 days left, we have surpassed our goal of $3,000 but as you will read, there are many other expenses to fund.  Stay tuned for Part IV, “coming soon” as they say in the film business.

Betty Rodgers is a writer and photographer turned film maker. Along with her husband Ken, she is husbanding the movie, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, from beginning to end.

Guest Blogs

June 25, 2011

Part II

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Today, Betty Rodgers, Co-producer of Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, muses on the history to date of the film’s genesis and development.

I can say with certainty that the incredible journey of making this film has gone far beyond coincidence.  Nearly every attempt at moving the project forward has been met and exceeded.  It has also been an education in filmmaking, in the bonds of friendship, in understanding and trusting our own intelligence and instincts.  The collaboration has enriched our marriage.

 The first hint that we were on the right path with our desire to record the history of Bravo Company during the siege of Khe Sanh was when we approached the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for financial support early in 2010.  With much enthusiasm they said “yes” in the form of a check for seed money.  We now had the funds to get us started, and that meant it was time to get to work.

 I ceased working fulltime, and Ken and I became very active in the Idaho Media Professionals, a high energy group of positive and creative thinkers in the film industry.  We went to every meeting and workshop we could attend, learning as much as possible about our new endeavor and benefitting from the enthusiastic encouragement from Lance Thompson (a script genius) who saw the potential and kept telling us, “You can do it.”

One of our motivations for moving quickly was the knowledge we were gradually losing the men of Bravo Company, and with each one, their part of the story.  Knowing we would never become experienced videographers soon enough, we decided to hire an expert.  Mark Spear was the man, and he and Drew Allen filmed Ken’s interview.  Now we understood the process, and Ken understood how it felt to be filmed and interviewed.

We put out a call via email and snail mail to everyone we could find in Bravo Company.  Originally we were going to travel the country and film interviews in every veteran’s home.  But that could take two years, so we decided to do as many as we could at the annual reunion of Khe Sanh Veterans.  In 2010, that would be in San Antonio, Texas.  We took Mark with us, and nine men agreed to participate.

Originally, I was going to do the interviews because that’s something I like to do. At the last minute Ken decided he wanted to do them, and this proved to be a brilliant choice. How could they have ever explained their experience to me?  Far better that they told their stories to one of their brothers, a man who was there and understood exactly what they were talking about.  The results were powerful.

In the meantime, it became clear that the costs of making Bravo would far exceed our start-up funds and personal savings.  We had to learn how to be fundraisers.  Mary McColl helped us focus on that and coached us on how to begin.  To her, there is significance in the fact that the Vietnam War is part of our generation’s history.  Then our friend Carol Caldwell-Ewart stepped up to develop a fundraising site at www.indiegogo.com/bravo-common-men-uncommon-valor.  She, our online impressaria, has worked tirelessly to help us with our monetary goals and more.  Miraculously, friends and family and acquaintances and strangers have donated there.  Each one spurs us on.

Then my brother and his wife, Michael and Linda Hosford, asked what they could do, and we knew we wanted to get the word out to veterans everywhere who would want to know about the film.  So Michael and Linda started an email campaign to veterans’ organizations around the US, and have sent thousands of messages to date, with more on the way.

Our next step was to make what became an 8,000 mile road trip to Washington, DC, and back, to do research at Quantico and the National Archives.  We took the opportunity and interviewed five other men along the way.  My cousins, Chuck and Donna Dennis, made us welcome in their home  during those weeks, and we found photos, film footage, audio tapes, reports and more, all about Bravo Company during the siege of Khe Sanh.  Miraculously, we found audio tapes of two people in the film.

While we were there, we visited the Vietnam Memorial a couple of times, taking photos of the Bravo Company names representing the men lost during the siege.  The first morning we were there, the black granite was wet with dew.  Ken pulled out his handkerchief and squatted down to wipe the moisture away from Greg Kent’s name.  At that moment, a stranger bent down and asked if he could borrow the handkerchief to also wipe the moisture from a name.  He was looking for a Greg Kent. I still find this to be a remarkable memory, listening to the two men, 42 years later, meeting and remembering a likeable young man who had qualified for the Olympics before his life was ended by war.

And then shortly after we returned home, two months after his interview, our friend, Bravo Company’s Daniel L. Horton, passed away from terminal cancer.  We were thankful we hadn’t tarried.

I’ll continue our story in Part III.  In the meantime, we have 6 days left to reach our fundraising goal on the website linked above.  If you can help, or know someone who can (a parent, a veteran, a friend, a business, an organization), we ask for your help in reaching them. If you have already given your support, we offer our heartiest thanks.

Betty Rodgers is a photographer, artist, and haiku writer with a passion for people and their passions.