Interview Richard Botkin about “Ride The Thunder”
Introduction: the movies Ride The Thunder has just played in theater at Orange county in 03/2015. Hundreds of people attended during these first shows. This is the film about the Vietnam War, created by the US Veteran with the purpose to honor the Vietnamese soldier. He is also the author of the same book of 800 pages long published in 2006. The Veteran of the US Marine, Lieutenant Commander Richard Botkin had met with Vietnamese community through video chats. Today, Hoàng Lan Chi has the honor to send you a short talk between Mr. Botkin and Lan Chi. The movie is about a friendship between the U.S Counselor John Ripley and Vietnamese Major Le Ba Binh. The background is Dong Ha battle. In this battle, both agree to destroy Dong Ha bridge to protect Da Nang city and Hue City. This was a tough mission since the bridge was built very firmly and they could not get the help from Air Force due to the rainy season plus they were under serious communists’ attack. The captivity of soldier under communist regime after 1975 was also shown.
Richard Botkin was not attended the Vietnam War but in order to complete his book, he spent 10 years to research and made 4 trips to Vietnam with Major Le Ba Binh to see the Dong Ha, Quang Tri City.
The book is translated into Vietnam by a group of Vietnamese people. Richard Botkin together with Director Fred Koster and some friends complete Ride The Thunder movie with the minimum budget of one million dollars. The film was done in Hawaii. The actor Joseph Hieu and Eric St. John are excellent in the role of Major Le Ba Binh and Counselor John Ripley.
For the time being, I can only introduce you to the interview with Mr. Botkin about the film only. I hope that in the near future, we will focus more about the book. At the same time, I will interview Major Le Ba Binh, who is currently living in San Jose, CA.
In order to support those who are willing to create similar movies which reveal the truth and honor VNCH soldier, please go the following website and vote for this movie to be shown in all theaters. http://www.ridethethundermovie.com/contact/
Hoàng Lan Chi
1-Lan Chi: Hello Mr Botkin, I have to admit that most of Vietnamese refugee are deeply impressed by both the movies and the book ” Ride The Thunder”, specially there are many young Vietnamese who willingly involved this film, even some of these young ones who were not born in VN, had no idea or knowledge about the true historical Vietnam War but they enthused to participate in recovering the historical events. The South VN and American solders were smear by the unfair mainstream media. Mr Botkin, how successful the movie so far since it was shown in March?
Richard: Our film has shown in Westminster, San Jose, Houston, Phoenix/Tempe, Las Vegas, Oceanside and San Antonio. This coming Friday the 19th we will premiere in Prescott, Arizona. Prescott is where we filmed many of the domestic US scenes. It will be a true test of the film where there will be very little Vietnamese support.
Our initial premier was in Westminster California. We showed the film for one week only in one theater with two screens. We had an incredibly successful showing there. During the opening weekend, the film had the highest revenue per screen of any film in the entire country. We pulled the film after the first week as we wanted our initial numbers to look very strong.
We also pulled the film to make some changes to it that we thought were important. One thing we are working on is producing a version that has Vietnamese language subtitles so that the older people who do not understand much English, will understand what we are trying to say. We have also learned that the people who initially translated our film into Vietnamese must have been pro-communist as the translations came back, in some cases saying the exact opposite of what we meant. We are fortunate to have trusted Vietnamese friends to ensure we get the correct translation. We hope to have that done in the next week or so. When we have that ready, we intend to go back into the main markets where the Viet Kieu live.
In regards to the other markets where we showed the film, we did well in Houston and Phoenix, so-so in San Jose and Las Vegas, and poorly in Oceanside and San Antonio. We have learned the hard way that we need to have better control over the locations of the theaters we show the film in. Going forward we need to make sure the film is in or near Vietnamese neighborhoods. And we also need greater resources to market the film more effectively.
2. Lan Chi:What do you expect from this movie? If there is any profit, would it be used to invest in making another film about VN? And if so, what topic would be- the brave fight or the soldier life after being abandoned?
Richard: I have never made a movie before so I had no expectations, although I did this with the intention that we would at least break even. My personal plans, if the film is a success is to share at least 50% of the profits with a few charities which are important to me. The first is the Semper Fi Fund which support wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan. My second charity is Agape International Ministries. They rescue young girls from the sex slave trade in Cambodia. Every year since 1998 I take a small team of dentists and physicians and we go to Cambodia for two weeks in November. We work with Agape there.
In addition to those charities, and I do not know much about it yet, but I do know that there are many Vietnamese veterans here in the US who receive none of the services American vets receive. If we are blessed with resources, I would love to assist this underserved group. In terms of future projects, I answered that in a later question, but the short answer again is, yes, there is much more work to be done in telling the truth about the Vietnam War.
3. Lan Chi: Compared to the 800-page-long book, how is the film done? Did the director describe your main points as you wish in the movie? Who actually wrote the script for the movie?
Richard: The book is far more comprehensive than the film. If someone reads the book, they will learn a great amount of history. When they watch the film they will learn that the communists are bad. My partner Fred wrote the script for the movie with some input from me, but he was given wide latitude to tell the story, and I think he did a great job, especially since we were limited on money. He did a great job conveying that the communists are evil, which is one of our main points along with the point that the South Vietnamese fought valiantly.
4. Lan Chi: The effect of the book is not as good as the film is. What part of the film did you actually work directly with the director? Is there any conflict between you two? The conflict usually exists between the writer and director, but this is the sensitive subject with the purpose to re-gain the honor for both US and Vietnamese soldiers, I would like to know how did you resolve the conflict?
Richard: As you mention, the emotional impact of the film is powerful. Fred did a great job. We were quite fortunate in that we agreed on nearly everything. Our friendship is extremely strong. We are like brothers and, after three years working together, have had no serious disagreements. I trust him and his judgement completely.
5. Lan Chi: I understand that you keep the cost of making the movies to the minimum with the helps of friends and family. If you can have a bigger budget, 50 times bigger, what part of the movie do you think you will allocate this amount to redo it? What I mean is what part is important to you and through that part, you believe that you can send a complete message to the viewers, the message that is related to the US foreign policy.
Richard: This is a great question. If we had had an unlimited budget then we would have had more prisoners for the reeducation camp scenes. We also would have had several combat scenes to include blowing up the Dong Ha Bridge.
6-Lan Chi: Your intent is to give the truth back to history. How do think the “negative” media in the 70’s will react with this movie? How do you handle these if any?
Richard: People on the Left, those who are pro-communist or who hate America will not like this film. We have seen that already in some reviews. Many Americans who were of military age back during the Vietnam War made themselves believe that Ho Chi Minh was a good man, that the communist invasion of South Vietnam was just a civil war, that the South Vietnamese were corrupt and cowardly, and that communism was not so bad. By allowing themselves to believe this, these people who would not serve did not have to feel guilty about their cowardice and looking out only for their own self interest. The truth we display in the film disturbs their beliefs that protesting the war and failing to serve was somehow honorable, when in fact is was completely shameful and dishonorable.
7-Lan Chi : Students in particular, and young generation in general is the future of a country and they will continue to write history. Ms Duong Nguyet Anh, the scientist who contributed in the bomb manufacturing to fight the Afghanistan war had said that the students were influenced by the wrong information they learned in highschool. In some aspect, I think you have the same purpose of Ms DNA. Do you plan to cooperate with Ms DNA to promote your movie? Ms DNA is well known in Vietnamese community. If yes, the main focus is to include this movie and book in the high school study program or in library. You can check the internet to know more about Ms. DNA
Richard: I am familiar with the story of Ms. DNA. I consider her a truly great American. I would be honored to meet her, but have not yet had that pleasure. I would be thrilled if she would endorse our film.
8- Lan Chi: I have said that the purpose of writing this book as well as making this movie is to Tell The Truth. I would like to ask what is the motive to get you to do this? Have you ever mentioned this to anyone or raising your voice in any way before just for the sake of the truth?
Richard: I believe that God had a direct hand in guiding me to write the book and then produce the film. I began work on the book in 2003. It took me five years to write it in my spare time. Before it was edited it was 800 pages long. Now it is ‘only’ 600 pages. I went to Vietnam four times to walk the battlefields and the streets of Saigon to gain the best perspective that I could. One of my trips was with my main character Le Ba Binh. He showed me where he grew up, the places he played as a boy, and many of the places he fought the communists. I also criss-crossed the US many, many times interviewing and re-interviewing many of the American Marines and their wives and children who are in the book.
I learned many things I did not know before I began my research. The most important thing I learned is that the war did not need to end the way it did. I learned that the South Vietnamese, who were keeping the communists in check up through 1973, were doomed mostly because the American congress cut their funding in 1973, 1974 and 1975. That guaranteed their loss, especially since the Russians and Chinese, while the US was cutting funds, the communists got much greater support. In addition, the passage of something called the Fulbright-Aiken Amendment in the summer of 1973 basically outlawed President Nixon from honoring the personal commitments he had made to President Thieu to get him to agree to go along with the Paris Peace Accords. The freedom-loving people of South Vietnam were the biggest victims of the American Watergate crisis.
After the book came out, I began to realize that very few people read serious books. Most Americans can talk about sports or what is on reality TV, but they know very little about history or things that really matter. I met my film partner Fred Koster, and we realized that the way to influence people’s attitudes is with film. Unfortunately, the film record for the Vietnam War is horrible. Movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “Deer Hunter,” “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Rambo,” and on and on all portray the American fighting man poorly and our Vietnamese allies even worse. If we do nothing, it will be these pro-communist or at least anti-American films that will become ‘history’ to those generations who come after us.
9- Lan Chi: In my own view, I think there must be something else that urge you, a US veteran to devote 12 years to learn about VN war, especially the Dong Ha mission in 1972 which was cooperated by Lieutenant Le Ba Binh and Counselor John Ripley. So, is this simply to pay back to history or is there any other reason deeply kept in your heart? When doing this, what percentage of success do you think will be?
Richard: My time as a Marine was in the 1980s. The men who were my leaders though were all Vietnam veterans and I have tremendous regard for them. I also love our country deeply. Since becoming involved in this project in 2003, I have gained greater respect for the Americans who served without getting the recognition they deserved. More importantly than greater appreciation for the American effort in Vietnam, is that I am learning—still learning after 12 years—of the tremendous prices paid by the Vietnamese to fight for their freedom. I am really am in awe of what the Viet Kieu have done. I do know that it is not possible to overstate how evil the communists are. It is also not possible to overstate what a blessing to the US the Vietnamese diaspora have become.
Aside from taking care of my family, I believe to my soul that God’s mission to me for the remainder of my life is to fight for the truth about the Vietnam War. President Nixon said : “The Vietnam War is the most misunderstood event in American history. It was misreported then. It is misremembered now.” There is nothing we can do about the misreporting. That is history. But we can change the way the war is remembered. That is our mission with “Ride the Thunder.” We intend to change the way the world remembers the Vietnam War. We want to bring the truth to light, and give some recognition to those Vietnamese and Americans who sacrificed so much in a very worthy effort.
10-Lan Chi: When writing about the Communist prison, how many people did you interview? Why was the cruelty of the way the communist treated the prisoner “softened” in the movie? Is this because the director did not want to include too much violence in the movie?
Richard: This is a great question. I interviewed several men who went to prison after the war, but I interviewed Le Ba Binh the most because this is his story. His experiences are meant to represent what happened to many people, but not to everyone. I am well aware, for example, that many wives were raped by prison guards when they came to visit their husbands, and that many prisoners suffered much more than we showed in the film. At the same time we did not want to change Binh’s story because we know that the communists will come after us and I need to stick with what Binh and his wife shared with me. In my interviews with her, she never indicated that she was raped by prison guards.
Similarly we kept the figures we used for the numbers of those who died in prison, those who were executed and those who died as Boat People low. We did this so that the communists could not accuse us of inflating the numbers. As I mentioned above, I do not believe it is possible to overstate how evil the communists are, nor is it possible to overstate the suffering of the Viet Kieu, so many of whom are still suffering from depression today. I am more and more aware of that.
11- With Jane Fonda and John Kerry, you said that there is blood in their hands. If I say that they are just followers, the secret behind all of these is the Jewish tycoon, how do think?
Richard: I am not aware of any Jewish tycoon. I still believe people like Jane Fonda, John Kerry, the millions who protested the war and the dozens and dozens of US senators and congressmen from the 1960s and 1970s are responsible for encouraging our enemies. Their actions make them responsible for the deaths and suffering of the uncounted millions of freedom-loving Vietnamese, and the American fighting men who honorably served
12-Lan Chi :To me, you have completed your responsibility as a soldier to serve in the Marine, as a family man of your company, as a person to serve our human race to create the Ride The Thunder movie. What do think about my views? Do I miss anything? Beside that, what do think if each and every Vietnamese comes to see you and says that “Our duty is to be with and your work” (just like I wrote to you in my first email)
Richard: Thank you for saying that I completed my duty. Actually, it is my belief and that of my partner Fred Koster, that we are only just beginning. We have a great deal of work left to do. The history of the Vietnam War is extremely complex and a movie of 105 minutes is not enough to get it all correct. One of our Vietnamese friends has suggested that if we could take the entire book “Ride the Thunder” and turn it into a 40-week television series (the book has 40 chapters), sort of like “Band of Brothers,” then we could really tell more details of the history and educate many more people. To do that we need far more resources than I am able to provide. I really do have all my life savings in the film, along with the help of a few friends.
How can the Viet Kieu help us? Please make sure that every single Vietnamese citizen here sees the film and invites their non-Vietnamese, American friends to come. If we are able to do further projects, it will only be because citizens who love our country come alongside us to partner with us.
13-Lan Chi: Before saying goodbye, I would like to ask a personal question, what roles have your family, especially your wife and kids played in your adventure to find the truth to honor the US and Vietnamese soldiers in the fights against the communists through your book?
Richard: I have been especially blessed to have a wife who has supported me in all my efforts with the book and film. We have been married nearly 33 years. She has never once complained about the time or the funding I have taken to do these projects. My children have likewise been very supportive. I think they also understand that there is a battle for our nation’s soul. America was correct to fight the communists in Vietnam. The combined effort of the Vietnamese and Americans, while not the outcome we wanted, did at least buy time for the rest of Asia to grow free of communist domination. If it weren’t for our effort there, the rest of Asia would look very different today. And I always feel it important to point out that the biggest upside to the war’s outcome was that America has been greatly blessed to have two million new citizens from Vietnam who love freedom and value their citizenship here more than most. The Vietnamese have blessed America beyond measure.
And the last words I want to say that Our film effort has been aided greatly by a number of extremely important friends in both the American and Vietnamese communities. Without their selfless and continuing assistance, we could not have done what we are attempting to do. And these are people who are not doing this for the money. They have helped because they are likewise committed to ‘getting history right’ and have a great love for America, the American veterans, and for all the people of the Republic of Vietnam who suffered so much for so long to gain their freedom. We–Fred Koster and I–would not have been able to get this far without their love and support. We call these friends our “Ride the Thunder Family.” There are about 35-40 people in this group. I could write lengthy stories about each one of these folks. Without them, we would have accomplished very little.
Hoàng Lan Chi