While theatrical exhibitors continue to reap profits showcasing the stories of military men and women on the big screen, streaming services have not only become a destination for smaller and sometimes lesser-known projects, but have also provided a new and expanding opportunity to serve the veteran community with more consistent and eclectic depictions of heroism and sacrifice. Content providers like Netflix, FandangoNow and Amazon — in both acquiring titles from smaller distributors and developing them specifically for in-house production companies — are leading the charge in supplying the military community with expanded entertainment and representation on screen.
The challenge for many of these services is to assemble enough titles for veterans and their families to feel like they have a variety of options, not to mention service the dozens of other communities seeking movies and shows that reflect their experiences and culture. Cameron Douglas, the head of FandangoNow, tells Variety that they are doubly advantaged in that they retain virtually all of the films they acquire, and they edit those offerings to ensure many options. “We very much lean into special days and special events — like Veterans Day, like Memorial Day — and we hand-curate for that audience and that customer base,” Douglas says.
“We have a buying meeting every week and we determine what we believe is going to be interesting for our audience. And we don’t take everything,” he adds. “Because consumers are relying on having the service help them understand what is interesting or what’s available to them.”
Many of FandangoNow’s most popular veteran-themed titles include hit theatrical releases like “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor.” But Douglas says that they’ve had great success not only with spin-offs from successful big-screen films, but lesser-known titles featuring big-name talent. “A sequel to ‘Max,’ the wartime movie about a German Shepherd, did very well for Fandango Now,” he says. “And the Golden Globe-nominated movie ‘Jarhead’? A fourth [film] just came out a couple of weeks ago, and it hit our top [list] for that week. So because of its performance in that launch week, we will resurface that for Veterans Day including probably the entire franchise.”
The success of these smaller and direct-to-video titles has prompted services to obtain and promote them alongside their higher-profile release. “American War Fighter” recently premiered on Netflix, giving writer, director, producer and star Jerry G. Angelo visibility for his tribute to soldiers that the dozens of word-of-mouth screenings he hosted could not. Inspired by an encounter with “Lone Survivor” subject Marcus Luttrell on the set of Peter Berg’s adaptation of Luttrell’s book, Angelo says it was important to tell a story that explored aspects of military life that he didn’t see often enough on screen. “I wanted to do something that would have a very strong message,” he explains. “A tribute to all our servicemen and women, and have awareness to PTSD.”
With a sequel in development, Angelo says he’s thrilled to help give veterans a platform to showcase their experiences, and hopefully bridge ideological divides with stories that celebrate their deeply relatable humanity.
“Once the movie was done, people saw the magnitude of how powerful and impactful it is to have this type of media represent what their words don’t,” he observes. “There’s politics and personal stuff involved, but the movie created so much understanding and vulnerability with people to where it feels like we’re all on the same side.”
Mark Jean first created “A Veteran’s Christmas” for Hallmark before Amazon recently acquired it for their streaming service. His film, like Angelo’s, is a work of fiction that piggybacks on real-world issues to tap into greater truths about not just military personnel but also the human connections we all strive to make.
“The hero is a woman returning from Afghanistan, where she’s worked as a dog handler. She’s left her military family behind, and she’s marooned in a small Midwestern town where she meets the local judge and ultimately falls in love with him.
“It’s about the kindness of strangers, the local community and family, and its primary theme is healing — something this country really needs right now,” he says. “I feel like I can address those issues because the military provides a commonality that is really important in our divided times.”
Also like Angelo, his first military-themed project has inspired more ideas. But what they share in common is an enthusiasm for the advantages of sharing their work via nontraditional means to create a greater impact than either imagined possible. “Streaming is an amazing opportunity for storytellers I love the fact that you can tap into an intimate, smaller story about a veteran and touch people.”