Right in DC Podcasts

New “WAR HEROES” TV Series

On RIGHT IN DC, my guest is Jack Thomas Smith who is a producer, writer and a director. He is currently working with Benghazi hero Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto on a new pro-military documentary TV series called “War Heroes.” Everyone knows all about the lives of reality TV stars, but we don’t know about the lives and sacrifices of American soldiers who serve and protect our country. The show personalizes these soldiers by telling their real-life stories at home and abroad. Each episode will profile an individual service member or veteran up close and personal, detailing their unique lives, service, and sacrifice.

We talked about this new TV show, what inspired him to embark on this project, the status and what is planned, the stories that are coming in, and the activism that is needed to help soldiers. We also talked about how (and why) the entertainment industry and the mainstream media portray the military the way they do, his thoughts on socialism, and how he got interested in filmmaking.

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War Heroes Official Trailer

WEBSITE https://www.warheroestv.com/
FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/warheroestv
TWITTER https://twitter.com/WarHeroesTV
INSTAGRAM https://www.instagram.com/warheroestv/

War Heroes: Thriller filmmaker shares inspiration from stories of American soldiers (Washington Times)

SGT Ryan E. Doltz Memorial Foundation
http://rememberingryan.org/index.html
https://www.facebook.com/SGTRyanEDoltzMemorialFoundation/

Jack Thomas Smith
http://jackthomassmith.com/
http://www.twitter.com/jacktsmith1
https://instagram.com/jackthomassmithofficial/

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Gayle Trotter

This is Gayle Trotter, host of Right in DC. Today it’s our great pleasure to welcome as our guest Jack Thomas Smith. Jack is a producer, a writer, and a director. He’s currently working with Benghazi hero Kris “Tanto” Paronto on a new pro-military documentary series called War Heroes. Thank you, Jack, for joining us today.

Jack Thomas Smith

Thanks for having me on, Gayle. I appreciate it.

GT

I am based in DC and I’m a native Washingtonian and we just celebrated Memorial Day this week with honoring those who have given their lives in service of their country. It’s a big deal around the country, but particularly in Washington, D.C. because we have Rolling Thunder that descends upon the city. Even people who are not really aware of the military or don’t have family members who have served or don’t have much knowledge of the military, those who live in the District and Maryland and Virginia come to an awareness, at least on this weekend, if no other weekend because of all of the pro-military people who come to D.C. with Rolling Thunder. It originally started as a way to get the government to release information on prisoners of war and those who are missing in action, particularly in Vietnam. Now it’s become a message to, I would say, the world about how important the sacrifice is of our military families who give the ultimate gift.

I learned of your documentary series and I was curious what inspired you to embark on this project?

JTS

That’s such a great question. My inspiration on this project was it’s as simple as one day I had the news on and there’s a horrible news report about two soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and that was it. That was it. They didn’t mention their names, nothing about them, who they were, where they were form, and it struck me that we all know the Kardashians, we all know Lindsay Lohan, and the Housewives of New Jersey or California, whatever they are. We know all of these reality stars, but yet when it comes to our men and women in uniform, it’s just a blurb on the news.

So hearing this news report, I got thinking, how about a show that tells their stories? That they are the stars of each episode? In particular, in our pilot episode of War Heroes, the entire episode focuses on Sergeant Ryan E. Doltz from Mine Hill, New Jersey who lost his life in 2004 in Baghdad. He was killed by Sadr City. We tell his entire life story from birth, teenage years. He went to VMI, the Virginia Military Institute. His whole life goal, his dream was to be a soldier. As I said, unfortunately he died in Iraq in 2004.

Then we tell his story beyond that. His mother, Cheryl Doltz, just one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life, and Ryan’s father, Ray, and his sister, Anne, and his brother, Greg, they created a foundation in his name, the Sergeant Ryan E. Doltz Memorial Foundation. They’ve taken this tragic, horrible loss and made this incredible foundation to help other veterans, to help children whose parents have lost their lives in combat.

That is the whole point of War Heroes, is to make our men and women in uniforms the stars of each episode, learn about them, learn about their lives, goals, dreams, family, friends, and basically put a face with the name.

GT

Might you say this is a refutation of John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remark several years ago that became very famous about how people who get stuck end up being sent to Iraq.

JTS

Yeah, what did he say? He said something like, “If you don’t learn how to read or write, you might wind up in Iraq,” or something like that. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. Unbelievable. That’s what’s so horrible about it. I definitely want to note that War Heroes is pro-military. It is pro-troops. That’s all I care about is telling them the way they should be told.

Many times in the media, with movies, news reports, all that. I remember back, I believe in 2004, with all the pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib, the whole thing there, it seems like the media wants to focus so much on the negativity with military, as with law enforcement. I have no interest in that. I get that there are some few bad apples out there. I get that. I do live in the real world. But overwhelmingly, our men and women in uniform are doing the right thing. They’re putting their lives on the line so that you and I and others can go about our daily lives and enjoy the freedoms that we have here in the greatest country in the world.

GT

Yes, and I have a friend, who as a Memorial Day observation, watches a whole bunch of military-themed movies. I am going to ask you which of the military-themed movies is your favorite, but I’m talking about ones from the 1950s, the 1960s. One of my favorites is Sergeant York, which was based on a real soldier. It wasn’t fiction. I think if you look at the Bridge on the River Kwai or some of the other ones that were centered on World War II, and more recent ones, the Band of Brothers, the Saving Private Ryan, those are all kind of in opposition to this idea that you’re saying that how the media portrays the military and I’m curious why you think that is their focus and how do you think your documentary series will counteract that?

JTS

Yeah, that’s a great question. Real quick, you listed off a couple of my favorites right there. I love Sergeant York. Band of Brothers is amazing. I love American Sniper, absolutely fantastic.

GT

Yes.

JTS

That was great. The Pacific, The Green Berets. I was just watching The Green Berets the other day. Huge fan of all those movies. To answer your question on that, you have to ask the filmmakers. You have to ask what is in their mindset that they want to paint the military in such a bad light? What is going on in their brains that they would do that?

My background before War Heroes, I wrote, produced, and directed two features films. Both were psychological thrillers. One was called Disorder, which was released by Universal and Warner Brothers. The other, Infliction, was another psychological thriller. It was released by Virgil Films. I understood even then that for me to do my thrillers, my movies, I understood why I could do that. It’s because we have the freedom here to do what we want to do, and I don’t understand why that gets lost on other filmmakers. I don’t understand that. They don’t seem to understand that. Like I said before, all of the freedom that we have here is because of our men and women in uniform. They’re the ones that keep us safe here to go about our daily lives.

It’s funny, I said this the other day to my fiancée, and not to go off on a total tangent here, but you hear these people talking about socialism and all this stuff, and it’s like, hmm, how many great movies came out of the Soviet Union back in the 80s? How many great movies have come out of China and Cuba and Venezuela? They don’t seem to understand that one of the first things that these governments will do is crush freedom of speech. I’m not getting the same people who want to support socialism that are in the entertainment industry. They don’t seem to understand that their ability to voice their opinions, even if I disagree with them and they’re antimilitary, it’s because of how protected we are here. Anyway, I shake my head.

GT

I so appreciate those comments because I think the creatives and the free thinkers and the people who are not conformists are more likely the ones the dictatorial regimes go after because we know how powerful art is, how politics is downstream of culture, and culture is shaped by art. I think you’re in a unique place where you can use your artistic abilities to promote something that really protects the very ability of artists to share their vision with the world, more importantly, if it speaks truth to power. I am curious too with the series, are you highlighting any women who have served in the military who are also American war heroes?

JTS

Absolutely. Where we’re at with the series, so we completed the pilot episode, and as I mentioned, the focus was Sergeant Ryan E. Doltz and his family. What we’re doing right now is we are pitching the series to networks. We actually just signed with a very good producer’s rep. His name is Steve Scheffer. He was the head of programming for many years at HBO. He loves the project. So what he’s doing is he’s taking it to all the different networks, pitching it to them. We actually have one network that seems to be pretty interested, so knock on wood.

But to answer your question, part of our pitch piece is to lay out to the networks potential episodes for season one. We have about a dozen, and in those we absolutely do have women in uniform that we would like to profile in a couple of the episodes, if not more, during our opening season. A lot of it’s all going to depend on the networks. What we can do is pitch potential episodes and then they ultimately – if the network picks it up, they would ultimately have to have the final say in terms of the creative aspect of it. But there are so many. The stories are endless. As I said in the pilot, we focus on a fallen soldier, but we also want to focus on soldiers suffering with PTSD or a homeless or the horrible suicide, the high suicide rates with veterans.

Even beyond that, Gulf War Syndrome. All of these different situations that our veterans and soldiers may be in, not only to create awareness, but then ultimately, at the end of each episode, help them. It’s almost, how can I say it, it’s almost like activism within a TV series. If we profile a homeless veteran, we want to go and coordinate perhaps with an organization or a foundation that builds homes for veterans or provides a home for a homeless veteran. And that can be all part of the episode right there, telling that soldier’s story, why that veteran is homeless, what has happened to him, what did he experience? Then ultimately providing something positive for him at the end of the episode.

GT

Speaking of that reminds me of a news article this week that profiled a Catholic high school that has decided to make its mission to host funerals for veterans who don’t have any family to provide the funeral for them. There was a really sweet picture accompanying the news article. I think it was of the basketball team, serving as pallbearers for this veteran that had died and there was nobody to claim the body or to bury the veteran. The school has made its mission to provide these funerals.

I think this kind of goes along with what you’re saying about the activism that is needed to make sure that our veterans and military members who suffer the effects of their service or who, for whatever reason, fall on hard times. Any human being deserves that honor, but I think particularly people who have served their countries.

JTS

Absolutely.

GT

Maybe they didn’t die in the war, but they certainly gave their lives for the country, in service of their country, and were willing to die for their country too. Did you run across that article, by any chance?

JTS

I saw the headline on it. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t read the entire article, but I did catch a piece of that, and that’s incredible. Yeah, there are so many stories like that. There was another story, God, I want to say it was Arizona or New Mexico, and I forget the name of the organization, but it was the same thing. He was a Vietnam vet who passed away and they had this whole big funeral for him. Those are the types of stories that we want to tell. They’re endless, Gayle. Just through some of the marketing we’ve been doing, we’ve had people contact us through the website and they’re, “Oh, I have this story, I have that story.”  We can’t keep up. It’s like every time I hear a new story, I’m like, this is great, this has to be told. They’re countless.

Actually, I have one to tell you and this is one that I would love to tell. This was presented to me. This gentleman is a Vietnam vet. He goes back to Vietnam, just for closure. When he’s there, he’s walking down a street and he sees a street vendor. He goes over to the vendor and the vendor is selling dog tags from fallen soldiers during the Vietnam War. Needless to say, the guy’s upset, but he buys all the dog tags, then he makes it his own personal journey to go around and return those dog tags to the families of the fallen.

GT

Wow.

JTS

Right? When I heard that story, I’m like, “That could be a movie, a documentary, an episode of War Heroes,” all that. This comes back to what we were talking about earlier on. How is that not made into a movie?

GT

I got chills just hearing about that. What a remarkable journey.

JTS

That’s incredible. But the problem is the politics always get in the way of this and I don’t understand why the mindset is that if you’re in Hollywood or whatever, military bad. I don’t get it. I don’t get it. How about just focus on just a human-interest story? Who cares? That’s an incredible story.

GT

Absolutely. You can put all the politics aside and there are plenty of people who support the military but don’t want America to be entangled in foreign wars. But it’s not the same thing. They’re completely separate issues. Our military goes where there’s a need, where our Commander in Chief decides that it’s in the national interest that we need to be there. They’re not part of that decision and they shouldn’t be faulted for political misadventures or changes in foreign policy. They are ready to serve. They have the training. I think, most importantly, they have the courage and the heart to do that job.

I want to switch. We’re talking a little bit about news articles and you mention that there was an article in the Washington Times recently profiling the documentary series and you remarked that the comments were a little bit crazy. Could you tell us a little bit about the fighting and the disagreements that went on in the comment section to this article in the Washington Times?

JTS

Sure, yeah. It just amazes me. The Washington Times did a write up on War Heroes over the weekend, and also the Daily Wire. They did a write up also. Both have been very supportive of War Heroes. I’m mentioning Daily Wire, as well as Washington Times because on both, we saw the same thing happen, where most of the comments are positive, but then you do get some of these people that it’s horrible. There was one comment on the Washington Times, like, “Oh, this soldier gave his life for nothing. None of this matters.”  You actually get these people that throw out horrible things. I’m sitting there, like, with a show like this, no one should have a problem with a show like this. We’re not taking a side politically. We’re not saying our involvement in Iraq was right or wrong. We’re literally just telling the story of this soldier, who sacrificed his life for our nation, and what his family has done to keep his memory alive. That’s all we’re trying to do. If you watch the trailer, which is about two minutes, you get it. You get what we’re trying to do, and then you get these people.

My fiancée, her name is Mandy Del Rio. She’s also one of the executive producers. She handles our social media. It’s the same thing. She’s constantly dealing with, again, overwhelmingly, it’s positive, but you get these people that they want to come in there and they want to lob their grenades and say negative things and attack Kris Paronto. Mandy will sit there and just block these people. She’s Irish, so her knee jerk is “I want to go and fight these people.”  I’m like, “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Just block them. We don’t need that.”  It’s unbelievable, unbelievable that these people are out there.

GT

A well-renowned author once gave me the advice to never read the comments on things that I produce. I am incapable of not reading comments, but I think I can identify with Mandy very well. It’s hard not to talk back.

JTS

I know. It drives you crazy. I don’t know how someone like Dana Loesch, I just see the way people attack her constantly. I don’t know how her husband, I’ve seen the way they go at him and the way they go at her, and that must drive him crazy because you know he probably wants to jump in there and defend his wife, and it’s nuts.

GT

Right, it’s tough. I think for anybody in the public sphere to be out there with an opinion, even if 50 million people agree with your opinion, or 100 million or 300 million people, you make yourself a target. You have to really believe in whatever it is that you’re out there advancing, even if it’s only advancing your own personal ambition, which I think is the case for some people. I certainly think with Dana and Chris, they strongly believe in the principle of what they’re advocating, seeing it as a civil rights issues.

I think same with this type of documentary; it goes against the grain. Unfortunately, in my lifetime, it seems like fewer and fewer people have connections with the military, particularly when you’re talking about big cities or elite people. It used to be that the elite people in the top universities and from families would want to have that connection with the military. Think of President George H.W. Bush who just passed away. He was a hero. He was a war hero. Think about Senator Dole. I probably will start tearing up, but you might remember at the viewing of President George H.W. Bush that was held I think in the Capitol Rotunda, Senator Dole, who was incapacitated physically from his war injuries. I think his arm, he had limited mobility in his arm, now he’s in his 90s and he is confined to a wheelchair. Because he had so much respect, not only because President George H.W. Bush was president, but also, I think because they had that camaraderie born of service in the military, he stood up from his wheelchair so that he could give President Bush a salute, his final salute. I think that speaks volumes, and we’re missing that from our society now.

JTS

Yeah, no, I agree. That was absolutely amazing. I mean, that was such a powerful moment from President Bush’s funeral. I was blown away. I was blown away when that happened. A little earlier we were talking about what you said with civil rights, with Dana Loesch and Chris Loesch with the Second Amendment and we were talking about First Amendment rights and all that. We actually cover that in the pilot episode. Here’s what I mean by that:

We’ve actually had screenings of War Heroes. We did a screening in Las Vegas. We did a screening in New Jersey. Both, we raised thousands of dollars for Chris Paronto’s foundation, the 14th Hour Foundation. That was one in Vegas. Then in New Jersey, we raised money for the Sergeant Ryan E. Doltz Memorial Foundation. One thing that we heard from the screening in New Jersey, some people were saying, “Oh, we loved it, it was great.”  They said, “There was one part that we didn’t understand why you had this part in there.”  There’s a part where Chris and two gentlemen who knew Ryan from VMI, from the Virginia Military Institute, we introduced them at a shooting range and they’re shooting guns and all that. It’s only like a 30-second part, but it’s a way to introduce these two friends of Ryan’s with Chris because we also didn’t want to just show where it’s sit-down interview, sit-down interview, and all that. We wanted to try and do something unique. However, it’s also symbolic. It’s symbolic that this this was one of our rights that Ryan sacrificed his life to protect, was the right to bear arms.

GT

That’s huge because people forget that. When you look at the history of the 20th century and you look at the countries that committed genocide, that had territorial ambitions against their neighbors, they started by making sure that they restricted gun rights of the population. You hear Americans saying, “Oh, that could never happen here, that could never happen here.”  But at the same time, they’re saying that the current administration is tyrannical. It’s a little inconsistent on the argument.

JTS

Right? You got to love it. But keep this mind. They also said socialism could never happen here, or Communism. Who do we have running? It’s a little crazy to think. Honestly, it’s just crazy. I’m a teenager from the 80s, so I’m a huge Reagan guy. I grew up during that time period. I can’t even imagine. Back then, if someone said they were a communist or a socialist or whatever, it was like fighting words. It’s like now this is become acceptable?

Here’s the thing, a hundred years ago when all this stuff started in Russia with the Russian revolutions and all that, they had no idea what was waiting for them in the future. They had no idea. So I feel bad for those people a hundred years ago, that this is what they fought for. But now we have a hundred years’ worth of history to look at. There’s no great mystery where this always heads. You always get a dictator who claims, when they first come into power, “We’re going to have free elections,” and blah-blah-blah. And then they never step down. I mean, look a Castro. It’s like, come on, guys, just read. Just read about the history of communism, socialism, whatever you want to call it. Just read about the history. It’s real simple.

GT

One of my favorite Ronald Reagan quotes that’s discussed a little bit less than some of his other famous ones was when he was asked about the Cold War, the existential struggle between the free markets, free people, Constitutionally Bill of Rights-based system of America versus the communist Soviet Union. His answer was, “My strategy is they lose, and we win.”

JTS

I love that. I never heard that one, to be honest with you, but I love it. Yeah, actually, and why is that such a bad thing? Why is it such a bad thing to want to win, to want to be successful? Again, I grew up in the 80s, and that was the whole thing. You wanted to strive to succeed. There was nothing bad with being successful. It was a positive thing to want to be the best you could be. You would have field days in elementary school where you would have the 50-yard dashes, and whoever won got the blue ribbon for first place. The second was a white ribbon, third was a red. If you didn’t come in first, second, or third, you didn’t get anything. That’s just the way it was. There was a reward for success, not this “everybody’s a winner” nonsense, which, again, ties into socialism, that everyone’s equal. But everyone is equal in being dirt poor and being a non-success. That’s what they don’t seem to understand, and the elitists are all the fat cats at the top. I don’t know why they don’t get that.

GT

That’s an important part. The people who promote socialism or communism say that they’re going to create a utopia where everyone is equal, give according to your ability and take according to your need. But the truth is, when you look at the history of the 20th Century, and I think this is a critical point that you made, look at how it actually works in the real world. It’s not that everybody is equal. It’s that you continue to have this oligarchy, you continue to have an elite class, and they just have all the power and the resources. I think that’s just a critical point.

I just want to ask you one question to wrap this up. I’m very interested in your journey as an artist. I did a little background research on how you got interested in filmmaking in the first place and I am interested in your creative vision and how you are able to continue to produce at such a high level. Could you tell the audience a little bit about how you got even interested in doing this? Did your parents ever tell you, “Oh, no, you should go be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, insurance salesman”?

JTS

No. No, my parents were awesome. They always supported what I wanted to do. Yeah, I got bit with the filmmaking bug at a very young age. God, I was like eight years old. I saw the Star Wars at the theater. I read The Shining by Stephen King. At a very young age, I wrote a novel. I mean, it didn’t get published or anything, but I was between 9 to 12 I wrote like a 200-page novel. I started writing as a young kid, teenager, right into early adulthood. That’s when I started writing screenplays. I had a chance meeting with an independent film director. His name is Ted Bohus, great guy. He does a bunch of indie-type horror films. I learned from him. I co-wrote a screenplay with him and we were able to raise money for it and we did it independently, turned around, sold it, doubled our investment on that. I learned everything, the entire top to bottom, how to make a film, what does a key grip do, what does a vesboy (phonetic) do, that type of thing, just learning all the ins and outs on set.

Then also I learned the business aspect of the entertainment industry from Ted, and that’s what a lot of people seem to forget, is that it is called the entertainment business. He taught me how to put together a budget, proposals. From there, I did a film with John Russo, who was one of the producers and wrote the original Night of the Living Dead. I did a film with him, same thing:  We put together investment for that, doubled our returns on it.

GT

Doubled? That’s amazing.

JTS

Thank you. Then from there, I went off and did my own film, which was Disorder. I wrote, produced, directed that, put together a group of investors on that. We were able to secure a deal with Universal and Warner Brothers. The film has been released worldwide. From Disorder, I did my latest feature, which was Infliction, and that was released by Virgil Films. So it’s been over 20-some years of doing this and learning and not stopping.

Through all of this, I’ve always been pro-military. Honestly, Gayle, if I have one regret, it’s that I never served.

GT

Yes.

JTS

Like I said, I got bit with that filmmaking bug at a young age and that’s what I wanted to do. But then as I’ve gotten older, it’s like, you know what? This is what’s really important to me. I love thrillers. Hopefully, I can do other features, dramas, all that stuff, but I am so passionate about War Heroes, and our whole team is. Like I mentioned, my fiancé, Mandy Del Rio, her and I, this is our passion project together. The investor on the pilot episode, his name is Glenn Nevola. He’s a commercial airline pilot. He owns a couple businesses. He’s so passionate about this. He’ll bring dogs to veterans with PTSD, like place them in a home with a veteran who’s suffering from PTSD. We’re so passionate about this particular project and it’s all came together for all of us.

GT

Not everyone can be a military member and all of us, though, should be able to support our military members and family members. I want to thank you, Jack, for what you’re doing and for joining us. Where can people find you and War Heroes online?

JTS

Oh, great. Yeah, we have a website. It’s warheroestv.com. All of our social media is @warheroestv. You can find that on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. It’s all the same, @warheroestv. Then my personal website is jackthomassmith.com. So if anyone has any story ideas or wants to reach out, they could reach out to our production team through my website or through the War Heroes website.

GT

I do have to share one other little personal detail about myself. I loved Stephen King until I read Pet Sematary and it scared me so much, I think seventh or eighth grade, that I stopped reading his books.

JTS

Yeah, I love him. He goes crazy on social media, so he’s kind of turned me off there, but yeah, huge fan of his work.

GT

Thank you, Jack, so much for joining us.

JTS

Thanks, Gayle, I really appreciate it.

GT

This is Gayle Trotter. You can like me on Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter, you can follow me on Instagram. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel. You can subscribe to this podcast, Right in DC, on iTunes and you can leave a review. Most importantly, you can support this podcast on Patreon. We have great T-shirts as gifts for patrons, courtesy of Hard Hits custom apparel. We would also like to thank Trio Caliente, a local D.C. group, for the music on the podcast. This is Right in DC.

About the author

Gayle Trotter

Gayle Trotter is an attorney, political analyst, columnist, and host of RIGHT IN DC: The Gayle Trotter Show. She regularly appears on TV, such as Fox News, contributes to The Hill, The Daily Caller, Townhall and other well-known political websites, and is a frequent guest on radio shows across the country providing an insider’s view of Washington, DC. Read More