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 Terry Benedict Interview 
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Born in Loma Linde, California and raised in Indiana,  Terry Benedict graduated from Pepperdine University. In Hollywood, he worked with cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Conrad Hall. He served as an assistant director of the stunt unit for the first "Terminator" movie. Benedict's first directing job was on the film "Painted Hero," which won several film festival awards for "Best Indie Dramatic Feature." It was during this time that Benedict began to evaluate the work he was producing, and he decided to commit himself to creating works that inspire and promote positive human values. He decided to produce and direct a documentary of his boyhood hero, Desmond Doss. This documentary, "The Conscientious Objector," received the Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival. Benedict himself was recognized with the "Humanitarian Award." During a recent screening of "The Conscientious Objector" in Indianapolis, Benedict sat down for an interview with Richard.

Richard 

Why a film about Desmond Doss?

Terry:

The story is a perfect arc about a character who not only accomplishes something, but who also changes the lives of those around him.

Richard:

It's important to note before we begin that just this week Desmond Doss passed away. It must be incredibly hard for you to be here. Doss was your childhood idol? Can you tell me more?

Terry:

Yes, it is. I'd just seen Desmond a week and a half ago. He pulled me up beside him and whispered "There's something I've not told you." He was like that...simple, honest. I don't think he actually told me anything new, but it was really nice seeing him again. I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist in Rensselaer, Indiana.  Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist who took seriously the commandment "Thou Shall Not Kill." Desmond is the first conscientious objector in this country who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for military service.

Richard:

As I understand it, Doss served as a medic in the military under great duress. He refused to carry a gun, and never did despite being on the frontlines in World War II.

Terry:

He risked his life repeatedly. In Okinawa, he almost single-handedly saved 75 men by repeatedly going back under fire to pull out dead and injured men.

Richard:

It's an amazing story. My understanding is that Doss had repeatedly refused to tell his story. Clearly, he trusted you to get it right.

Terry:

Desmond had reached the point where he wanted to share his story with Adventist youth. He and his son contacted me, and I was able to really sell him on the value of reaching out. He was progressive enough to understand. I truly believed it would shed great light.

Richard:

So, you go from working on a film like "The Terminator" to a film about a conscientious objector.

Terry:

I had just decided I didn't want to make films that were simply gratuitous. I wanted to make films that were socially important. I was married with two children and thinking about my legacy. What did I want to leave behind? I was driving in Ireland, having conversations and I realized that making films like this is what God wants me to do.

Richard:

Can you tell me about your upbringing? How did you get interested in film?

Terry:

I grew up in a Seventh-Day Adventist family. I didn't even see television until I was 10-years-old. My family was really surprised when I announced I wanted to study film.

Richard:

So you moved to California?

Terry:

I received a full-ride scholarship to Pepperdine University.

Richard:

You've also modeled for Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. In a relatively young career, you've received quite a few awards. You seem to be uncomfortable talking about that sort of thing.

Terry:

I'm grateful to be able to use my skills in writing and cinematography to create films that bring people together. 

Richard:

You won the Director's Award at Cinequest in Phoenix. That's awesome enough in itself, but Cinequest tends to get really great feature films...to win the Director's Award with a Feature Documentary is really impressive.

Terry:

I was so nervous at the first showing, but audiences right away seemed to love the film. Desmond was at the film's premiere in Phoenix. In fact, it was his first time in a movie theatre. That was the most exciting part for me. I'd worked so hard to convince him that people would want to hear his story, and I was doing a Q&A session after the screening when people started asking about Desmond. I said "Why don't you ask him? He's right here." He stood up and received a standing ovation.

Richard:

Wonderful.

Terry:

I can't take credit for the story of Desmond Doss. My greatest pressure was to not screw it up.

Richard:

What have you learned from the experience?

Terry:

You can't be around Desmond Doss without being inspired. He inspires you to not be so quick to pull the trigger when you're serving and even when things aren't going well.

Richard:

He must have really inspired you. You started a foundation?

Terry:

Yes. The Shae Foundation. "Shae" is Gaelic for "gifted" and "learned." It's also my daughter's name. The Shae Foundation was started to provide positive and encouraging stories through all forms of media. It is designed to encourage educational partnerships and production opportunities. We're working on a starting a charter school for fellowship and mentoring. We've got other projects we're working on, as well.

Richard:

What do you think Desmond would want us to take away from this film?

Terry:

I've known Desmond for six years. For all the time I've spent with him, you could never really have a deep conversation with him. Desmond was a simplistic person who basically believed in the ten guidelines. I think if there's one thing he'd want us to take away it would be the golden rule.

Richard:

Even though Desmond didn't carry a weapon, how was he affected by the war?

Terry:

One of the first things he said to his wife when he got off the plane after his return was "don't ever ask me about the war." She never did. Every man was grossly affected. Desmond never could shake it.

Richard:

In the film, you interview many of Desmond's fellow soldiers, superiors and many who originally opposed his presence in the military. How did you get the cooperation of these men, many of whom tried hard to have Desmond thrown out or punished?

Terry:

Things started to change for Desmond on the frontlines. It seemed like there was hardly ever a battle where there wasn't some story of heroism involving him. As much as his superiors harassed him, Desmond is now treated with a sort of reverence.  All of the men I interviewed now express regret at the way they treated Desmond. Desmond, to this day, is the only Army soldier to receive a Marine Corps honor. There's a Desmond Doss Boulevard on one of the bases named in his honor.

Richard:

As if this film isn't amazing enough, there's even a connection to 9/11 as I understand?

Terry:

We were actually filming on an Army base on 9/11. We were sitting there filming, then watching the World Trade Center collapse. We were actually locked down on the base.

Richard:

Which begs the question...in this time of war how has a film such as this one been received?

Terry:

We've had people in both the Pentagon and White House see the film and love it. Iraq war families have seen the film. It has been very well received. Of course, this war is very different. There was a study done among the soldiers in Iraq that hasn't gotten a lot of publicity. 70% of them didn't understand why they were there and wanted to come home. The reasons behind World War II were very different from the war in Iraq.

Richard:

What's next for Terry Benedict?

Terry:

I've been working on this film for four years...two to film it and two on the film festival circuit. I'm starting to work on other projects, and I'm continuing to work with the Shae Foundation. I'm seen as the leader of the foundation right now, but I plan to stay on the creative side.

Richard:

Well, thank you for chatting with us.

Terry:

You're welcome. It's been a pleasure. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions.

For more information on The Shae Foundation visit their website.

 

 "The Conscientious Objector" continues to be screened at film festivals and is now available on DVD through The Shae Foundation website. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the DVD benefits Shae Foundation programs. This interview was originally published on IndependentCritics.com on March 29, 2006.

- Richard Propes
 The Independent Critic

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