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Three years ago, I got a phone call, based on an earlier film I had made, with an offer to embed the New Hampshire National Guard. My idea -- and literally, I woke up in the middle of the night, and we've all have those moments. You know, you go to sleep -- I was excited, with this phone call. I was thinking, I just finished making another film about World War II vets, and I realized I'd gotten to know their stories, and I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell a warrior's story as it unfolded. So I went to bed that night pretty excited. Not sure of all the details, but excited. It wasn't at four in the morning, but it was closer to midnight. Woke straight up. Wide-awake as could be. And I had this idea: what if I could, in effect, virtually embed, and create a permeable relationship with the soldiers? To tell the story from the inside out, versus the outside in?
So, I called back Major Heilshorn, who's the public affairs officer of the New Hampshire National Guard. And he knew me, so I was like, "Greg?" He's like, "Yes, Deborah?" Told him my idea, and you know, he is one of the bravest men in the world, as is General Blair, who, in the end, gave me permission to try this experiment.
Within 10 days, I was down at Fort Dix. He gave me my pick of units. I picked one unit -- Charlie Company, Third of the 172nd, they're mountain infantry -- for two reasons. One, they're infantry. Number two, they were going to be based at LSA Anaconda, so I knew they would have Internet access. The caveat for my access was I had to get the soldiers to volunteer. This was a big thing that I think when Major H told me, I wasn't really totally gathering what that would mean.
So what that meant was, when I went down to Fort Dix, I had to hop out in front of 180 guys and tell them of my vision. You can imagine the hailstorm of questions I got. The opening one was, "What the fuck do you know about the National Guard?" I started with the 1607 Massachusetts Bay Colony Pequot Indian Wars. Gave them about a nine minute response, and there we went.
So, I'd like to show the clip of the film. It's our trailer, because I know, obviously you guys are busy, many of you may not have had a chance to see it. So, I want to show the trailer, and then I'm going to take apart one scene in detail. If we could roll?
(Applause) Deborah Scranton: Thank you. One of the things I'd like to talk to you about is having a conversation about something that is difficult to talk about. And I'd like to relate an experience I had here at TED. I don't know how many of you might imagine it, but there's actually a TEDster who recently got back from Iraq. Paul? Come on, stand up. This is Paul Anthony. He served -- (Applause) -- with the Marines, and I want to tell you a little, brief story. We were one of the lucky ones to get in the class with the Sony cameras and the Vista software. Right? And we started talking. People will see my tag, and they'll see "The War Tapes," and then we'll start talking about war.
We got in a conversation with some other people in the class, and it went on and on. I mean, we were there for an hour, talking. And it really highlighted something that I would like to ask you guys to think about and hopefully to help with, which is, I think a lot of us are very afraid to have conversations about war, and about politics. And really -- because maybe we're going to disagree. Maybe it's going to get uncomfortable. How do we open it up to really be able to have a conversation? And you know, Paul was talking, and he then turned to Constance and said, "You know, I wouldn't have this conversation if she weren't here, because I know she has my back."
And I want to say, I was nervous. Because I'm used to doing Q&As. I really related to what James was saying yesterday, because I'm behind the camera. You know, I can answer questions about my movie, but for me to come up and talk for 18 minutes is a really long time. So, I wanted to say, Paul, I'm happy you're here, because I know you have my back.
This film was not about the Internet, but it could not have been made without it. The guys' tapes on average took two weeks to get from Iraq to me. In the meantime, the soldiers -- we would email and IM. I didn't save all of them, because I didn't realize at the beginning that it would be something that I would want to keep track of. But there were 3,211 emails and IMs and text messages that I was able to save. The reason I quantify that is because we really embarked on this as a mutual journey to really get inside of it. So I wanted to show you a clip, and then I was going tell you a little bit of how it got put together. If we could roll the clip.
(Video) SP: Today is sport. [Unclear] Radio: [Unclear] Christian soldiers. SP: We like to give these insurgents a fair chance. So, what we do, we ride with the windows down. Because, you know, we obviously have the advantage. I'm just kidding. We don't fucking ride with the goddam windows down. It's not true. Very unsafe. Whoa.
SP: It just looked like, you know, someone had thrown a quarter through a guy, and it was just like -- there was no blood coming from the shrapnel wounds. Everything was cauterized, and it was just like there was a void going through the body. This is the scene north. They just removed a burnt body, or half a body from here. I don't think there was anything left from his abdominal down. This is blood. And you know, you walk, and you hear the pieces of skin. And that's it, that's all that's left. I remember giving three IVs, bandaging several wounded. Soldiers sitting in the corner of a sandbag wall, shaking and screaming. Medics who were terrified and couldn't perform. I later heard that Iraqi casualties were not to be treated in Taji. They can work on the post for pennies, but can't die there. They've got to die outside. If one of those incompetent medical officers told me to stop treatment, I would've slit his throat right there. 21:00 hours, and it's just our squad going through today's events in our heads, whether we want to or not.
SP: We made the news. I feel exploited and proud at the same time. I've lost all faith in the media -- a hapless joke I would much rather laugh at than become a part of. I should really thank God for saving my lucky ass. I'll do that, then I'm gonna jerk off. Because these pages smell like Linds, and there won't be any time for jerking off tomorrow. Another mission at 06:00.
DS: Now -- (Applause) -- thanks. When I said earlier, to try and tell a story from the inside out, versus the outside in -- part of what Chris said so eloquently in his introduction -- is this melding. It's a new way of trying to make a documentary. When I met the guys, and 10 of them agreed to take cameras -- in total, 21 ended up filming. Five soldiers filmed the entire time. There are three featured in the film.
The way I learned about Taji was Steve Pink sent me an email, and in it, attached a photo of that burned body out at the car. And the tone from the email was, you know, it had been a very bad day, obviously. And I saw in my IM window that Mike Moriarty was at the base. So, I pinged Mike and I said, "Mike, can you please go get that interview with Pink?" Because the thing that very often is missing is, in the military what they call "hot wash." It's that immediate interview after something immediately happens, you know. And if you let time go by, it kind of softens and smooths the edges. And for me, I really wanted that.
So, in order to get the intimacy, to share that experience with you, the guys -- the two most popular mounts -- there was a camera on the turret, the gun turret, and then on the dashboard of the Humvee. Most of the Humvees, we ended up mounting two cameras in them. So you get to experience that in real time, right? The interview that you see is the one that Mike went and did within 24 hours of that episode happening.
Steve Pink reading his journal happened five months after he came home. I knew about that journal, but it was very, very private. And you know, you earn someone's trust, especially in doc filmmaking, through your relationship. So, it wasn't until five months after he was home that he would read that journal.
Now, the news footage I put in there to try to show -- you know, I think mainstream media tries to do the best they can in the format that they have. But the thing that I know you all have heard a lot of times, American soldiers saying, "Why don't they talk about the good stuff that we do?" OK, this is a perfect example. Pink's squad and another squad spent their entire day outside the wire. They didn't have to go outside the wire. There were not Americans hurt out there. They spent their entire day outside the wire trying to save Iraqi lives -- the Iraqis who work on the post. So, when you may hear soldiers complaining, that's what they're talking about, you know? And I think it's such an amazing gift that they would share this as a way of bridging.
And when I talk about that polarity I get at so many different Q&As, and people are really opinionated. But it seems like people don't want to hear so much, or listen, or try to have an exchange. And I'm as fiery as the next person, but I really think -- you know, different speakers have talked about their concern for the world, and my concern is that we have to have these conversations. And we have to be able to go into scary places where we may, you know, we think we know. But we just have to leave that little bit of openness, to know. There's such a disconnect. And for me, it's trying to bridge that disconnect. I'll share one story. I get -- I'm often asked, you know, for me, what have been some of the special moments from having worked on this film. And at screenings, inevitably -- you know, as I'm sure all of you obviously do speaking stuff -- usually you have people who hang around and want to ask you more questions. And usually, the first questions are, "Oh, what kind of cameras did you use?" Or you know, these things.
But there's always a few guys, almost always, who are the last ones. And I've learned over time that those are always the soldiers. And they wait until pretty much everybody's gone. And for me, one of the most profound stories someone shared with me, that then became my story, was -- for those of you who haven't seen the film, and it's not a spoiler -- it's very common there are a lot of civilian accidents, where people get in front of Humvees and they get killed. In this film, there is a scene where an Iraqi woman is killed. A soldier came up to me and stood, you know really, pretty close, a foot away from me. He's a big guy. And he looked at me, and I smiled, and then I saw the tears start welling up in his eyes. And he wasn't going to blink. And he said, "My gunner was throwing candy." And I knew what he was going to say. The gunner was throwing candy. They used to throw candy to the kids. Kids got too close, very often. And he said, "I killed a child. And I'm a father. I have children. I haven't been able to tell my wife. I'm afraid she's going to think I'm a monster." I hugged him, of course, and I said, you know, "It's going to be OK." And he said, "I'm going to bring her to see your film. And then I'm going to tell her."
So when I talk about a disconnect, it's not only for maybe those people who don't know a soldier, which there obviously are. You know, these days, it's not like World War II, where there was a war front and a home front, and everybody seemed involved. You can go for days here and not feel like there's a war going on. And often, I'll hear people say, who maybe know that I did this film, and they say, "Oh, you know, I'm against the war, but I support the soldiers." And I've started to ask them, "Well, that's nice. What are you doing? Are you volunteering at a VA? You go and see anybody? Do you, if you find out your neighbor's been, do you spend some time? Not necessarily ask questions, but see if they want to talk? Do you give money to any of the charities?" You know, obviously, like Dean Kamen's working on that amazing thing, but there's charities where you can sponsor computers for wounded soldiers.
I think, I challenge us to say -- to operationalize those terms, when we say we support someone, you know? Are you a friend to them? Do you really care? And I would just say it's my hope, and I would ask you guys to please, you know, reach out a hand. And really do give them a hug. Thank you.
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Filmmaker Deborah Scranton talks about and shows clips from her documentary The War Tapes, which puts cameras in the hands of soldiers fighting in Iraq.
The director of the award-winning documentary The War Tapes, Deborah Scranton is committed to using new technology to give people power to tell their own stories. Full bio »