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Interview: Director riffs on Lt. Dan Band documentary

Some people crave the spotlight with the things they do in life, while others tend to avoid it. Gary Sinise is the latter in this case, but Jonathan Flora passionately felt Sinise deserved a token of recognition for his tremendous act of patriotism. After viewing “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good,” one couldn’t agree more.

Now the first name you probably recognize. Sinise is an accomplished actor who was nominated for an Oscar thanks to his combustible, yet endearing, performance as Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.” He’s won an Emmy, Golden Globe, and is constantly lauded for many of his efforts in the film & television. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment though, is what he started doing ten years ago with his touring cover band, as they venture all over the world performing for out brave men and women, who train and fight for our precious freedom. And strangely, only a portion of the country is aware of it.

Enter in Jonathan Flora. Flora is currently a producer for Walt Disney Studio’s home entertainment department. Any time one sees promotion for a live-action Disney Blu-ray or DVD product, Flora is the man running the show. The guy has also won his share of accolades with his creative marketing work on trailers, TV, and radio spots for the studio. He was once the Director of Marketing for World Wrestling Entertainment, where he began dabbling in filmmaking while producing television spots and vignettes. Now, he and his wife Deborah have created Lamplight Entertainment. Even with his impressive resume, Flora is most proud of one thing in particular…

“Within the entertainment business, people aren’t necessarily going to know who I am. But, I’m a veteran and I like to hang my name on that” says the former sergeant of the 82nd Airborne Division.

With all that said, Jonathan…readers; readers…Jonathan. And here’s why I’m yapping with him…

Flora is the director of the Lt. Dan Band documentary, which will be releasing appropriately on July 4th. However, it will not be a traditional release. Lamplight Entertainment decided to forgo dealing with typical studio distribution. Therefore, they developed a streaming option via the official web site, so anyone with an internet connection can pull up and be a part of this special film. Ironically, they’re executing a style that many bands are doing today with their respective albums – release it on your own and control your own destiny – to reach the maximum amount of people. Flora elaborates a bit more on why he chose this approach, even though they did have talks with distributors about a possible theatrical release plan…

“This isn’t like Transformers as you know. This is a documentary and we didn’t want to get limited (literally) to a theatrical release in a handful of cities.”

His main reason for this strategy is a noble one; for every $1 out of the $4 it costs to view the feature, goes back to the Gary Sinise Foundation. Enabling Sinise to continue what he’s doing to support the USO and other institutions such as Operation International Children and Snowball Express. Plus, the troops overseas want to see it!

“We know exactly who our target audience is and we want to be sure this reaches them.”

“At the end of day, accolades are nice, but we want the consumers to see it, we want them to like it. We found from all the screenings that we’ve done is that people are motivated to want to do something. And we’re not going to stir up that emotion and not have somewhere to send them. And so for a movie like this, the more we can keep that emotion going, the more people are going to do something.”

Anyone wondering how a guy like Flora and Gary Sinise came together?

“I met him at a film festival a few years ago and then met him a few months later at the G.I. film festival, where I’m on the advisory board. I felt so inspired about what he’s doing; I wanted to share that inspiration.”

It’s that simple folks (it’s not like Jonathan and I were doing an Inside the Actor’s Studio thing). Flora has been going all over the country – on his own vacation time – promoting this 4th of July release. And since both our names end in a vowel (chatty Italians), we were mindful in trying not to babble so we can get to all the topics yours truly wanted to cover.

The most recent above quote though is the feeling he hopes others will receive after seeing this documentary, because it urges people to want to help in a variety of ways. Flora talked about the special screenings he has started doing with this film and the reactions he’s been personally seeing via emails and face-to-face. One particular email stated that after watching Lt. Dan Band, a father, who was with his 5 year-old son, went up just to shake a soldier’s hand. The father reflected how proud he was to have his son see his act of graciousness.

Flora told a quick tale on how they had a private screening with Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat. Flora revealed that as soon as the doc ended, Riley turned to him and said he “felt so inadequate.” Flora thoughts based on that situation…

“You know, no matter how much you might be doing already; no matter how much you have whether its notoriety, money or celebrity status, you can always do more.”

From there the focus shifted to the physical filmmaking aspects of the documentary. Being his first doc, what challenges did Flora have transitioning from a structured script to a raw, uninhabited production? Was he in over-his-head at times? At this point, I bit my lip and just let the guy roll on with his experience. Which is coincidently a practice he had to implement on himself multiple times during this project…

“You start rolling the cameras and then real-life takes over. People start talking and bring in their experiences and their emotions. And it’s like, WOW, there is all these incredible, incredible stories being told. And I shot hundreds of hours of footage; and to edit that down to 90 minutes was one of the most painful things I ever had to do. My editor (Jeffrey Doe) and I, we could be sitting there watching an interview, where we’re either laughing or crying, but the story could have taken an exit ramp and gone way over here in different directions.”

Basically, there are so many avenues Flora could have drove down with all the footage he amassed that it becomes a heavy responsibility on how he handles each segment. He never felt in over-his-head per se, but…

“It was pretty overwhelming on making decisions on whose story is told and whose makes the bonus DVD features.”

One segment, in what became the last shot of the doc, is a heavy, emotional question to Gary Sinise while they’re on their way to another gig. This both tested Flora’s guile as a filmmaker and a human being…

“You know I really like your questions, because you’re getting into the filmmaking aspects of it.” (Well thanks my man, you’re a cool cat as well)…

“I didn’t want to make a movie with a bunch of ‘thank yous’ to Gary. I wanted to present things to Gary that I knew meant the world to him.”

This said last question revolves around how a widow of a fallen solider, who Sinise met a few times over the years, thought of the actor. His reaction, coupled the bravery of how the shot was executed, is extremely powerful to behold…

“He went speechless even longer than what I kept the camera on him for the final cut of the film. Gary felt undeserving hearing certain praise.”

Joe: How were you able to maintain your composure and not chime in during this seemingly awkward moment?

Flora: You’re responsible for where you take them emotionally. And I knew that I had taken Gary where he was very moved and touched by it. And it took everything I had to not help bail him out. You want to crack a joke or say another line. I’m just very proud I kept my mouth shut and just let that emotion ride out with him.

And with that, we fade to black.

But there’s always extra footage in the credits folks. With that said, here’s this articles version of footage…

Jonathan and Deborah Flora’s purpose of Lamplight Entertainment is to celebrate the hero, not the anti-hero. They strive to produce movies that are inspirational and entertaining; encompassing characters that we care about; and want to follow on their journey.

WATCH LT. DAN BAND: FOR THE COMMON GOOD

Interview by Joe Belcastro

(from left) Gary Sinise, Deborah Flora, Jonathan Flora

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Joe Belcastro is an established movie critic in Tampa, Florida. As a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle, most of his time is spent reviewing upcoming movies. He also covers news pertaining to the film industry, on both a local and national level as well as conducting interviews. To contact Joe Belcastro regarding a story or with general questions about his services, please e-mail him and/or follow him on Twiiter @TheWritingDemon.

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