Memorial: Letters From American Soldiers

Home town press covers Gary and Oscar Nom for MEMORIAL

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How I came to edit an Academy Award nominated documentary:

We had recently completed editing Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam for HBO. The film had a remarkably successful run that included 2 Emmy awards, dozens of film festival awards, and a screening at Cannes Film Festival, the first-ever doc so honored.  So eventually HBO made a deal to let it be broadcast on NBC. 

However, with a television broadcast comes the need for a precise length to exactly fill a broadcast slot, in this case – 2 hours (minus time for commercials of course)  Since precise length is something HBO (and cable in general) couldn’t care less about, there was the problem of an 19 additional minutes of program needed.  Bill the director pitched NBC the idea of a new, additional short doc, taking the idea of ‘letters from soldiers’ and applying it to every US major war from WW1 to Kuwait.  NBC gave the green light but needed the new piece in 6 weeks.  No one expected much.  We just went to work and did the best we could with no time to waste.

6 weeks later, in the video on-line session completing the master, we saw what we had.  We all were stunned.  It was powerful, really something!  Impulsively I predicted that it would be nominated for an Oscar.  I remember the on-line editor laughing – a short network filler piece? How could I even imagine such a thing?

How, indeed!

Sidenote: Shortly after the Oscar nominations were announced, a reporter who was the entertainment writer for my home town local newspaper of Riverside, CA called me on the phone for an interview.  I kept explaining that I was just the editor, “I have not been nominated, it is the film and the producer who gets the honors.”  I begged him specifically, “Please make sure the Director’s name is featured before mine in the article. You could ruin my career if you don’t!”

Well, my words didn’t have much effect.  Luckily, Bill the Director didn’t see it and so he was still speaking to me on the night of the Awards ceremony.  As I walked up the red carpet to enter the Oscar ceremony, the steady click-click-click of the cameras of the gathered press photographers of the world went dead silent for me as I passed.  Then, as befits the prestige of being the Editor of an Oscar-nominated documentary, I was seated in the 5th balcony up, the highest, most distant possible area, true nose-bleed seats.  I didn’t mind one bit.  I had edited a second film to be nominated for an Oscar.    I was 35 years old.  It all felt so wonderful to me.

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