As a 25-year old combat medic in the U.S. Army with a successful career, Daril Fannin (Screenwriting M.F.A. – 2016) decided to retire his uniform and pursue his dream of writing for film and television. After being accepted to every graduate school he applied to, he chose to attend SFTV’s Screenwriting program. Nearly three years later, he’s hosting and creating content for All Warrior Network.com and has already been named one of Variety’s “Students to Watch.”
Screenwriting Professor Stephen Duncan recently spoke to Fannin about his career change and what Vets bring to the creative industry. Duncan should know: he served in the U.S. Navy and is co-creator and executive consultant for the Emmy-winning series Tour of Duty (1987-1990), which is set during the Vietnam War.
Stephen Duncan: I read in your bio that you were raised in a sect of Christianity that condemned movies and TV, and that you didn’t actually see any movies until the age of 17. How did this shape your writing and the decision to become a screenwriter?
Daril Fanin: To be fair, I did see a few movies as a child. My “ungodly” grandparents had a TV. So, when we would go to their house, we could watch Disney movies that she recorded on VHS and a few Saturday morning cartoons. But my family didn’t own a TV or go to the movies. At 17, my childhood theology was debunked and then the The Matrix happened…it was a total mindf*ck. I didn’t know that I wanted to be in the film industry at that point, but when I saw Neo rise from the globs of amniotic fluid and unlock himself from the Matrix, I knew I was hooked.
You didn’t pursue a career in Hollywood right out of the gate; instead, you joined the Army after high school and became a combat medic. What motivated you to enlist? I enlisted at 17 after reading a book called Dustoff about a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who would evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield. I wanted to be on the front lines to help the injured survive and see their families again.
During your time in the Army you had a successful career. Why did you decide to leave? After winning the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year Award for the state of Tennessee, my chain of command encouraged me to get my commission. I had been writing for a couple of years at that point and decided to study screenwriting while working toward my degree. I had also moved from a front-line medic position to an administrative position. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved writing more than filling out Department of Defense forms. I was honorably discharged at the end of June 2014, and my wife and I moved to L.A. the next week.
How has your experience as a combat medic influenced you as a writer? When I joined the Army, I was [a] 135lb kid who didn’t believe in himself, have a voice or understand the world that he was in. Being a medic built my confidence because I was good at it. It also helps that I can pen things that others have never experienced. I know what it’s like to shoot an automatic grenade launcher, apply a tourniquet, start an IV, perform an arm-bar. That experience definitely gives me a distinct advantage when writing action. Oh, and the characters you meet in the military. The Army’s full of weirdos like me!
That is a big advantage – one of the ways I was able to break into the entertainment industry was by drawing from my own experiences and perspective of the military. Are there other skills that you learned in the Army that you feel are translatable, and will help you in your career as a screenwriter? The Army has a warrior ethos – I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. Learning to set priorities, define an objective and do whatever it takes to meet those goals is crucial to a career in an ever-evolving industry. You also have to remember that you’re a part of a team…I think sometimes writers forget that filmmaking is a collaborative process.
Why did you choose SFTV’s graduate screenwriting program over other programs? Associate Professor Beth Serlin [laughs]. Seriously, though…I was accepted into every M.F.A. program and Beth was a huge influence. But besides having a great advisor, LMU stood out in three ways:
- LMU’s staff focuses on helping the students develop relationships within the industry like no other program — and third year mentorships are just a few examples.
- LMU helps you develop a body of work and LMU sets up pitch meetings at the end of graduation.
- LMU is a Vet-friendly school that offers the post 9-11 Yellow Ribbon Program to help offset the cost of tuition.
Oh…and the campus is exquisite. You could recruit people just by taking them on a walk out by the bluff. On a clear winter day, you can see the sprawl of the city from Malibu to the snow capped mountains in the east. Instant registration!
You’re currently a writer/host/content creator for All Warrior Network.com. Tell us about this experience. Right after moving to L.A., I began to intern at MUSA Media (military consultants who have worked on everything from Transformers to HBO’s show The Brink). They had just recently partnered up with TV4 to create a channel for the military community. My producers wanted to do a show that we could write and shoot on a very tight schedule (4-6 hours each episode) that basically recapped the military entertainment news of the week. But, when it came time to shoot the thing, we didn’t have an actor. I was “volun-told” to host the show, and the rest is history.
Do you feel there are important things about GIs and Vet’s experiences that can be communicated through TV and film? It sounds cliché, but the men and women in uniform experience the extreme in ways that others can’t begin to imagine. I know a man who lay in the streets, broken and bleeding while his Team Leader (scalp ripped to the back of his head) asked him if he was okay. He said, “Yeah,” because he wasn’t dying. That’s a perspective most first-world people don’t understand. It’s the kind of experience that thousands of warfighters bring home and then deal with. And, in my experience, people tend to forget that these military members are people too. Post-Traumatic Stress is something we have turned a blind eye to, even while the V.A. has been reporting for years that 22 Veterans kill themselves everyday. That’s just one aspect of Vets’ experiences that I hope I can bring to the forefront and humanize for those who can’t imagine being in that place.
Find out more about Daril Fannin by visiting his website here.