It was mid way into baseball season when I received call from an old friend. Once upon a time, we were on the seizure of Haditha Dam together. I wondered if he had bad news. I must have let out a long sigh. “It’s not one of those calls”, he said, “This is a good thing. This is going to be a real good thing, Buddy,” as only my friend Matthew Sanders could say.
“Tomorrow morning in downtown Los Angeles???” I laughed. My mind was spinning. I hadn’t thought about Haditha in years. Well at least not voluntarily. After a little encouragement, I accepted. It was a memorable reunion for me. I am forever grateful that I got a chance to reconnect with some old friends. It meant a lot more than I could have imagined. I even kept in touch with some of the members of the production crew. Through the process I met fellow Havok Journal writer and former 1st Battalion Ranger, Michael Baumgarten.
For the last year or so, Mike has teamed up with former Navy Seal Ray Mendoza and “Lone Survivor” director, Peter Berg. Together they’ve worked tirelessly to bring the most intense military Docu-series any of us could imagine. It’s simple. Real guys, telling real stories to honor those they’ve had the pleasure to serve with. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.
#LiveToTell, airs on Sunday nights on the History Channel at 10/9c. If you failed to catch the first episode, you can do so, while it’s still available, on the History Channel Website. Mike recently checked in to discuss the, excitement, expectations and his thoughts on the release of this new series.
HJ– After watching episode #1 on the History Channel website, I can’t even begin to explain the feelings of pride I have in being associated with this project. You and Ray, and the whole team, really nailed it. I haven’t seen anything this raw and this emotional on television before. I mean ever. Anywhere. Knowing that it’s told by some of the people that were really actually there, really separates this, apart from other military type TV shows.
The Marc Lee tribute episode is an absolute must see. For anyone who is at all interested in special operations, or the warrior mindset, or the whole culture of this stuff in general. Without getting into too much, these guys like Jocko, and Leif Babin really leave the audience wanting to pick their brains about everything from philosophy to specific training methods. What was your inspiration in producing this project, and how did you go about picking each individual story to tell?
MB- I was brought into the project by Ray Mendoza, a former Navy SEAL whom I had worked with during my time as an instructor attached to Naval Special Warfare. It was through this friendship, however unlikely between SEAL and Ranger that I was asked to work on this project.
Ray wanted to create a living memorial to the friends he had lost, and ultimately to create something that any Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine could feel a connection to. The stories we picked really didn’t have any rhyme or reason. Each of us had a personal story we wanted to tell. For Ray that was Marc Lee, for me it was Rob Sanchez. The early struggle and quasi-panic when we got green lit in May was how we were going to convince guys from the community to trust us, to know that we were going to do this right.
HJ- I’ve heard Peter Berg say several times that some of the guys from Navy Special Warfare told him that if he didn’t get some details right, he would be killed. Now, probably said in what was sure to be “good fun.” How much pressure is there to get the stories as accurate as possible? Secondly what was it like to hear these stories over and over in the editing room?
It’s got to be a constant reminder emotionally of just how important these stories are to the people telling them.
MB– There is a huge amount of pressure to do what we promised to do. Ray and I have both invested every piece of personal capital we have in our respective communities. Without that we wouldn’t have gained the trust of guys like you who stepped up to be interviewed. I know Ray and I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, with the resources we had. For us it will never be good enough. First and foremost the opinions of those interviewed were the priority. So we sent them all copies of the cuts we had. Next the community at large, if they feel like we didn’t do this right then we failed, plain and simple.
As far as watching these episodes over and over it affects you for sure, how could it not? It reminds you every time of your personal experiences but you see these guys go through it over and over. I know all the story producers who worked on this project, and the editors have been profoundly and permanently changed by it. Each interview was over 2 hours long, each episode could be 6 hours long, how do we tell their story the right way in 45 min? It’s tough.
I don’t think people fully understand just how much of a utility player, guys like you and Ray are for this type of project. There was a lot that went into this to recreate some of these things from my understanding. I even noticed some familiar faces in the re-enactments. What was it like for you guys to basically re-live some of the events during the making of the action scenes? and how did the skills you gained in the Ranger Regiment help you to make this show the success it’s obviously going to be within the military community and even within the general public?
MB- Well, everyone will see familiar faces because first and foremost we want to work with our friends. Who doesn’t want a fun job where you get to just hang out and bullshit with your buddies? Plus they are all vets and we got a chance to provide work for them. It’s a small thing, I wish I could do more, perhaps one day I will.
I personally didn’t struggle until we had to shoot the Obj Breton episode. I wasn’t a happy camper that night to say the least and I am lucky I had Ray to lean on to help me out. Ray is the experienced one when it comes to setting up these scenes. He has done a lot of work in this industry and he as a great artistic vision and knows what he wants out of each scene. We know what it looks like when an actor carries a rifle and moves, it looks like shit most of the time. We were lucky to hire guys from the SEAL, Ranger, and Recon communities. We don’t need to direct them really, they already know what to do and they do it so well. You really just give them minimal guidance and they execute brilliantly. I think its amazing that guys from all these backgrounds came together to make this show.
HJ- Mike, as ALWAYS, it was a pleasure chatting with you. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes each week ahead. Check out Live to Tell on History at 10/9c this Sunday and remember to leave your feedback at #LivetoTell on Twitter.