Lt. Col. Steven Cole likes to say that the U.S. Army has been working with Hollywood before Hollywood even existed. The longstanding relationship dates back to 1927, when the Army provided an airplane for “Wings,” the first Academy Award winner for best picture. As the deputy director of the U.S. Army film and television liaison office, Cole is the middle man between the entertainment industry and the service, helping provide production companies access to military equipment, bases, personnel and information.
Road to Tinseltown
Cole joined the Army 18 years ago. After serving as an armor officer for eight years, he attended the U. of Maryland at College Park, and received a master’s degree in African history. He taught in the military academy’s history department for three years before becoming a public affairs officer for the armed service. He worked for a year at global communications firm FleishmanHillard to prepare for his current PR gig in Los Angeles.
Slate of Arms
The shows the Army has supported in recent years include “Hawaii Five-0”; “Married to the Army: Alaska,” a reality series following military wives; Lifetime’s “Army Wives”; Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”; Jackie Robinson biopic “42”; Claudia Myers’ drama “Fort Bliss”; and Peter Berg’s SEAL team feature “Lone Survivor.”
Cole said bizzers are often hesitant about approaching the Army for support. “A lot of people are probably fearful that we’re going to be Orwellian censors and keep people from being able to do what they want; nothing can be further from the truth,” he said. “We don’t get into the art of making a television show or movie, all we’re really interested in is the depiction of the Army.”
Before production began on David Ayer’s WWII drama “Fury,” Cole’s office sent Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and their co-stars to Fort Irwin, Calif., to research their roles. The cast spent the night embedded with a unit. “Our job is to educate Americans about our Army,” said Cole, “and even though Brad Pitt is only one guy, people pay attention to what he does.”
A Grunt’s Gripe
According to Cole, it’s hard to accurately depict Army culture because Hollywood wants a specialist. “Being a plain old U.S. Army regular soldier doesn’t seem to be sexy enough a lot of times in film and television,” he said.