Jeb Stuart has been a motion picture and television screenwriter, director and producer for over 30 years, and is widely considered one of the great action screenwriters in film history. His first film, Die Hard, was nominated for four Academy Awards and voted the Best Action Film of All Time by Entertainment Weekly (2007). In a 2012 New York Times Magazine article, Adam Sternbergh wrote: “As a genre, the American action film…produced one bone fide masterpiece, Die Hard.” In 1993, Stuart’s suspense thriller, The Fugitive, was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. During his career he has worked on over 50 feature and television projects, which have collectively grossed over $2.5 billion dollars worldwide.
Presently, he is the creator and showrunner of two Netflix Original series, The Liberator, a World War Two drama slated for release in the fall of 2020 and Vikings: Vahalla which is currently in production in Ireland. Stuart is a WGA Best Screenplay Nominee as well as a two-time Edgar Allen Poe Nominee for best movie screenplay. He has received recognition for his writing from the American Film Institute and is a recipient of the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship, administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of which he has been a member for over 25 years. Stuart received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.A. in Communications from Stanford University. He is a former member of the graduate faculty at Northwestern University, where he taught in the Writing for Stage and Screen Program. WATM had the chance to sit down with Stuart to hear more about The Liberator.
WATM: History is full of stories of courage and uncommon valor; how did this story grab your attention to decide that it must be made?
Stuart: The Liberator is based on the book written by Alex Kershaw. It was sent to me by Michael Lynne whose company Unique Features was working on a World War II project for the History Channel. I’m a huge reader, especially U.S. military history, and I thought this would be a great story for a couple of reasons: It deals with Italy primarily and it doesn’t get enough coverage in film and TV. It shows our troops learning to fight instead of the great battles such as D-Day and the French invasion that we know pretty well.
The biggest issue for me, that I was really attracted to, was the diversity part of the story. That a group of native Americans, White cowboys and Mexican Americans could be brought together in an integrated unit in WWII. That really got my attention. The idea that Felix Sparks, a back-office 2nd lieutenant, who works his way up to Lt. Colonel over the course of 500 days is a pretty compelling story within itself. It’s a survivor story and of terrific leadership. That was the start and there was a lot after that but that drew my interest in the story.
WATM: What was your favorite character-building moment in the story?
Stuart: That’s a great question, Ruddy. You know, there are so many moments like that. I think my favorite moments are when the men are really having to pull together in combat situations. Anzio comes to mind, I wanted to tell a story that can show G.I.s under artillery. For most people watching this [war series], I was wondering if there was a way to capture the terrifying aspect of being in a foxhole under bombardment for minutes by the German 8.8 [cm] artillery that was just fearsome.
We were able to do that with Trioscope. What it would feel like is not knowing where a shell would come down, then having American artillery corresponding, going over your head and raining down on your position in order to complete the task – guard the only road into Anzio. Should the Germans capture it, they would have a blank check to move support vehicles and tanks into Anzio. They probably would have driven the Allies back into the sea.
So, this one unit is tasked with holding that road. An incredibly complex task that they should have been overwhelmed by. By pulling the chain as they do in episode two, by putting their own artillery down on themselves, they were able to stop the German advance long enough for the Americans to have a grasp on Anzio and counterattack.
They did win the Presidential Unit Citation Award, which at the time was pretty new. Very few units have ever received that. That’s my favorite character-building moment for the series.
WATM: Warfare is organized chaos, while in production, what was a moment that you experienced your team pulling together and getting the mission done?
Stuart: In that same episode after the Anzio battle, Spark’s unit had to move into a series of places called The Caves. Where these rag tagged pieces of units that were still left, took refuge in this circular mound that they had done more excavation. It was probably more of a mine than a cave and there were civilians in there.
For me, that was the place where they gathered up. Having to recreate this, the audience will see a functioning Trioscope. Trioscope is a hybrid type of animation – we shot the show on a blue screen. When we cast out there, things like leaving the cave and going out into this bombardment under machine gun fire, all have to be imagined by the actor. It calls upon the actor to bring more to the table otherwise it’s just not going to have the feel. What we did a lot of the time is that Grzegorz Jonkajtys, our director, and L.C. Crowley, our producer back in Atlanta, they would put ear pieces into the soldier’s ears that they would pump in machine gun fire from the right or explosion is coming in or you hear the whistle of incoming shells.
After a couple of takes, Ruddy, (laughs) it doesn’t take long for an actor to suddenly start thinking ‘where is that coming from? How am I going to react?’ and they would react naturally. If a shell is coming you just get down, if a foxhole is available you get in, especially when it’s 20 feet from you.
It’s incredibly disorienting for the actor, as it should be, as you’ve said organized chaos. It should shock you; it should surprise you. That fight or flight instinct and adrenaline pumping in and you react that way. I think it was an extremely successful experiment that worked for us.
WATM: The military audience is always hungry for more, more, and more. They will watch content a million times over and always ask ‘what’s next?’
Stuart: I am hoping what you’re saying is a follow up to The Liberator using Trioscope in another conflict such as WWI, Gulf War, Vietnam.
WATM: Yes, absolutely.
Stuart: It is great for this type of format. I hope we can do an anthology series which would be fun because trioscope allows us to recreate great battles, great units, great servicemen, great stories like that. You obviously need the great assets that go only with it like terrific directors and great animators. If you think of WWI and WWII, none of those tanks and planes really operate or exist today outside of museums and private collections.
You couldn’t mount a show of any scale like you could in the 50’s and 60’s like Dirty Dozen or along those lines. You couldn’t do those kinds of things without recreating [vehicles] from scratch. This is an opportunity to find great soldier stories and tell them in a very convincing, authentic way through Trioscope, A+E Studios and School of Humans, and I have been in talks about what we can do together.
WATM: Is there anything that you would like to say to the military audience?
Stuart: The one thing I would like to really tell your audience at We Are The Mighty is that The Liberator has a terrific message but also just great entertainment. It’s the type of thing where everybody who is involved thought it was a very special project. It tells an important part of our military history.
The veterans I’ve talked to, not just Vietnam veterans – my father was a WWII veteran, veterans of the Gulf War and such; the mental endurance that’s required to get through something like that are just as important today as they were 75 years ago. I think there is a lot of resonance in the story and we’re excited about it, we’re proud of it, and I hope people will tune in and watch it.The Liberator Premieres Veterans Day November 11, 2020 on Netflix.
“Game of Thrones” composer Ramin Djawadi has been a central craftsmen of HBO’s iconic series since the very first episode. For the coming final season, he’s keeping the secrets of the score close to his chest.
“I don’t know if I should … or what I can even say at this point,” Djawadi told INSIDER at the season eight premiere in New York City last week when asked if there are any new instruments we’ll hear on season eight. “I can say there are new themes, definitely, and there are plenty of the existing themes as well, with new iterations.”
Djawadi says the experience of producing this final season has been “bittersweet.”
“It’s obviously super exciting but writing this final season was definitely very emotional for me,” Djawadi said. “I went through all the ups and downs all by myself.”
He was sent the final season’s episodes earlier this year, but had to watch them by himself in order to maintain the secrecy of how the show ends.
“Obviously it’s so under wraps that even my direct team can’t have access to my studio,” Djawadi said. “So it was just me and nobody else, all the doors were locked. It was quite emotional.”
The music you hear on “Game of Thrones” isn’t just written by Djawadi; he plays most of the instruments himself and then assembles the individual layers into one cohesive piece for the score.
Djawadi told INSIDER he watched all six episodes “straight through” before he started writing any music.
“Then I re-watched them countless times,” Djawadi said. “Like hundreds and hundreds of times.”
One theme INSIDER is eager to hear on the coming official soundtrack is the music which plays during Jaime Lannister’s signature moments, including the memorable bathtub monologue on season three and when Jaime goes to treat with the Blackfish on season six.
Neither of those pieces of score were put on the official released compilations fans can buy or stream. But Djawadi says he hopes to get Jaime’s theme onto the released season eight soundtrack.
“Yes, definitely,” Djawadi said. “A lot of people have approached me [about that]. It’s interesting, when I get stuff ready for the soundtrack I sometimes think, ‘Oh this piece is too short,’ and then all these people ask why it’s not on there.”
“I feel like I should go back and look through all the unreleased material and do something with it,” Djawadi said.
We suggested he release a bonus soundtrack after the series finale.
“Yeah, I think we have to,” Djawadi replied.
“Game of Thrones” premieres Sunday, April 14, 2019, at 9 p.m. ET. Tune in to hear if any of those new themes teased by Djawadi makes it into the first episode of season eight.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
World War I, The Seminal Catastrophe of the 20th Century, hasn’t spawned nearly as many films as did the Second World War that was to follow only 20 years later. For every Warhorse, Lawrence of Arabia, and All Quiet on the Western Front, there are troves of iconic films like Schindler’s List, Dunkirk, Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, etc…
Perhaps this is related to the good versus evil rationale on which WWII was fought, whereas WWI had a much more nuanced and convoluted reason for its existence, i.e. a series of binding treaties that exploded into a global war.
In the newest WWI film, 1917, the overarching causes behind why the soldiers are in trenches become irrelevant thanks to an expertly-crafted, human story that envelops the viewer with a common principle found in all wars and in the films that depict it; you fight for the soldiers next to you. Along with sharp performances and thoughtful writing, the filmmakers enlist a technique as difficult to achieve as it is powerful in its reception; a simulated single camera shot following the action from mission-start to mission-finish.
The film’s use of one continuous shot (or perhaps a few hundred stitched-together shots) is designed for one specific reason; to put the audience in the shoes of two young British soldiers, tasked with carrying an urgent message of life or death to the frontlines. Effectively nullifying the safety blanket of the traditional editor where multiple shots can be combined into a film, 1917’s continuous shot leaves very little room for error with the director, cinematographer, and other crew on set. In military terms, to make this film a blockbuster, Director Sam Mendez took a chance with a 0 million sniper shot, and he nailed it.
When Mendez and cinematographer Roger Deakins (both Oscar winners) decided to craft 1917 using only one shot and rely on the edit only to mask or stitch the various sequences together, they set out to bring the audience into the world of frontline war-fighting. There are no breaks. There are no pauses between frames or shots or scenes to give your brain time to catch up. The viewer is embedded with these men from mission-start to mission-finish and thus given a proximity not often afforded to audiences. The result is a visceral and captivating glimpse into the heartbreakingly painful agonies of war; especially a war as devastating as WWI. Yet, in doing so, it also provides the audience with a heightened sense of triumph as the young soldiers conquer insurmountable odds.
Whereas the creative choice of using one shot adds elemental gravitas and depth to 1917, it’s execution also proves the filmmakers’ dedication to this story. Due to the complexity and continuous nature of the one-shot format, the planning of every shot, performance, movement, light, wardrobe detail, effect, etc. called for the utmost military precision.
Employing the preparation, foresight, ingenuity, and assiduousness needed to lead an army into battle, Mendez and his lieutenants triumphed.
Being deployed during the holidays can put a damper on the season’s celebrations. Great holiday movies tend to relieve and mentality transport your loved ones back home, even if only just for a few hours.
So the next time you visit a department store that sells DVDs, make sure you toss these films into your cart and send them to your favorite troop serving overseas.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, the film focuses on an alcoholic con man (Billy Bob Thornton) who dresses up as Santa to rob the department stores who hire him during the holiday season.
The film isn’t considered your typically holiday movie, but the comedy perfectly fits our dark military humor.
6. Elf (2003)
Directed by Jon Favreau, the comedy features a rambunctious and tall elf named Buddy (Will Ferrell) who grew up in the north pole and sets out on a mission to the Big Apple to reconnect with his long-lost father.
5. A Christmas Story (1983)
This is the epic movie that plays for 24-hours straight on TBS every season (just in case you didn’t know). Directed by Bob Clark, this classic follows a young boy named Ralphie whose sole mission is to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas – even if he shoots his eye out.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The Jeremiah Chechik-directed comedy follows ambitious family man Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his crazy family as they gather together under one roof to celebrate Christmas. Spoiler alert: a lot of things break and catch on fire — that’s why we like it.
3. Jingle all the Way (1996)
After a father vows to get his only son the incredibly hard-to-find action figure Turbo-Man, he embarks on the ultimate foot race across town to find the famous toy while competing with a hilarious mailman.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Directed by Hollywood icon Tim Burton, this animated feature film follows Jack Skellington — aka the Pumpkin King from Halloweenland — as he stumbles Christmastown and gains a new perspective on life.
“Hail, Caesar!,” the latest movie from the Coen Brothers, hits theaters on Friday, February 5. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the military parts of the film (cause that’s how we roll at WATM), a song where Navy man Channing Tatum complains that there ain’t gonna be no dames on his upcoming deployment. The song also contains veiled sexual references using sealife (octopus and clams), which is in line with what audiences have come to expect from the Coen Brothers in terms of hilarity.
So the next time you complain about gender integration, think about this poor sailor with clams in his rack.
We knew the members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H) were well-equipped to handle any situation, but this new hybrid from five episodes of the popular 1970s series is showing us how to handle COVID-19 as well.
While the sun may have set after 11 seasons on the beloved characters stationed in South Korea during the Korean War, their advice on everything from how to wash your hands, hoarding in a time of toilet paper shortage and social distancing seems almost prophetic.
In the M*A*S*H montage put together by Frank Vaccariello, we see unbelievably timely themes: How to wash your hands from the episode, “Fade In, Fade Out,” social distancing from the episode,”Cowboy,” don’t touch your face from the episode, “War of Nerves,” working from home from the episode, “Hepatitis,” and yes, even a toilet paper shortage from the episode,”Crisis.”
When asked what prompted his creativity, Vaccariello said that he started comparing the guidance the nation is receiving on protecting ourselves from COVID-19, to scenes from M*A*S*H in his head. “I have been a M*A*S*H fan since the days it originally aired,” he said in an interview with WATM. “I loved the show, the writing and the acting. I can actually be said to be more of a M*A*S*H freak,” he admitted. “I had intended just to make a couple memes, but then last Saturday morning I woke up and decided to create the video.”
The first trailer for Avengers 4 is finally here. We’ve got a real-deal title, too: Avengers: Endgame. Captain America has shaved his beard, Tony Stark is lonely, Hawkeye is back, and it looks like Ant-Man is going to be the key to it all, just as we predicted!
Be warned this trailer is super-emotional and we’re already crying. Watch the trailer a few times, and then take a breath. Okay, you good? Let’s dig into this a little bit.
First of all, even though “Endgame” is a really boring and generic subtitle, the trailer itself is excellent, possibly more thrilling than any other Marvel trailer ever. Unlike the Captain Marvel trailers (which are fine by the way) this trailer really gives the audience what they want without actually spoiling the movie. Though if you somehow missed Infinity War, this trailer weirdly makes watching that movie slightly unnecessary because Black Widow sums up the plot of the previous installment with one line “Thanos did exactly what he said he was going to do: he wiped-out 50 percent of all living creatures.” (Side question: does this include cockroaches, rats, and pigeons? Is there a vermin-version of the Avengers who are grieving right now, too? I mean we all cried for Spider-Man, what about actual spiders?)
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, this trailer is really great. Chris Evans is clearly going to give the performance of his life in this movie and its rad to see him clean-shaven, like pretty much saying to the audience that yeah, he’s back and he’s going to do whatever it takes to fix all of this stuff. The return of Hawkeye is super-dope, too, and that coda with Ant-Man pulling up in his van is great and totally teases the idea that the post-credits scene of Ant-Man and the Waspwill be the key to saving all the Avengers.
Seems like May 3, 2019, can’t get here fast enough.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
In addition to playing a Resistance lieutenant, Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd had a special second role in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
Lourd stepped in to play Princess Leia during the short flashback scene in “Episode IX.”
“Billie was playing her mother,” Industrial Lights & Magic visual effects supervisor Patrick Tubach told Yahoo Entertainment. “It was a poignant thing, and something that nobody took lightly — that she was willing to stand in for her mom.”
Here’s a reference of how Leia looks in most of “Return of the Jedi.” The look is reminiscent of how we see her in the new film.
“If you’re going to have someone play [Fisher’s] part, it’s great that it’s [Billie] because there are a lot of similarities between them that we were able to draw from,” added Tubach. “The real challenge was just making the Leia footage we had to work with fit in that scene.”
The ILM team told Insider that bringing Fisher back was “a gigantic puzzle.” The team utilized previously unused footage from director J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” to help bring her to life.
Hanson at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Photo credit BH.
Brian Hanson has lived a few lives and succeeded in some of the harder endeavors known to man: earning a Ranger tab and making a movie. He grew up in Southern California, worked in Hollywood for awhile and then felt called to serve in the U.S. Army. He left Hollywood and became a Ranger serving on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Upon returning from his service he fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and producing his first film, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz.
WATM: Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born in Detroit then my parents moved to San Diego. They were tired of the snow and wanted a new lifestyle on the West Coast. My father has always been a huge TV, film and history buff. I grew up in Escondido which is a suburb of San Diego. I had a sister that unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was sixteen so that was a life changing moment in our lives. It was a paradigm shifter. My parents worked hard, and my youth was in many ways the normal SoCal life — riding bikes with friends, enjoying summers and playing sports. I had a real fascination toward movies and telling stories. It was always in me. I played football and baseball in high school. I also did student government. We did a field trip when I was a senior in high school to see a talk show at Paramount Studios to see The Kathy Lee Gifford Show. Seeing the stage, PAs and cameramen showed me that showbiz was a real industry and that I could do it. Even though I did (short) films with my friends it made me aware that I could direct myself toward the industry. It is a real thing.
I graduated that summer and my sister died, so all bets were off on going into the industry at that time. I did one year at San Diego State and then decided to travel abroad with a friend. We worked as bartenders and lived in the United Kingdom. It is what 18 year olds should do— go see the world. I started reading Syd Field books and Robert Rodriguez books like Rebel Without a Crew, watching El Mariachi, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Blair Witch, The Following…I was really into the big studio movies (Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Matrix) and the independents. It was like you can do this, get a camcorder and you can do it. I knew I wanted to join the military, but not at that moment in my life so I came back from Europe and transferred up to Cal State Northridge. I graduated and got my proper film school bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to be a Writer/Director. My parents were very supportive of my endeavor in making it in Hollywood and telling stories.
Once US Forces entered Iraq in 2003, I had read voraciously about 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. I knew I was going to join the military at some point, but when? I would be pouring drinks for young, good looking Hollywood people at a bar making hundreds of dollars a night where over their shoulder would be a TV on reporting the Battle of Fallujah. I started to not feel right about that, and I wanted to be an honest storyteller. I would like to be a storyteller that speaks truthfully and authentically and didn’t want to be the person that imitates. I didn’t want to be an imitator of Goodfellas or Full Metal Jacket. I knew I needed that life experience to be an authentic storyteller. I did a TV Pilot with some friends that we raised money for, and Brandon Routh was in it. This was right before he was cast as Superman in Superman Returns. Brandon and I bartended together at that time. He was a great guy to work with. I was also bartending at the Playboy mansion during the end of the glory days for Hefner and the Mansion. It’s tough to just walk away from all of that and you are making decent money in Hollywood. You are just one step or script away from “it” happening.
After not much happened with the TV Pilot I started to realize that Hollywood and LA are still going to be here. I wrestled a year or two of how to leave it behind after I had started a life. As I approached 30, I looked in the mirror and decided to join the Army because if I waited longer, the military wouldn’t let me join – I’d be too old. I would have regretted to my dying day if I did not serve. There were no questions in life. I knew joining as an older guy would be different when compared to most recruits. But I wanted to volunteer my time and some of the years of my life to serve my country, but I had to step up and go do it. I gotta do this and gotta do it now. I knew my goal was to come back to LA with this accomplishment and service to my country being complete.
Hanson at Fort Benning. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What made you want to become a Ranger and what was your experience like?
I didn’t know all the details when I enlisted as an 11Bravo (infantry), but I knew that Rangers and Green Berets were the high-speed special-operations units. One day in Basic Training at Fort Benning, the Ranger recruiters came out to ask for volunteers and my Drill Sergeant SFC Metcalfe looked at me and said, “Hanson, you better f’n volunteer.” So, I volunteered on the spot and a few months later I was reporting to Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Unfortunately, SFC Metcalfe was killed in action a year later when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd. I thank SFC Metcalfe for pushing me to go Ranger.
I was stationed at Fort Benning with 3rd Ranger Battalion where it is a high-speed training cycle. You train for six months and then deploy for about 3 to 4 months. There is always a Ranger Battalion deployed. Just operating at that tempo, at all times, is exciting and inspiring to see your NCOs, squad leaders and platoon sergeants are on their sixth or tenth deployment. It was very inspiring to see their commitment to the unit at the cost of their family and personal time. When you are a single young, enlisted person it is very inspiring to see that level of motivation. Rangers hold themselves up to the highest standard of leading the way. You are always being tested. It is uncomfortable and you never have a chance to relax. It is a great way to stay sharp. It is a tough head space to always be in. You are always being watched. The young (new) guys compete like professional athletes to deploy, like trying to make the starting roster. Once you deploy you want to be on that mission every time. I deployed to FOB Salerno in Afghanistan on the border real close to Pakistan. My second deployment was at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion and then my last deployment I was at FOB Shank aka “Rocket City”. That place was hit like all day with nonstop rockets. It’s funny how used to it you get.
The Taliban used a lot of ingenious guerrilla tactics like setting ice on the mortars to eventually melt and then go off at some point during the day. Apaches would launch to try and find the culprits however they were not there. We ran the night shift out there for High Value Targets (HVT) where we went on night raids. To see how targets were acquired and track and intel was gathering where the strike force commander was the CO. From top to bottom the whole thing was a collection of assets. We worked with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, big Army, DIA and had civilians running the drones. It is amazing to see people come together for these task forces where all of these people work together on the fly. Being 30 and seeing this strike force run by young soldiers/civilians is amazing because in Hollywood most 23-year olds close to me are up and coming bartenders/actors/writers/directors. In Afghanistan we had 23-year-old Forward Observers bringing in Chinook helicopters into dangerous LZs to pick us up for a night raid. 24-year-old squad leaders are ensuring that everyone is accounted for and that no one is left behind on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. It is amazing to see what young people can do where they have been trained at such a high level and have high expectations. They achieve and are motivated. I think Hollywood is an amazing place where things get done, but I think a lot of it is a 10-year delay. It is a bit of an arrested development sometimes.
In a training incident I was a towed jumper. We were doing our yearly training for airfield seizures which is an entire battalion operation to seize an airfield. I was the last guy to jump out of a C-17 at night with a full combat load and got hung up on the plane which made me a towed jumper. I was hanging outside of a C-17 at 1000 to 1500 feet circling Fort Benning banging against the side of the plane and fully conscious. Thinking that I might die at any moment and this is not a normal thing to happen to people. My static line wrapped around my weapons case where when you are jumping your weapons case is attached to your thigh and your harness. Somehow there was too much slack in the static line to where it wrapped around the weapons case so it wouldn’t release me. The static line stays clipped inside the plane and it is supposed to pull the back of the pack tray. You jump and it pulls it out, but it got wrapped around and it pulled me.
I was okay with a tight body position and covered my reserve chute, so it didn’t release. I was out there for six minutes. I thought they were going to cut me loose to where all I have left is my reserve chute to land on some trees at night next to the Chattahoochee River. Then I started looking at my boots flying through the air and thought this is what parasailing must be like. Then I thought, did they forget about me and is the C-17 going to try to land? Do they not know I am out here, and I am going to do some high-speed combat roll on a tarmac as the C-17 lands? You are trained to keep a tight body position out there, so they know you are not unconscious. I kept slamming against the side of the C-17 behind a gigantic turbine engine. I hit the plane and stayed there where I started to get dragged across the skin of the plane. I felt hands underneath my arms and they pulled me in. Everybody was so glad to see I was alive and in one piece. I was just relieved as I was out there so long, I went beyond any initial shock, concern to just cut me loose guys so I can land on a tree with my reserve shoot.
They pulled me in and did a great job making sure I was okay. I had to retell the story for weeks to a lot of soldiers, especially Sgt Majors at the DFAC wanted to hear the story of a towed jumper. It was a very bizarre story because no one wants to be a towed jumper. It is a total nightmare scenario short of both chutes failing. It all ended well and twelve stitches in my chin was it. After all of that my 1stSgt checked on me and made sure I was alright. He then told me, “Get ready you are jumping tomorrow.” We had another jump the next day. The 3rd Ranger Battalion was like you are jumping tomorrow to get over any fear of jumping again. Just get out there and do it. I jumped not 24 hours later and believe me I was concerned. I said, “There is no way that can happen twice.” I got out the door and was fine. There is not a lot of pity or sympathy it is like get back up and do it again unless you are truly hurt, alright get up and do it as there is no time to think about. That is something I take with me to this day.
All of the pre-jump training you do these repetitive and boring things you already know, and I did one of those things without even thinking about it. It dawned on me why I do this training every single time. When that one time does happen, you are ready and have gone over the worst-case scenario. You will be that much quicker to save your own life or someone else. It seems so mundane and so repetitive and a waste of time until you need it. That repetitive action like weapons malfunctions….but when you need that instantaneous second nature habit it is the most important thing you could have known at that point.
Hanson at Camp Leatherneck. Photo credit BH.
Hanson on his last mission at FOB Shank. Photo credit BH.
Paratroopers jumping from C-17 Globemasters.
View of Camp Salerno. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
WATM: What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
I am proud I stepped up to the challenge of 75th Ranger Regiment (thank you SFC Metcalfe) and made the team. Severing with my Ranger buddies was like the saying goes: “I was no hero, but I walked amongst a few.” I did my part and I know guys that are still out there doing it. I know squad leaders that are now getting their own platoons. Some guys have gone into elite units like Delta Force and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. I still think about them often and stay in touch. I want to make them proud because of the work they are still doing…I try to keep pushing myself in a way that would do right by the effort they are putting on…I am proud to have been on a team with those guys and seen what leadership means…and at such a young age and for so many people. I am proud to have seen it and been associated with that level of person.
Frankie and Paige Muniz, Kayli, Chelsea and Brian at Dances with Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?
One thing that you see among some twenty something bartenders or Hollywood newbies that is unacceptable in the Ranger Regiment and also unacceptable in the Army are excuses. It is the same on production, there are no excuses. There are just no excuses. I don’t want to hear it other than a solution. Maybe an, “I’m sorry,” and that is it where I don’t even want to hear an excuse. Unless there is something disastrous you need to untangle. No excuses, just solutions. The high-level professional types of productions have that mentality where I really appreciate it. I do see the correlation between military units and productions. You have one mission where everyone comes together to accomplish it.
Also, you see this in the military and it is a career everything, keep moving forward just like a twenty-mile ruck march. You worry about the next step, then the next phone pole, then the next quarter mile where they will all add up. You can be overwhelmed by all of it if you look at it all at once where if you do it one step at a time you see that you can do it. Those are two crucial lessons I learned in the Army.
Hanson, Frankie and crew at Dances With Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
Even though I had worked in Hollywood before leaving, I came back a veteran, and still had to learn that there is a system in Hollywood. The system is not as rigid perhaps as the military. It isn’t just this artistic endeavor where you get to be a genius and be Quentin Tarantino or you are Steven Spielberg because you say you are. There is a hierarchy and there is a smart way to navigate. There is a way to get oriented and to a very real map of how this town works and have very realistic expectations. I think that veterans and others think of their prior accomplishments, whether a lawyer or a company commander of an infantry company, where you are not going to be a 1st AD. That is a ten-year path that is very regimented. The biggest challenge is understanding what the path to success is and how to realistically pursue those things. Know that they all take time and embrace that.
***Since leaving the Army I have learned so much by working as a Production Assistant on HBO’s Barry, Silicon Valley, Room 104 and worked as Assistant to Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason. Being on set and working for top level professionals has been an incredible learning experience and given me insight to become a better filmmaker on my own projects. I also greatly appreciate the film/tv mentorships, education and opportunities I was given through Veterans in Media Entertainment (VME), USVAA and WGF. It has been very important to find mentors and work for professionals.
Hanson with members of the cast and production staff at the Austin Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was it like writing, producing and directing your own feature film, The Black String?
The story was percolating for a long time before making the film such as Donnie Darko, Repulsion, Jacobs Ladder, which does a great job of blending horror and military, and Rosemary’s Baby. It was conceived with my bartending buddy Andy Warrener before I joined the Army. We wanted to explore in that story what it is like to be on that edge where you are experiencing something and no one else believes. It is you against the world. How do you convince someone of something that crazy of a witch conspiracy or a coven of witches? Or some really wild, evil cabal? The moment you say those words you already sound like you are having mental problems. Doctors will definitely not be going to believe.
The challenge we wanted was for a character to have to convince his family, his friends and his doctors of something that is inconceivable where no one in the real world is going to believe that. We put that in a genre we enjoyed which was horror. Now we thought maybe we would make that movie, but I joined the Army and Andy got married and moved to Florida. The wild thing is that you never know what you write today may be a movie in five or ten years. I lived a whole crazy life in between thinking of the story while tending bar with my buddy and then going into the Army. The difference in the time gap was about seven years. I could not have guessed that would have happened, especially with Frankie Muniz.
The creative part I was very comfortable with in the directing and writing having made many short films. I got an MFA from Mt. Saint Mary’s University with the GI Bill, which is a beautiful thing, loves the GI Bill. I owe so much to the GI Bill. So, I got very comfortable with the directing portion where you get very creative to bring this vision and feeling and this emotion you have to life in a very technical way. It is running the business, the producing part of things, to where you are starting a business, you are an entrepreneur. My producing partner Richard Handley, he is a Navy veteran and was an officer and Physician’s Assistant, he runs a contracting business with the DoD. We ran a business together where many purely creative types don’t understand what that level of dedication and commitment is.
To this day I have had probably had equal amounts of discussions about corporate taxes, LLCs, investor shares and running a business as I have about storyboarding shots. When you are doing an independent film like this, truly a passion project, you are building a team that is not a whole lot different…then opening a small company. You and your business partner are shouldering the burden if not for months, but for years. You have to love it and I do where it has been a great journey to where we had such great crew members and other producers that have helped us along the way. It is a multiple year endeavor when you do something like that in the independent world. You really are from the very beginning of raising money all the way to negotiating with distributors and foreign distributors and how you cut checks to your investors. It’s a true business education and kind of feels like I got this mini MBA education.
That was unexpected but the directing part was just amazing. Working with such talented people and friends that I had before joining the Army…we really were able to bring a lot of relationships such as Ravi Patel I bartended with as well. Cullen Douglas and Ravi and I did a TV pilot in like 2008. It was amazing to be able to reach back to my pre-Army friends that are so talented and my post Army, new team of filmmaking friends and bring everybody together. We called on so many favors. We had such great support from Mt. Saint Mary’s, VME and Vega Baby. We called in every favor where it is such a positive experience. When we landed in Frankie Muniz where he is a champ.
He brought his “A game” even for the tiny movie it was. He loved the character and the chance to do something different. He gave everything to our tiny project as he would have to our multi-million-dollar project. He treated us with respect, and he treated the script with respect. He came to set daily with a big folder of his personal notes. He was meticulous like a pro and his level of preparation and how he kept track of everything and what he brought was just amazing. He took that movie and made it really something different than perhaps something we thought. Frankie made it his Breaking Bad character. Like his Malcolm in the Middle dad, Bryan Cranston did on Breaking Bad. He was still kind of that funny person but had a much darker take on it. It is a dark twist on that guy you already know. Frankie imbued the role in the film with his Malcolm in the Middle persona, but whoa that is the dark side of it. What happened? Like Breaking Bad, what went wrong? To work with a pro, I learned.
To be able to work with actors like Ravi, Frankie, Cullen, Oded and Chelsea where they are people that do this for a living to be able to work with people like that and be creative partners with them for my first feature was inspiring. To see how a team can really work with everybody really contributing some high-level creativity. Everyone on the team had so much to add. You have to shepherd the project to where everyone stays on track, but still allow personal creative contributions from cast members. A director is like a manager of a company. You have to work with the talent, resources and the money of your company. You still have to get to the goal, but you can’t be resistant to some things that are great new ideas.
Poster for The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Rich and Mari Handley with Yani and Brian. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Hanson and Handley on stage at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
“No excuses” and intense preparation for a project. It is preparing like you are the best and spending hours a day preparing. Don’t assume, always do pre-combat inspections. It is having everything truly ready to go. Because once you arrive on set and once you arrive at that location it needs to be ready and needs to be operational. If not you, need to have a back-up plan. Research and having contingency plans. Checking your equipment and your team. It can be seen as micromanaging, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. In the military everybody checks their troops. It’s just how it is to make sure your guys and your buddies are ready to go. I think that can be transferred to the civilian world and film production.
Frankie Muniz and Richard Handley in The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
More of Muniz in The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
WATM: As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
We need support from great organizations to promote veteran voices and veteran creators. Such organizations as We Are The Mighty, Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), of which I volunteer heavily with, the USVAA, United States Veteran Artistic Alliance, and the WGA Writer’s Guild Foundation do support veterans. We need the support from industry professionals and organizations. They are out there, and they are growing. I think that with the people in the position in power right now, the producers and executives that can green light things, I do think they do a really good job where there is always a presence of the military and law enforcement. There are always more and different perspectives. To keep in mind and do the rote, stereotypical type of story lines. There are a lot of really nuanced, interesting and unexpected perspectives that veterans can bring to the time-honored tradition of military inspired entertainment. The producers, executives and showrunners should be open to finding those unexpected angles to veteran stories.
Hanson with Steve Fiorina and Handley at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What would you like to do next in your career?
I plan on directing my second film in 2021. My first one was the horror genre where my next one is likely going to be a thriller with a military character. I always want to do things that are thought provoking. I definitely want to challenge viewers and explore philosophies. …Christopher Nolan makes great entertainment and with challenging ideas and philosophies. He is an independent filmmaker making giant movies, which is something to strive for. Since I have completed my first film…I have been working to get on great television shows as a writer. There are so many stories to tell and I joined the Army and lived this life to help tell authentic stories. I would love to be in day in and day out be in a room with other story tellers creating an amazing show. Creating stories with a team. I will continue directing but would love to be in that writer’s room doing innovative television.
Brian Matthew Rhys on “Perry Mason”. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
I am most proud of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In a sense in my career I may never do anything as meaningful as that even if I make ten more movies or even if nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t think that I’ll ever be prouder than spending those days with my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan or sweating in Fort Benning. I am also proud of making that first movie and everyone that contributed to that colossal effort from nothing. Rich Handley and I being these recent film graduates decided to make a movie where we built that coalition from the ground up. It is an effort we are very proud of and what we did and everybody that was able to help us achieve that.
On the back end we got distribution through Grindstone and Lionsgate to where we had to find everything from scratch. The studio didn’t fund this. Movie making is a risky endeavor and long commitment over many years. The movie has been out now over a year and we are still making producer phone calls and receiving emails four years later. When you divide the money, you might make on the back end of an indie film and divide the hours by what you put in it, there might not be much money so that passion that drives you to keep working. There is a bond between people that have that level of passion to work 15-hour days. You are not really thinking about the paycheck where you are there to get the job done because you believe it is similar to the military mindset.
My wife Yani Navas-Hanson is from Venezuelan; she left the country and I met her in Atlanta when I was at Fort Benning and she was studying at Georgia Tech. She was the accountant by trade and then was our accountant on the movie. She left her country, learned English here in the US and transitioned from corporate accounting to entertainment accounting and from taking on the challenges of an independent film. What someone like her can accomplish if they are driven and keep pushing forward and to be able to accomplish that in a few years is amazing. People do have to surround themselves with the right people. If you are in a relationship with someone who is not supportive with this career path or your family is not supportive, then you might have a tough time during the ups and downs. Family and friend support is crucial. I have fantastic and supportive friends and family.
Brian and Yani at Sitges Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
It may take a few years, but the Rock might punch Superman in the face on the big screen. When Dwayne Johnson slips into the suit of DC superhero/supervillain Black Adam, there’s a chance he could brawl with Henry Cavill’s version of the Man of Steel. It happened in the comics, and, right now, the people making the movie with the Rock aren’t ruling out a Black Adam/Superman grudge match.
Speaking to ComicBook.com, the producer of Black Adam, Hiram Garcia, basically said that the idea of bringing in Superman to fight the Rock is totally on the table.
“I think the DC Universe is a wonderful universe and we’re open to everything,” Garcia said. “We have big aspirations for it[Black Adam]. We’re friends with Henry. [The Rock and Henry are friends, it’s a huge comic book brand as well. And I always just loved the idea. Who knows?”
Though the Rock has been confirmed to play Black Adam for a while, the Rock recently confirmed the release date of the film — Dec. 22, 2021 — alongside concept art of him as Black Adam. Technically speaking, Black Adam is a misunderstood supervillain within the DC Universe, sometimes the nemesis of Shazam. Now, because the film version of Shazam featured a Superman-cameo, it’s reasonable to assume that some version of Superman could show up in Black Adam.
But, if even Superman did appear in Black Adam and throw down with the Rock, it wouldn’t necessarily be Henry Cavill playing him. Basically, other than the upcoming film The Batman, the future the DC comics movies is somewhat in flux. So, if Black Adam did feature Superman, it could be a brand new actor playing the part, or perhaps, someone we’ve already seen like Herny Cavill.
In the meantime, if you’re jonesing for Superman, three different versions of Superman are crashing the CW’s mega-crossover event in just a couple weeks, including Tom Welling from Smallville and Brandon Routh from Superman Returns.
Not all presidents have an equal place in history (looking at you, James Buchanan), and not all fictional presidents have an equal place in Hollywood. If you were a great President, you get Daniel Day-Lewis portraying you on screen. If you were a terrible President, Hollywood would rather make up a fake President than make a movie about you.
There are two criteria for this list. First, this about fictional U.S. Presidents, so even though Daniel Day-Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President to appear on screen ever, he doesn’t qualify. Also, the most consequential aspect of the U.S. Presidency to WATM’s military audience is the President’s role as Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, so as much as we all loved Kevin Kline’s Dave Kovic’s Bill Mitchell from the 1993 movie “Dave,” America never really faced a crisis in the film.
Josiah Bartlet – “The West Wing”
Jed Bartlett was Plato’s ideal philosopher king. Not content to simply make America the best country it can be on the home front, he deploys peacekeeping troops to finally take care of that pesky Israeli-Palestinian Conflict everyone has been talking about. He also confronts terrorists by assassinating their patron, ends a genocide in Africa, and deploys 140,000 troops to Kazakhstan. 140,000? That’s a lot of troops.
Thomas J. Whitmore – “Independence Day”
Despite some early setbacks (like nuking Houston), some dubious advisors (he only learned about Area 51 because of an old widower who somehow got aboard Air Force One), and waking up for work at 10 am, President Whitmore is a Commander-In-Chief who wanted to take the fight to the enemy at the first opportunity. Sure, his administration wasn’t the best (approval rating was 40 percent before the invasion … how do you like him now?) but he sure disproved the pundits who called him a wimp when he led freaking fleets of aircraft against aliens with shields and lasers.
Tom Beck – “Deep Impact”
Yes, that guy from Armageddon hatched some cockamamie scheme to send oil rig workers to an asteroid. Morgan Freeman’s President Tom Beck did come up with a similar plan, but also planned on that first plan not working, because honestly, does it sound like the best plan for averting a global catastrophe? The answer is no. The President of the United States hadto try something. He couldn’t just send 800,000 Americans underground to rebuild civilization later and bid good luck to the rest. He did that, but he tried to save everyone else too.
David Palmer – “24”
When confronted with the possibility that a loose nuclear weapon could be detonated in the United States, President Palmer does exactly what every other President, real or imagined, probably wishes they could do: Call Jack Bauer. He reinstates Agent Bauer, who finds the bomb and detonates it in a safe place, within 24 hours. He’s also smart enough not to start bombing countries because of some fake recordings. For all his trouble, he’s removed from office, then assassinated. We didn’t deserve President Palmer anyway.
President Henry Fonda – “Fail-Safe”
Imagine being President and accidentally ordering a nuclear attack on Moscow in response to a perceived missile attack. Now imagine that missile attack isn’t real, but you can’t call off the bombing of Moscow. When your bombers nuke the Russian capital, would you be able to make a deal with the Russians to nuke New York yourself in order to avert a global war? Could you do it while your wife is in New York? I’m guessing not. But Henry Fonda could.
Honorable Mention: Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho – “Idiocracy”
Some might argue that President Camacho both enabled his stupid people while being one of them, but realizing the problem of not being able to grow food while being smart enough to enlist a smart guy to fix that problem is some good Presidenting.
Merkin Muffley – “Dr. Strangelove”
If someone is the President of the United States during a time where nuclear annihilation was just a button push (or case of mistaken identity) away, one would think they might learn everything there is to know about how nuclear war could be triggered from their side. President Muffley had no idea. Granted, he tries to talk everyone down and prevent the attack on the USSR, but it would have been averted entirely if he had just known what the hell his own military was capable of in the first place.
Benjamin Asher – “Olympus Has Fallen”
North Koreans take over the White House, execute the South Korean Prime Minister, and take President Asher and some of his Cabinet hostage, looking to remove U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula and detonate American nuclear missiles in their silos. To do this (why is this even an option?), he needs three sets of “Cerberus codes,” which he promptly orders two of his cabinet secretaries to give up in exchange for their lives, obviously not realizing there is a situation where millions of American lives are at stake, and is bigger than just what’s happening in front of him.
James Dale – “Mars Attacks”
Even in the face of unprecedented violence, a Martian invasion, and the Martians slaughtering Congress, President Dale still sought a diplomatic solution.
America can do better. I mean, we *could* have, but now we’re enslaved by Martians.
James Marshall “Air Force One”
Harrison Ford plays President James Marshall, a Medal of Honor recipient in his previous time in the U.S. military. Now, Air Force One is hijacked by Russians posing as journalists (because anyone can get aboard Marshall’s Air Force One, apparently). After allowing many on board to get killed, he almost brings down the Air Force pararescue jumpers and C-130 crews who rescue him in the end because he just won’t leave the stupid plane. Also, for a Medal of Honor recipient, he sure doesn’t fight, move, or hold a weapon like someone trained to fight.
The President from ‘Escape from New York’
If you’re going to allow the borough of Manhattan to be a contained prison just for inmates with life sentences, why would you allow Air Force One to fly over it? Also, how are so many people taking over Air Force One in these movies? It’s so easy for people in movies to take that plane, unless you’re the good guys. Steven Seagal died trying to sneak aboard the President’s jet in “Executive Decision,” but some dudes can take it over while the POTUS is carrying secret bomb plans in “Escape from New York.”
Dishonorable Mention – Julian Navarro – “The Brink”
Tim Robbins’ Secretary of State Walter Larsen should have been the President on this show. It was like the actual President didn’t know anything at all about the modern world’s trouble spots, his intelligence assets, or how to deal with any of it. His first response is just to bomb the crap out of everything at the suggestion of his Secretary of Defense.
WWI movies are sadly rather rare in comparison to WWII, perhaps because of America’s late entry and comparatively light casualty count. The so-called “War to end all Wars” was unable to bring an end to the violence, instead ushering in a seemingly endless variety of new weapons and tactics. Battle continues to exist, but World War I changed it forever. These movies will show you exactly how WWI changed the world, for better and worse.
This French film starring Audrey Tautou and Gaspard Ulliel follows a woman named Mathilde as she searches for her beloved fiancé who has disappeared from the trenches of the Somme during the war. Her fiancé, along with four other soldiers, was convicted of trying to escape military service, and sent to “No Man’s Land” to meet his end at the hands of the Germans. However, Matilde refuses to believe her fiancé is dead, and through her investigations and battlefield flashbacks, Matilde and viewers alike discover the brutalities and atrocities of World War I.
Joyeux Noel—written and directed by Christian Carion—is a fictionalized retelling of an actual historical event. In the December of 1914, a German opera singer travels to the front line to sing carols for the Christmas holiday. A truce from all sides commences, and the various soldiers come together to exchange gifts and stories from home. This film gives the perspective of the French, Scottish, and German men sent off to war, and details not only the disconnect of the higher ups from the sacrifices of the battlefield, but the negative fallout from a Christmas truce which celebrated humanity.
The German-British biographical film The Red Baron boasts stars Matthias Schweighöfer, Joseph Fiennes, Lena Heady, and Til Schweiger. Based on the fighter pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was one of the most acclaimed German pilots of World War I, this film follows his journey of disillusionment. While at first Richthofen regards combat as an exciting challenge, his growing feelings for the nurse Käte and the time he spends in the military hospital opens his eyes to the true extent of war’s atrocities.
This box-office hit was turned into a drama film after the original novel of the same name was published in 1982 and a subsequent stage play was adapted in 2007. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie stars Jeremy Irvine in his big screen debut, as well as other notable actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and David Thewlis. A beloved Thoroughbred—Joey—belonging to a young English farmer is sold to the army, and over the course of four years he experiences the dark realities of war through the hands of the English, German, and French soldiers. Telling stories of desperation, loss, determination, and love, War Horse captures the scope of World War I on and off the battlefield.
Flyboys—featuring James Franco during his rise to stardom—follows a group of American men who enlist in the French Air Service in 1916. In a squadron known as the Lafayette Escadrille, volunteers including a Texan rancher, a black boxer, and a New York Dilettante undergo training which can’t even begin to compare to the rain of fire in air combat. As they face battle, some rise as heroes, while others succumb to enemy fire. Though these characters are fictional, their actions and fates were based upon real men who became the first American fighter pilots.
Three British soldiers find themselves stranded in No Man’s Land in this 2013 Australian film. Survivors of an Allied charged gone wrong, they won’t survive for long if they can’t find a way out of the muddy purgatory. German forces close in on the men, and an all-out attack from both sides could get them killed in the crossfire. With grenades exploding and time running out, will the soldiers make it through the night?
A bit of a change of pace, Oh! What A Lovely War is a British musical comedy directed by Richard Attenborough. Though the film—like its characters—starts out upbeat and optimistic, a darker perspective gradually consumes the tone. Mostly focusing on the Smith family as different members go off to war, the action also tackles infamous events that occurred during World War I, such as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the truce during the Christmas of 1914. Keep an eye out for cameos from notable actors like Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier.
First broadcast by the BBC as a television drama, this 1999 film is based on the non-fiction book The Vanished Battalion by Nigel McCrery. After the men of King George V’s estate joined the 1/5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, they went into battle at Gallipoli under the command of the manager of the estate, Captain Frank Beck. However, no soldiers returned from that fateful battle. Rumored to have disappeared after walking into a strange mist, the Royal Family sends an investigator to discover the truth behind the odd disappearance of the soldiers.
With Gary Cooper in the titular role, Sergeant York is based on the diary kept by the real-life Sergeant Alvin York. This film takes viewers from York’s humble beginnings as a farmer in Tennessee to his rise as one of the most celebrated American servicemen of World War I. Though York is an incredible marksman, his recent devotion to religion leaves him feeling conflicted about taking lives in war. As battle leaves no room for the indecision of men, York must kill or be killed, and rise to the occasion when the lives of his fellow soldiers are endangered.
For the viewers with a taste for the artsy out there, the 1963 recording of Benjamin Britten’s classical “War Requiem” acts as the soundtrack to this film, with no spoken dialogue to contrast the music and lyrics. As some of the lyrics of Britten’s composition are pulled from poems written by World War I veteran Wilfred Owen, the film uses Owen as the central character. Using imagery that depicts the horrors of war, the nonlinear narrative also branches out to portray other soldiers, as well as a nurse. This film stars notable actors Nathaniel Parker, Tilda Swinton, Laurence Olivier, and Sean Bean.
First filmed in 1930, the 1938 remake of The Dawn Patrol is the one best remembered by film buffs. Based on John Monk Sunders’s short story “The Flight Commander” and directed by Edmund Goulding, it stars Errol Flynn, David Niven and Basil Rathbone as pilots with the 59th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (today’s Royal Air Force). A significant amount of footage from the 1930 original was reused to lower production costs, although that doesn’t detract from the film’s themes of death, fear and the stresses of command. It’s also known for “Stand to your glasses steady”, a wartime pilots’ song still sung today.
Though not without its historical inaccuracies, 1981’s Gallipoli is a World War 1 classic. Directed by Peter Weir and starring Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, it depicts two young Australians on their way to the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. On their journey they—like their country—come of age and lose their innocence as the Great War lingers on. Gallipoli is sometimes criticized for its anti-British bias, but the final scenes, depicting the slaughter at the Battle of the Nek on August 7, 1915, are unforgettable.
1957’s Paths of Glory is one of the all-time classic anti-war movies. Stanley Kubrick directed the adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s novel, with Kirk Douglas starring as Colonel Dax. Dax is forced to defend his men not against the enemy, but their own troops when his superiors demand summary punishment after they fail an impossible mission. Paths of Glory examines war differently, looking at cowardice, betrayal and the disregard for ordinary soldiers by their commanders. Hailed as a classic now, it was highly controversial in its day.
The Trench is a rather overlooked gem. An independent production released in 1999, it stars a pre-Bond Daniel Craig as a battle-hardened veteran about to begin 1916’s Battle of the Somme. July 1, 1916 is believed to be the worst day in British military history, with some 57,000 men killed, wounded, missing or captured on that day alone. The Trench follows Sergeant Winter (Craig) as his platoon prepares to go over the top. Claustrophobic, grim and often depressing, it’s still a superb depiction of daily life in the trenches on the Western Front.
1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front, adapted from the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, is a classic not only within the genre, but filmmaking itself. Directed by Lewis Milestone, the film achieves (ahem) a milestone in its depiction of World War 1. From their initial patriotic, nationalistic fervor, a group of young Germans lose their innocence (and their lives) amid the carnage of the Western Front. 1979’s television adaptation, which won a Golden Globe, is also worth watching. The novel’s title came from a German Army communiqué issued near the war’s end reading “Im Westen nichts neues”, which translates most directly to “in the West, nothing new.”
The underground war fought on the Western Front and at Gallipoli has been, until recently, a rather overlooked aspect of WW1. With both sides facing stalemate, above ground tunneling and detonating vast mines beneath enemy trenches became one way to try breaking the deadlock. Both sides deployed Tunneling Companies, often composed of skilled laborers and miners drafted for their specialist skills. The underground war involved stealth, patience, nerves of steel and the constant risk of being buried alive as tunnelers tried to explode counter-mines to destroy their opponents. Beneath Hill 60 follows one of Australia’s tunneling units as they prepare to destroy German defenses at Messines Ridge, and has a truly tragic ending.
Released in 1976, Aces High is a combination of R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Sagittarius Rising, the memoir of RFC ace Cecil Lewis. Colin Firth plays rookie pilot Croft; the movie follows him over his first (and last) week as a frontline fighter pilot. Directed by Jack Gold, it also stars Malcolm McDowell as squadron commander Gresham, cracking under the constant strains of casualties and command. Christopher Plummer plays veteran pilot Uncle Sinclair, who takes Croft under his wing, all while Simon Ward’s Lieutenant Crawford is driven mad by constant fear. At this point, the average life expectancy of a rookie RFC pilot was a matter of days. Mostly around 20 years old, these rookies had two choices: Learn quickly, or die.
This 1962 epic had all the usual Hollywood trappings without the now-customary Hollywood schmaltz. The cast alone makes it worth watching. Peter O’Toole plays the legendary T.E. Lawrence, sent to assess and advise Arab forces in their campaign against the German and Turkish opposition. Instead, Lawrence turned himself into a WW1 legend—and the Arabian forces into a major threat against their opponents. Lawrence was always torn between loyalty to his country and his Arab ‘irregulars’, and O’Toole plays him masterfully. Lawrence was also right to be suspicious of British intentions in the region, especially when British officials claimed not to have any.
Released in 2008, Passchendaele focuses on the experiences of a Canadian WWI soldier, Michael Dunne. Written, directed by, and starring Paul Gross of Due South fame, Passchendaele was partly inspired by the experiences of Gross’s grandfather Michael Joseph Dunne on the Western Front. The grim opening scenes, in which Dunne bayonets a German soldier through the forehead, were taken directly from Gross’s grandfather’s experience. While the battle scenes are graphic, Passchendaele is far from a guts’n’glory epic or a voyeuristic gorefest. The effects of the war, both on those Canadians who fought and those who remained at home, are well portrayed without being unduly schmaltzy or overly worthy. Unfortunately underpromoted on its release, it’s well worth watching.
Howard Hawks, one of early Hollywood’s most celebrated directors, was obsessed with aviation. He transformed this interest into a prolific career in movies when he realized that he could film the stunts he loved so much as part of a larger narrative. Although 1930’s original The Dawn Patrol (mentioned earlier) is said to be even better than 1926’s The Road to Glory, Hawks’s earlier film is still available for viewing today and exemplifies the ways in which World War 1 was portrayed in the interwar years in the United States.
Released the year after The Road to Glory, Wings is not only a great WWI film—it was also the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film stars silent film starlet Clara Bow as Mary Preston a girl wildly in love with her neighbor, Jack Powell (Charles Rogers). When Powell is sent off to France, Mary follows as an ambulance driver. This war-romance drama, which was also one of the first to show nudity, remains relevant and utterly watchable to this day.
If you’re looking for a WWI movie to watch alongside a more sentimental viewer (perhaps your mother), you can’t go wrong with Testament of Youth. This film, based on Vera Brittain’s memoir, focuses on how women (particularly the middle class) were impacted by World War 1. Although Brittain tried first to write a novel based on her experiences, she soon realized that the grief and pain she felt made it impossible for her to write about anything but her personal feelings and choices. Alicia Vikander’s turn as Brittain may wring a tear from even the most cynical viewer.