To coin a phrase from Disney’s “Magic Kingdom”,
it truly is a “small, small, world.” I was recently handed an assignment by my editor
to cover the Boston Film Festival which annually features some of the hottest new
film releases and lo and behold, I found myself crossing paths with an old high school
friend. Film maker Jack Marino’s Viet Nam war-era film “Forgotten Heroes” was chosen
to appear on the exclusive lineup which made my assignment that much more interesting.
I hadn’t spoken with Jack in twenty years but I soon discovered he hadn’t lost that
rapier wit of his nor his love of the film industry.
After reviewing the film with colleagues from the Boston Globe, Herald, and the Phoenix,
I was duly impressed with the overall quality of the film. I met with Jack shortly
thereafter to catch up on old times and discuss his efforts in attracting the attention
of a big time Hollywood studio to back his movie. As he spoke, I soon began to realize
that this attempt to get his film, the only pro-Vietnam action war drama of its kind,
out to the American movie going public had taken on Herculean proportions.
Jack began by telling me how he has always been a fan of old Hollywood movies and
he felt that today’s Hollywood had lost its ‘show business soul’ of entertaining
the public. He stated that most films that come out of Hollywood don’t inspire
or accent the positive aspects of American culture. In Jack’s opinion, we pay
good money to go to the movies and are basically preached to by an industry that
is completely out of touch with the American public.
In 1986 after watching the film “Platoon”, Jack began to realize that since John
Wayne’s “Green Berets”, Hollywood seems increasingly reluctant to say anything positive
or portray in a heroic sense anyone that fought in the Vietnam war. He felt he had
to do something to counter all the negativism that seemed so pervasive within the
city limits of Tinsel Town towards America’s war vets. He had been kicking around
this idea of a World War II style film in a Vietnam setting for some time.
FORGOTTEN HEROES is unlike any Vietnam War film made before or since. Jack’s
pitch line for the film was, “Objective Burma meets Kelly’s Heroes.” “I wanted
to portray on film that generation who answered JFK’s call to defend freedom anywhere
The following interview ensued:
Mike Merrett: “Before we begin, I
want to be the first to congratulate you on receiving a wonderful letter from the
President of the United States about your film, your son who is serving in Iraq and
the wonderful thing you are doing by contributing 25% of the gross income you get
from the DVD sales to The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Fund. You
and your partner are true Patriots.
Jack Marino: Well, thank you Mike. President Bush’s letter is one of
the many little miracles that have happened throughout the making of this film.
The President thanked me for making my film that praises our veterans and for our
donating to the disabled Veterans. Then he mentioned how proud he is to be my son’s
Commander In Chief, mentioning my son by name. For me this letter validates
all that my partner John and I have been doing to get this film out to the public.
Thank you for coming here and allowing me the opportunity to tell my story
to the Freedom Broadcast audience and to the American public.
Well, as you mentioned I had just seen Platoon and I came out of the theater thinking,
here is a film made by a fellow Vietnam Veteran and he insults his brother veterans
on the giant screen. In his film he continues to perpetuate this perception that
Vietnam was a war we lost and the men who fought it were basically out of control.
At the time I was working at the Monsanto Chemical plant in Everett, Massachusetts,
my hometown. There were many Vietnam Vets working there also.
Mike Merrett: What years did you work there?
Jack Marino: I was working there off and on during the early 70s and
by 1976 I was hired on as full time. At the plant I was working with a lot
of funny guys and they were all Vietnam Vets. What they told me was nothing like
I had been seeing in the movies of the day and many years later. I was told
by some of the guys that had seen some action on search and destroy missions, that
they would come in contact with eastern European soldiers training to learn jungle
warfare. It was US policy not to take any prisoners from these eastern bloc
countries. I have no idea if this was true, but I felt it would a great movie.
This is where I got the idea of having a Soviet General defecting during the Vietnam
War. At this time I was acting in a play in my last year at Northeastern as
well as a few plays around town. Being a film buff I was always asking questions
to these Veterans of what it was like for them. What they told me and what
I was seeing coming out of Hollywood were two different things. I felt that
someone should make a film to represent Vietnam vets like the ones that I was talking
Mike Merrett: When did you finally get to make this idea a reality?
Jack Marino: By the end of 1985, I had just come off my first film as
a producer and it was very successful for a low budget film at the American Film
Market. I hired a writer named Larry Duhart to put down my idea of a pro-Vietnam
film that was diametrically different than what we were seeing in Hollywood.
Once I had a first draft I started to take it around Hollywood. Since the film
was a positive look at the Vietnam War and I had Soviet troops fighting Americans
in the jungles of Cambodia, the people that read the script wanted to know, “what’s
with the Russian’s in Vietnam”? That’s when I knew I was in trouble. A
short time later Larry had moved out of state and he recommended his writing partner
Bud Fleisher if I needed any re-writes. Bud and I worked together on this script
brought it to the point where I felt we had a solid script.
Mike Merrett: When did you get the funding and how long did it take you?
Jack Marino Later that year, through Bud, I was introduced to Mr. John
R. Lebert of JL Investments. He was a Navy veteran from the early Vietnam era before
it escalated to a full blown-out war. He served in the US Navy during the Cuban Missile
Crisis. I presented the script, a budget and my cast list to Mr. Lebert.
I showed him how I returned the investment to my previous partnership and I was looking
to have him raise the venture capital for a new type of Vietnam film.
Mike Merrett: So did John Lebert back you on this film?
Jack Marino: John Lebert is the only guy in America that gave me my
break in Hollywood. He worked outside the Hollywood system in real estate ventures
but he loved the title FORGOTTEN HEROES and he felt as I did that the Vietnam Vets
were getting a raw deal by Hollywood. He liked the fact that my script showed
the guys as heroes and that there would be no F-words in the film.
Mike Merrett: How did you pull that off in today’s market and has anyone
mentioned it to you.
Jack Marino: I had made two other films with no F-words and I was glad
that John Lebert felt the same way. For me using the f-word in a film is disgusting,
insulting, distracting, and unprofessional. It’s a word that still shocks you even
though today everyone uses it. I am in the illusion business and if a person
wants reality they can turn on the evening news. Besides every film coming
out of Hollywood today is loaded with f-words. I refuse to be the tail on the
end of that dog. Then you have classic films like THE GODFATHER, which is a
mafia film without any F-words. I have had over 300 screenings in the first
five years and no one has ever mentioned they didn’t hear an f-word.
I do have a few cuss words that pertain to some of the jargon that was used by the
Vietnam guys during the war. I had chosen a few of these to give some connection
between the film and a Vietnam Vet sitting in the audience. Some of these cuss
words we now hear on TV today.
Mike Merrett: Now that John Lebert was backing you 100% how long did
it take you to get the funding to make FORGOTTEN HEROES?
Jack Marino: Once John gave his word that he was going to back me in
my first producing and directing effort I knew I was finally in business with a professional.
We shook hands on this and that is all that is still between us. John
and I are like family. It is like that moment in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY when Cagney
meets Harris and they talk S.Z Sakall into funding their play that didn’t exist,
and they shake hands as partners for life. John and I are like Harris &
Cohan, the whole thing is on a handsake. For the past twenty years John
has been there like a rock working with me to see that this film gets out to the
public. He has never lost faith nor has he wavered in his belief in this film.
He also gave me a Harvard education in the business school of hard knocks.
I thank God everyday that he sent John Lebert to me as my guardian angel. I
would have lost this film many times over to the sharks in Hollywood.
It took about two years just to raise enough money to get the film shot or in the
‘can’. The very first investment check was given to us in June of 1986 on July
1,1988 my son’s first birthday I opened my very first production office here
in Toluca Lake. I had a thousand sq. feet of two joining dressing
room bungalows that were once on the old Jesse Lasky Famous Players Studios, which
is now Paramount Pictures. These were silent movie star dressing rooms and
I have always wondered who used them. Now they were the production offices
of the Marino Film Group, Inc.
Mike Merrett: So John Lebert is like one in a million for you?
Jack Marino: He is more like… one in a googolplex! Venture capitalist like
him don’t exist. The thing with John is, he loves a challenge, he isn’t afraid
of anything and he loves taking risk and seeing them through fruition.
This film would not exist today if he wasn’t involved in it they way he was.
The thing I love about John is that, he allowed me to direct this film, when some
other people wanted me off the film. He told me he would give me my shot as
a director and he kept his word. He had a lot of belief in me and took
a huge gamble on a complete unknown to direct this film. I never attended film
school or took any kind of film classes. I had never directed any kind of video,
16mm or 8mm film. All I knew was I had to make this film and I found a guy
that wanted to make it happen for me.
Mike Merrett: How long was the pre-production?
Jack Marino: It was a few months and I did about 80% of it because we had
no money to pay for a production crew. It was a two-man operation, John working
out of his office in mid-Wilsher and me in a bungalow in Toluca Lake.
I was in heaven; I loved making deals, getting the cost down to almost nothing.
I loved hiring the crew and cast. I did all the casting and the first actor I called
was William Smith. I had met Bill a year before and I asked him if he would
work with a first time director. Bill is another one of those actors that loves
the process of filmmaking. I gave him the script and shortly thereafter he
called me and told me he read it five times. He thanked me so much for writing
a script with him in mind. He told me that no one had every done that before
and that he loved the character and would do the part for free!! His
agent Don Gerler, who I knew and was a great guy called me up and said, ‘Jack, Bill
loves the script so much but you have to pay him.” I told him what I had in the budget
and he was very happy because it was more then he was expecting. Bill Smith
was also a great help to me as a director. He showed me how to handle actors and
had a lot of great ideas for the film. Bill and I are still very close and
I only regret that I wasn’t able to make more films with him. I have a great
little script for Bill to play a Russian version of Zorba the Greek.
Mike Merrett: So you cast the film yourself?
Jack Marino: Once Bill was locked in I started to look for friends I
had worked with and friends of friends. I was looking for specific looks and
I was lucky to find most of my guys. The cast was mostly first timers in a
film this size. They had done some low budget stuff but this film was going
to be much bigger.
I hired my Director of Photography and cameraman Peter Wolf the only deaf/mute filmmaker
in the business. I had a month while I was doing all this work to learn how
to sign so I hired his future wife to act as interpreter during the shoot. Peter
had a complete BL 3 package and he brought with him some crew people that he trusted.
At first everyone worked with Peter being deaf and all but as the shoot progressed,
I think the crew thought I was insane and Peter and I must have looked like Harpo
and Chico communicating out there on the set. I always kid Peter and
told him he is faking it because he understands everything I say. So to me
it’s normal. The thing was we all pulled off the impossible.
Merrett: Where did you shoot the film?
Jack Marino: I shot most of it up at the Newhall Ranch outside of Los
Angels. I used the HBO sets of the Vietnam War stories and near where China
Beach was filming. In my film there is a huge rock face and at the base of
that cliff is where Vic Morrow was killed by a helicopter during his last movie.
We also shot in Rosemead where there is a military park and museum. We shot in the
back off the highway and built a hooch and had all kinds of tanks and equipment around
the area where the guys lived. I also shot in the Norco area where it looks
more like a real jungle. I did have to shoot some pick-ups after reviewing
the first cut. I also shot up at the old Errol Flynn Mulholland Farm estate.
I knew the owner who bought Errol Flynn’s home and he let me use the area to shoot
it as if it was a park in Washington DC.
Mike Merrett: So when did you shoot the film?
Jack Marino: I shot the film for six weeks in September and October
of 1988. I had close to 106 people on the payroll and rented a Huey for two
separate days. The thing was that three weeks before my start day, the location
people called me and asked if I would move up my start date and that if I did they
would give me the location for free. The TV show TOUR OF DUTY was coming in
to shoot their last season and this little Indy film had a contract to shoot on this
location. They wanted me to switch my first weeks of days to nights so they
could build sets without interfering with my shooting. Being a nice guy
and clueless I agreed. What I did to myself was that I lost my time to rehearse
my actors. I never even sat them down for a reading of the script. On
top of that, since I never went to film school, I had no idea what a shot list was.
So here I am, a first time director working with a crew who all went to film school
and I have the entire script in my head. My editor, Alan Marks, an A.C.E.editor,
went crazy when he asked me for my shot list? I asked him, “what’s a shot list?”
Mike Merrett: What was the shoot like?
Jack Marino: It was the toughest thing I had ever done in my life.
I lost 40 pounds in six weeks. I slept about one hour a day, the 30 mins going back
and forth from location. We were working 18 hour days and nights. One day I
did 62 set-ups and it was tough. On the fourth week I had $2000 in the bank. My projected
payroll and other expenses was around 20,000 and due on Friday. I was physically
sick. I had never bounced a check on a film in my life. If I didn’t have those
checks on Friday, it was over and the film would be shut down. In the
meantime John was raising the funds to keep the shoot going. He had the investors
but they were dragging their feet getting us the checks. By Thursday,
I was a wreck and looked like I was going to the electric chair. Then a miracle
happened. We were given a gift from God and I believe this because if anyone has
ever tried to raise $50.000 in three days they know it is impossible. This
angel, by the name of Kathy Soto came to us out of the blue. John Lebert belongs
to the Catholic Big Brothers association for 22 years and he was a Big Brother to
Kathy’s son JJ. Kathy called John and said she had just sold her house
and had about a month to go before she had to put the balance of her cash requirement
into her escrow for her new house. She said she had $50,000 to invest somewhere for
30 days so she can make a little extra money to buy some furniture for the new house.
Because John was an investment broker she hoped he could advise her where the best
and safest place would be to invest for this short period of time. He advised her
of a way she could get her bank to put these funds with the bank’s special large
investment funds for 30 days and she would realize a better return than she could
get elsewhere. John told me he never even thought of using her money for our needs
until she called him back the next day to ask him how to go about doing what he advised
her the day before. Realizing that he new he had commitments of $60,000 of investor
funds coming into our Forgotten Heroes Investment within the next 2 weeks he could
offer Kathy a much better opportunity than she would be able to get anywhere else.
So he decided to tell her of a deal we could make her and that we were extremely
confident of getting her funds back to her in time for her escrow. She loved the
idea but stated she had to speak with her brothers and sisters about this before
she could commit. The next day she called and told John that her relatives all advised
her against the deal but she told them that for all John had done for her son as
a big brother she trusted him implicitly and was going to go ahead with the deal.
The next thing I know its Thursday and I haven’t heard from John. By the afternoon
he drives to the set in his 75 El Dorado convertible in a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses
and he sees me like death warmed over. He gets out of the car and introduces
me to Kathy and JJ. He holds up a check for 50gs over her head, so I could see it.
She had loaned us the money because of all he had done for her son. It was enough
to finish shooting the film several weeks later. We have had these kinds of
miracles happen throughout the filming and over the past twenty years fighting to
get FORGOTTEN HEROES out to the public. Who knows, you may be one of those wonderful
miracles and our DVD’s start selling like hotcakes.
Mike Merrett: That is an incredible story, what was the next step in
the making of this film?
Jack Marino: Well, once I got back to my office and after a few days
rest I had to finish watching the dallies which became weeklies. I was quite
happy with what I had shot. It really didn’t look like a low budget AFM level film.
It looked like a Canon Studio type film. One day, a Mr. Alan Marks walked into
my office and tells me he is an editor and that he heard I was looking for an editor.
Alan belongs to the American Cinema Editors and he was retired and was tired of playing
golf. He wanted to cut another feature. Alan had never worked at the
level he walked into. Alan had started working for Desilu in 1952 and went
to Universal in 1960 and cut everything on the lot. He was a tremendous
help to me and made me look like one hell of a director. He taught me how to
cut on a moviola and he screamed at me for seven months. Again, it was film
school of hard knocks being taught by an old time editor from the studio contract
system. He showed me every mistake I made and screamed not to make them again.
It was one hell of a learning curve for me and I will always be grateful to Alan
for that experience. It was Alan who turned us onto West Productions, an Oscar
and Emmy winning sound house that gave us that great sound, effects and the final
Mike Merrett: Tell us how you achieved that wonderful score. I
really loved the music you put in the film, especially those 60s rock songs.
Jack Marino: This is another one of those interesting miracles that
fell out of the sky. John told me to call USC and UCLA to see if we could get
some Senior or graduate music student who would like to create a score for a full
length feature film.. So I called 411 and they gave me the number of the Dean
of Music Composition. I had no idea who I was calling. I called and a
Mr. Buddy Baker picked up the phone and I told him my story. He told me he
would love to score the film for me and he suggested to meet John and I at his house
to introduce us to the composer he works with. I had no idea who Buddy Baker was.
We went to his home and we all watched the film. I didn’t know it but that
was our first spotting session. They were laying out where they thought music should
go. I found out that Buddy Baker was Walt Disney’s head composer and he created
that Disney Sound. The actual composer was Will Schaefer who also had worked
for Disney for many years. I told both Buddy and Will to give me Max Steiner
and they did. The score is just beautiful and Buddy had a contact in Prague
Czechoslovakia to score the film at a third of what it would cost in America.
John raised the required funding and I flew over there and with a 50-piece orchestra
we scored the film. I could not believe that this music, which you would here
in a Warner Bros film, was in FORGOTTEN HEROES. Talk about miracles…WOW!!!