The Law Makers
By Shannon Lowry
You can recite the Scout Law in less than 10 seconds. But this Boy Scout film crew spent an entire summer documenting true-life stories that give unexpected meaning to the 12 points.
Emory Dunn framed his shot of the Black Hawk medevac team through the lens of a high-definition video camera, ignoring the sun that baked his dark “crew” shirt. Dakota Day, undaunted by a deluge of dust, wielded a microphone attached to a long boom just above the helicopter’s gaping side. As the concrete below him blistered, Eric Baemayr stood ready to begin his interview while director Clint Crabill made a quick, final check.
This was the money shot, and Clint knew it. Satisfied, he stood back and shouted, “Action!”
That scene didn’t play out in any Hollywood backlot. It took place on the flight line at Fort Hood Army base near Killeen in sweltering central Texas. And the film crew wasn’t comprised of a bunch of seasoned professionals. They were nine handpicked Boy Scouts from Austin who spent their summer filming short, true-life videos that gave new meaning to the 12 points of the Scout Law. They titled their documentary “Believe It. Live It.”
After making it past tight security, the boys — and their military escorts — withstood scorching heat like professionals to capture the perfect moments for their film.
“It was hot,” recalled Sean Moorhead of Troop 151. “There was no shade. You could stand under the propeller of the helicopter for shade, but that was about it.”
But it was worth it, Sean said. “It’s something people can’t usually get to do.”
The Fort Hood segment focused on the seventh point of the Scout Law, “Obedient.” As soldiers, the medevac team explained how they are sworn to obey orders that can mean the difference between life and death. Their mission: swoop low over the sniper-riddled Iraq battlefields, land, gather wounded comrades, and quickly fly away to a nearby hospital while stabilizing the injured in flight.
Complicating matters is that all this usually occurs while the medevac team is under fire. The only weapons they carry on their perilous missions are standard-issue firearms: a 9mm pistol or an M4 or M16 rifle. And the soldiers only can shoot in self-defense.
The crew wraps up their filming of the medevac team and then shakes the hand of every soldier, thanking him or her for tireless service to the nation.
“The Fort Hood shoot was just an experience in itself,” Sean said. “Just that alone would’ve made my summer.”
A need to define virtues
The idea behind “Believe It. Live It.” began with Vaughn Brock. The successful Texas entrepreneur serves as an assistant Scoutmaster and is the father of four sons. His entire family is involved in Scouting.
“I noticed that although we recite the Scout Law every week at troop meetings, no one ever defined these virtues in the Scout Law,” he said.
“As I started discussing these virtues with my sons, I realized that they needed to be defined and illustrated if my boys were going to adopt them as their own. If this was true for my boys, I was confident it was needed for all young people.”
So when the Capitol Area Council asked Brock for a donation during its capital campaign, he readily opened his checkbook and threw down a challenge at the same time.
Brock offered to bankroll a film project that would feature Scouts interpreting the 12 points of the Scout Law. He wanted the film to help boys across the country reconnect with Scouting’s core values. A contract for the film project went to Patrick and Cheryl Fries of Arrowhead Films in Austin.
The Fries then upped the ante, suggesting that area Scouts audition to produce the film. The boys would research, write, interview, and film 12 people or groups who exemplified each point of the Law.
Twenty Scouts auditioned for spots on the film crew. The Fries selected nine, who became producer, director, camera operator, sound technician, editors, and on-camera interviewers. All had interest in filmmaking, but few had any experience.
Boot camp commitment
The project was on a tight timeline — and a tight budget. The Scouts spent the first week at Arrowhead Films in a “boot camp” environment, learning the fundamentals of filmmaking. From the beginning, Fries laid down the law: The project would be a full-time job, five days a week, for most of the summer.
“For some of the boys, this was their first exposure to a true work ethic,” Fries said. “I was a stickler for no iPods or cell phones and for arriving at work on time every day.
“That meant a couple of guys had to ride a bike or take public transportation to get to the studio, but they understood there were plenty of others who could take their place if they didn’t make the commitment.”
The crew soon realized that filmmaking is more than a full-time job. Tons of work takes place before a camera ever starts shooting. Brainstorming ideas requires the most time.
In fact, Sean said, a few days began at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t end until after 9 p.m. But the boys didn’t mind rewriting their summer plans.
“We all knew what we had to do, and we worked through it,” he said. “I’m sure that we all got tired, but none of us gave up because we knew this needed to be done.”
The boys found that some points of the Scout Law were more difficult to visualize with personal stories than others. For instance, “Clean,” the 11th point, became the story of a former addict who now counsels people on how to live clean lives free of drugs and violence.
Once the Fries “green lighted” ideas, the Scouts discovered there were locations to scout, scripts to write, and permissions to obtain.
In addition, logistics of the actual shoot added problems. For “Reverent,” the Scouts wanted to film Gilbert Tuhaboyne, a running coach at Abilene (Tex.) Christian University. But how could the camera crew keep up with a world-class runner? The answer involved some Scouting ingenuity.
Pat Fries allowed use of his pedicab, and Emory rode in the back with the video camera trained on Tuhaboyne and Sean, who ran alongside. The low-tech setup didn’t resemble a camera track used in high-budget films, but the resulting shot looked just as good.
Fast-paced visual excitement
Each segment of “Believe It. Live It.” lasts about three minutes, but each of those segments has been boiled down from five or more hours of filming and even more time spent in post-production.
Rarely does the camera hold a shot longer than five seconds. So the finished segments come across fast-paced and visually exciting. Do the math: Each segment contains more than three-dozen shots. That’s a lot of editing accomplished with sophisticated video software.
Jackson McGovern, who has been interested in the business ever since an eighth-grade film class, cherished each second of the process.
“It was the break into film that I needed,” he said. “It was something that was so incredible that it would be a shame if I didn’t let this take me somewhere else.”
What other lessons did the film crew take away from the project? Clint Crabill, the documentary’s director, is an Eagle Scout with Troop 967 in Buda, Tex.
“I’ve known the Scout Law for more than half my life. I’ve thought about what the words mean before, but this project put them into a much clearer and personal focus.”
Sean said the segment he enjoyed most was the Fort Hood story “Obedient.”
“Those interviews showed me what soldiers experience in Iraq and throughout the world. The real eye-opener for me was what these medevac crews go through to save soldiers’ lives,” he said.
Sean hopes audiences across the nation and around the world see “Believe It. Live It.”
“These aren’t just Scout values; these are people values, values that everyone can live by,” he said.
Benefactor Vaughn Brock summed it up by saying, “It’s not enough just to say or recite those words in the Scout Law, you have to believe them and you have to live them. You have to use them as building blocks to build character into your life.”
Shannon Lowry, a former editor with Boys' Life magazine, lives in Austin, Tex.