Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘John Nutt’

Skywalker Ranch

August 1, 2011

Poults

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Early this morning I went out and walked the twenty-minute road from the guest quarters up to the Tech Building here at Skywalker Ranch. The fog hung over the surrounding hilltops and shrouded the redwood trees. Ravens squawked and robins twittered; myriad other birds tweeted, chirped and buzzed. Without binoculars I could not identify the species I was seeing.

Last night Betty and I saw flocks of turkeys. In one flock six poults no bigger than my fist scurried around with the hens and the toms as they foraged their way through the puffed white remnants of dandelion blooms and other various plants that have turned brown and stiff in the summer’s weal. As I watched them I thought how vulnerable they were to skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and the various large raptors that inhabit these coastal redwood ecoregions.

That vulnerability reminded me of what we came here for. To sound mix our film. And the subject matter—the Siege of Khe Sanh—and how we were so like these poults, we young Marines as we hunkered down in our holes and trenches and waited out the constant battering of artillery and mortar and rocket and sniper fire. How we waited to become unlike the poults, these foragers and defenders, to become more like the raptors, these hunters and killers, raiders, shock troops. Move to contact. Search and destroy. How we waited. How we waited, until we could join with the enemy and then the cataclysm, the personal cataclysm, like living the most frightening Old Testament war scenes, Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…stuff like that.

After breakfast Betty and I moved up to the Tech Building and sat in a modern, high tech sound theater and watched Mark Berger and John Nutt work their craft. Patience and skill…each moment had to be perfect. The sound not too loud, but loud enough so that the viewer knows viscerally how savagery feels. Sometimes they skirmished, more often they agreed, about how one thread of sound needed to work with other sounds. The result coaxes and coerces, seduces, cajoles and scares. Betty and I and our daughter Sarah and our son-in-law Baruch sat in leather chairs and couches, as we watched Mark and John work through scene after scene. Later we went up to the main house and after a tour of the library, dined on gourmet chow.

When we left the sound theater this evening, I felt as if I had been assaulted. My stomach hurt and my nerves were shot, frayed like the ends of a nylon parachute rope. The war crouched in the back of my throat, big and blustery, sneering and dangerous.

Soon we will be finished.

Skywalker Ranch

July 31, 2011

The Road to Skywalker Ranch

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Whether speaking metaphorically or literally, the road to Skywalker Ranch is laden with surprises. On a metaphorical plane, Betty and I marvel at the path that led us here . . . the bold idea for the film, the idea’s rapid implementation, but most importantly, the people we have worked with and with whom we will work. Twists and turns and surprises at nearly every juncture, and mostly pleasant, even exhilarating surprises. Like topping a humdrum, dry-season summit and having to catch your breath because of the towering copses of green trees, cacophonous bleats and rattles of wild animals and the chirps and peals of strange birds.

The road to Skywalker itself, the literal one, after turning off US Highway 101, is twisting and turning, up and down, curves masked by groves of live oak, madrone and laurel trees. As we near the Ranch, magnificent stands of Redwood trees, Sequoia sempervirens, line both sides of the road. Huge stones jut out of the golden grass of midsummer in this coastal forest ecoregion. The actual gate to Skywalker Ranch is unassuming, almost nondescript. You’d miss it if you didn’t know exactly where you were going.

When we went to San Antonio to interview the majority of the Marines in July 2010, we had no inkling that Skywalker would be one of the final destinations on the road to production of the film. We were sweaty and hot, anticipatory, even a little tremulous as we debarked our flight in San Antonio with Mark Spear and asked our questions, got our answers, got surprised, ate lots of great Mexican food in the ninety-eight-degree heat.

After Texas, when we went to Ann Arbor, Michigan and Washington, DC, or to Brown County, Indiana and Springfield, Illinois, Iowa City, Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska, the surprises continued to rear up and flash their brilliant neons.  Now, after Skywalker, where will the road lead us?

This evening we took a walk to inspect the Skywalker premises. The glass in the windows, the red brick in the Tech Building, the ivy on the walls, huge garden, rush-encircled pond, the veranda on the Main House, the covered bridge, the fitness center, the deer, the wild turkeys, olive trees, cattle, California Bay trees, apricots, corn, sunflowers, the swallows flitting across the skyline as the light from the setting sun striated in vertical lines, the late rays breaking over the top of a western butte. Like knowledge streaming into our brains.

Tomorrow we will begin working with John Nutt and Mark Berger and the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi, lost in the types of moments when Betty and I feel like we are barely holding on to a dream become reality, but the reality is big and broad and smiles like the mouth of the Sacramento as it empties from the Carquinez Straights into San Francisco Bay. After that, whence?

Khe Sanh

July 16, 2011

On Red Clay and March 30, 1968

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Our readers who are not veterans of the many combat actions in and around Khe Sanh, Vietnam, may be interested to know that there is an organization of Khe Sanh veterans that hosts an annual reunion, sponsors scholarships for college educations and produces a regular journal titled Red Clay. The ground around Khe Sanh was that particular ferric-laden clay that sticks to everything and stains a bloody red. Red clay was one of the salient features of Khe Sanh that still lives on in the memories and dreams of those who struggled to get out of there alive.

In the latest issue of Red Clay, the editor, Mr. Tom Eichler, included a number of articles about Bravo Company. The list includes a reprinted newspaper article from Marysville, California about the movie Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, discussion and information on what has been called the Ghost Patrol that occurred on February 25, 1968 and an article written by Ken Pipes, the former commanding officer of Bravo Company during the siege and one of the men interviewed for the movie. Titled, “With Bayonets Fixed KHE SANH—30 March 1968,” which Lt. Colonel Pipes wrote some years back, the piece tells the story of Bravo Company Marines on March 30, 1968, which is also an event chronicled in some depth in the film.

Last week, I received a telephone call from Charles Davis, Lt. Colonel, USMC Retired. Lt. Colonel Davis was the S-3 officer for the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and was tasked, as I understand it, with planning the event on March 30th. He told me that Fred McEwan, Colonel, USMC Retired, the commanding officer of 1/26 at the time and he, Lt. Colonel Davis, had been discussing Ken Pipe’s piece and thought that Ken had been overly modest about his contributions that day, and Lt. Colonel Davis sent me his thoughts.

Lt. Colonel Davis told me I could use his information if it helped our project and I thought I might quote some of what he had to say about Ken Pipes as Bravo Company’s commanding officer on that nasty, brutal and glorious day, 30 March, 1968. As for the plan he and his S-3 staff prepared for the day, Lt. Colonel Davis said:

…(it) contained some of the most extremely difficult and complicated maneuvers found in the small unit tactics handbook: movement to contact under cover of darkness coupled with a planned linkup prior to the attack. All of this occurred with a backdrop of continuous supporting fires from every weapon available to a Marine Infantry Battalion, as well as some borrowed from other services in the area. Normally a unit in the attack would use only one source of fire support at a time. In this raid 105’s, 155’s, 175’s, 4.2 mortars, 81MM mortars and Air were used to isolate the battlefield from the bulk of the enemy forces and our attacking company to maneuver within the defined area of concentration. This tactic required careful adjustment by the unit in the attack to prevent friendly casualties.

So, what we hear from Lt. Colonel Davis is that the plan was very difficult to institute and that Ken Pipes’ leadership was a key factor in its being implemented so successfully. More words on the matter from Lt. Colonel Davis:

A plan of attack such as the one Ken and his troops were asked to undertake would normally only be attempted after numerous rehearsals with well seasoned, experienced troops (a la Seal Team 6 in the bin Laden raid). Nothing about Khe Sanh was normal and therefore the question needs to be asked, why was the raid so successful? Ken, in his usually modest and unselfish attitude, attributes the success to those under him as desire for revenge and the efforts of his Officers and Staff NCOs. While I would never take anything away from their contributions, I would submit Ken’s strong will, military skill and determined leadership was the final factor that carried the attack to its successful completion… He led from the front. When the enemy using “imitative deception” briefly shut down fire support that allowed them to fire several mortar rounds, almost wiping out Ken’s command group and wounding Ken, he refused evacuation, continuing the attack. Even the loss of his artillery FO, Hank Norman, and his radio operator did not deter Ken from continuing the attack. (A key critical element in the planning of what should have been a Battalion raid was to make up for the lack of manpower with massive use of all available supporting arms.) Though painfully wounded, Ken strapped on the radio, coordinated the fire support and led the attack simultaneously. In fact, Ken even personally dispatched several enemy who attacked while Ken was overseeing evacuation of dead and wounded Marines. During the planned withdrawal, Ken was the last to leave the battlefield.

Those of us who served with Ken Pipes know that he was an exemplary commanding officer. In the best tradition of the United States Marine Corps, he led his men, as Lt. Colonel Davis says, “from the front.” When you are a Private, a PFC, a Lance Corporal, a Corporal, and you see your officers and staff non-commissioned officers leading you “from the front,” it makes it easier to charge into the breach of harm’s way and take the fight to your enemy, because that kind of leader shows you how effective combat needs to be accomplished under conditions of extreme difficulty.

And to those of us who served with Ken, we also know that he had other characteristics not always attributed to Marine Corps officers; he genuinely cared about his men and their concerns, he spent time with them on an individual basis, and he had and still has empathy. Lt. Colonel Pipes was awarded a Silver Star for his actions on March 30, 1968.

And for those of us who still survive those days in Khe Sanh, he still leads from the front.

On a separate note, next week Betty and I are on our way to Rochester, Minnesota to the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion. While there, we are going to show the movie, as it is now, to the men we interviewed. After that, we are going to take our show to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California where we will do the final sound mix with our editor John Nutt and the man who will actually do the sound mix, Mark Berger. We have a goal of finishing this film by August 15, 2011. Then we encounter a whole new endeavor. Getting it out so the world will know the story of Bravo and the Siege of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War, as the interviewees see it now, forty-three years on.

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.

Documentary Film

April 9, 2011

First Rough Cut

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Bravo!

Our film and sound editor, Mr. John Nutt, has mailed us the first rough cut of the movie, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. This is a significant moment. We will see the interviews merged with film and photo, audio and music. From here we can work towards a final cut. For filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers, and for John, this means we have surged over a major milestone. Stay tuned for further updates.

Documentary Film

March 16, 2011

First Cut

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Monday and Tuesday of this week Betty and I spent a lot of time with our film editor, John Nutt. We viewed over five hours of interviews and messed around with particular cuts of music for the various sections; the beginning, the ambushes and battles, the incoming, the aftermath, the end of the movie.
We (meaning Betty, Mark Spear, Brian Crowdson, and Jesse Hassler) originally videod over twenty hours of interviews which I transcribed (a real chore for a poor typist such as I). Then I extracted five-plus hours of interview segments that seem relevant to the vector of this movie. We gave it all to John and now it’s in his software and Vavoom, away we go.
Betty and he and I talked about movies and music and the theory of story, the theory of film and films that employed various techniques we had seen and like and thought might fit into Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.
John is a Vietnam veteran and has some “ghosts,” as he calls them, that the film is bringing to the fore. When he talks to me about this movie his blue eyes are like vivid azure fire agates that burn holes in my skin when he looks at me. He’s articulate and intellectual, emotional, and funny. And he is excited, as are Betty and I. John says we have a movie.
Next step is to cut the film down to less than two and one-half hours and work on some of the non-visual aspects of the film.
Time to get to work.

Documentary Film

March 7, 2011

Onward

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This morning a stout gale ruckused off the Pacific Ocean and chased Betty and me all the way from Santa Rosa to Albany. The yellow blossoms of the acacia trees scattered across the freeway and the wind rustled up whitecaps that cornered the late winter light that shone through the scattered clouds.
In Albany, we handed over the material for the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, to our editor John Nutt. With great anticipation, we had imagined this meeting beforehand, and were not disappointed. The three of us discussed making movies, conflict, the Vietnam War (John is a Vietnam veteran who served with the United States Army), art and what movies like Bravo! have to offer.
As we have mentioned before, John has forty years of experience as a sound and film editor and has contributed his talents to some big films, among them the 1984 movie, Amadeus.
We’ve gathered a passel of information and interviews, film and photos, and now that it’s in John’s hands, we’re ready for him to create art from the chaos that exists on our hard drives.
We are excited about this big step, to say the least. Onward.