Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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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.