By Greg Bishop
This week Fox Television will premiere “Enlisted” their new “workplace comedy” about three brothers serving in an Army Rear Detachment unit. We served as their lead consultants on the show, not including the pilot episode.
When the producers called us, we were familiar with the project, but we had big concerns about associating our brand with a military comedy during a time of war. We knew service members’ and Veterans’ first impressions would skew toward the negative. To us, this was a virtual business minefield, but the fact that “Enlisted’s” producers were seeking expert help was a promising sign.
We screened the pilot and while there were many funny and heartfelt moments, the technical mistakes (uniforms, grooming standards, weight standards, etc, etc.) quickly took us out of the story…the price we Veterans pay for knowing “what right looks like.”
At Musa we pride ourselves on delivering authenticity on military-themed projects to avoid such distractions. For us there were two major issues at stake; our reputation among military and Veteran communities whom we strive to honor in our work, and our working relationship with the DoD’s Entertainment Offices, particularly the Army. If we weren’t able to make a positive impact on the show, then the trust we’ve built with troops and the DoD would vanish. Guilt by association.
But the show’s creator and producers were seeking help; they needed help; and we knew we could help them. But, was it worth the risk? Would they listen?
We had a meeting with their team and we learned two very important things. One, they had tried to do the right thing on the pilot. They hired consultants, but for whatever reason, the results were not realized (not passing judgement; the results speak for themselves). But second, and most importantly, the show creator’s genuine respect for the military and the real messages of the show (brotherhood, taking care of families, Soldiers are real people, etc.) were overshadowed by the long hair, the beards, the overweight Soldiers, and much more.
The face-to-face meeting allayed our concerns after they sized us up to ensure they didn’t make the same mistake twice, and we sized them up to ensure they were indeed dedicated to getting the details right. We shook hands and agreed to work together. We were off to the races.
The writers needed help understanding the workplace in their “workplace comedy.” We spent hours with them explaining what we called “Army Atmospherics,” the funny stuff Soldiers do, the pranks they play, the trouble they get into, and what it’s really like being a Soldier. Many of the subsequent episodes sprouted from those discussions. We consulted with every department on the production (writers, actors, set design, costumes, props, etc.) to help them get the details as right as possible.
Veterans know that a Soldier’s uniform is like his/her resume, so we helped refine character bios and back stories and then worked with costumes to ensure the uniforms matched their stories. We gave the squared-away characters combat patches and appropriate ribbons reflecting their professionalism and experience, while the “misfits” simply had the basics. We even helped them create our own unit crests and unit patches.
We helped the art department research details to build the sets; Army signage (in accordance with the Army’s “Installation Design Guide”), unit designations and colors, CSM Cody’s office, the DFAC, the barracks, the motor pool, and much more.
We trained the actors by putting them through a 4-day “basic training” to introduce them to what it means to be a Soldier. (Note: you can watch the 7-part web series on their experience and see how it impacted them and the show here: http://www.fox.com/enlisted/clips/89132099800)
During production Musa partnered with our battle-buddy, former 101st Airborne Soldier, and fellow VFT member, Trevor Scott, to ensure an expert was on set every day to help the producers achieve the right balance of creativity and authenticity. Trevor was critical to ensuring all the groundwork we laid was achieved on screen. He even got a speaking role out of it.
Audiences who recognize “what right looks like” will see a significant change from the pilot to subsequent episodes. So much so that the production company is running a “Spot our SNAFUs” contest acknowledging and apologizing for the mistakes they made…when have you ever seen Hollywood do that
Is this show going to be 100% authentic?….no….it’s a comedy. But will it disrespect troops? No way. Will it make you laugh? Maybe, that’s up to you…I laughed a lot. But know this…everyone in the cast and crew wanted to get things right…from the actors trying to get “hoo-ah” and “Sarn’t Major” pronounced correctly, to the art department using the actual NSN to label barrels of “Grease, General Purpose” in the motor pool, to all the Veterans on the cast and crew helping keep a sharp eye on the details.
Musa has worked on dozens of projects (film, tv, video games, advertising), and we’ve never worked with a production more dedicated to getting the details right and supporting troops. They hired dozens of Veterans as cast and crew, they adopted Operation Gratitude as their philanthropic cause, and they hosted a Veteran “right seat ride” on Veterans Day where select VFT members got to shadow key players and department heads on the set.
Anyone who’s ever spent any time near Soldiers knows that while their mission is serious business, the Soldiers are often very funny. You’ll laugh, cry, and likely see some things, situations, and characters in the show that reflect your own experience in some way.
“Enlisted” premieres Friday, January 10th, on Fox Television at 9:30 EST/ 8:30 CST.
Musa Media, Inc. (www.musa-media.com) is the parent company of Musa Military Entertainment Consulting, Inc. and Musa Productions, LLC.