Published: May 8, 2024
Category: Essays | News
The power of story

By Kim LeMasters, former ICT Creative Director (2007 – 2012)

[PHOTO: TRIPWIRE, ICT Productions, 2005]

Kim LeMasters has worked as both an executive and a creative talent in the film business. Posts that he has held include Vice President, Walt Disney features and President, CBS Entertainment. As a television and movie producer, LeMasters’ credits include the feature film the WILD WILD WEST (1999), and movies of the week: WISEGUY (1996), THRESHOLD (2003), and he was the executive producer and head writer on the USA series SILK STALKINGS (1991). LeMasters was ICT’s Creative Director from 2007 – 2012 and tells us how he joined the institute – and what he’s most proud of from those days. 

The future may hold that quantum physics defines the compositional elements of phenomena called opportunity. Until that moment arrives, opportunity will remain the intersection of when a moment in time blends with the favorable and offers a person the chance to be part of something special and possibly make change. 

My dance with the Institute for Creative Technologies was a special opportunity, and more.

I was writing and doing consulting work when my son, having been accepted to Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, announced he was going Naval ROTC as he wanted to combine education with service to his country. I was impressed with his commitment and frightened at the same time as it had only been a couple of years since 9/11 and war was being waged. The thought of my son going into harm’s way was unsettling as it seemed there was not a thing I could do to support him. 

Then an opportunity arrived.

Richard Lindheim, then Executive Director, ICT, asked me to produce a short film aimed at capturing the essence of an Army case study examining leadership and the second and third order of effects of the decisions made. He paired me with a remarkable man educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point and holder of a PhD in Computer Science, Randall Hill. I accepted the opportunity with gratitude and excitement. That short film, and meeting Dr. Hill led me to a position within the Institute as the Creative Director.

The Institute harnesses a fascinating and intriguing blend of studies: science, art, and mechanics to Hollywood, yes Hollywood. The Institute took on rejigging the process of filmmaking and storytelling to forge new tools to improve experience and leadership in the armed forces. The concept of storytelling has existed throughout the existence of humanity, the foremost method of instruction and history keeping. Storytelling is also the age-old currency used in the armed services to communicate experience. One can imagine a Roman soldier racing back to General Scipio to tell the wild story of the advance of Hannibal with his African elephants in tow. The story may have sounded preposterous but was indubitably spellbinding. Such is the power of a story.

An example of how the Institute melded its considerable pool of research and innovation to storytelling is when it was contacted to examine an east coast company’s obligation to design an educational concept that targeted the new, effective and chief enemy weapon, the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). These homebuilt devices leveled a devastating effect and were ambushing soldiers on what seemed to be a daily basis. Importantly, soldiers were being intimidated by the unknown and unseen.

When my team and I arrived in Virginia, we were presented with the company’s plans. Their notion of familiarizing pre-deployment soldiers was a walk-through trailer with placards, bomb cutaways and before and after pictures of detonations of IEDs. It was by design more akin to a museum and a passive experience. 

We at ICT had a different take: we wanted to make it an active experience. Blending Hollywood set design, storytelling and video, the vision of ICT was that when the pre-deployed soldiers entered the trailer, they entered into the mindset of a bombmaker. 

Storytelling is highly effective when the persona and method of the antagonist is clearly understood. From the first step inside the trailer until they exited the experience, the soldiers were immersed into the environment of the enemy using every pyrotechnic tool available and the potency of a scary story to engage the soldiers. 

A good story gets embedded. This approach was used to construct the Mobile Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Interactive Trainer, or MCIT. The trainer offered interactive education of the methodology used, the construction, and the implementation of an IED. Soldiers and Marines who participated were better prepared to avoid injury.

Storytelling was incorporated into game engines to create mobile platforms that could be conformed to various topics of interest to the service community. The scope of the topics had width and purpose. Issues like sexual harassment, discipline, downstream effects of decision-making, and even delving into ethical and moral responsibility. 

The Institute, at the behest of the United States Army Chaplain Corps, created and produced a short film entitled, FALLEN EAGLE. The film depicted a situation where the assassination of a beloved NCO produced repercussions within an Army Infantry company. The film challenged the viewing audience as to how and what they would have done to prevent the tragedy of not the homicide of the NCO, but instead the actions of the company’s components: the foot soldiers themselves. The film received a citation of commendation and gratitude from the Chaplains and is perhaps my most cherished memory of what the power of storytelling is capable of producing.

As someone who has spent his majority of career in the film business, it was a pleasure to have the exposure to the culture of ICT. To meet with PhDs in multiple disciplines in science, psychology, sociology, and mathematics and see them interact with members of the Hollywood community to deliver valuable tools to assist service personnel was highly fulfilling. To work with an organization where the only goal is to create benefit for the armed services was humbling and deeply satisfying. ICT provided me to not directly protect my son, but to perhaps protect those in his community of warfighters.