Two Weeks at War

In honor of my L.A. co-screenwriter buddy Michael Simmons giving me a shout out via post comment (Hey, ZooGoo), I’m posting this brief excerpt from my book on the adventure we shared writing a comedy screenplay together.

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TWO WEEKS AT WAR

Former National Lampoon magazine publisher and Animal House movie producer Matty Simmons hired me for a second time to co-write the script Two Weeks at War for ABC Circle Films, along with his son, Michael. The studio execs were hoping a National Lampoon skewering of the army would strike as much gold as Animal House’s version of fraternities did. We flew first class to Fort Ord, California, where we participated in army mobilization exercises as part of our research. The Army thought we were doing a ‘straight’ picture for ABC Films and cooperated wonderfully. They never knew we were actually from National Lampoon, and undoubtedly thought our movie would somehow enhance army recruitment. To gather inside intel, we got drunk with generals one night, and then turned around and got drunk with enlisted men the next. The generals described enlisted men in the infantry as ‘target developers.’ “You send them out to draw fire,” one general explained,” and see where their asses get blown away, and then you know where to aim your heavy artillery.” Of course, we couldn’t wait to reveal this inspiring piece of information to the enlisted men, who were mercifully too drunk to be offended. And we also couldn’t wait to see how that information in the movie would ‘enhance army recruitment.’

Once this research part of our mission was accomplished, and we were somehow still in good graces with the military brass (probably from all the booze we bought), we were escorted in a Huey helicopter directly to the runway for our flight back to Los Angeles. We walked across the tarmac to the plane and came aboard moments before our plane was scheduled to take off. The VIPs in first class looked at us – a couple of hard-partying 24 year-olds in Hawaiian shirts being escorted by helicopter to this flight – and wondered just who the hell we were. I sat in a seat across from my childhood TV western idol, Doug McClure, who played Trampas in the series The Virginian. He asked me for a job.

A week later we flew to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to experience boot camp as part of our research. Naturally, we got drunk on the plane there and Michael unfolded a Playboy centerfold and displayed it teasingly to the coach section, which, I’m sure, endeared the crew and other passengers to us. Kurt Russell in a baseball cap was sitting behind us on his way to New York to film Escape From New York. He listened to us describe the project we were working on and eagerly asked us if there were a part in the movie for him.

At Fort Jackson, we got to shoot M-16s, run through the obstacle course and play out all our military fantasies without the negative result of getting our asses blown away as ‘target developers.’ We both had narrowly escaped active duty in Vietnam by virtue of the draft being cancelled the year (1973) we had both become eligible. The film we were writing now would be about how the smart college students going into law or accounting or wherever quickly joined the reserves back in the late ‘60s to avoid the draft and then participated in a two week training course during the summer in a small town. It would presumably show how these ‘two-week warriors’ were smarter than their commanders (just as the Animal House fraternity brothers constantly outwitted the dean of their college). When they pushed too far and partied too hard, though, the commanders held one big chip against our … heroes – they could cancel their designation as reserves and send them to active duty in Nam. Again, the army had no idea we were actually working for National Lampoon. They bent over backwards for us, and we treated them like, well, South Carolina hillbillies opportunistically spotting a bent over ‘target developer.’ We spent our $750 per week studio money on booze getting officers drunk to tell us good stories. And then every morning we tried to recover from hangovers during breakfast in the camp’s bowling alley – not a good combination.

Our liaison officer, a full colonel, was unprepared for us – two wild and crazy 24 year-olds breaking free and living large, partying like rock stars on the studio’s tab. We were lavishly put up in the general’s guest cottage at the fort and responded by trashing the place as if we were dueling Keith Moons on tour with the Who at a Holiday Inn. I remember squatting on top of the refrigerator shooting a stream of water from the fire extinguisher at Michael while our liaison officer watched in helpless, fetal position horror because we had just gotten him stoned for the first time in his life on a fat joint. He was later rewarded handsomely by getting laid by a local virgin thanks to being part of our rock star status vibe and entourage.

We came back to Hollywood with all our recorded notes and stories from our exploits and interviews at Ford Ord and Fort Jackson and proceeded to toss them out and just write our own fantastic adventure about the army reserves. The script was hilariously anarchistic, but was probably way too much for ABC to swallow, even though they clearly understood they were buying a Lampoon film. Two Weeks at War, sad to say, never made it to the screen.

Stripes, a comedy skewering the army starring Bill Murray and directed by Animal House director Ivan Reitman, came out a year later and was a big success.

So, ultimately, and perhaps karmatically, you could say Michael and I found out what it felt like to be ‘target developers.’

— A. Wayne Carter

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(Perhaps Michael will post his own account of the experience here, or at his Huffington Post blog, which I’m sure would be wilder and crazier.)

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5 Responses to “Two Weeks at War”

  1. Thanks Wayne for that trip down memory lane. There’s more to our two weeks at war. Perhaps the best screenplay would be a tale of two freaky screenwriters who get to play soldier.

    My favorite incident was witnessing Fort Ord’s commander give a speech to the assembled officers about his lousy week. “First a jeep overturned and four of our troops were killed. Then an ordnance went off and we lost three more. Finally, my daughter broke her mother’s favorite vase. It’s been a lousy week at Fort Ord.”

    I remember not believing what we were hearing and wondering if it was a joke. (No one laughed, as I recall.) Along with “target developer,” these example of Armyspeak made me glad I missed the draft by a squeak.

  2. Make that FORT Ord. I’m afraid I’m dumbing down with the rest of internetted humanity.

  3. Wayne Carter says:

    If not capitalizing the fort in FORT Ord was the sin, then ex-cuuuusse us … Sir!

  4. The error wasn’t in the capitalization, but that I misspelled it “Ford Ord.” “Ford” — as in Gerald or Henry.

  5. Wayne Carter says:

    The Proof Fairy (who also missed it the first time) sprinkled magic dust (but not irving) on that post and … presto, it never happened!

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