As an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been known to take on the role of hero. As governor of California, he called the military the true action heroes.
The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy carried forward its chairman’s appreciation for members of the armed forces on March 4 by bringing together leaders in the military and Hollywood to discuss the entertainment industry’s influence on military recruitment, retention, and soft-power diplomacy formation.
“It’s an exciting day for the Institute to host so many officers from so many countries,” said Conyers Davis, global director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. “Governor Schwarzenegger set up the Schwarzenegger Institute to continue the work he started while in office and to help connect policymaking with real-world application. By bringing the military together with entertainment executives, we accomplished that goal.”
The discussion was co-sponsored by the U.S. Navy’s Film & Television Office, and attended by international fellows from the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama.
Regina Nordahl, associate dean of USC Price, spoke about the School’s longtime commitment to the military and veterans, including administering the ROTC at USC and collaborating with retired Gen. David H. Petraeus as Judge Widney Professor.
“USC has had the good fortune of developing a partnership with the U.S. military over the years and want to continue to do so in the future,” Nordahl said. “I want to thank you all for your service, how you make a contribution to peace in the world and to help your individual countries. I hope this training will add to that relationship.”
Lt. Commander David Daitch ’07, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Navy Reserve who helped coordinate the event, recalled going through ROTC during his time at USC. He also works as a writer and tech advisor.
Daitch introduced the first panel, which looked at the collaboration with Hollywood from the military’s perspective. Moderated by Norman Todd, an executive vice president of Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum-Nihil, the panel featured two U.S. Navy Captains: Russell Coons, motion picture liaison, and Robert Newell, deputy chief of public affairs.
Recent major movies the Navy has assisted include the Mark Wahlberg-headlined Lone Survivor and Oscar-nominated Captain Phillips. It is currently working with the highly anticipated Top Gun: Maverick, set for release next year.
“The level of collaboration and support that we get from the Hollywood industry is tremendous,” Newell said. “I think there’s a perception out there that those that we work with at the production companies are on one side of the political spectrum and we’re on the other, and therefore there’s this constant tension and conflict when we work together. I just haven’t found that to be the case at all. Their willingness and commitment to getting it right and accurately portraying the military is just as intense as ours.”
Coons noted that the Navy doesn’t charge for its consulting services, and even takes directors, writers and researchers on board of its ships, submarines and aircraft carriers to meet segments of the crew, get an idea of what they really do, walk the flight line and sit in the cockpits as part of the program Hollywood to the Navy.
Coons and Newell indicated that the size of the project isn’t as important as that it portrays the Navy accurately, represents its core values and that it will help with recruitment. It’s a priority for the military to reach different audiences through feature films, network television, cable TV, streaming services and more.
“The amount of programming platforms has just skyrocketed, and now it’s going mobile to reach the next generation of our youth,” Coons said. “For us, the military, we don’t discriminate by the size of the market or the audience. We look for ways to reach different audiences with every new request.”
The second panel, titled “Getting Hollywood to Think About You,” focused on the development side of how TV shows and movies get made, and things the military should know when working with developers.
Moderated by Jamie Hyder, an actor known for being the first female lead in the Call of Duty video game series, the panel featured Chris Lawson of Creative Artists Agency, Dan Wilson of HutchParker Productions, Janet Zucker of Zucker Productions, and Marina Dompke of David Hollander.
Lawson and Dompke attested to the value that studios put on military stories, particularly at a time when there’s so much turnover at studios. Projects that have some basis in intellectual property or source material have a much better chance at surviving the transition.
“Those stories already have kind of a built-in audience,” Lawson said. “Even if you had turnover at the head of the studio, people still want to see that story. When new people come in, they want to put their stamp on the studio and pick up new things, so it’s easy for things that are not tied to some kind of real story or authenticity to be pushed aside. The interactions we have with you all are very important because those are the types of stories that have real staying power.”
Hyder added that meeting members of the armed forces when visiting ships has personalized the military for her.
“People often have an opinion about the military and what they’re doing, but what they don’t realize is the people serving don’t have a choice and aren’t involved in the politics,” Hyder said. “They’re executing orders based on their dedication. For me, learning about them as individual humans instead of as a whole is so impactful.”
The final panel focused on shaping narrative on the set. Moderated by feature film writer Will Staples, the panel featured Jerry Zucker, writer and director of Airplane!; Jon Turtletaub, director of National Treasure; Sarah Watson, creator of cable TV show The Bold Type, and Katie Johnson, a 2008 USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate who writes for the USA network show Shooter.