Atlanticville – Marine’s film provides ‘Severe Clear’ view of Iraq War
Marine’s film provides ‘Severe Clear’ view of Iraq War
With a rifle over his shoulder and a video camera around his neck, former Marine Corps 1st Lt. Michael Scotti went to Iraq.
Soldiers patrol during the Iraq War in a frame from the film “Severe Clear.” Several years later, with the help of director Kristian Fraga, this footage became “Severe Clear,” a documentary of Scotti’s experiences in the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Scotti will hold a screening of the film at the Count Basie Theatre in honor of Beth Quigley, a Red Bank Catholic High School classmate who died in the World Trade Center attack, while raising money to assist those fighting to protect against future tragedies.
Scotti, of Colts Neck, said that Beth Quigley was a year ahead of him at Red Bank Catholic, but the two sat near each other in advanced Spanish classes.
“We weren’t best friends or anything like that, but we were in the same groups, went to parties together,” Scotti said.
“I’d always remembered Beth as this beautiful young girl who had such a good aura about her; she was just a good person.”
Scotti said that he received the email informing him of Quigley’s death in the Sept. 11 attacks shortly before deploying to Afghanistan.
“It didn’t register that war could be a little girl getting killed at a checkpoint in Iraq or Beth Quigley going to work,” he said.
“I was a volunteer,” Scotti said, “I was a Marine by choice. I carried a rifle, I knew what I was getting into. But Beth Quigley just wanted to go to work.
“That changed the whole dynamic of why I personally was there: I was there to defend her honor, make sure she didn’t die in vain, and kill those that did this.
Michael Scotti “I would give my own life to make sure that that happens.”
Throughout his 2003 tour of duty in Iraq, Scotti said, he carried a laminated copy of Quigley’s yearbook picture.
“When I was feeling tired or scared or hungry, that brought me back to where I needed to be mentally.
“She reminded me of a time in my life that was good and happy and basically everything the opposite of where we ended up in the war.”
He also carried a camcorder.
Scotti said he did not originally intend to use the footage he shot during the 2003 invasion of Iraq for a film.
“I was using the footage as notes for a book; it was just going to be a video diary for my own personal use.
“I was going to go back to it after I got out of the Marine Corps and write a memoir about my experience in war and what it was all like,” he said.
Marine Michael Scotti’s film captures the experience of troops fighting in Iraq. But Scotti found that the camera took notes more effectively than he could.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth 10,000,” he said.
“I could jot down, in the middle of combat, a couple notes about something that I saw, a scene, but if I shot 45 seconds of video of it, it will take me back; I can be much more descriptive with the writing, and I’m not just relying on memory.”
Scotti said that after his tour, he spent time writing down his thoughts while they were fresh, which he used for parts of the film’s voiceover.
However, he said his footage really resonated with people, which led him to make it into a film, incorporating footage shot by other members of 1st Battalion 4th Marines.
“People flipped out when they saw real, unedited, raw combat footage and heard the fear in our voices and saw what combat was really like,” he said.
Scotti said that soldiers are allowed to carry cameras according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ,) but the outdated code omits mention of video cameras.
“They don’t rewrite these military laws every couple of years, so no one really thought about personal video cameras on the battlefield.
“Technology has advanced from the time of the first Gulf War to this one; imagine: in the first Gulf War you would have had a huge VHS video camera on your shoulder.”
As a forward observer, Scotti constantly scanned the horizon to locate targets for artillery or mortars, so the camera was a natural fit.
“I would have had a set of binoculars,” Scotti said, “it’s been the same way since World War I … because you’re scanning all the time, so I just ended up swapping out the binoculars for a video camera. I hung it around my neck and used it as a tool.”
Scotti said that in one scene in the film, his captain asks him to investigate movement in the distance using his camera.
“The zoom on the camera was actually more powerful than the zoom on the binoculars,” he said.
“I was able to do my job and not be fumbling with the camera and have it being a distraction. As long as you’re focused outward on the enemy, no one really said anything.”
Scotti said he worried about the reaction the film would receive, specifically from fellow Marines, but he said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I went out on a limb here by making this film. I was nervous, especially for the guys that I served with, because what if they hated it and never talked to me again? I’d be devastated. These are people that I care about as much as my own family,” he said.
According to Scotti, the Marine Corps has no official opinion of the movie, but he said the individual soldiers he has talked to loved the film because it is apolitical, sharing the experience of the soldiers without taking a political stance.
“I’ve had scores of conversations with 25- year-old guys who were 18 and 19 back in 2003, who had served and saw things that they’re struggling with,” Scotti said.
“There has been a huge response from veterans thanking us for making this film and asking us if we can get copies to their moms and their wives, showing it to their families. It creates that shared experience that they’ve been lacking.”
Scotti said the film’s appeal extends beyond Gulf War veterans and resonates with those who served in previous wars as well.
“I’m proud of what we did over there,” Scotti said. “I’m proud of being a Marine, I’ll always be proud of being a Marine.
“I’m p——- off because there were no weapons of mass destruction, and obviously I’m devastated because a lot of my best friends are getting killed, but the Marine Corps didn’t choose to go fight the war.
“That allegiance and faithfulness to the Marine Corps really showed through the whole thing.”
According to Scotti, the term “severe clear” refers to rare weather conditions that permit seemingly infinite visibility.
“It’s basically as clear as it could possibly get.”
Pilots described the morning of Sept. 11 as “severe clear,” Scotti said.
While his film has clear ties to Sept. 11, the implications of the term go deeper.
“The audience is getting a pretty clear glimpse of what it’s like to fight in a war; we didn’t hold anything back,” Scotti said.
“It also has to do with things being very clear in the beginning; I told my men that we were going to make sure that we were safe in the U.S. and that we didn’t get hit with chemical weapons, and that obviously wasn’t the case.”
All proceeds of the event will benefit ReserveAid, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides financial and emotional assistance to military reservists called to serve and their families.
Scotti is one of the founding board members of the organization.
“Multiple deployments can wreck your life, because you’re not on active duty all the time; you have a wife, you have a job, you have kids, you have a mortgage. Say you’re making $40,000 a year, then you have to go on an 18-month deployment and you’re making $22,000 a year … you take this massive hit in income,” he said.
Polly Weidenkopf, executive director of Reserve Aid, said the organization has helped 1,600 families and distributed $3.7 million.
“We provide rent or mortgage assistance, utility bills, car payments, car insurance, and the service member must have been either a National Guard member or one of the reserve components and have been activated from 2007 to the present time,” she said.
Scotti will hold a question-and-answer session after the screening.
The Count Basie Theatre doors will open at 7 p.m., with the film screening beginning at 8 p.m. The film is rated R.
Benefit tickets priced at $100, $75 and $50 are available at the box office, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank, and at the Count Basie website, www.countbasietheatre.org.
For additional event information, visit www.reserveaid.org and click on Events.