writing lessons from the idiot box: Band of Brothers

I’m not big on war movies, so it’s hard for me to talk about how very much I love Band of Brothers, because it’s such a outlier of my usual preferences for entertainment. A dear friend talked me into watching the first episode, Currahee, and I was quickly hooked by the strong pacing and  smart writing.

(On Lieutenant Sobel, a hapless dickhead of a drillmaster hilariously played by David Schwimmer. How much of a hapless dickhead was he? Well, besides constantly punishing Easy Company for imaginary infractions, he quite frequently bellowed out “IR-RE-GARD-LESS” during his dressing-downs of Easy, which is not, you know, a real word.)

Capt. Nixon: Sobel’s a genius. I had a headmaster in prep school who was just like him. I know the type.
Maj. Winters: Lew, Michaelangelo’s a genius. Beethoven’s a genius.
Nixon: You know a man in this company who wouldn’t double-time Currahee with a full pack just to piss in that man’s morning coffee?

Besides often being funny, Band of Brothers is captivating for many reasons; not least of all that it is a true story of a company of men who were larger than life. It’s great to watch just for the sheer pleasure of good tv, but on the rewatch (and it is infinitely rewatchable) I’ve got my writing hat on. I’m learning how opposition breeds heroism and camraderie, I’m getting a whole new definition of the word “brother.” I’m getting a better idea of how an army actually works, what wartime is really like, and how to realistically write a soldier, a man at war, who might be hilarious and loveable like Perconte… and yet have no qualms about stealing watches from the dead enemy, like Perconte.

“They’re all ticking, unlike their previous owners”

And that’s just one soldier out of a whole company; each of these guys has his own life, story, personality, quirks and foibles. There are no flat characters here. This verisimilitude is really important to me in crafting my own fiction. Yeah, my wars might be fought with swords and sorcery, but I like to think the people caught up in them are chips off the Easy Company block.

So if you ever want to write about soldiers, I really think you can’t do better for entertaining research than Band of Brothers. I wanted to put some clips in here, but a 2 minute Youtube reel just doesn’t do it justice. You can see it at HBO’s site, if you have one of those pass things, or download eps through itunes. Personally, I am going downstairs right now to watch Currahee on my shiny metal boxed set.