LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 09: Contessa Brewer, David Gale, Scott Williams and J.R. Martinez speak at Hollywood Bridging The Military Civilian Divide at Paramount Pictures on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Marc Flores/Getty Images for Syracuse University)

LOS ANGELES, CA – Syracuse University and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families hosted a “Creating and Telling the Stories of Service and Sacrifice” panel at Paramount Studios on Thursday, February 9th to discuss ways Hollywood bridges the military and civilian divide.

Brian Frons, Television Executive and Syracuse University ’78 alum, opened the event by thanking the members of the Veterans in Film and Television group in the audience. He explained that the goal of the evening was to talk about ways the television and film industry can tell the stories of veterans to help the American public understand the challenges they and their families face. He then introduced Syracuse University’s 12th Chancellor and President Kent Syverud. President Syverud told the audience about Syracuse University’s long and storied commitment to the military, dating back to 1918. The G.I. Bill opened the doors to veterans, giving them access to education, research, and innovative programming. The Military Times named Syracuse University the #1 private school in the country and the #3 overall for service members, military veterans, and their families.

Moderator Contessa Brewer (Syracuse University ’96 alum, NBC Reporter, former MSNBC Anchor) introduced the panelists for the discussion: J.R. Martinez (Actor and Veteran), Scott Williams (Executive Producer, NCIS), and David Gale (Former President, MTV Films and Founder, We Are The Mighty).

The panel discussed the importance of raising awareness of the uniqueness of military culture. J.R. Martinez explained it’s important to get past the uniform and see the human being. “A veteran is more than a veteran. A veteran is a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. There are dangers in stereotyping; we need to understand who they are as a person.” He also felt there’s not enough being done to highlight PTSD (post-tramatic stress disorder) or TBI (traumatic brain injury) the challenges and hardships they face when veterans come home. “Yes, they are heroes for what they did overseas and on that battlefield, and they’re still heroes when they come home, but they’re dealing with injuries and mental distress. Those stories are the ones that need to be told to help eliminate military stereotypes.”

“The way to reach the television and movie audience is to create entertainment,” David Gale explained. “Let veterans tell their stories, because if you let them tell their stories, they become the filmmakers and creators and they become three dimensional. The American public starts to see them not as just people who go to war.”

Scott Williams told the audience that they currently have around 100 veterans in the NCIS crew working as grips, camera operators, construction, etc. “When they cast actors playing military personnel, it would be nice to have a little addendum stating that military experience would be preferred. If I have actors who know how to speak (Navy terminology), it helps a ton. It’s nice to have veterans around for authenticity and inspiration.”

Dr. Michael Haynie, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, and Executive Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University closed the evening by explaining that programs like this one are one of the ways, in addition to programs or research policy and scholarship, that SU and IVMF are working to change the narrative the public has around veterans and the military community.

Syracuse University Los Angeles is a satellite office for the upstate New York school. Their mandate is to engage with the local alumni and bring students and alumni together enhancing the experience for both student and alumni. The office also includes an admissions office, a development office, and an LA Semester office – in conjunction with the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications and the College of Visual and Performing Arts – a semester program for juniors and seniors to come to LA and intern in the entertainment industry and take classes with industry professionals.