Building a Future While Honoring the Past
By BRIAN IGLESIAS
In the city of Ar Ramadi Iraq, on the very first day of my second Iraq deployment, my unit was engaged in a nasty, eight-hour firefight. Needless to say it was not pleasant and not everyone in the battalion came home that day. That night I made a promise to myself that if I made it out of there, I will follow my dreams and make movies. In August of 2008, I decided to make good on that promise.
I soon found myself ‘over-qualified’ for entry-level work, and ‘under-experienced’ for mid-level work. I had a mortgage, a pregnant wife, and no job. I thought to myself, “What better time to cash out my retirement and make a movie?” I met Anton Sattler, fellow Marine Infantry Officer and decorated Iraq War vet on January 15, 2009 and we joined forces. Cameras began rolling 30 days later.
We cashed out retirement and life insurance accounts and jumped into the van with my college roommate Adam Ahlbrandt, and we hit the road. We slept in the van, on floors of family & friends, at VFW’s, American Legion Posts, and Marine Corps Leagues – often subsiding off military rations (MRE’s). When we ran out of money we would come home and work at the Marine Reserve Center or I would use my disability check (metal plate in the neck) to pay for the next trip. Over the course of eight months we would interview 186 veterans in 27 cities across 14 states. As fellow combat veterans, we forged a unique connection with the men we interviewed. We were proud to give them a gift 60 years overdue: an environment where they felt comfortable unburdening themselves of the intimately sad, horrific, funny, and triumphant moments from the most defining experience of their lives. Time and time again, these men told us stories that they had never told anyone...not their wives, their children, or their closest friends.
We spent the next five months in my spare bedroom, on a laptop computer, editing the film. During this time I was mobilized back to active duty to replace a deployed Reserve unit. So I would work all day for the Marines and spend my nights in the ‘dungeon,’ as we called it. We managed to record a live score and finish the film in 15 months, in time to premiere at the 2010 GI Film Festival where we won Best Documentary Feature.
Since we premiered at the GI Film Fest, there have been over 200 community screenings across the country. We have screened at museums, presidential libraries, veterans organizations, and movie theaters. CHOSIN was also used as part of the Department of Defense’s “Korea 60” campaign to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, as well as the official 60th anniversary commemoration events in Seoul, South Korea. Through a sponsorship from PepsiCo, we secured an Academy qualifying theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles. The DVD is now being sold online, in museums, and at military bases worldwide.
CHOSIN also saw its pay-TV premiere on EPIX in 2011, as well as release on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. The film garnered a 4.3-star average on Netflix from over 92,000 users, as well as over 150 written reviews, and spent over a year on the top-40 most-watched documentary list. On Amazon, CHOSIN has a 4.9-star average rating from 73 user reviews. CHOSIN will proudly see its cable premiere on The American Heroes Channel on Memorial Day 2014 (formerly The Military Channel). Four years after its premiere at the GI Film Festival, the documentary continues to build an audience, attract media coverage, and generate conversation.
Beyond the documentary, we have adapted the Chosin story into a two-part graphic novel that will be released in May 2014. Hold The Line is based on the true story of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. To The Sea was inspired by the true stories of Korean refugees who made their way through the battlefield to be evacuated by U.S. troops to the south.
The short animated film is adapted from the graphic novel and takes the viewer on a harrowing journey through Fox Company’s first night of combat. The film focuses on Private Billy French, who must prove his mettle as a Marine when Fox Company’s position is overrun by thousands of enemy troops in a surprise attack. The film is being produced in partnership with Hopr Studios (www.hopr.tv).
This journey has been both and honor and a privilege, and I must mention that our success was possible only through the help of a lot of great companies, friends, family, and fellow veterans. As the men of Chosin fade into history, their stories and the stories of their fallen brothers fade with them. Already, we have lost three of the veterans we had the privilege of interviewing. The importance of honoring these heroes during their lifetime is the driving force behind our mission to honor these heroes. This project ensures that their legacy is preserved for generations to come, a victory never to be forgotten. (www.thechosinproject.com)
*Chosin premieres on the American Heroes Channel (AHC) May 26, 2014 at 9/8c
Director of Veterans in Film & Television - New York.
President & CEO, Veterans Expeditionary Media (www.veteransinc.com), Brian Iglesias enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1995 and worked his way up to the rank of staff sergeant before attending film school at Temple University. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, and attended requisite officer training before meeting his unit in combat. He deployed twice to Iraq as an infantry platoon commander with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. He then deployed for operations in the Pacific before returning home to develop infantry training programs that have been implemented Marine Corps-wide. After 13 years of active duty, Iglesias joined the reserves, and currently holds the rank of major.
Brian has over ten years of experience from development through post-production on feature films, commercials, web content, live music events, and graphic novels. Since forming Veterans Expeditionary Media in 2009, he has produced four feature films, two graphic novels, and co-produced the New York City Veterans Day Parade for television. His company’s latest film, the Korean War documentary CHOSIN, was released in theaters, on television, DVD and VOD – and will also be retold as a graphic novel and animated feature film. Iglesias is a member of the Producers Guild of America.