As a reporter, I have few if any job difficulties. Sure, there’s the occasional angry email, a typo slips through production, or I miss a deadline and get heat from my editor. Also, sometimes my back hurts. Privileged problems to have.
What I don’t feel in my day to day life at work? Danger in delivering the daily news or risking my life to tell a story, and Steven Barber’s ‘World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route’ has captured that feeling.
Barber, a Santa Monica-based filmmaker (when he’s not traveling the world in the name of his craft), has told stories ranging from the exploits of paraplegic athletes to following the makings of the first NCAA basketball game aboard a Navy supercarrier.
Fresh from Afghanistan, he has just finished producing what he says is the masterpiece of his filmography, a documentary detailing the United States’ military newspaper. He took some time to talk with the Daily Press about the documentary.
What’s the documentary about?
The World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route is about the men and women of Stars and Stripes, a historic military newspaper. It’s been around forever, since the Civil War. It had some starts and stops, but it’s been going nonstop since Eisenhower brought it back in 1941.
They pressed about two million papers a day in World War II and nearly a million copies a day in Iraq. If there’s a war tomorrow, something happens with Korea, that’d ramp production up.
Their paper has a local feel, too. A guy from Ohio stationed in Afghanistan can read about the Bengals and other things in Cleveland, makes him feel at home.
They break big stories, too. They broke the Brian Williams story.
Circulation goes global: Afghanistan, Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, all over the Middle East and downrange (military slang for overseas, typically a combat zone). It’s just incredible what these people do. And that’s on top of what these men and women do for us.
But what it’s about… well, it’s about a lot of things. When I first started this, I didn’t know what the story would be exactly. I thought it’d be just about the paper and its history, but it became more than that— it’s about the people that make the paper what it is.
One person is Laura Rauch. She’s been a combat photographer for the paper and has had to deal with 12 of her partners being killed on the job. Another is Kyle Hockenberry, who lost an arm and leg on the job. So, the documentary is about those that put their life on the line to tell a story. They’re unsung heroes.
No one’s told that story, until now.
How different is the producer role for you as opposed to directing? What kind of work went into this?
The great thing about being the producer is I still have my hands in everything.
Editing, storytelling, all of it, and I get to work with other people to do it. I just give them the vision, the template of the whole thing, and they run off and take that to a higher degree than I could’ve ever thought of. It’s great. Not all the onus is on one person, it’s a collaborative, team effort.
Matthew Hausle is the director, who I’ve worked with for around a decade now. I just gave him complete autonomy. He makes my life easier because he knows what he’s doing.
A lot of work went into this though. Aside from shooting hours on hours of footage, we went through 57 interviews and only used 9, so much to sift through. It’s done now, just finished mastering today. It’s my 7th full feature documentary, and this one’s my masterpiece. I’ve had a cadre of incredible people on board, but this one, what makes it so great, this is real contemporary. Shines a light on those that don’t get a lot of credit.
Your films have had a focus on military subjects— what fascinates you about the subject matter? Assuming your military school background?
I don’t know if it’s a theme, these stories just resonate. Men and women sacrificing for us, the bravery and courage, all that. I gotta tell ya, if it weren’t for our military, this world would be thrust into darkness.
How intense was the making of this thing?
I’ve been to Iwo Jima, Tarawa, a lot of historical and great military sites. But to get on a Blackhawk, to go to Camp Lightning and be with special forces? It’s not like the movies. No one’s smiling. No one’s laughing.
When you’re in a combat zone, it’s serious. Deathly serious.
I was messing around, taking selfies around ‘em — how often does this kind of thing happen, you know? A general stopped me nearly b*** slapped me. He said he’d slap me if I did that again. I can’t remember one person smiling. They’re wearing their Oakleys, their vests, its go time. It’s serious s**t.
People have died just to tell stories of these soldiers…
I guess the closest thing I can compare the experience to, that I’ve experienced, is walking down the street and nearly getting hit by a Bird scooter (laughs).
What have you learned from the making of this documentary?
That the U.S. military is the most noble, honorary, amazing group. No B.S., just men and women doing great humanitarian work abroad.
The great thing about our military is they are better trained, better educated than ever. It’s all volunteer, too. It’s not Vietnam— all these guys want to be there. Only 1% of the nation right now serves, it might be even less than that. What these people do is so underappreciated. What our military does for people every day, it’s remarkable.
95% of the people that get blown up and hurt in war zones are local and we take care of ‘em. The Taliban doesn’t care who they kill. 100% of the time they get an 8-year-old kid to do their job and we’ll spend 100,000 bucks to heal that kid. We spend millions on helping civilians that get blown up.
Our military is honorable and they are for everyone. They’re a global force for good.
What’s next for the documentary?
We’re running for Oscars (Best Feature Documentary and Best Original Score) 100%. This feels important and timely. We’re gonna show it to the Army in DC and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Minnesota. They deserve it. We’re gonna have 400,000 see the film in just 3 months. Aside from that, I’m talking to all the streamers. I’m gonna sell it, I just don’t know where. I want to do something for Veterans Day, maybe at the Laemmle or Cinemark.
What do you hope audiences take from this documentary?
After watching, I hope people get how great the men and women of this publication are. This is a mission. This is the only paper on the world on a mission to do good and tell stories of what the military and vets are doing. People are gonna cry when they see this, just a fair warning.