From time to time I’ll be interviewing fellow filmmakers who I think are doing something really unique. People I know personally, and may have collaborated with. All of these filmmakers are on their own path, telling their own tales, and inspiring me.
First up – Jay Peterson. If you’ve seen any of my recent work you’ve seen my friend Jay. He was the Lord of the Faire in ”Snow, Glass, Apples”, and most recently played Sir Castaway in “The Jules Verne Project.”
Jay is a United States Marine (machine gunner by trade) with combat tours in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, and Now Zad, Afghanistan, and a tour at sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in his recent past. He is also a documentary filmmaker (JUST BLANKS
), fight choreographer (stage and screen), martial arts trained, and one hell of an actor (I recently saw Jay perform two roles in “As You Like It” – one with a flawless french accent). He is also a weapons and armor designer - mostly with leather and knives. And on occasion works as a military or tactical adviser.
(Jay as Lord of the Faire in “Snow, Glass, Apples”)
He’s also a husband, and in film school. Recently, I saw a post of Jay’s that was less than thrilled with a class the angle his teacher took on a certain war film. I wanted to give Jay the opportunity to speak about war films and marine characters vs the real life experience. This isn’t a session to bash the industry we are both passionate about and work in, but to recognize its shortcomings and – for me – to highlight a talented filmmaker who is working to change that – and give us a fresh persepctive.
LISA - What do you think, of what you’ve seen, is the best play or film or character to represent the soldier or marine (any era, any genre…) and why?
JAY – Shakespeare’s Henry V, bar none. And it’s not just for the St. Crispin’s Day speech, lovely though that piece is. I can’t think of a single person affected by a war that doesn’t have a counterpart in that play. You have world leaders like Henry, who play chess with countries. You have professional warriors like Exeter, who have a job to do and set to it. You have folk like Bardolph, Nym and Pistol, who are in it for the glory or the opportunity or the lack of anything better to do. You have the boy, who has no clue what he’s getting into, but knows it’s the most exciting thing to happen in his life and he doesn’t want to miss it. And then you have Mistress Quickly, who has to watch her man walk out the door knowing it may well be the last time she sees him alive, and there’s not a damn thing she can do about it except keep the tears from falling until he’s out of earshot. Every time I read or see that play I discover something new there.
LISA - What do you think is the film/tv industry’s biggest misconception about soldiers, marines or war (in films/shows that are marketed as being realistic)?
JAY – In recent years, and particularly in shows that feature Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s the complete inability to have a military character as anything but a villain or a victim. It’s not the outright hatred that many of the Vietnam Vets experienced, but the industry’s reaction to those fighting the War on Terror has almost overwhelmingly been one of pity. With very few exceptions, the industry’s depiction of current servicemembers and veterans has been one of “The poor bastard. Signed up for the college money and forced to fight for the Big Bad Bush.” I can intellectually understand “support the troops, not the war,” but when the same thing crops up again and again, it’s hard to see as anything more than patronizing and insulting.
Running a close second is using PTSD and TBI as a cheap source of drama. Both are very misunderstood and highly stigmatized conditions, and they’re being used as a quick reason for story conflict more and more often nowadays.
LISA – Is there any issue in regards to the experience of being marine that you think films/tv and theater largely ignore, but you would like to see addressed?
JAY – The fact that heroes do exist. I’m not asking for Jingoism. But to say that Iraq and Afghanistan hasn’t seen extraordinary acts of heroism is willful ignorance at best. People like Brian Chontosh, Dakota Meyer, Mike Monsoor, Paul Smith, Salvatore Giunta, Jared Monti, Michael Murphy and dozens more have some incredible stories that just aren’t being told.
LISA - Overall, what grade would you give the current slate of marine or war films/tv and why? JAY – Currently, a C-minus. A number of them are clumsy antiwar films that appropriately suffered at the box office. The Hurt Locker did a wonderful job with the feel and mood of both being in a war zone and coming to grips with life at home, then spoiled it with a storyline and character choices that were frankly ridiculous.
There are a handful of gems in the dunghill, though. Generation Kill was a very well-done story on the initial invasion of Iraq. Act Of Valor is an odd duck. It’s one of the most intense portrayals of modern combat out there. But as a film, it suffers storywise by the fact that it doesn’t have actors. It has actual Navy SEALS playing archetypes rather than characters or even themselves.
LISA - What is your favorite genre of film and why?
JAY – I really don’t have absolute favorites. If a story looks interesting I’ll bounce into almost any genre. I’ll admit that 80′s sword & sorcery films are a shameless guilty pleasure of mine.
LISA – Favorite films?
JAY – The Warrior’s Way, The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, Le Pacte Des Lupes, and the original Conan The Barbarian
LISA – What themes are important to you in your work? JAY – Not to steal from Shakespeare more shamelessly, but suiting the action to the word. Any time a character fights, it’s for a reason that’s important to them. I love being able to fit that into an actor’s take on a character, that it just becomes a part of how the story gets told.
LISA - What do you have up online currently people can see?
LISA – What’s next for you?
JAY – I’m working on a pair of short films at the moment: an action piece called Charged and a black comedy called Bad Bad things. Both of them look to be a lot of fun, so we’ll see what happens there.
LISA - You wear many hats, my friend. Is there anyone in particular that you enjoy the most? (actor, director, etc)
JAY – More than anything else, I love choreographing fights. At the end of the day, my preferred paintbrushes are human bodies and various weapons. Not to say that acting or writing or weapons and armor-making aren’t a lot of fun, but bringing fights to life is where my passion really lies.
LISA - Anything else you would like to add?
JAY – Give me an open line like that and I’ll never shut up, hon.
(Jay as the Castaway in “The Jules Verne Project”)