Breaking into Military Advising in Hollywood
Service members exiting the military sometimes find their career plans include Hollywood, and see military advising as a potential inroad. Advising on the set of movies or television can be incredibly hard to break into on its own, but can be incredibly rewarding. Regardless of whether a veteran sees an advisor role as the ultimate goal or as a step in the process to a different career in the entertainment industry (i.e., becoming an actor), many veterans would love to see Hollywood do a better job of getting the military details right. That can only happen with veterans like yourselves and your military knowledge.
Our podcast Military Veterans in Creative Careers recently had the opportunity to speak with Brian Chung and Greg Bishop of Musa Media Inc, which runs Musa Military Entertainment Consulting and The All Warrior Network. Brian and Greg have consulted on such titles as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, Army Wives, and EA's Medal of Honor. They are now among the top when it comes to military consulting, and work to bring veterans in as consultants on film and television sets.
Do you have to live in Hollywood?
We asked if you have to live in Hollywood to get involved, and they said that it isn't necessary. In fact, they recently advised long distance for a film in South Africa and another in the Czech Republic. However, as Trevor Scott points out in his interview below, being in Hollywood when you are getting started will certainly help. A large part of finding these roles is your network, and it's much harder to network when you're 2,000 miles away.
Most important is tactical proficiency, or whatever skill set the veteran is bringing with them, and temperament. Are you willing to learn while you teach? Will the others on set enjoy being around you, and can you follow protocol?
As a veteran, you should have no problem with protocol and chain of command, but sometimes veterans have a chip on their shoulder, and being on a military-themed set, think they can do whatever they want. Don't be this person.
Watch Out for Stolen Valor
The problem is that many people applying for these positions claim to be something they are not. Some claim to be veterans, others are veterans but claim to be Navy Seals or Marine Force Recon, when they weren't. Do not do this, because the people in charge (such as Brian and Greg) know the difference.
Your goal is to be real, make a good impression, and become the "The Guy" for Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, and the other big filmmakers. Once you're in, you're in.
A Case Study: Trevor Scott
Trevor Scott is an actor who landed his first speaking gig on the screen by advising with Musa Media. They set him up on the show Enlisted, where he worked with actors on the minute details of being enlisted. Trevor was happy to share his experience with us, and provide additional advice for you veterans interested in being involved with military advising on set.
Q: What opportunities are there to work as a military adviser in entertainment?
A: The opportunities are sporadic and highly competitive. Most of the time, with big-budget productions, the studios and networks tend to go with the handful of well-known military advisors who have been in the industry for a long time. Guys like Dale Dye tend to be their go-to. However, if you're trying to break into the industry, you'll probably start on smaller projects with much lower budgets, such as student films and short films.
Q: How do people find these opportunities?
A: This is very much a business of connections and networking, especially with a job as specific as a military advisor or technical advisor, as it's often called. You pretty much have to be in LA and start building your network though groups like Veterans in Film and Television (VFT) and United States Veterans' Artists Alliance (USVAA). Or use your GI Bill to attend film school or theatre school. Chances are, if you're one of the only military veterans in your film or theatre program, you'll be the one people come to for their projects. And when those people graduate and go on to bigger projects, they'll remember you. That's all part of building that network.
Q: What was your experience like?
A: All of my advising jobs have come from friends I've made in the industry. I went to college after the military and helped out on a lot of student films and plays with military themes. I didn't get paid for any of those but it was a great learning experience. After I graduated, someone I met through VFT asked me if I wanted a full-time job advising on the FOX show Enlisted. I was looking for acting work at the time but knew it was a great opportunity, so I looked at it as a paid internship in TV. I've also had friends bring me on to do advising on USAA commercials, VA commercials, TV pilots, a Steven Seagal film, and various other projects. Every job is different. Sometimes you're teaching actors tactical stuff, sometimes you're just there to spot check uniforms, or listen to dialogue and see if it rings true.
Q: What else can you tell us about working as an adviser/consultant on set?
A: You learn very quickly that you have to pick and choose your battles. No project is going to be 100 percent accurate to the military, just like no cop show or medical drama is ever going to be a complete mirror of reality. There are many reasons for this. Usually it's budget. Maybe the scene is supposed to take place in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the production couldn't afford up-armored turrets, or A-COGS for the rifles, or NVGs. Or maybe the actor isn't able to cut his hair to Infantry standards because a few days after this shoot, he's working on something non-military and can't have a high and tight. Maybe it's a comedy and the joke gets killed if the actor playing the PFC is at rigid parade rest the entire scene. As an advisor, you have to keep track of so many things, and often certain things are out of your control. If you're constantly interrupting the shoot to fix every minute little detail, they're not going to be very happy with you. So you have to get as much right as you can ahead of time, and then only interrupt the director (with tact) when necessary. If you stop the star of the show during a big monologue because his collar was a little bit wrinkled, no one is going to be happy with you and you may not be the advisor on that set for much longer.
There will be things that happen that you had no control over, and [you’ll have to] be prepared to take the blame for it from all your military buddies. There was a scene on Enlisted where Keith David, who played the SGM, was given an ACU top with the Ranger tab on the wrong side. I was working with some of the other actors at the time and wasn't there to catch it. Of all the millions of little things I fixed on that show, I still get my friends asking why I let him go on screen with his Ranger tab on the wrong side. You just have to make sure that all of the big things are right and that the military is being represented in a fair way, then get as many of the small details right as possible, and finally, accept that there will be a few things that slip through the cracks that all of your military friends will definitely notice and never let you live down. Regardless, it will be fun, and hopefully you'll make some money.
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