Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Documentary Film

August 13, 2011

On Skywalker Ranch and Sundance

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Last Thursday I filled out the application to submit Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. When I pushed the button to send off the application I felt…what did I feel? Relief? Yes, I felt relief, not like a great metaphorical weight lifted from my shoulders, but a sense of…of…yeah…we did this. We made this movie. We told this story, this old story. And it is old, a lot older than the forty-three years since the Siege of Khe Sanh lifted. This story is as old as mankind, I suspect. Death, fear, sacrifice, savagery. Everything one wants in a good action-adventure flick. But this story is true…or as true as can be after all the time for events to percolate, change, morph, be forgotten and then remembered.

It’s been a wild month. In late July we went to Rochester, MN and showed the film by private invitation first to a group of some of the interviewees and their spouses. Then we showed it by private invitation to a much larger group of men who survived the siege, or who were at Khe Sanh before or after the siege. In some ways, these are the most important audiences we will face, I think. Sure, this story is laden with messages that speak to all humanity about essential and timeless truths we seem to forget again and again. But the men in Rochester lived the essence of the movie and they would feel it more viscerally than anyone else.

After Rochester we proceeded to northern California and Skywalker Ranch to do the final sound mix. To observe longtime professional editors John Nutt and Mark Berger argue and wrangle over how the movie should sound made Betty and I feel as if they really cared.   They cared enough that they got emotional and scolded and sniped at each other, sometimes looking at Betty and me to see which one of them we agreed with.

The tension of the film mixed with the tension created by Mark and John’s disagreements made my torso hurt, like someone nipping at my skin with a sharp bayonet. But art—and even though the subject matter of Bravo! is somber, violent—it is still art. One of the things that helps create art is tension. Art, to succeed I believe, needs friction and conflict. Michelangelo’s art has tension whether it be sculpture or painting; so too, El Greco, and Picasso and Beethoven and Mick Jagger and Werner Herzog and Quentin Tarantino. The tension between Mark and John was part of elevating the art in Bravo.

And in Skywalker Sound’s Studio Mix E it was loud. The resonance reverberated off the walls, through the floor into the feet of the chairs and couches. It knocked pencils out of pencil boxes and—even though I have watched it so many times—surprised me, frightened me, regardless of the fact that I knew what was coming.

So…the movie is loud, and at times brash, speaks to indignations of living like a besieged rat; it is sad, somber, elevating, and in the end, redemptive.

  1. Now we wait, and we wonder. What will the outer world think? Will they care? Will they understand? Will they be moved by the raw emotion or be terrified by the strange sounds they have never heard before? Only time will tell.

    What IS most important is the fact that it is done. A permanent tribute to those special men who changed our lives forever. Many before you have said they would do it but never did. You made it happen. You and Betty have given those men their rightful place in recorded history. It is so appropriate because you were an integral part of what happened. I do not for one minute believe any one person who was not part of this story would have ever put so much heart in to this project. Every one from Bravo, those who did not return, and those who did will forever be in debt to you and Betty.

    Semper Fidelis my good friend.

    Michael E. O’Hara

    Comment by Michael E. O'Hara — August 13, 2011 @ 5:45 pm
  2. What a beautiful report of the latter days of making Bravo! Much of it should be included in the PR packet for the film and quoted on the posters in major movie theaters. You have made me reconsider war just from the sidelines as you’ve worked–and not yet having seen the film. You have made it personal and given me a way to understand it in a greater context. Having worked at Dugway, I have a weight of guilt to shed. Editing texts of tests of weaponry, some of the most horrible of which was used in Vietnam, does not compare to your experience, for sure, but it touches on mine and makes it easier to examine. Thank you! Gail

    Comment by Gail Larrick — August 13, 2011 @ 6:02 pm
  3. It is strange how we are all touched by the specter of war. It permeates the culture. Good, bad, indifferent. We live with it. Amongst it.

    Comment by admin — August 13, 2011 @ 8:06 pm
  4. Thank you, Michael E. O’Hara. As Steve Wiese says: “Bravo lives on.”

    Comment by admin — August 13, 2011 @ 8:07 pm
  5. Anxious to see it in its complted format. Excellent piece of work by both of you. Greg

    Comment by Greg and Connie — August 17, 2011 @ 7:52 pm
  6. Thanks, Pal. We are about completed with the actual film. Now we need to get it seen.

    Comment by admin — August 17, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

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