Brian worked at HBO… enough said. As if that weren’t enough to listen to this episode, he wrote and directed the movie, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz (from Malcom in the Middle, amongst other productions). In this interview, we talk about how Hollywood is more similar to the military than you would think. We talk about how everything is a process: it is just one step after another, and how military Veterans can accomplish anything with this approach. We talk about patience, about how Hollywood is structure surprisingly in the same way that the military is. We talk about pursuing executive education while working and much much more.
Brian Hanson is a writer/director who co-wrote and directed the indie thriller, THE BLACK STRING, starring Frankie Muniz. Brian was a member of the US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment where he jumped out of airplanes and deployed to Afghanistan several times. After serving, Brian earned an MFA in Film Production from Mount St. Mary's University and also gained invaluable filmmaking experience by working as a PA on HBO shows BARRY, ROOM 104 and SILICON VALLEY. Brian holds a BA in Film Production from California State Northridge and completed the Writers Guild Foundation year long Veterans Writing Project. Brian volunteers with the non-profit organization Veterans in Media & Entertainment (VME), where he helps connect studios, agencies, and production companies with veterans entering the entertainment industry.
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Info about Brian
Related Podcast Episodes
BTU #62 - Hank Hughes: Army to Academy Award Nominee - https://www.beyondtheuniform.io/blog/btu-62-hank-hughes-army-to-academy-award-nominee
BTU 86 - author Cal Newport: So Good They Can't Ignore You - https://www.beyondtheuniform.io/blog/btu-86-author-cal-newport-so-good-they-cant-ignore-you
Books & other Recommendations
Save the Cat - the go to screenwriting book, that gives a lot of structure to how to approach writing a script.
The Master Classes
The Mission Continues - helped Brian get involved with VME
Veterans in Media & Entertainment (VME) - www.vmeconnect.org
United States Veterans' Artists Alliance (USVAA) www.usvaa.org
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Los Angeles, CA is Brian Hanson. Brian Hanson is a writer/director who co-wrote and directed the indie thriller The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz. Brian was a member of the US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment where he jumped out of airplanes and deployed to Afghanistan several times. After serving, Brian earned an MFA in Film Production from Mount St. Mary's University and also gained invaluable filmmaking experience by working as a PA on HBO shows Barry, Room 104 and Silicon Valley.
Brian holds a BA in Film Production from California State Northridge and completed the Writers Guild Foundation year long Veterans Writing Project. Brian volunteers with the non-profit organization Veterans in Media & Entertainment (VME), where he helps connect studios, agencies, and production companies with veterans entering the entertainment industry.
When did you first start to think about writing and directing?
I knew that I wanted to get involved in the entertainment industry even before I joined the military. I went into the military later than most people - I had a college degree and then also went on to study film production at California State Northridge.
It helped me to read books and watch content that showed how films were produced. That showed me that it was a real industry not just a magical thing that people do behind a curtain. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. In high school, we took a trip to a film set and I saw people running around doing their jobs and I told myself, ‘I can do this’. That gave me the motivation to pursue it further.
As I was writing and honing my craft, I decided that I needed to see the world and do something that I could write about. So I enlisted in the Army. I got everything I wanted out of it but I knew that I wasn’t going to re-enlist. It was the greatest decision I ever made but I wanted to get back to LA and re-focus on the entertainment industry. So I lost a few years in the industry but I gained so much in the way of life experience and friendships.
I love that step by step approach you took to establishing yourself in this industry.
It’s similar to the military. I had worked as a PA on movie sets prior to joining the military and realized that the structure of the military and the entertainment industry are very similar. It’s a group of people that are working together to achieve various goals but there are obstacles in the way such as budget and time.
What was your job search life after leaving the military?
During my time in college and working before entering the military, I had built up somewhat of a network. But that’s not to dissuade anyone that doesn’t have that. The amazing thing about Hollywood is that it’s full of people that just come out here on their own and make a life for themselves. I really appreciate how many people just show up here and chase their dream.
So coming here after the military, I did now some people but I knew I would have to continue building that. I started out with an internship at Vega Baby. That was really fundamental. They had just made a movie with Salma Hayek and I was able to see how that process went at a high level. It all started to make more sense. During my time at Vega Baby, I was answering phones, sitting in on meetings, and reading scripts. It’s an unbelievable amount of work that goes into creating a movie.
Being in the Army gave me the insight that it’s a process to learn anything that you want to do whether it’s get promoted or safely jump out of a plane. Everything takes time and you have to have patience. We see Orson Welles and Quentin Tarantino and it seems like they were seen as geniuses. But really they had to work hard to get to where they are. And it will be the same for you, too.
How did you end up at HBO?
After a few months at Vega Baby, it turned into a full-time job. You show that you are adding value to the organization and you build trust with the people that are there. Simultaneously, I was using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend grad school at Mount Saint Mary’s University. It was a full-time program but classes were on alternate weekends. The program was built for people that aren’t able to leave their day job during the program It was helpful because I could see in real time the concepts we were talking about in class.
I felt like I was really accelerating my learning by both taking classes and working at the same time. So I really encourage people to take internships or jobs during their time in school.
So what happened after that?
I was in my grad school program for two years while also working at Vega Baby. I met a great group of people at Mount Saint Mary’s - in particular another veteran, Richard Hanley. He was a medic in the Air Force Reserve and then was a Physician’s Assistant in the Navy. He was going to film school as way while also running a medical clinic. We really clicked and we ended up creating a micro-budget feature film together. We put together an LLC and business plan. We got a lawyer and started getting people together that would be angel investors.
How long was the process to create the movie?
We are currently selling the film. So it’s been an over two year process. It’s everything from budgeting, shooting the film and then editing it. It’s not uncommon to be a three year process - for us it’s been just over two years.
If you have an iPhone, you can make a short film. But you’re going to have to do it all - coordinate, find people to be in the film, find where you want to shoot the film. It’s like coordinating a training exercise in the military. There are always problems and complications, but you have to adjust and keep moving forward. How you envision it initially isn’t how it will end up but that’s OK.
What advice do you have for veterans that also want to follow this path?
First off, if you want to be a director or writer, you probably have a passion for art. You’re not going to make money for a while so you really have to love it. If you have that in you, pay attention to that. If you think it’s something that interests you, read more about it. Save the Cat is a go-to screenwriting book. Making Movies is also another good book. The Kid Stays in the Picture is another great book. There are some great YouTube videos and Master Classes about making movies while you’re still in the military and see if it’s something that interests you.
And what would be the next step?
Take advantage of the GI Bill if you have it. There are so many great programs out there for screenwriting, producing, and directing. The GI Bill gives you some stability while you’re learning. Once you’re in one of these programs, you’ll start meeting people that will help open doors for you.
If you’re interested, come out to LA and start with whatever job you can. You’ll start working your way up from there. Even if you’re still in the military, you can start making short films.
Can you describe your work with Veterans in Media and Entertainment?
I’ve been part of VME since 2014 - it’s a non-profit that supports veterans that are either in the industry or trying to break in. There’s a lot of free screenings and networking opportunities. When I first moved out to LA, the VME was a support group for me. They were able to push me in the right direction.
American Legion Post 43 here in Hollywood is also very supportive of veterans in this industry. It’s really special to know that you still have that community even after you’ve left the military.
VME has an internship program. I was one of the first to get into the internship program and got to work with HBO. This was after I shot my movie. So I went from the director of a small independant film to being a PA - the lowest level - at HBO Productions. But for three months there, I learned so much. It was a step down as far as the position but it gave me so much in terms of network and education.
What’s coming up for you?
When my internship at HBO wrapped up, I was asked by VME to come on board with them. So now, a year and a half later, I’m the Director of Education and Events. So the events that I benefited from when I first got here, I’m now planning.
I also encourage veterans to check out Mission Continues. They helped me get involved with a great leadership program they have.
I would also love to get another move shot by the end of 2019 or 2020 by the very latest.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
The key is going wherever you’re passionate. You did fantastic work in the military and when you get back in the civilian sector, people do appreciate that sacrifices you have made. Here in Hollywood, there is so much respect for veterans. That being said, you are going to have to take a few steps back. You have to work your way up to what you want to achieve. Don’t be abused but be willing to do the little things. That makes a difference.