'Soldiers' take on Godzilla
WASHINGTON - Several dozen Soldiers, with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), got a treat Thursday, when they watched a preview of "Godzilla," a film the Army helped support with technical advice.
Spc. Chinyere Wells-Byrd was one of the Old Guard Soldiers who attended the premiere at the AMC Uptown Theater here. She said she enjoyed the movie, which had some Soldiers in several scenes -- or rather, extras playing Soldiers.
She said they did a terrific job, but suspected they were not real Soldiers because "some of their patches were just a little off. It's something only a Soldier would notice."
Other than that, she said they did a really good job "the way they moved and conducted battle drills. They were pretty correct."
She then described the role the Soldiers played in "Godzilla." When Godzilla first came out of the ocean, some Soldiers happened to be in the area on patrol, she said. Some of them started shooting at him and one or two got trampled.
"Initially, the Soldiers didn't realize Godzilla was trying to help them by killing the two bird things at the beginning who were giving off radioactive energy that obviously could kill people," she said.
The Soldiers re-appeared in a fight scene with the two bird-like creatures at the end of the film and Godzilla turned out to be a hero.
Wells-Byrd admitted that she falls for happy endings and fell for Godzilla too.
Cpl. Cameron Southhall said he too thought the movie was great, even though there was more Navy involvement than Army.
He described a couple of the scenes involving Soldiers including one where "they had the Army transporting one of the warheads so they could blow Godzilla up, but it ended up getting intercepted by another creature, so it didn't really work out."
And being a Soldier, it was easy to root for the Soldiers, but unfortunately, "some of them kind of like got stepped on."
Also, the Soldiers' "bullets didn't affect it. The creature was pretty huge and looked kind of weird."
BEHIND THE SCENES
Tucked away in a small office in west Los Angeles are three Army technical advisors, who provided some assistance to Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures in making "Godzilla."
"We provide support to the film and television industry for pictures that educate and inform Americans about their Army," said Lt. Col. Steven R. Cole, who credited Sgt. 1st Class Dwayne Brown with coordinating Army support for the film.
So how does "Godzilla" educate and inform Americans?
In a subtle way, Cole said.
"Some of the people who will be watching 'Godzilla' aren't watching the evening news or keeping up with news about our troops in Afghanistan, but they may learn about the Army from watching this or any other movie or TV show that we supported or provided guidance for," he said.
Some other very recent films his office supported were the "Transformer" movies, "Lone Survivor," "Man of Steel," and "42."
In "Godzilla," as is the case in other films, the first thing the Soldiers do is review the script, he said.
If the script does not accurately portray the Army or Soldiers, Cole said he pencils in changes and recommendations. If the director agrees, the Army can then provide support, depending on what assets are needed. For example, if tanks are needed, but the unit with the tanks is about to deploy, then obviously that type of support cannot be given.
But in other cases when the unit is available, the commander can agree to participate and it can be used as a "training" experience. After all, who wouldn't want to be in Hollywood, Cole added.
But the studios do have to fork out money to the Army if the action goes outside the strict boundary of what is and isn't considered training. For example, if helicopters are flying by and the director asks for a second take that's not in the unit training plan, then the studio would need to pay for the fuel, man hours and so on.
But both the Army and the studios win in this arrangement, he added. The Army gets to tell its story accurately and the studio gets cool Army gear and real heroes to play a role.
Cole described the process of reviewing the "Godzilla" script:
"We kind of went around and around with the script" at first, he said. "There were some things unrealistic that we suggested changing. "
In making the changes, Cole would often ask himself, "if there were giant lizards and monsters out there, how would the United States Army support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic? If this could really happen, how would we do that?"
"Godzilla" actually got fairly minimal support, not because the Army wouldn't give it, but rather that the studio thought it more practical to use computer animation for a lot of the scenes instead of Army equipment.
Cole said the studio scanned in some 7th Infantry Division equipment located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., which they later digitized. "So vehicles being destroyed were just in digits, and not real life," he said.
Also, some battle sounds and noises of war were recorded at the Army's National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.
"Godzilla" portrays the Army in a good light, Cole said.
"So we're standing next to these people helping protect the country (from monsters) because in real life, we're the ones standing next to Americans in case of emergency," he said.
It's a win-win for the Army and the studio and the viewers, he said.
One of the main reasons film makers solicit Army support is because they want to get it right, Cole said. "The director doesn't want to get a lot of emails saying the uniforms were wrong."
And, "our advice is free," he added. "You can get to us by just picking up the phone. We take calls from student film makers and we take calls from feature film makers."
The bulk of the work the technical advisors do is television, especially cable, Cole said. While they may work on a half dozen or more movies each year, typically only several actually make it into production and are released.
While the Army jumps at the chance to support films that portray Soldiers and the service in a good light, there are times when support is given to films that are not flattering, he said.
One of the latter was "Invisible War," a documentary about sexual assault in the military. "The Army and DOD are dedicated to fixing the problem. So when we supported it, we knew what we were getting into," he said.
Not all of what they do can be considered glamorous Hollywood work.
Sometime a costume house will call asking about a uniform regulation, he said. A lot of calls are fielded from clearance companies asking about names of Soldiers -- "they don't want, for example, to use Steve Cole portraying an Army role if there's only one Steve Cole in the Army" for obvious legal and ethical reasons.
The Soldiers also answer questions about tactics and procedures.
"What we provide is accuracy," said Cole, who is a former armor officer. If a studio asks about a medical procedure, "I'll call medical" to get the accurate scoop "since that's not my specialty. We're all about attention to detail."
Getting that information for free is a great deal for the studio, Cole said. And the Army gets some valuable input as well.
Working with Hollywood is not new for the Army.
Army support to film dates to 1911, when it supported the silent film "The Military Air-Scout," using Army airplanes, Cole said.
Later in 1927, the Army supported another silent war film, "Wings," which was about a World War I pilot. "It couldn't have been made without us," he said.
The studio used hundreds of Soldiers, as well as pilots and airplanes from the U.S. Army Air Corps.
"Wings" won the first academy award for best picture, mostly because of its technical achievements in depicting speed in an aircraft, he said, meaning that if you just point the camera outside the cockpit at the blue sky, the viewer has no feel for the actual speed of the aircraft. A frame of reference, the ground or other airplanes are needed to convey rapid movement.
Today, there are not many war movies being made, Cole said, since global box-office sales drive box-office revenues. "They don't often play well overseas."
Also, war movies are often expensive to make, he added.
"There's a sense in the business that military movies don't do well," he said. "I think that's incorrect."
However, he said movies with military themes that portray the Army or Soldiers in a bad light -- like some recent ones about the war in Iraq -- tend to do poorly.
"The military enjoys a high level of support among Americans and they don't want to spend their entertainment dollars watching something they don't believe to be true," he said.
"Lone Survivor" made "a ton of money," he said. It wasn't a happy story, but depicted Soldiers having a lot of courage. The same goes with "We Were Soldiers Once And Young."
"We also supported the TV show 'Army Wives,' where a lot of bad things happened," but it was balanced overall," he said.
The Army and the Coast Guard offices in L.A. are manned by the fewest service members, Cole said. And, the Army is the only service that also takes on a big additional duty -- community relations.
For example, Cole is giving former Army sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient Kyle White a tour of L.A., including the 20th Century Fox studio, a trip to the Torrance Armed Forces Day Parade and a visit to the Long Beach Veterans Affairs hospital.
It's the "best we can do to show the Army's appreciation for his service and sacrifice," he said.
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