At a time when there is a lot of talk of division in our country, it is refreshing to see military veterans working to bring people together. The military-civilian divide is well documented, as well as the fact that less than one-half of 1 percent of Americans volunteered for military service over the past 15 years.
That was the backdrop as the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University hosted a panel discussion of how veterans entering the film and TV industry can help bridge the military-civilian gap in society. The February 9 panel of prominent actors, executive producers and industry executives was held at Paramount Studios and attended by 300 military veterans who are both in and entering the film industry.
The moderated discussion focused on the role of the television and film industry in “telling the stories” of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans. The panel included:
- Contessa Brewer (moderator), Syracuse University alum and NBC reporter
- J.R. Martinez, Actor & Post-9/11 veteran
- Scott Williams, Executive Producer, NCIS
- David Gale, CEO of We Are The Mighty and former President of MTV Films
Many of the veterans in the room were aspiring actors, writers, and directors. They drew on the experience of the panelists to see how to tell their stories. The panelists agreed that veterans need to hone their craft until they get their big break.
The panel of experts also encouraged veterans to leverage all of the mediums available. Not everything is a full length movie or TV show. Veterans can get started on YouTube, webisodes, documentaries, or Snapchat to build audience and following before making their big pitch. And to look for opportunities within the industry.
Scott Williams told the audience that they currently have around 100 veterans in the NCIS crew working as grips, camera operators, and construction. He added, “It’s nice to have veterans around for authenticity and inspiration.”
While some emphasis was on veterans, some was also on what Hollywood can do.
J.R. Martinez explained it’s important to get past the uniform and see the human being. “A veteran is more than a veteran. A veteran is a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. There are dangers in stereotyping; we need to understand who they are as a person.”
Another theme is how Hollywood needs to change how it thinks of military veterans. “Right now veterans are used as advisors on specific projects,” commented David Gale of We Are The Mighty. “But veterans need to be have much more voice in writing and production throughout the entire creative process, to tap all they offer.”
It is fitting the event was hosted by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). The occasion is consistent with IVMF’s focus around research, convening, and innovative approaches to serve the military and veteran community.