Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

March 6, 2012

On the Sidelines of Bravo!

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Ann Nutt, wife of Bravo! editor John Nutt, muses from her sideline seat.

Having had a close association with the evolution of Bravo! over the past year, I know that there are a lot more people out there besides me who have closely followed the coming together of this amazing film, and every one of them probably has a story to tell. Here is one of them.

My name is Ann Nutt. My husband, John Nutt, is a film editor and a Vietnam veteran (Army). Over the nearly forty years that we’ve been married, he has thought of himself more in terms of his film work than his military experience, but that experience has always been part of him. That experience came to mind when I read an article about Ken and Betty Rodgers and their film about Khe Sanh and handed it to John.

It all began when we were in Tucson, Arizona, visiting our daughter for Christmas in 2010. While there, I picked up a copy of the local paper, just to see what was going on, and there was the article about Ken and Betty’s project. The article indicated that the shooting of the film was complete (“in the can,” as these film folks would say), but the editing was something as yet to be addressed. John was, at the time, “between projects” (another term familiar to film people as well as other freelancers), so I handed him the article, thinking that with both his editing and his Vietnam experience, it might be something of interest to him. I think my exact words were, “You should call these people.” I may have repeated this advice a time or two before John went on line, got phone numbers for the various Ken Rodgers who were associated with Boise, Idaho, and actually picked up the phone to try to call “these people.”

The first phone call that John made was serendipitous. Not only was it Ken and Betty’s number, they were, as they later told us, at that moment talking about how they were going to find an editor that they wanted to work with on their film. After a few conversations with Ken and Betty and a meeting with their friend (and associate producer) Carol Caldwell-Ewart, John had the honor of signing on to work on this extraordinary project and I had the honor of getting to live alongside it.

Although Ken and Betty live and work in Boise, John worked from our house in Albany, California. It’s not a big house, and I have a corner of “the office” in which John edits. I was in and out of the office in the early months of the editing process, while John was watching hours of raw interview footage, and even though I was not sitting down to watch that footage, I was hearing the voices of the Khe Sanh survivors, listening to bits and pieces of their stories, and that is when I began to learn about courage –on many different levels.

First, there is the courage of the survivors, whose agonized stories I listened to in bits and pieces before ever seeing the film. Film or no film, it was clear that opening up and reliving their experiences in graphic detail was not at all easy for them. I heard them choke up as they talked about what had happened to them at Khe Sanh and afterwards, and how it had changed their lives. Thankfully, for the rest of us, they did tell their stories, and the film gives us not only the stories, but a real understanding of the courage it took to tell them.

Bravo! also shows something about the courage of all soldiers who go to war. The powerful observation that most of the Marines at Khe Sanh were barely out of childhood when they went into battle could probably be said about most soldiers in any war. It’s a lesson about courage on a personal level that we should all be aware of.

Finally, I had something of an insider’s view of the significant courage on Ken and Betty’s part that it took to make this film in the first place. They had never made a film before this, but they waded straight into the unknown. From the beginning of simply wanting to record the stories of Ken’s fellow survivors, they learned how to raise funds, direct and shoot the interview footage, oversee difficult editing decisions, and, when the film itself was complete, to work relentlessly on getting the film seen. I was aware of painful debates about how deeply into the brutality of the siege of Khe Sanh this film should go, and Ken and Betty had the courage to go deep, and to make artistic choices, such as adding documentary footage and powerful sound effects, that made the reality of the battle all that more real.

I went from hearing the opening explosions that introduce the Bravo! audience to Khe Sanh on the small speakers on John’s computer in our small house, to hearing it projected on a very simple video projection system in a small hotel conference room, to feeling it shake the floors (and startle me out of my seat) in surround sound at Lucasfilm, and no matter how many times I heard it, it was powerful and real.

From idly reading the newspaper in Tucson, to watching the completed film in a large theater, I have had an amazing time on the sidelines of Bravo!

Ann Nutt is recently retired from a long career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she was an attorney specializing in water pollution law. She is presently a volunteer writing coach in two public schools and has recently begun training to be among the first group of docents at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park, which will open its first visitors’ center in May.

Ann met her husband John in 1966, when he was a devoted moviegoer, but not yet involved in the making of films. They lost track of one another after high school graduation but reconnected via correspondence during John’s tour in Vietnam. She has been close to his work on many films over the years, but has never felt as drawn into any as much as Bravo!