By Washington correspondent Kim Landers
Jul 24, 2008
The US military says it wants to help a new generation of filmmakers present what it calls a "more realistic" representation of America's men and women in uniform, in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But critics say the US military is trying to censor films and that Hollywood studios are selling out. Many of the movies about Iraq have been controversial. The film Stop Loss deals with a veteran who refuses to go back for another tour of duty. It is no surprise movies like this have not won the approval of the US military.
But one man is trying to change that. Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale was stationed in Iraq in 2006 and now this former artillery officer works in public affairs for the US Army. With posters from movies like Black Hawk Down and War of the Worlds on the walls of his Los Angeles office, Lieutenant Colonel Breasseale is embarking on a different mission - helping movie makers deliver what he calls a "more realistic" version of the US army.
"In fact, I'm looking at my desk right now and I have seven scripts on the desk that are yet to be cracked in to," he said. "Sometimes the scripts just want some technical advice - how would the chain of command work? How would a given army specific manoeuvre happen? And how could we best capture it on film?
"Sometimes they just want equipment, and sometimes they will send us a script that will literally have pages blank with just sort of notes that say "military dialogue", whereby they want me to sort of help them with generational specific dialogue.
"The US Army, just like the Australian forces, is a generational force and our vernacular changes as we evolve."
Lieutenant Colonel Breasseale denies that his script advice is really some sort of censorship, or some sort of attempt to spin the war.
"I would ask them to define what censorship is then. Because as our US Supreme Court has defined censorship, and as I understand it from legal definitions, censorship is where I as a government entity would go to someone who is expressing an artistic vision and saying 'not only are you not going to do this, but I'm going to tell you how to do it, and if you do it any way then I'm going to make sure that you don't work again'," he said.
"That to me is censorship.
"When I offer advice, or when my colleagues here offer advice, it's because we have been solicited to do so."
David Robb is the Los Angeles-based author of the book Operation Hollywood, which investigated the relationship between film makers and the Pentagon.
"The truth is they could hire former military people for that. Any former military, there are plenty of military, former military people in Hollywood who could tell them how things work," he said. "What filmmakers really want is the equipment, the stuff that would cost them a lot of money to try to rent or create with computer-generated imaging.
The producers want to save money and the military want to put positive portrayals of the military in front of the American people."
Not many of the latest batch of movies about Iraq or Afghanistan have been box office hits and Lieutenant Colonel Breasseale thinks he knows why.
"I think you're dealing with an increasingly sophisticated audience who knows what to look for," he said. "So when you have a movie that paints soldiers in this sort of massive, broad brushstroke where every soldier who returns from Iraq is a broken soldier, or every soldier who comes back has an extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issue, or every soldier who goes over and then comes back is a hapless victim - the American public know better than that.
"I think the publics around the globe simply do not appreciate being preached to."