The Pentagon will assist film and TV productions by granting access to military bases and hardware if the projects paint the military in a positive light. Or as Kenneth Hawes, head of the Army’s film liaison office, admitted at the closing panel of the PGA’s 8th annual Produced By Conference: “We’re trying to sell the Big Mac you see up on the billboard, not the one you get at the counter.”
The military has a long history of assisting filmmakers: Wings, the first film to win the best picture Oscar, got assistance from the military, and so did hundreds of others, including recent films such as Bridge of Spies, Godzilla, Lone Survivor, Transformers, Iron Man, Black Hawk Down, and Man of Steel.
Films that portray the military in a negative light, however, rarely qualify for assistance. Apocalypse Now, Platoon, An Officer and a Gentleman, and 13 Days, which was about the Cuban missile crisis, were all turned down by the Pentagon.
Many others, like Stripes, The Great Santini, and Windtalkers, got assistance only after the producers were willing to make significant changes to their scripts. Many other films never got made because they couldn’t get the assistance they needed from the Pentagon to make their projects cost effective.
“Our job is to help tell the story,” said Commander John W. Pruitt, III, head of the Coast Guard’s film office. “We’re all partners in the storytelling business.”
“Our mission is to project and protect the image of the U.S. Air Force in the entertainment space,” said Lt. Col. Glen Roberts, director of the Air Force’s film office, who recently had a small role in Whisky Tango Foxtrot. “We want to look credible and professional in your movie.”
“We’re always looking for a collaborative relationship (with Hollywood) that benefits the DOD and the public,” said Lt. Adam Hall, project officer with Navy Office of Information. The Navy has reviewed and approved every script produced as part of the NCIS franchise.
The liaison officers all agreed that positive on-screen images of the service branches also helps with the recruitment and retention of personnel. Top Gun was so effective at this back in 1986 that the Navy placed recruiting booths in the lobbies of theaters to sign people up.
To qualify for assistance, producers must show the Pentagon their scripts, make whatever script changes are requested, and to have military technical advisors stationed on set to make sure the military scenes are shot the way the producers agreed to in the contracts they have to sign. The films must then be shown to the military brass before they can be released to the public, and must thank the military on screen for their cooperation.
“Our goal is not to have editorial control of your project,” Commander Pruitt said, “but we want to be able to review the product before it goes out.”
All in all, it’s a great deal for producers who don’t mind having the military involved in their projects from script to screen.