Whether or not you know it as Severe Clear or This is War, Kristian Fraga’s documentary film about the experiences of one young marine serving for America in a post 9-11 world is strong stuff. That marine, Mike Scotti, carried a video camera with him into war, and it’s his footage that makes up the film’s content, as edited by Fraga.
I spoke to Mike Scotti. Here are Five Things he told me about the film, and his experiences in war.
1. The Process Of Making The Film
I had never planned on making a movie, I was never a filmmaker, I was using the video camera to use memories that I would use to write what I thought would be a memoir about the war, about Afghanistan, Iraq and the whole post 9-11 era. So I never thought about cinematography or how I was representing something, I just thought “I see that over there, that’s worth two pages in the book” so I’d just point the camera at it and hit record. It was a nightmare for Kristian as he was editing, but there’s also a raw energy to it because I just wasn’t trying.
How I governed the process is, back in 2004, I spent several weeks in an office, really just reliving the whole experience from start to finish – re-reading all my journals, re-watching all of the footage, looking at all of the pictures and just getting it all down so that Kristian, the director, had as much information as he could possibly have in order to best shape the whole thing.
The voiceovers are where I added the most benefit. I wasn’t really involved in the day-to-day editing of the film, but in building up the voiceovers and pulling specific parts from my journals and making that work. You’ll see that the arc of the character starts off one way and ends a different way.
2. Hang On… He Just Described Himself As A Character
Cinematically, there’s definitely a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning, we wanted to establish the camaraderie of what it’s like in a military unit. You’re not for the country, you’re not there for any kind of political motivations, you’re there because it’s your job and you’re there to protect your buddies. Do what you’ve been tasked with doing. The first act of the film was establishing that so you understand that so when there’s a loss involved, it makes it feel all the more tragic.
The common comparisons to Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity are interesting because, for me they highlight the need for people to compartmentalize things. With this being real footage I’m glad the films has at least resonated with people to the point that they are comparing it to some fiction films. The comparisons combine fiction feature films that have documentary style footage and, if you’ve heard of it, War Porn, just footage of war. I think it’s kind of flattering to be compared to fiction, actually.
You need to prepare yourself before you see the film, especially if you haven’t served… if you have served in a war, the experiences will be more familiar. I’ve talked to audiences across the US and that’s one of the things that really hits them head on- that when they see something like this on screen, this time it’s real.
This whole process was very cathartic. I struggled for the first 18 months after I came back. I had friends who died, I actually carried the coffin of one of them… it’s a cathartic process to get all of the demons that are inside your head out and put them on the big screen. The horrific things that happen in war, you have to deal with them, but it’s good to get it out of you.
I love to watch the audience watch the film to see their reaction. I’ve watched audiences all over the US, in Rome, in France. In different parts of the world, even in different parts of the US, different parts of the film resonate with different audiences. I’ve seen who laughs at what jokes, and who grimaces at what piece, and who doesn’t grimace. I’ve shown this film to a group of people from Sweden and they looked like they’d been smashed in the face with a shovel. I stay up on what’s going on in the war, and I’ve seen a ton of other war documentaries, some of them very well made, and I’ll always been interested in that stuff. If you’ve been through it, it will always be a part of you.
4. What Does The Film Say?
I was a young marine and I told my men that we were going in to find weapons of mass destruction because that’s what I believed. It’s not a political film in any way – I’m not anti-war, I’m not pro-war, I’m just… it is what it is. I did my job and I’d do it again.
The statement is that war, obviously it exists, but when you send people off, it’s human beings. It’s the youth of a nation that goes off and fight, they joined the military and they want to be good marines. By making the film and to show the human side of the whole thing, I hope maybe it can say “Look, before you send people off to fight a war next time…” even though it’s never said in the film, “These are my friends that are being killed.”
There’s a lot of footage you didn’t see but I don’t think there’s anything that would have swayed things one way or the other. There’s nothing really juicy anywhere that wasn’t really used. There were some other battles scenes, for example, but it meant more of the same. I suppose the stuff I was disappointed he pulled from the movie was more intimate stuff, stuff with me and my parents and my family messing around, and stuff like that. That’s from a purely selfish standpoint.
5. After Serving… And After This Film
In 2004 when I was coming to the realization that there were no weapons of mass destruction, I was pretty pissed off. I wanted to include a lot of that material, but that was Kristian, he ended the film when I got back in 03, expect the one scene in 04. But I’m writing a book now. The book has the working title The Blue Cascade. It focuses on me coming back, and burying my friends. That stuff is seared into my brain.
You can pick up the film on UK DVD from today, under the name This Is War.
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