For all of the military-themed movies and TV shows that Hollywood loves to churn out, very few of them actually speak to the people themselves who serve, or have served, in the Armed Forces. Part of the problem is authenticity. Details, even minor ones, that don’t reflect absolute reality, can cause servicemen and women to squirm in their seats.
"For the military viewing audience, if it’s not authentic, it takes them out of the experience," says Greg Bishop of Musa Productions. "They’ll spend the entire time looking at the uniforms that are screwed up and not listening to the story. It would be like a forensics person watching CSI. If it wasn’t right, they’d be like, ‘Oh, I can’t watch this.’"
Musa, which means "warrior" in Korean, was founded in 2009 by Bishop, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, and Brian Chung, who was an Army Captain when he got "banged up a little bit" in Iraq, forcing him to end his military career early. Both men met while working in the Army’s Entertainment Liaison Office in Los Angeles, where they consulted on Hollywood productions such as Transformers, Dear John, and G.I. Joe, helping producers make sure that, yes, military uniforms, were faithfully duplicated, and that bigger issues related to plot and tone were on target. Musa, which is represented by WME, provides similar consulting services, but is also producing and licensing its own content—specifically, the kind of content that will resonate with what Chung calls the "warrior community": "Active duty reservists, families, law enforcement officers, and all those 14- and 15-year-old kids who look up to that community and who are at home playing Call of Duty and just love that genre."
As of Veteran’s Day, a lot of that content is available online via the The All Warrior Network, a broadband channel that serves as a one-stop-shopping destination for anyone looking to immerse themselves in everything from a John Wayne documentary; to a comedic web series about action figures talking about their problems (Action Figure Therapy); to a "very 24-ish," said Chung, series made by a former Korean officer.
The network, which also exists on Hulu and YouTube, "covers the gamut from really light-hearted, funny, soldier humor to very inspiring, high-production-value, great, visual documentaries," said Chung.
But all of it is specifically tailored to an audience that the Musa partners feel has been grossly underserved by Hollywood, which tends to both over-simplify and over-politicize the military experience. The exception being a film like Black Hawk Down, which the military embraced for focussing on themes like loyalty and valor. (Don’t even get them started on The Hurt Locker.)
On AWN, "There will be no liberal or conservative bias," said Bishop. "Will we touch on reality? Yes. Touch on post-traumatic stress? Yes. But are we going to politicize what we do? No."
"People have this assumption that if you serve in the military that you’re this Southern Baptist, hard-core Republican," added Chung. "That’s not the case. The military is just a cross-section of America. Yes, there are people that have very strong political opinions, but that’s on both ends. You’re going to have strong liberals and strong conservatives, but once that bullet goes through your head, those guys will fight to the death for each other. At that point, nothing matters.
"And I think what we saw was, whether it was from the left or from the right, I think certain filmmakers may have had an agenda that is nothing to do with the warrior agenda, which is to be loyal to your brothers and sisters. And our agenda is that: it’s about the brothers and sisters and the people that support them."
AWN’s programming is handled entirely by Musa. But the channel itself is operated by TV4 Entertainment, a company that is "packaging networks and super-distributing them out across the Internet and mobile," according to TV4 founder and CEO Jonathan Cody.
A former senior staff member to FCC chairman Michael Powell, Cody spent seven years working at News Corp. helping the company build its digital media infrastructure (he was involved in creating the first iteration of Hulu), before he decided to go solo. Last summer, he said that he "locked himself in an office and said, ‘What’s happening in the web video space?’
"I came to the conclusion that what you’re seeing is the fourth generation of television in the U.S. You had broadcast with three channels, cable with 30, pay TV with 300, and what we call broadband TV with capacity for what? 3,000? A lot.
"And yet there weren’t a lot of people pulling together or programming networks or channels. So it was kind of like 1979 in the cable business, where all of a sudden you had 30 slots on your dial but you didn’t yet have MTV or CNN.
And so he created TV4 to become one of those suppliers. The company focuses on what Cody calls "passion-driven verticals," i.e., "genres that people were intensely passionate about that had a worldwide potential, but that were poorly served by traditional TV."
Its first launch was a documentary channel called DocComTV on Hulu. With AWN, it’s tapping another niche audience with deep engagement. Cody says he hopes to have new 10 channels by the end of the year.
Partnering with companies like Musa allows TV4 to get it right when it comes to serving those niches. Cody said that when he and his team first starting thinking about creating a channel that served the military, they considered calling it Vet’s Net. Then they met Bishop and Chung, who said, "You guys are idiots. We don’t even like to be called veterans!"
"So when we’re sitting around the table, we come up with Vet’s Net. When military guys are sitting around the table, they come up with the All Warrior Network," Cody said. "So it kind of proved a point to us."
[Image: Flickr user The U.S. Army | Daniel Liddicoet]