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Veterans, soldiers learn show biz with ABC

Dec. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
ABC home for the holidays campaign
ABC home for the holidays campaign: This holiday season, in support of Heroes Work Here, ABC is giving U.S. veterans a chance to follow their dreams of working in the entertainment industry. Video courtesy ABC
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Five Army veterans and current soldiers got the chance to write, direct and produce their own films for ABC television during the network’s November and December “Home for the Holidays” campaign — an initiative that encourages supporting and hiring veterans.

The four- to six-minute digital short films, which are available online, focus on soldiers and veterans; from a deployed mom whose little girl misses her, to a wounded soldier who is determined to have a dance with his crush by Christmas, despite his missing legs.

Rebecca Murga, a captain in the Army Reserve, has served two overseas deployments, one to Iraq and another to Afghanistan. She said she was inspired to write her script for the digital short “The Letter” after talking to and meeting deployed moms during her tours.

“Being deployed is a very different experience when you are a mom,” Murga said. “For them it was very difficult to leave (their) child behind ... I really wanted to tell the story of those moms who leave their kids behind to go to war.”

Her film, about a little girl asking Santa for her mom to come home from deployment for Christmas, debuted on ABC.com on Nov. 15.

The veterans worked with show biz professionals during the making of their films. Murga was mentored by Jeannine Renshaw, an executive producer for “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Donna Bachler, a prior enlisted soldier who got out of the Army as a first lieutenant, was mentored by Dee Johnson an executive producer for the show “Nashville.” Bachler’s film, “A Homecoming,” is about a veteran who can’t wait for the return of his best friend, a soldier he served with.

Bachler said her film is meant to give civilians a sense of “the awkwardness of trying to reconnect,” something service members experience after returning from deployments.

ABC also hired veterans to work on the films, including some of the actors and some of the work crews.

“It was incredible,” Bachler, said of the experience. “To get to the point from being no one (in the film making business), to having an actor speak the words that you wrote ... .”

The idea for the films came from Mary Jo Smith, creative director of comedy and alternative programming at ABC Entertainment Marketing. Smith was inspired by Colin Wells, one of the veteran filmmakers, whose family she knew personally. Smith said that each filmmaker had an unique, individual experience to share about their service.

She said she was overwhelmed by how grateful the veterans were to get the opportunity to make their films, but that she would say to them “I accept your thanks, but this is really about saying thanks to you.”

“We do need to celebrate our veterans, not just on the holidays, but every day of the year,” Smith said. “To celebrate all of the things veterans bring to the workplace.”

Smith said ABC is are trying to recognize the hard work of veterans who she says are responsible, dependable and can lead as well as take orders.

“All of that makes a good employee in any company,” Smith said.

When she brought up the idea to ABC, the company was receptive and the idea spread, with many shows on the network wanting to honor veterans, Smith said.

On Dec. 13 the network will premiere on their website “A Homecoming,” the last film in the digital shorts series. ABC will also honor service members through veteran-centered programming all-day, Smith said. The network has also cast veterans on their shows, and worked military themes into their programming throughout the campaign.

Murga said that having the opportunity to work with the pros at ABC gave her the hope that a career as a filmmaker is possible.

“For me, it meant the world,” Murga said, “To be able to say ‘Hey, this is something I can do.’”

Murga said that when they return from deployment veterans have a lot of skills, but they are not sure how to apply them in the civilian workforce.

“What ABC did was to kind of give us a little road map,” Murga said, adding that sometimes vets just need “a little step in the right direction.”

The films, including the other three films in the series, “Yellow Ribbon,” “Laughter Under Fire,” and “The Dance,” can be seen at http://abc.go.com/holidays.

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