|WHERE TO LOOK
For a comprehensive overview of the Corps, your best bet is to go straight to the source. the Marine Corps Web site covers history, culture, ranks, careers, you name it.
If you’re looking for something a little simpler, the Unofficial Dictionary for Marines can help you differentiate your sally port from your Sam Browne in seconds.
For firsthand accounts from the few, the proud, etc., Milblogging.com is a repository featuring over 2200 military blogs. If you’re looking for something specific, it’ll be a bit of a search, but an interesting one.
But according to James Devers, if you really want to understand the Marines, you need to understand their esprit de corps, so to speak. “It’s not about modern day,” he insists. “It’s about history. It’s about leadership.”
Dever strongly recommends writers investigate the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, a comprehensive bibliography covering everything from Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers to Elbert Hubbard’s A Message to Garcia to Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000.
Says Dever: “I recommend these books because you can find out where leadership comes from where the individual himself will rise up and do his job.”
Written by Denis Faye
A common Hollywood cliché is the portrayal of Marines as mindless killing machines, content in their sole task of protecting America against WWII German and Japanese troops, aliens and killer robots. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that underneath the camouflage and green grease paint, they’re human beings.
“People always think that you break the glass and out comes a Marine from the case,” says Sergeant Major James Dever USMC (Ret), “Well, we live the same life everyone else does.”
Dever, who participated in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as operations in Cambodia and Vietnam, is now a top military advisor for film, television and video games, through his company 1 Force Inc. His consulting resume includes Jarhead [Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr.], Flags of Our Fathers [Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Paul Haggis], Valkyrie [Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander], X-Men Origins: Wolverine [Screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods], Heroes and Terminator Salvation [Screenplay by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris].
Recently, Dever bravely sacrificed his lunch break while on the set of The Last Airbender [Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan] in Philadelphia to chat with Technically Speaking about how Marines are represented on the screen, what it might take to better represent them and why boot camp isn’t as tough as it used to be.
What differentiates Marine culture from the other armed forces?
For one, we’re the smallest unit. Right now, we’re 175,000 strong. That’s why, with any small unit, you get to keep the best. You get the quality and not the quantity. We have a 12-week boot camp. A lot of the other services have a 9-week boot camp. And because we’re a smaller unit, you get a lot more time working with the individuals.
What does Hollywood get right when it comes to portraying the Marine Corps?
What they get right is the way they look and the way they’re acting. You see how Marines look. They’re not overweight and in the way they stand and the way they present themselves.
And what do they get wrong?
What I see wrong is that we’re not a bunch of not-caring killers. It’s not like we don’t care about the situation or that we have no heart.
Maybe that misconception comes from the whole boot camp thing, like in Full Metal Jacket. I assumed that the compassion was sort of drilled out of Marines so they can be killing machines.
Boot camps from different periods were like that. Boot camp instructors are actors, too. They have to do that because they have to break down the individual and build him back up. Boot camp back in the Vietnam time and when I entered was like that, like in Full Metal Jacket [Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford]. But the boot camp you saw in the ‘90s, 2000s and now and is completely different. The instructors can yell, but they can’t curse. The structure of the physical training is still the same, but you can’t curse and, of course, you could never choke out anybody like they did in Full Metal Jacket. If they get caught doing that, they get court-marshaled.
What are some of your favorite movies about the Marines?
Old ones or new ones? I totally enjoyed the Sands of Iwo Jima [Screenplay by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant] with John Wayne. Even though inaccurate in different ways, it was nice to show that the Sergeant had his problems, yet he was still compassionate to his Marines. Also, Halls of Montezuma [Written by Michael Blankfort] with Richard Widmark was a good movie showing the Lieutenant caring for his rifle platoon.
Full Metal Jacket was two movies. I enjoyed both, but I enjoyed the first one more.
And the movies I worked on. Flags of our Fathers showed the Marines the way they were when they’re young. The big thing about that was showing the Navy Corpsman, what his job is. What a lot of people don’t understand is that, in the Army, they have their own medics in their own units. In the Marine Corps, we get Navy Corpsmen and they become part of the team.
How about a few you didn’t like?
Movies that I think didn’t play Marines right? A Few Good Men [Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin]. There are parts that are good and parts that are bad. But I thought it was portraying the young Marines wrong. It portrayed them as being stupid and killing that one Marine and the Colonel [played by Jack Nicholson] being the way he was. It portrayed the Marines like they do anything they want.
What would you like to see, just once, in a movie about the Marines?
Just showing that it’s not easy being a Marine. You have a family life. We go to work in the morning, we train and then we go home and have the same problems as everybody else does -- bills, payments, girlfriends or wives and kids.
What advice do you have for a writer working on a script about the Marines?
Just that they get it right; how a marine would go through boot camp; how, if he wanted to stay in the Marine Corp, he would develop from a young boy to a man; how he would learn from his seniors and pick up different things. And you take the good knowledge from the good Corporals and good Sergeants and good Staff Sergeants and good First Sergeants. Hopefully, you’ll have their knowledge when you take over their commands.