By Steven Boyd Newman, MSG (R), SF
For the last five years I’ve been working on a screenplay, Kill or Capture, a true story about a team from 7th Special Forces Group. The men on this team and their story reached into my soul and took command of my thoughts, of my life. Their story launched me on a journey that led me to discover a great deal about myself as I struggled to answer the one question that seems to elude us all. “What makes a Green Beret special?”
Since I started working on their story, I have written a thousand pages of screenplay about their lives, about life as a soldier. This all started with my desire to see one of my books made into a film and so I adapted both of my books into screenplays. That took a great deal of effort. I spent hours and hours reading how-to-books, writing, researching the film industry. Let me tell you, the skills I learned in Operations & Intelligence course (O&I) came in handy. I went through before it became part of ANCOAC, but I digress. One lesson I would like to pass on… What we call “Operationalizing Intelligence” is called “Stalking” in the civilian world. Seems there is a fine line we shouldn’t cross. Who knew?
After seven months of full-time effort, I finished the first draft of their story. Shortly after that, I was on the phone with a friend in Los Angeles and I told him, “I’m done, stick a fork in me… I’ve got nothing left.” He simply replied, “Well Steve, there is always room for another Christmas story” and I was pissed. “I don’t write Christmas stories, I write war stories!” We chatted for a while longer as he tried to convince me, but after he hung up, I started thinking about it. I came to realize, Soldiers have Christmas. In fact, Christmas can be the most difficult time of year for the troops. It’s hard to be away from home in a war-torn land any time of year, let alone at Christmas. Some of us found it difficult to go home after returning from far off lands, especially at Christmas. Nobody understands, they’re so different. Nothing will ever be the same. I just can’t face them now.
In my research, I found inspiration from the Charles Dickens short story, “What Christmas is as We Grow Older”. (Dickens). So, I wrote a screenplay, One More Christmas, which is loosely based on Dickens’ work. My screenplay is a story about a wounded warrior who struggles with recovery until he finds true love and discovers his purpose in life. We all want the opportunity to go home, to see the people we love and care about the most. Some will get the chance, others won’t, but we’ve all been there, struggling with the decision. We’ve all struggled with the emotions that spring up during that time of year. It means something different to all of us, as was the case with our protagonist in One More Christmas. At least he had the chance, he had survived, but all he wanted was to get back to his unit, back on his team. Can anybody out there relate to that?
Long story short, I submitted One More Christmas and Kill or Capture to a screenwriting competition at the GI Film Festival in the summer of 2015. (GIFF 15) Kill or Capture didn’t get into the festival, but One More Christmas did, primarily because it fits perfectly into the festivals mission; which is dedicated to supporting the war to peace transition for veterans.
I was very proud of what I had accomplished and at this point, I had been writing for almost six years with some success. Nothing monumental, and I certainly hadn’t found a way of making a profit. Getting into the festival was a milestone of success and I wanted to celebrate. My way of doing that was to attend the festival and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was the first and last film festival I’ve attended. I went to every event. It was a lot of fun for many reasons, but one of the best reasons was I made a new friend. He is an SF Brother many of you may know, Kevin Knapp? In fact, there is a picture of him and me on the home page for the 2015 festival. Couple of barrel-chested freedom fighters out having fun.
Before I attended the festival, the organizers recommended that I join a group called, Veterans in Film and Television, LA. (VME) It was free for veterans and provided an opportunity to network with other veterans in the film industry. * Note VFTLA is now VME, Veterans in Media and Entertainment. Later I realized, having me sign up as a member of this non-profit was an easy way for the festival to vet me as a selectee. The good folks at VME asked for a DD-214 and I appreciated that. One thought, “I am who I say I am, nothing more and nothing less.” That said, I attended the festival and while there I met a bunch of film fans. I also met a great many producers, directors, actors… film makers in general and the experience was fantastic. One question I kept getting asked, “So you have a screenplay in the festival, what film school did you go to?” Well, I hadn’t been to film school and that seemed to be a non-starter for many. It meant I was an outsider, a nobody who just got lucky.
I like to think there was some talent involved, but the truth was, I hadn’t been to film school. So, I did a dangerous thing. I started thinking again. I started thinking about going back to school and that started me on another journey that seemed to give inspiration to a great many brothers and friends. I started film school at 53 years-old. I went to Oklahoma City Community College and received a Certificate of Mastery in Digital Cinema Production. Thank God for the Post 911 GI Bill.
Now, before you scoff at a community college in Oklahoma City, stop and think about this for a minute. I was taking classes from Oscar-winning producer, Gray Frederickson, God Father Part II. (Oscars) By the way, go to the link, Gray is the tall blonde headed guy in the video accepting the award on behalf of the crew. So… One of my first classes was screenwriting and when it was over, I rewrote Kill or Capture during the Christmas break, in the hope I might be able to submit if for consideration to other film festivals, or perhaps I might find a producer for it.
Fast forward to January 2016, I was back in school, learning cinematography, sound, lighting and spending a lot of time on Facebook. Just enjoying life in general. Oh, Facebook is the only way to keep up with kids these days. Anyway, I received a FB notice from VME… They were sponsoring a pitch fest for screenwriters at Lionsgate and were taking submissions; They wanted true stories about men, title and loglines only. A light bulb went off in my head. “Hey I have a story that fits those categories.” Therefore, I sent an email exactly in accordance with the instructions, something I learned to do in Phase I… you know, to follow instructions. I wrote, “Kill or Capture, a true story about a team of Green Berets and their Afghan Commandos who fought shoulder to shoulder against a hardened Taliban force.”
In February, I received an email asking for the specific setting and date. I wrote back, “Afghanistan – 2006.” That is all I wrote, nothing more, nothing less. Weeks passed, then on March 18th, 2016 I received a phone call from the founder of VME and she said in her whiskey-raspy voice like Janice Joplin, “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to pitch; can you be in Santa Monica on the 27th?” Without hesitation, I said “Sure!” I found out later that she was actually Angelina Jolie… I’ll save that one for our next visit to Charlie Mike. Tell it to you over a beer. Deal?
So, I called my wife at work and asked for permission to go… uhemmm…, I told her I was going to California. She said “Hold on, I’ll call you back.” I waited impatiently. Finally, she called and said, “Plane tickets are 1600 bucks, hotels are $500 a night.” That ruled out my trip… I’m sure she could hear the disappointment in my voice, but after a moment she said, “Hold on,” and hung up.
I waited all day, disappointed that I couldn’t go. Then she called back. “I have a plan. Lodging at the Los Angeles Air Force Base is only $60 a night, and we’ll drive.” Actually, what she meant was, “She would drive and I will sit there bored out of my mind the whole way.” I’m not sure how, but since I got remarried I have lost my privileges to my new wife who is always scared to death when I drive. I’m quick to remind her that, in my day, I had been through all kinds of tactical driving courses with SF, the State Department, 3cgi, even the Postal Service, you name it. Apparently, she doesn’t appreciate anti-lock brakes, or a good reverse out, J-turn with guns blazing. Hey, we’ve got to maintain our skills… right? I don’t know what her problem is.
Anyway… We went. I pitched. Then after waiting for six months I learned that we were selected out of over a thousand submissions and two dozen pitches at two separate pitch fests. We were selected for an opportunity to get Kill or Capture looked at by Lionsgate. I spent a year working with their acquisitions director just to prove I could write for them, and then another year and half working with the producer and director to figure it all out. In the meantime, I started a Master’s in Fine Art – Film program. Post 911 GI bill. Thank God, again!
I have spent the months since graduating in May, traveling the country, meeting all the guys who were on the team and rewriting the script and creating character descriptions, only to be asked by the folks in LA, “What makes this team, their story worthy of film versus any one of the other thousands of stories of valor and sacrifice emanating from this war?” I… I… I said; “Let me give it a think.” I know, dangerous thing to do, right? They weren’t challenging me by asking. I knew right away, they need to know the answers for their investors and well, I started working on the answers… It took me longer than I thought to come up with them.
A few days ago, I came across a Ted Talk . . . Love those, don’t you? I came across this Ted Talk , by a psychologist who sought to define what makes people successful and she came to the conclusion that it was grit. “What makes a child successful is not social intelligence, not good looks, not IQ, it is grit. It takes grit to become successful. Grit is passion and perseverance in achieving long-term goals. Grit is having stamina, sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. Grit is working really, really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life-like it is a marathon not a sprint.” (TED)
Here is part of my answer. Green Berets demonstrate grit by following through on their commitments. They understand failure is not a permanent condition. A Green Beret is a leader. He has tested himself against the most difficult challenges the Army has to offer and he moves through life with confidence in his own abilities, even if he stands alone. He knows that no matter how bad things get, he always has that little something extra to give. He has the ability and desire to go the extra mile. He loves his country and his fellow Soldier. He is a warrior, comfortable in his own skin. He is a quiet professional. (Quiet, not silent.)
But what makes this team and their story worthy of film? Well, this is a true story about the sacrifices for one another made by the men on a team of Green Berets. If not for their individual heroic actions and dedication to each other, the team would have been overrun. With fearless personal example they inspired their Afghan brothers to continue the fight against overwhelming odds. After defeating a multitude of determined enemy attacks, saving the lives of their comrades and preventing the destruction of the team, they lead their Afghan brothers to safety in order to live and fight another day. This is the true story of a Special Forces team, a team of Green Berets in combat. But that’s not the complete answer.
What makes their story worthy of film? These men exemplify the warrior spirit and once again prove that one man with courage can make a difference. Let me reiterate that. These men had the courage to stand up against overwhelming odds and make a difference. A difference in not only their lives, but in the lives of many, many people, most of whom will never know or understand what they did or why. That is what makes their story worthy of film. That is what makes their story so compelling to me. That is why I have spent five years, sustained only by hope, working on their story, working to bring it to life on the big screen. And you know what? It might just happen if we have the grit to see it through. It has only been five years, that’s smoking it from what I hear.
One last word, all you brothers out there sitting in your basement under a lamp in your underwear cruising the internet and eating Cheetos need to stop complaining about this generation of millennials. You need to get off your asses, get some sunshine and learn to live a little. They got this if you’ll have their backs. If you don’t believe me, just wait till Kill or Capture comes out, you’ll see.
Dickens, Charles. http://www.free-short-stories.org.uk/charles-dickens-what-christmas-is-as-we-grow-older.htm. n.d. 15 August 2018.
GIFF 15. http://giff15.com/screenwriting-competition/. 18 May 2015. 15 08 2018.
VME. http://www.vftla.org/veteran/steven-b-newman#.W3RLgpNKiu4. n.d. LA Veterans in Film and Television. 15 08 2018.
Oscars. The Godfather Part II Wins Best Picture: 1975. n.d. Frederickson Gray. 08 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=3p5Pktqkq4Q>.
TED. Angela Lee Duckworth / Ted Talk Education, Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. n.d. TED. 15 2018. <https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance>.
Pulling security at Camp Price, Afghanistan, August 11, 2007. U.S. Army Photo by Specialist David Gunn.
Steven Boyd Newman is an accomplished writer with a lifetime of real-world experience to draw from. His perspective as a Green Beret combat veteran brings truth and realism to the characters he creates. He is a screenwriter and filmmaker who reveals the heart and spirit of our nations’ greatest warriors and shows them for who they really are; the young men and women who grew up next door and went on to become something extraordinary.
A graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course, Steven served 21 years in the Green Berets. He holds a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration from Columbia College where he graduated Cum Laude while still on active duty. He has also gained a Certificate of Mastery in Digital Cinema Production from Oklahoma City Community College where he studied film production under Oscar-winning Film Producer, Gray Frederickson, “God Father Part II.” Steven also holds a Masters in Fine Art – Film, from Watkins College of Art in Nashville, TN where he graduated Cum Laude in May 2018. Steven currently resides in Tennessee where he continues to write about life as a soldier while helping others, especially veterans, achieve their creative dreams.