With Veterans Day at hand, it’s useful to remember that the entertainment industry and the nation’s armed forces long have had a fruitful partnership. Notable servicemen such as Frank Capra and Clark Gable have shot educational films for the War Dept., and celebrities including Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Humphrey Bogart performed for the troops with the USO. But today’s Hollywood is also uniting with the military in a different way — one that focuses less on entertaining active enlistees than on finding jobs for vets transitioning out of the service.
For instance, the Writers Guild Foundation hosts a veterans writing workshop, while Veterans in Film & Television uses its sizable directory and impressive speaker series in Los Angeles and New York to connect the biz with the veterans.
Since 2010, the Writers Guild Foundation has enlisted screenwriters including Peter Casey, David Isaacs and Ken Levine to mentor vets interested in pursuing careers as film and TV writers. More than 60 vets and 25 professional writers converge every April for a writing retreat. Local vets have the opportunity to attend monthly workshops in Los Angeles for small group training sessions.
Kevin Ott, the WGF’s director of communications, said participants are taught to channel frustration, pain or joy while writing. Because those emotions are often tied with military service for vets, the experience can be cathartic. “There’s a recognized and marked need for more diversity in Hollywood output, and one of those voices is veteran voice,” though not all of those vets need to have seen action, Ott said. “We don’t look for vets to tell some sort of monolithic story of survival in combat. Not every story has to be (‘The Epic of) Gilgamesh.’”
One program participant, Brian Anthony, has gone on to writing jobs on Lifetime’s “Army Wives” and NBC’s now-canceled “Ironside.” He has returned to the WGF workshop as a mentor.
Meanwhile, having amassed more than 1,500 members since early 2012, Veterans in Film & Television uses its directory to connect vets with the biz. It recently joined forces with Easter Seals, a nonprofit that assists people with disabilities, to create career opportunities for veterans in film and TV.
“I think it’d be great if the industry could better understand what veterans bring to the table,” said VFT co-founder Mike Dowling, who participated in WGF’s writing program in 2011. “We didn’t come to this industry so we could just work on military films and productions. We’re creative artists, just like all the other actors and directors and writers in this industry; we just happened to have served.”
Another initiative, the U.S. Veterans’ Artists Alliance, works with all branches of the arts. Since 2004, the program has produced, exhibited and helped fund arts projects as well as theater and film productions. Its current inhouse play “Tracers,” boasts an all-vet cast. USVAA is also working to recognize, through a presidential proclamation, Nov. 1 as Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day.