The Girl in the Picture -
Transmedia and International Storytelling and Marketing
For: Professor Taplin (CMGT 558)
By: David Schlosberg
November 5, 2006.
The purpose of this paper is to examine how the story of the “universal soldier” could be used to entertain and better inform people about war and its complexities by offering various viewpoints so that they are not only entertained but also better equipped to evaluate the personal costs of war. This paper will analyze how the story of Kim Phuc, better known simply as the “girl in the picture” during the Vietnam War, could profitably be used to tell a story of peace across media and across nations. The term “universal soldier” will be used throughout this paper to refer to both the soldiers and people like Kim Phuc who although not soldiers in the traditional sense of the word, end up participating in war related activities. This paper will be written assuming it would be possible to option this story (based on the book The Girl In The Picture by Denise Chong) for development. Additionally, for the purposes of this paper the term transmedia will be used to include film, video games and online communities.
Violence, triumph over adversity, redemption and love are elements of a great story. Many great movies have told stories from the point of view of the soldier. Many nations in world history have stories to tell about their soldiers, the story of the soldier is almost universal. Perhaps, not enough movies have told the story from the point of view of the innocent people caught in the crossfire who in a sense become universal soldiers themselves. A great story for film therefore might be the story of Kim Phuc. Kim’s story has global appeal as she has spent significant parts of her life in Vietnam, Russia, Cuba, the United States and now Canada. Kim was a nine year old girl when she unknowingly became famous during the Vietnam War when she was caught in a photograph running naked out of her village almost being burned alive from the inside out, as napalm can do. This horrific event was only the beginning of a most extraordinary life with relevancy for people concerned about war, faith or peace. Kim was not only a victim of war but was also used as a tool of propaganda for both communist and democratic purposes, was a medical student first in Vietnam and then in Cuba, through her unanswerable pain became a devoted follower of Jesus and ultimately an eloquent voice for peace and reconciliation. Today Kim Phuc is charismatic, attractive (although scar burns still exist on her arms) and an engaging speaker. This is a universal story that must be told today. This paper will attempt to contextualize this story from a historical perspective and then examine how global entertainment trends and technologies might be utilized in order market this story around the world.
Historical Context – Israel, Islam and Vietnam
War is typically funded from national taxes and made possible because we as individuals agree to fight for our country and implicitly for a cause we believe to be just. For example, in America’s early years, Thomas Jefferson abolished all federal taxes on U.S. citizens as an attempt to disband the huge standing army that the Federalists had assembled. Alexander Hamilton wanted to create an American empire and invade the colonies of France and Spain. However, Jefferson's austere budget did not allow for a federal military. The supporters of Jefferson preferred an armed citizenry and state militias to defend the United States because they did not trust government. What constitutes a just war is an issue we see debated to this day as evident in the questions about America’s involvement in Iraq.
War is complex and it frequently develops out of previous wars and the case of Vietnam is no exception. From 110 BC to the year 938 AD, except for brief periods, much of present-day Vietnam, especially the northern half, was part of China. Over the next thousand or so years, Vietnam would fight for independence from various world powers.
During the 17th century French colonial expansion began and in the mid 1800's Napoleon III established French control over Cochin-China (the southernmost part of modern Vietnam including Saigon), as well as a protectorate over Cambodia. From their base in Cochin-China, the French took over Tonkin and Annam (in modern Vietnam) in 1884-1885. These, together with Cambodia and Cochin-China, formed French Indochina. During the Second World War France’s control of its colonies began to decline. After the war, France attempted to reassert itself in the region, but came into conflict with the Viet Minh, an organization of Communist Vietnamese nationalists under French-educated Ho Chi Minh. During the Second World War, the United States had supported the Viet Minh in resistance against the Japanese; the group was in control of the country apart from the cities since the French gave way in March 1945. Fighting lasted until March 1954, when the Viet Minh won the decisive victory against French forces at the grueling Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This led to the partition of Vietnam into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North, under Viet Minh control, and the State of Vietnam in the South, which had the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The events of 1954 also marked the end of French involvement in the region, and the beginnings of serious US commitment to South Vietnam which would lead to the Vietnam War. The partition was agreed to at the Geneva Conference, where the United States of America, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and the People's Republic of China also settled a number of outstanding disputes relating to the Korean War.
The Korean War from 1950-53 also had its roots in the Second World War and was a arguably a proxy war between the remaining super powers Russia and the United States. The war also changed America's view of the “third world” (or a more accurate term, the majority world since most of the world’s population is below a 0.8 on the United Nation’s human development index), most notably in Indochina. Before 1950, the Americans had been very critical of French endeavors to reestablish its presence there against local resistance; after Korea, they began to heavily support the French against the Viet Minh and other nationalist-communist local parties, paying for up to 80% of the French military budget in Vietnam.
Over the next ten years political disputes and military coups would ensue in Vietnam. In 1963 the South Vietnamese President was overthrown by a military coup. Chaos broke out in the security and defense systems of South Vietnam, while Hanoi took advantage of the situation to increase its support for the insurgents in the South. South Vietnam then entered a period of extreme political instability with a succession of different military rulers; the United States' involvement in South Vietnam dramatically increased; and the 'Americanization' of the war began. The South Vietnamese government and its Western allies portrayed the conflict as an action against the use of armed violence as a means of political change, a principled opposition to communism —to deter the expansion of Soviet-based control throughout Southeast Asia, and to set the tone for any likely future superpower conflicts. The North Vietnamese government and its subordinate organization (NLF) viewed the war as a struggle to unite the country under a socialist government and to repel a foreign aggressor —a virtual continuation of the earlier war for independence against the French. The complexity of war is deep.
We tend to view war as unrelated episodic events but perhaps war is really just the continuation of various long running disputes or imperialist expansion sometimes under the banner of democracy, Christianity or Islam. As Efraim Karsh, author of the book Islamic Imperialism: A History points out, America is reviled in the Muslim world not because of its specific policies "but because, as the pre-eminent world power, it blocks the final realization of this same age-old dream of a universal Islamic empire (or umma)." Is war glorified in both Western and Eastern cultures in order to get the public to accept the fact that we are going to send our sons and daughters to die? Do we commemorate war so as to know, use, and connect to the past? Do we commemorate wars because they encompass extremes, from the most banal to the most extraordinary, in life, death, and human endeavor? If we are to dream of one day ending war surely we must consider not only war but also preventative solutions and ideologies supporting nonviolent dispute resolution.
Today, wars persist, especially in the Middle East where it arguably originated. According to international relations scholar Bassam Tibi, (who defines himself as a Muslim) in The Legacy of Jihad Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims he asserts “there is no Islamic tradition of nonviolence and no presumption against war.” In his discussion of war and peace in Islam Tibi does point out that “war is never glorified and is viewed simply as the last resort in responding to the da’wa to disseminate Islam, made necessary by the refusal of unbelievers to submit to Islamic rule.” In other words, according to Tibi there are few if any historical groups that could be used as models of Islamic pacifism”. However, historically there have been some Islamic peace movements. In the 20th century the Khudai Khidmatgar movement in India is an example of non-violence being used successfully by some Muslims (Wiki/Pacifism, 2006). Unfortunately, historically and today, according to the words of many Islamic leaders like Mohammed in the Quran and many classical and modern theological commentaries, from Malik B. Anas (795 AD) to Majid Khadduri (and arguably the prevailing sentiment among ordinary Muslims in Islamic countries from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia) there is a perception of an inherent conflict between the Islamic countries and the non-Islamic countries and this viewpoint can inform justifications for war. Of course the West has it own justifications for war. One might point to the Crusades as an egregious example of Christian “holy war”, which it no doubt was. Some scholars have pointed out that the Crusades were an example of an imitation of an Islamic idea. The concept where a Crusade includes a guarantee of salvation did not exist in early Christianity with its predominance of pacifists yet finds its source in the Islamic notion of jihad where one who dies in a holy war goes straight to paradise and this Islamic belief predated the Crusades by a few centuries (Ellul, 1986). Either way, what justification can be given to the legions of people like Kim Phuc caught in the middle of a war? Moreover, war predates Islam. Some of the early wars in written human history are the wars of the Jewish or Hebrew people, followers of the God of Israel, against the followers of various pagan gods as chronicled in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Bible. Although, the Bible records a time when humanity “will learn war no more” and “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war no more” (Isaiah 2:-4) this prediction has obviously been yet to be realized.
Historically, people who actually practice some form of nonviolent dispute resolution or pacificism have come from various spiritual traditions from Jainism to Islam but with the many of the pacifists throughout history being Christian (Wiki/Pacifism, 2006).
In the first three hundred years of Christianity the message of the good news of abundant life through Jesus Christ spread peacefully for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons might be attributed to their perspective on war. The vast majority of Jewish followers of Jesus and gentile Christians held ardently pacifist views usually refusing to participate in military service (Berkot, 2003). The early followers of Jesus refused to fight in the Roman army because they did not want to kill any human because they believed not only do all people bear the image of God but they must learn to love their enemy. Justin Martyr, the person whose name we derive the term martyr from is attributed with saying “we who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies” (Berkhot, 2003). Justin Martyr’s thinking was likely influenced by teachings derived from the New Testament like “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Cor 10:3) or from Jesus’ commands himself to love your enemy and to pray for those who persecute you. Initially Christianity spread through a significant minority of the Jewish community and when some of the early followers of Jesus were martyred for their faith they did not respond violently but rather asked God to forgive their persecutors (Acts, 20 AD). By providing a peaceful and new inclusive way to worship the God of Israel, for all people, not just Jews, the followers of Jesus grew throughout the Middle East and beyond the limits of the Jewish community.
Regardless of the origins of “holy war” many wars have been fought using a banner of religion or today simply a banner of spreading democracy. The Roman Catholic church has not declared itself to be specifically pacifist, nor has it returned to the peaceful practice of its pre-Augustinian days, whereby those who served in the military were barred from the Eucharist. The point of all this is simply to show that like the famous rabbi and Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament “all people fall short of the glory of God” – no group of people is blameless, corporately or individually. In order for people of differing backgrounds to “learn war no more” perhaps they must somehow understand the endless prisoner’s dilemma that war creates and rather must learn to co-operate together peacefully. That is the purpose of a story for peace that communicated across media could conceivably reach the Middle East in an era of the Internet and global entertainment.
The story of the universal soldier has widespread appeal. The story of Kim Phuc is a good story to center around because it is complex. It is complicated and involves many characters that could not be adequately explored in a typical movie but these related characters could be leveraged across other media. For example, the photographer of the famous and award winning photograph was Nick Ut, (also known as Huynh Cong Út) who was mentored by a Westerner and whose own story is quite interesting. Or, the story of the military pilot who believes he was the one who bombed Kim’s village. Additionally, well known Vietnam era people like Henry Kissinger or Robert McNamara the Defense Secretary at the time (who now readily discusses the challenges and complexities of the war in the documentary Fog of War) provide ample material that could be expanded in a related video game if this story was marketed across multiple platforms.
Transmedia or Multi-platform Storytelling
As online and interactive entertainment continues to grow the opportunities to repurpose an existing narrative increases as well (Bateman, 2006). The process of moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling and can be referred to as transmedia or multi-platform storytelling, a term used frequently by researchers at MIT. Audiences want the new work to offer new insights into the characters and new experiences (Jenkins, 2003). So far, the most successful transmedia franchises have emerged when a single creator or creative unit maintains control over the franchise like Lucasfilm with Indiana Jones and the Star Wars franchises (Jenkins, 2003). Yet, a major challenge of transmedia storytelling is that each franchise entry needs to be self-contained enough to enable autonomous consumption which means that each platform is inherently different (Jenkins, 2003).
In a world with many media options, consumers are choosing to invest deeply in a limited number of franchises rather than dip shallowly into a larger number. Different media attract different market niches. Films and television probably have the most diverse audiences, comics and games the narrowest. A good transmedia franchise attracts a wider audience by pitching the content differently in the different media. In his article Three Problems For Interactive Storytellers for Gamasutra Ernest Adams has insightfully pointed out that "interactivity is almost the opposite of narrative; narrative flows under the direction of the author, while interactivity depends on the player for motive power".
Recent deals provide some insight into the structure of early multiplatform deals and the way in which various media properties are influencing each other. We are beginning to see more and more integration across mediums. For example, MTV Networks will launch more than 20 "hyper-programmed" broadband channels by next year, targeting niche audiences by linking the online offerings with specific programming according to a recent article in Broadcasting and Cable (Becker, 2006). Another example comes from reports in Variety that Fox and Universal have closed a deal to make a movie based on Microsoft’s hit video game Halo, with plans to release it in 2007. Universal will oversee the production and is handling domestic distribution, while Fox will take foreign distribution. The studios will split revenues 50-50 out of a shared pot Variety has reported. Or another example might be that of former Columbia president Peter Schlessel, who served as a Hollywood liaison for Microsoft and is producing 28 Days Later. Writer Alex Garland was paid one million dollars by Microsoft to write a script that met its approval. Interestingly, Microsoft is guaranteed extensive consultation on the project, but won’t have approval over any story elements. Several employees at Bungie, the Microsoft-owned development studio that created Halo, will serve as Microsoft’s creative consultants. The bottom line is that one of the trends in multi-platform marketing is that as each new media property is released the previous awareness about the existing story and previous product provides a level of promotional value for the next iteration of the story/platform. From a financial standpoint, it was a long time before the television market was fully understood by moviemakers and it appears the internet and video games are becoming increasingly valuable to film marketing (Vogel, 2004).
War movies can be hard to market because the theater going audience must understand why it is relevant to them today. For example, a well done movie like Flags of our Fathers has had relatively moderate theater performance so far. Also, when one understands the historical context of Vietnam it becomes apparent that Vietnam was really a continuation of unresolved disputes emanating from at least World War Two, if not much earlier. The point is it might make sense to shoot the story of the universal soldier as centering around the Vietnam War but including how this even affects today’s involvement in the Middle East. This might be achieved in the film by ending with an American Vietnam veteran sending his son off to Iraq or some unnamed war in the Middle East.
The power of the celebrity and using the right actor(s) for a film can also be crucial. Perhaps, having a starring role for someone who supports peace movements and has celebrity in the youth markets, like NBA basketball star Steve Nash could help to bring a story like Kim Phuc’s to a wider audience. Previously, Nash's interest in politics led to controversy during the lead-up to the Iraq War when he chose to wear a custom-made t-shirt that stated "No war -- Shoot for peace" to the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. Nash explained his position by saying that the United States had provided insufficient evidence that Iraq was a threat and that the UN inspectors should be allowed to complete their mission. Although Nash did get positive support from teammate Nick Van Exel among others, he drew criticism from David Robinson, a former Naval officer and fellow NBA player. From a marketing standpoint significant press might be generated if Nash starred as the soldier in the story who dropped the bomb on Kim Phuc’s village.
Socially conscious films are not new. Participant Productions is a film company with a mission to make the world a better place through film and online community. It is responsible for creating socially concerned films from North Country to An Inconveniant Truth. Perhaps some lessons can be learned from activist film and online companies like Particpate.net regarding the marketing of entertainment. Participate.net looks to build online community from its films by including the website link in many of each film’s marketing materials so film viewers will be made aware of the website they can go to discuss the film and possibly take some sort of action. Participant Productions might be a company that would consider producing a film that promotes peace.
The Margaret Mead International Film and Video Festival is the longest-running showcase for international documentaries in the United States. The Festival is distinguished by its outstanding selection of titles, which tackle diverse and challenging subjects, representing a range of issues and perspectives, and by the forums for discussion with filmmakers and speakers. This might be a festival that would also be receptive to a film about Kim Phuc. Additionally, the American Film Market in Santa Monica is the largest in the world for independents and might also be a festival to target in addition to the more well known Sundance and Cannes festivals.
Online Communities, Video Games and Virtual Worlds
Today interactive entertainment can include online communities, stand alone video games and complete virtual worlds. For the sake of clarity and for the purposes of this paper a distinction will be made between online communities and video games. Online community will be used to refer to a relatively simple online property where content and social rules are primarily user created like Facebook.com or Myspace.com. Video game will refer to games used by one or a few people to meet short term entertainment needs and is accessible on a cell phone or basic computer or game console.
One well reviewed Vietnam era video game is Battlefield Vietnam which is available for the personal computer. Interestingly, Jason Ocampo’s Gamespot.com review mentioned the importance of the soundtrack.
The first thing that strikes you about Battlefield Vietnam isn't the graphics; it's the music. From the opening movie to the loading screens, you're immediately exposed to a soundtrack that's packed with the classic Vietnam War protest songs, including Edwin Starr's "War," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird," and others. You may not recognize the names, but you'll definitely recognize the music from countless movies, commercials, and the radio. The soundtrack itself would be worthy of a big-budget Hollywood movie, and it permeates throughout the game.
Perhaps, an obvious song for the soundtrack for a Kim Phuc film or video game would be Universal Soldier (originally performed by Buffy Sainte-Marie) but perhaps re-releasing under one of today’s better known artists. Moreover, if possible it might make sense to follow a Bollywood practice and pre-release the entire soundtrack before the movie in an effort to promote the movie before its released. Additionally, music videos carrying music and scenes from the film could be used to promote the film before it is actually released in traditional music outlets and maybe also on new media platforms like YouTube. Coupling footage with recent newsworthy Iraqi footage might also increase relevance and marketability.
The Serious Games Initiative is a project using video games as an educational tool to improve social problems. The Initiative features games like Ayiti: The Cost of Life which is a very basic game attempting to educate about rural life in Haiti. It may have pedagogical purposes but unfortunately the production values are low and may reflect the challenges and costs of creating engaging games. According to the Seriousgames.org website many commercial games are already in use for purposes other than entertainment. Titles such as SimCity, Civilization, Hidden Agenda, and others have been used as learning tools in schools and universities across the globe according to the website. The Initiative reflects the hope that video games will play an increasing role in education however so far the commercial viability of this is unproven. Game publishers have yet to accurately reach the education market. The Kim Phuc story may have enough widespread appeal because she is a female, and an Asian, just the demographics game publishers may want to expand into and could also potentially be leveraged to crack the education market.
A universal soldier online community could be created to bring together soldiers, civilians and veterans of multiple wars and from multiple sides, and people interested in promoting peace and discussing the real life pros and cons of war. The online community could have various sections like a war photography section that features people like Nick Ut, the photographer who took Kim Phuc’s picture to famous war photographers of today. Bringing together online profiles of people like Kim Phuc and people like USC’s own Kyle Hausmann-Stokes might have wide appeal. Hausmann-Stokes is a USC film student whose story was featured in the Daily Trojan about the dilemma he faces because he has been re-activated for duty in Iraq. Hausmann-Stokes not only has a very interesting story (see appendix A) but as a film student he has documented some of his field and returning to home experiences as film shorts which could be leveraged for use in an online community (www.kylehs.com). The online community could have a legal section for people to discuss the pros and cons of a draft. The online community might be able to re-purpose previous documentaries like Fog of War featuring Robert McNamara former Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and Winter Soldiers another powerful Vietnam documentary, making them accessible online. The online community could try to create original content like a “Fog of War 2” with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Additionally, the online community could be designed to integrate and supplement other communities that share this interest, war veterans groups, church groups, peace studies programs etc. The online community could provide materials on what it means to be a conscientious objector and perhaps highlight civilian service programs in other countries. Civilian service is service to a government made as a civilian, particularly such service as an option for pacifists who object to military service. Examples of countries with thriving civilian service programmes are Switzerland (Swiss Civilian Service), Finland (Siviilipalvelus) and Germany (Zivildienst). Civilian service is usually performed in the service of non-profit governmental bodies or other institutions. For example, in Germany they work extensively in healthcare facilities and retirement homes, while other countries have a wider variety of possible placements.
While online communities can be powerful, video games can be even more interactive. The term virtual world will refer to the relatively more complex immersive environments with complex social rules built into the game and where participants are interacting in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). One of today’s leading MMORPG is World of War with about 6.5 million users paying about $13 a month to play (Wiki/Comparison of MMORPGs, 2006). With revenue possibilities at this level it is easy to see that MMORPG’s and other virtual worlds can potentially be more valuable than movie blockbusters. If a Kim Phuc movie and online community was successful the story could be greatly expanded into a universal soldier game that could treat war as an ongoing and connected struggle therefore providing ample related material for sequels and new versions. Perhaps, the game could be the universal soldier versus the universal citizen. The purpose of the game could be to evolve from a soldier into a citizen of the world, where you have learned the dilemma of war and now refuse to kill other people. Or the purpose could vary based on your role, from winning a war, to getting out of your village and going to university like Kim Phuc, to winning votes as a politician. Video game roles could branch off into the many related characters with opportunities for various role playing. In a video game there could be a really interesting role where one could play Steve Nash as the actor playing a soldier who eventually helps Kim Phuc as he comes to realize the costs of war. The role could also include the “real” Nash with a tie in to existing NBA video games therefore the film ties into one video game that ties into another video game that Nash already stars in blending reality within the story.
A soldier role could have many interesting scenarios. Breaking out of a prisoner camp might be engaging. Clifford G. Baird tells a story about how he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and after flying several missions was shot down and taken captive by the enemy. His captors used a bamboo tiger cage to imprison him. The cage was not tall or long enough for him to be able to stretch out at all. He was made to walk daily carrying the cage with his feet through the bottom bars as the patrol went from place to place. He spent four and a half years in this cage. When asked how he maintained his sanity for all those years and how he finally escaped, he said each night when his captors would go to sleep, he would count to 4,000. By waiting for their deep REM sleep, he was then able to check the bars, every single bar on the on the cage, every single night for four and a half years. Can you imagine the night a bar finally moved? He broke free and stumbled through the jungle, hiding for another week, until he found American troops. The doctors examining him said he would have died from the harsh conditions of his captivity in just another 90 days. Perhaps, the amazing drama that comes out of war is one reason there are so many video games about war.
There could be other roles like a politician role, either historical or current, where one could play a leader like Thomas Jefferson (who supported the right of individuals to defend themselves but was vehemently opposed to a national tax because he feared it could enable a national and potentially aggressive military) against a federalist like Alexander Hamilton. Or a role to play Secretary of Defense during Vietnam or one could play other opposing views like North Vietnamese socialist leader trying to defend freedom against western (first French, then American) imperialists. Perhaps an interesting feature would be to give the gamer the ability to hear advice from the future. For example, the Secretary of Defense role might include the need to gather international support and it could play clips from Fog of War where an elderly Robert McNamara mentions “if we can’t persuade our allied countries of similar values of merit of our cause we’d better re-examine our reasoning” or “what is a war criminal other than being on the losing side of war” or “is it right and proper that today there are 7500 offensive nuclear warheads of which 2500 are on 15 minute alert to be launched on the decision of one human being”? Other less common roles might include a civilian role like Kim Phuc with actual footage from her film. Or a war protestor or draft dodger role might be interesting. A pastor role who tries to organize non violent solutions starring a real life mega church pastor might have appeal to a nontraditional gaming audience. Or, a peacemaker/Nobel prize winner role to play people like Henri Dunant who not only won one of the first Nobel Peace prizes but was a major force behind the first Geneva Conventions and also the International Committee of the Red Cross. Perhaps, an engaging feature would be the ability to simulate dialogue between opposing factions as the Serious Game’s Peace Maker video game will try to do when it is released. For example, if the game could provide a way for the player to create peace conferences such as Palestinian’s talking with Israeli’s, traditionally combative sides might better empathize with the other situation. Other interesting roles might include a behind the scenes role as a member of the real life and secretive Bilderberg organization with its known roster of varied international finance and war ministers, or CEO of a private military arms supplier. By enabling non-traditional roles the video game might increase its appeal to non-traditional gaming audiences.
In order to market a Kim Phuc film several events could be used to build awareness. A “photography for peace” exhibit could be created that would feature some of the most famous war and peace photos from the past and today. Another idea is that advance screenings of the film could be black tie affairs to evoke the prestige and elegance previously associated with cinema. Perhaps, a special fund could be created to assign a small portion of profits to be assigned to a special scholarship fund that would provide full tuition and expenses to a few victims of war from the world’s hardest hit areas. A program like this could provide a reason to encourage university diplomacy, communication or peace studies schools to help promote the story through screenings, discussion and possibly curriculum.
It hasn’t happened with a major movie studio in the U.S., but according to Paidcontent.org an Indian movie studio has started debuting film online and at the same time as theaters. The digital media arm of Bollywood production and distribution house Rajshri Productions has launched a broadband portal Rajshri.com , and is also premiering online its movie Vivah - simultaneously in theatres and also online. It is available for $9.99 per download and a DRM licence will expire after 72 hours. The movie online and the site is mainly targeted toward immigrants living abroad but interested in Indian entertainment content. Nearby in China, according to a recent article six Hollywood studios are poised to see their movies distributed in China via the Internet (Frater, 2006). Reportedly this deal would significantly boost Hollywood's ability to make money in China, where the studios' movies are popular but have only limited legal distribution. Perhaps, a universal soldier movie could attempt to get distribution in theaters and online and through its supporting online community. Also, newly created Liberty Media (technically, domestic but will distribute internationally) may be an excellent source of funding because not only does it aspire to create and distribute successful independent films like Lionsgate but also because it has guaranteed outlets for its films in Starz, the Vongo broadband channel and home video distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment (Munoz, 2006). A less traditional distribution channel that could be considered is the church. Because the Kim Phuc story contains a powerful Christian conversion story many local churches could potentially be enlisted to help screen the film as well. Perhaps, foreign churches would be open to some sort of affiliate deal where they screen the film, and then sell the DVD’s in return for a portion of the proceeds. Marketing through foreign churches might be one way to find more trustworthy foreign distribution channels.
If the film was distributed in Vietnam, China or other countries where piracy is rampant it might make sense to develop strategies to generate revenue in alternative ways with extremely aggressive DVD pricing. Bundling the DVD with a unique physical item, like an action figure, or a cross or special edition flag that combines allied countries or something that would have perceived value to the consumer might enable the local distributor to better compete with piracy. In order to combat piracy, the film could potentially be screened in local foreign theaters with DVD’s for sale immediately after the screening and at very low prices in order to compete with illegal distribution channels. Or, perhaps the DVD could literally be given away and used as a promotional tool for selling related story clips or mobile phone games. Maybe in less affluent countries the audience can’t justify a relatively high ticket price for a film but would pay multiple times in smaller increments for mobile content.
Creating a campaign to leverage the Kim Phuc story as a discussion for the plight of the Palestinian people might be a successful tactic to create some sort of co-promotion and distribution with Al-Jazeera to its Middle Eastern audience reaching 300 million people in 22 countries who might be receptive to television distribution because they could identify with the complexity of the situation.
The Canadian/national film board (NFB) might be open to some sort of co-production and distribution deal because it would give positive public relations for Canada’s treatment of Kim Phuc and also as positive women’s story – both issues the NFB looks to promote.
In summary, a powerful story like Kim Phuc’s might not only make a great documentary film but could be leveraged and expanded across mediums. Each medium could be used to promote the story for the next medium, from the musical soundtrack to the film to an online community to a full blown video game(s). Utilizing unique events, the church and university channels marketing opportunities could be greatly enhanced. Finally, many of the trends in international entertainment trends could be leveraged in order to ensure a global audience.
The Bible records a time when humanity “will learn war no more” and “will beat its swords into ploughshares” Surely, this must be taught. The documentary film Control Room records a US soldier in Iraq who has come to see some of the injustices of the Iraq war but he laments that he is a soldier because war is inevitable; this universal soldier could not perceive solutions other than war. Until enough people are taught that when a line is drawn in the sand dividing the perfect from the imperfect we find out we are all imperfect people - we need to be taught to forgive each other and that the universal soldier does have a choice, that if all universal soldiers agree not to fight than universal peace can come.
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Torn between returning to army, finishing up degree
Cinema student is being called back to duty after previously serving his time.
Kyle Hausmann-Stokes, a 24-year-old in his third semester at USC, received two life-changing letters last month.
One came from the USC School of Cinematic Arts saying he had been accepted to its production program for the 2007 spring semester.
The other was from the U.S. Army, saying there was no time for film school because he was being deployed to Iraq Nov. 5.
Hausmann-Stokes served from August 2001 to August 2004, a period during which he needed money to get out of rural Wisconsin; an Army recruiter promised to make it happen in exchange for three years of service.
Sitting in the recruiter's office, Hausmann-Stokes thought of his dreams to become a director and filmmaker and of his friends, many of whom he said were destined to work at gas stations.
He thought of the money, of the future and of patriotism.
He reached for the pen and signed the next three years away with five years extra for Individual Ready Reserve, but "everybody knows the IRR guys would only be called up in the event of World War III," Hausmann-Stokes said the recruiter told him.
"I had blinders on," Hausmann-Stokes quietly reminisced. "I needed money, and there was a point I thought it was my duty to fight and die for my country. Now I just don't know."
Now, when he's in class, his mind wanders and his attention is shortened.
In social situations he is resentful and moody.
At home, he tosses and turns in bed, mulling over the latest Iraq death-toll statistics he saw on CNN.
"I'll be watching TV with friends and hear 'three more soldiers killed today …' and all of a sudden there's an awkward silence," Hausmann-Stokes said. "No one looks at me. Everyone's afraid to talk about it. It's terrifying.
"I see guys my age limping around the (Veterans Affairs office). I could be 25 with no legs and one eye. I just want to get on with my life," he said.
Back in the service, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion (Airborne) of the 509th Infantry were his friends, and his home was the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., one of the Army's combat-warfare schools.
His job was emulating Iraqi and Afghani militia to ready U.S. soldiers for combat.
Because he had to stay back and teach, he never went abroad.
Now he's being called back. Some U.S. Army recruiters are saying the "war on terror," being fought on the two fronts of Afghanistan and Iraq, is not all that different from previous visions of World War III.
But Hausmann-Stokes defines his war as making it through the fall semester without letting his anxiety get the best of him and continuing on to film school.
"I don't feel bad for myself," Hausmann-Stokes said. "I did raise my hand and sign a contract. It's just that the way the recruiters phrased it, I would not have to do it for more than three years. They told me unless World War III broke out, the five-year IRR commitment meant nothing, and that there was almost no chance I would be activated after my regular tour of duty."
The School of Cinematic Arts told Hausmann-Stokes he could update his admission as per the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act, granted he gives them fair warning.
"In all my time recruiting, I have never seen an instance where an IRR gets called up," said Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Bryson of the University Village armed services recruiting office. "I've heard of instances, but this is not normal, especially not when we meet quotas. The problem now is we just need more people to fight a tougher war."
For fun, Hausmann-Stokes would make movies of his unit in action. He said his work appeared in local movie theaters, and his fellow troops were constantly vying for valuable face time. His movies became a staple of the 509th.
"All the guys were always trying to get in the movies, and everyone would always get really excited about seeing them," Hausmann-Stokes said. "They became something to look forward to."
Two weeks before Hausmann-Stokes was to be discharged in August 2004, his unit, which he said was then the only Army unit not to have been deployed, was given notice of an impending departure to Iraq.
That's when his colonel gave him news that appeared would change his life forever.
"He told me he had a feeling I was meant for better things than Iraq and released me from active duty," Hausmann-Stokes said. "He said in return I had to pursue my dream and get the best training in film, and that I had to return one day to tell the story of my unit. What else could I say but 'Yes, sir!'
"I guess now I'll have to call him and tell him the project will have to wait."
It's been two years since he last served, and Hausmann-Stokes is in his third semester at USC, with a year at Arizona State University and a semester in Madrid, Spain, under his belt.
One of his movies, "UnWelcome Home," about a soldier returning to war, won first place in an ASU film festival and was featured in the Phoenix Film Festival.
Following suit, he applied to USC, hoping to one day make it to the film school.
Two weeks ago, Haussman-Stokes received a notice that he was one of 13 students accepted to Cinematic Arts' cinema-television production program out of about 1,300 applicants.
Recruiters said he could either request to delay deployment or become exempt from duty.
Hausmann-Stokes said he already applied for a delay until the end of the semester but received no response.
He will wait until the semester's end to report for duty, he said.
"There's no way I can face my grandchildren one day and tell them I was called to defend my country and said, 'No.' I really feel like I need to go, regardless of what my views about the war are."
Life has become confusing, he said.
"I'm literally going crazy," he said. "I can either live up to the commitment I made to my country - not to mention to my fellow soldiers who have already been over there - and not run away from this thing. Or I can apply for this exemption so that my parents at least have peace of mind. Who knows, maybe it is approved, and this war will be over before I would have even gotten there."
Numerous blogs have been published discussing people facing his situation.
Hausmann-Stokes said he reads them all the time.
"Some of them say that the military is so backed up, that by the time they come to arrest a soldier that doesn't show up for war, the fight may be over," Stokes said. "I'll probably go, but I'm 90 percent sure nothing would happen if I didn't."
Trying to look on the bright side, Hausmann-Stokes said this could be a good experience for his career.
"On the one hand, if I embrace this, it could be a stepping stone," Hausmann-Stokes said. "If I end up going, I'll probably sell my car and everything to get a nice camera to document the experience on film."
His parents have also gotten involved.
"My parents were in town two weeks ago and are very strongly suggesting that I file for an exemption to fight this thing," Hausmann-Stokes said. "It looks like my dad has been talking to some lawyers in hopes of making a stronger case as well. I am still utterly confused about what to do. But talk about night and day, … from Traddies to Iraq with a uniform and gun."
© Copyright 2006 Daily Trojan
Liberty making its film debut
John Malone's media company is launching a studio that aims to make eight to 12 movies a year.
By Lorenza Muñoz, Times Staff Writer
November 13, 2006
When it comes to the movie business, John Malone, the Colorado billionaire who built his fortune in cable TV, for years lived by the mantra "Why build it when you can buy it?"
It took some convincing, but Liberty Media Corp.'s chairman is finally ready for his Hollywood close-up. With the help of entertainment veterans Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett, Liberty is launching Overture Films, which aims to produce eight to 12 live-action movies a year under the umbrella of its Starz cable channels.
Liberty will bankroll the new business to the tune of $500 million to cover production, marketing and overhead for a staff of about 70 people based in Beverly Hills.
Unlike other start-up film operations, Overture has the financial safety net of Liberty's deep pockets. More important, it has guaranteed outlets for its films in Starz, the Vongo broadband channel and home video distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment.
"There are a lot of ex-studio executives running around trying to raise money to set up a production fund," McGurk said. "And then they are forced to go out and try to find distribution. It's not the way we wanted to go about doing it."
Malone, who wasn't available to comment for this story, has for years circled the movie business without plunging in headfirst.
Liberty was one of the suitors looking to buy Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets, including its movie studio and theme parks, in 2003 before General Electric Co.'s NBC unit finally did. Liberty also has accumulated about 19% of 20th Century Fox parent News Corp., which it is considering swapping for a stake in DirecTV or other assets.
It took about three hours in early September for McGurk, Rosett and Starz Chief Executive Robert B. Clasen to convince Malone and his chief lieutenants to finance a feature film company, citing the advantages of having a supplier for Liberty's distribution operation. Without comment, Malone got up at the end of the meeting, seemingly unmoved.
But as he reached the door, Malone winked and said: "Well, I always thought we should be in the content business."
McGurk, who will run Overture as CEO, worked as a senior executive at Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios and, most recently, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. There, he was second in command as vice chairman before billionaire Kirk Kerkorian sold the studio in 2005 for about $4.9 billion to a group led by Sony Corp.
Rosett, who will serve as chief operating officer, is the former president of MGM's United Artists unit. Overseeing them will be Clasen.
McGurk is one of a number of studio executives establishing movie companies at a time when big media companies are retrenching because of soaring production and marketing costs.
As private money from outside investors pours into Hollywood, filmmakers and executives are increasingly looking outside the studio system to make their movies. The list includes Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Weinstein Co., and United Artists, which actor Tom Cruise and producer Paula Wagner will try to resuscitate in partnership with MGM.
"A major company like Liberty backing a successful executive like Chris McGurk bodes well for success," said S. Mark Young, who specializes in entertainment at the USC Marshall School of Business.
But he added, "A very small percentage of movies are successful theatrically. The challenge is, can Liberty and McGurk come up with content that will be appealing?"
Overture expects to model itself after Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., which has grown over the years into a Hollywood player by releasing mainly low-budget, niche films such as "Saw" and the Oscar-winning "Crash" that also generate healthy sales on DVD. Overture's films will be budgeted at less than $30 million.
"If you are operating in that budget range, you can afford to take different types of creative risk," said Rosett. "You can allow filmmakers to really execute their vision."
McGurk said he hoped Overture would make a mix of movies such as "Capote," "Hotel Rwanda" and "Bowling for Columbine" as well as "Barber Shop" and "Legally Blonde" that were released or launched while he was at MGM.
A former PepsiCo Inc. executive, McGurk is known less for his creative instincts than his business skills. McGurk oversaw some successes during his six years at MGM such as the "Barber Shop" and "Legally Blonde" franchises and he maintains the studio was profitable. But many of the films were box-office duds, including the Nicolas Cage war saga, "Windtalkers," and the "Get Shorty" sequel, "Be Cool."
But the business of making niche artistic movies is tough. Under McGurk and Rosett, United Artists released several well-reviewed independent films such as "Pieces of April," "Igby Goes Down," and "Personal Velocity" that were disappointments at the box office.
"Some didn't set the world on fire with their box-office returns," said McGurk. "You can't really look at the profitability of a movie but at the profitability of a slate."
McGurk and Rosett said they would also be focusing on making movies for underserved audiences such as African Americans, Latinos and older females that will complement Starz' niche channels such as Starz InBlack and Encore Love.
"We are always going to know who our movie is for," Rosett said.
The pair expects to line up their core group of production and marketing executives by January and begin releasing films by mid-2007.
"This was an opportunity to build something from the ground up and really try to do it the right way," McGurk said. "That is what turns me on and that is why I am here."