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May 12, 2011

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On the Ground: May 12, 2011

by K. Tsetsi

–by Kristen Tsetsi

Guest Spotlight On Hollywood

Recently, LIFT shared a three-question poll for military families that was designed to help interested Hollywood parties learn more about the needs of military families so they could more effectively participate in the Joining Forces initiative.

“I might be wrong,” wrote a LIFT follower on Twitter in response to our link to the survey, “but I don’t trust the sincerity of Hollywood toward the military.”

Whether greater Hollywood’s sincerity can be trusted is probably as difficult to gauge as whether anyone else’s–a politician’s, a business owner’s, etc.–sincerity can be trusted. It isn’t unusual for businesses, corporations, and individuals in the public eye to make their causes and charitable contributions known to the public. They want consumer loyalty, and they want it to be known that they’re giving back to communities and around the world. Regardless of the motivation, they’re making a difference.

 Contributing to the doubts people have about the sincerity of charitable efforts is not knowing the people involved and what moves them to help. Today, LIFT provides the rare opportunity to meet one of them. The creator of the poll, the facilitator of the communication between military families and Hollywood, is Gregory Bishop, a recently retired Army Lieutenant Colonel–who works in Hollywood, and who has been following Joining Forces since he first learned it was “in the works.”

“We expected it to spark some interest in this town and the advertising world, and it certainly has,” Bishop says. “The Joining Forces campaign has done its job getting people motivated to do something.”

And Bishop knows a lot about “this town”–or, Hollywood.

His last job in the Army before his October 1, 2010 retirement was as an Army liaison to the entertainment business. He contributed as a consultant to the television series Army Wives (“[The uniforms] in the first season of ‘Army Wives’ were horrible. Once the military got involved, there was much better accuracy,” Bishop says), movies such as Dear John, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, and the video game Medal of Honor.

“We work with actors to help them understand the responsibility of having them portray a soldier,” Bishop says, explaining that every possible mannerism is covered. “How do soldiers talk, walk, move with a weapon, walk when they’re in uniform? How do they carry themselves? A lot of actors, most I’ve worked with, are all very respectful and they understand it’s a responsibility to portray them accurately.”

Dear John‘s Channing Tatum was no exception. “He wanted to look like a poster child for the U.S. Army,” Bishop says.

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Image property of tengossip.com

Insider fun: If you’ve seen Dear John, you probably remember the scene involving Dear John‘s John and his fellow troops standing up at their base in Germany and, one by one, saying, “Permission to extend,” upon learning of the September 11 attacks.
 
That wasn’t how it was written in the script.
 
 
“It said ‘permission to reenlist’ in the original script,” Bishop says. He first explained to the powers that be that soldiers probably wouldn’t stand up one by one to reenlist the way they did in the scene. Additionally, their reenlistment schedules weren’t likely to coincide so that they could all reenlist at the same time, even if they wanted to.

But, Bishop says, they really wanted that scene. They wanted to show the unity and brotherhood of the soldiers.

“The most realistic way of having that come across was to change the word ‘reenlist’ to ‘extend,'” Bishop says.

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After retiring, Bishop became a partner with retired Army Captain Brian Chung in MUSA Military Entertainment Consulting (“Helping the entertainment industry get it right, so the drama becomes real”). He’s been there just over a year and has worked on a couple of TV commercials, has been a consultant for advertising agencies, and has worked on the Lifetime show Coming Home, a series inspired by videos posted on YouTube of surprise reunions between deployed service members and their families.

Musa is also working with a major consumer brand in Hollywood that wants to get involved in Joining Forces.

“We’re trying to do an assessment of what’s available to military families now,” Bishop says. “The bottom line is that the military has a policy or a brochure or an office that can pretty much help you with just about everything. We’re trying to identify the gaps. What are the gaps between what’s already being done by the military, the government, nonprofit organizations, etc.? We’re finding job opportunities, education, and childcare are three really big ones. Also, just general helping spread awareness and appreciation to the rest of the population about military families.”

Bishop, an enthusiastic advocate of the Joining Forces initiative, visited the site to gather information for the consumer brand, but had some difficulty finding what he–and any civilian company desirous of getting involved–needs.

For instance, what are the legal restrictions? Bishop says that as a former Army LTC, he knows there are some things a civilian entity can’t do. There are certain restrictions on military bases, and it would be helpful, he says, for the Joining Forces site to list certain ethics regulations regarding what can and cannot be given to troops and their families.

“Before you decide to give a Lexus to every family, there are rules about what you can do and can’t do,” Bishop says.

The only–and major–hindrance to the Joining Forces campaign seems to be its website.

Bishop says he spent at least twenty minutes navigating the site in search of answers before finally posting a list of questions on the Joining Forces Facebook page and then following up with the questionnaire.

“I don’t remember finding a ‘contact us’ link, and that’s why I went to the Facebook page,” Bishop says. “I don’t want to knock the effort. I think the campaign is great. I just think companies need a little bit more hand-holding on the cultural nuances of supporting military families.”

He adds that the “how you can help” and “how you can get involved” section is a bit vague. (LIFT’s TMarie observed similar issues on her visit to the Joining Forces website and addressed them in LIFT’s debut “On the Ground” column.)

“People want to do something,” Bishop says. “They just need help trying. They need to know what their limits are–what they can they do, what they can’t do.”
 

The “can” and the “can’t” still in question, the consumer brand now at least has some idea of what is wanted or needed. Bishop was able to present them with over 300 responses to the questionnaire.

It is his belief that less direct measures will also be a boon to troops and their families: movies and TV, whose honest portrayals of the military/military family experiences can educate and elicit empathy from the public.

“I think the average American cinema-goer is ready for an old-school war movie, maybe one that talks about the challenges at home, etc. But they’re ready to see their troops depicted as they are: courageous,” Bishop says. “And their families as what they are, as family service members. They’re not active duty service members, but they are serving right alongside their spouses. The time is right to do that, and that’s why we have some projects we’re developing.”

One of which is a reality show, whose details he wouldn’t get into. Will it be anything like “Jersey Shore”?

“Hell, no,” he says.

If the Joining Forces campaign can interest Hollywood in the stories of military families that will then interest civilians in participating in Joining Forces, what can military families, themselves, do to help make the campaign a success?

Bishop says only, “Be gracious acceptors of good will.”

FOLLOW-UP:

LIFT contacted Bishop a few days after the completion of the interview to get an update on the progress of his client’s participation in Joining Forces.

LIFT: Having now delivered the results of your survey to the consumer brand wanting, what’s the next step? Have they already contacted someone at Joining Forces?

BISHOP: We had a great brainstorming session to develop some creative ideas for the company. The next step is to take those ideas to the company leadership and see what they like.

Joining Forces doesn’t appear to be an effort for specific action, but rather a rallying cry to the nation to get involved. They are making people aware of the need, using their political and celebrity clout to further an important cause. And at that level, that’s about all they can do. It’s up to the 99% of our population that don’t serve to step up and care for those who do. Kudos to the First Lady for getting behind this cause.

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“On the Ground” is a new effort by LIFT to provide an ongoing
discussion of the Joining Forces initiative from the military family perspective.

 
 

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