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LAist Interview: Director/Producer of 'Another Day In Paradise' Deborah Dickson

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In Apriland May, LAist's TV Junkie highlighted an amazing PBS documentary series called "Carrier", about life on board the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its six-month mission to the Persian Gulf in 2005. The ten episodes gave a seawater and rivets-eye-view of what life is like for the sailors and Marines on the nuclear boat. With an average age of 20 years and a few months, the servicemen and women of the Nimitz gave the producers access to the way they worked, recuperated, and dealt with the pain of being away from their families.

If you missed the series completely, or if you got to watch at least some of "Carrier", there is a new opportunity to get another take of life on the Nimitz with the broadcast premiere of "Another Day In Paradise", tonight at 8:30pm on PBS/KCET. "Another Day In Paradise" is a 90-minute feature film style documentary composed of footage shot during the same 6 month mission in 2005 that "Carrier" was shot in, but the film is composed very differently than the series. There's a necessary beginning, middle, and end to "Another Day In Paradise" because of its format and even though the "characters" are the same, the focus is narrowed to primarily 3 protagonists and their storylines are much more cohesive since the experience isn't broken up over 10 episodes.

LAist interviewed producer and director of "Another Day In Paradise", Deborah Dickson, a 3-time Oscar-nominated producer:

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LAist: You were also a producer of "Carrier", how were these programs shot? How did you get this footage together?

Dickson: Our team, including myself, boarded the Nimitz in San Diego and spent the entire 6 months with the crew of the Nimitz on their mission. A working Navy ship is a dangerous place [crew were lost overboard during the mission] and it's an incredibly cramped place. The only time you are alone on the ship is when you slip into that precious few cubic feet of space of your bunk, which isn't very comfortable but you are so exhausted by that point of the day it just doesn't matter.

In terms of the "interviews" with the crew, these are young people who are familiar with all aspects of pop culture, so for them to get into an MTV "Real World"-style confessional booth to talk about their past, about how they're feeling during their mission, their faith or their love lives, was no big deal to them at all. We were amazed at how they shared.

LAist: The documentary style of both "Carrier" and "Another Day In Paradise" is very non-judgmental, there's no "Frontline"-type narrator dispensing facts at you, or Frederick Wiseman edits and juxtapositions of clips meant to color a perception of the characters you are filming.

Dickson: We made it very clear that we were not approaching this project with any kind of political agenda, not that the crew of the Nimitz weren't suspicious of us, but when they saw that we didn't come on board for just a day or two to grab some sensational footage and then jump off the boat. When they saw how committed we were, that we were in for the long haul, they began to let down their guard a bit and invest some time with us. As far as how the crew feels about their mission and what's going on, as you can see there's nothing homogeneous about their opinions. Of course, there are the people who think the United States should really be involved and then there are some who are questioning why we are there. The officers actually gave us a heads-up about this, they said "You will be surprised by the diversity of opinion here" and they were right.

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As you can see with (fighter pilot Lt. Doug Booher), here is a man who thinks the war in Iraq is a mistake but he "took an oath to serve his country" and will serve to the best of his ability. He's an officer and knows he can't show disrespect to the Commander-In-Chief but also, as an officer, he needs to know that his orders aren't violating the principles behind being an officer. You really seem him struggling with this.

LAist: The series seemed to have a lot more discussions about faith and religion and although we touch on it a bit, notably the bizarre broadcasts of Christian prayer through the ship's intercom system, there seems to be less in the film version.

Dickson: Right there is the luxury of having a 10 part series. We devoted an entire hour-long episode to religion in the series but I think we still communicated in the film that faith is a priority among the sailors.

LAist: I think that by focusing on primarily 3 characters in the film, the effects of their homecoming were that much more powerful than in the series. You knew what they were anticipating before they went home, and you saw the adjustments they had to make and disappointments that they might have had to deal with when they were reunited with family members and loved ones.

Dickson: I'm glad you noticed that, in particular, you witness the terrible realization and disappointment that Chris [Chris Altice, Navy E-3/aviation ordnanceman] experiences after he gets home - the shot of him, alone in his room is just heartbreaking, and those of us filming it knew it was coming from his first phone call home almost six months earlier. Also, Randy [Randy Brock, Marine Gunnery Seargeant], this big and tough guy, has had a tough separation from his family, missed the birth of his baby, has to really try to make things work.

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LAist: What experiences on the Nimitz changed your preconceptions about what the Navy and armed services was like?

Dickson: First of all, how incredibly young everyone is - we're in there with a bunch of these kids, most of them couldn't even drink back home and here they are making this major commitment. And the commitment and bravery they have is very impressive - they are working dangerous jobs in adverse conditions but it's what they experience together that makes them so committed to each other. They've been through trying times but they will do anything to support each other. We tried to communicate this by having the film end with the crew back on the Nimitz because they return to this commitment even after going through the inevitable changes a mission forces on them.

"Another Day In Paradise" airs tonight at 8:30pm of PBS/KCET