Everett D. Wilson
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Last Edited March 28, 2017
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Hanoi Hilton
hanoi cigs
hanoi mural
The 'Hanoi Hilton' film project 1986-87 offered a myriad of challenges. I had the opportunity to scout locations, design, paint and decorate sets, paint large scale murals, design propaganda posters, create lettering/signage and storyboards and conceptual drawings for the production designer and director. In my research for posters and murals, I found evidence that North Vietnamese officials would send art students out to paint images that would bolster morale for both soldiers and villagers. I attempted to not pretty up the images and/or make them glossy or slick, but paint them in such a way as to stay true to the rawness and spontaneity of the originals.
Crude reproduction of cigarette pack
Still-The Hanoi Hilton, Gary Farr, Cannon Films 1987
Still-The Hanoi Hilton, 'Miles' Cell', Gary Farr, Cannon Films 1987
First things first, Hollywood hated this movie with a passion. Over the years, it has been savaged and maligned by a host of film critics and 'left' leaning social media bloggers. The film is not without its flaws, flat spots and lack of action, but the director's heart was in the right place. The Hollywood community quickly closed ranks, so to speak, to protect one of it's darlings, Jane Fonda. It has been praised by many who have served in the military for its brutal honesty of combat conditions. Several years ago, I wrote some comments on IMDB regarding 'The Hanoi Hilton' and the matter of torture. One reviewer had remarked that he didn't believe that the NVA systematically brutalized downed pilots to break their will and gain military information. I will attempt to elaborate on that subject here. Whereas, the making of any motion picture is a rigorous undertaking even in the best conditions. Indeed, it is intense and stressful as ninety or more professionals scurry about, each focused on specific tasks under the tremendous pressure of both time and tight budgets. This film also had the additional weight of its gruesome subject matter and the dark dungeon like environments in which it was photographed. Strangely, one of the most memorable moments for me in the four month process was an interview I was privileged to have with the film's military consultant, Colonel Leo Thorsness. I had been tasked by the director to design a sequence of torture scenes from his screenplay, to be shot in the following days. Apprehensively, I approached the colonel for advise. On April 30, 1967, Thorsness and his co-pilot were shot down in their F-105 by a heat-seeking missile from a MiG-21 aircraft. Both men ejected and were quickly captured on the ground. Thorsness spent over six excrutiating years of torture and solitary confinement in Hanoi's infamous Hoa Lo prison. I apologized to the colonel for having to ask specific questions, as I didn't want to make him uncomfortable or dig up old wounds. He was kind, gracious and forthcoming. Without any emotion or pent up animosity toward his former captors, he explained their horrific tactics with solemn detail. As I made notes and rough sketches, Thorsness' words made my stomach turn. While I wrestled with my emotions, he spoke calmly with a stoic gaze, while sitting 'Buddha' like, without any indication of inner turmoil. I salute him and his fellow patriots here; for their courageous service to our country, their many personal sacrifices, and their incredible acts of bravery in the face of cruelty and possible death. Colonel Thorsness received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exceptional service in Vietnam.
Click Here To See Additional Film Credits
One of Six 'Torture Scene' Sketches completed for Writer/Director Lionel Chetwynd, 1987
I was fortunate to work in the entertainment business from 1982-1996. And it was primarily from my skills of calligraphy & drawing that I was given so many opportunities. Plus I met several talented individuals who gave me opportunities, took me under their wing and showed me the ropes.
Over the years, I was able to work on a variety of projects; scenic painting/decorating/art directing theatrical sets/backdrops and scrims, custom murals, music videos, national commercials, international/national television movies/events and thirty or so feature films.
Still-The Hanoi Hilton, Gary Farr, Cannon Films, 1987
cell numbers
Hand Lettered Cell Numbers in French Colonial Style, each 6" X 6" on aged tile, 1987
Courtyard Drawing
'Hanoi Hilton' Courtyard Set, 'rough' sketch, graphite on paper, 1986
Parade Banner for 'Hanoi Hilton' Night Scene--American P.O.W.'s Force Marched Through Hanoi Streets For Propaganda Purposes, acrylic on canvas, 10' X 20', 1987
Agitprop Mural in 'Hanoi Hilton' Courtyard on Corregated Metal, 6' X 10', 1987
Ho Chi Minh Agitprop Near Prison Reception Area, 4' X 6', acrylic on canvas, 1987
Propaganda Banner in 'Hanoi Hilton' Courtyard, 10' X 25' acrylic on canvas, 1987
The 'trick' or 'magic' for production designer, Clifford Searcy and art department crew was to recreate the brutal environs and look of the infamous Hoa Lo prison in southern California. Primarily using the existing buildings at the aged Veterans Administration Hospital in nearby Westwood, we were successfully able to create the illusion.
Link to 'Hanoi Hilton' Review
Doan Cong Tinh for National Geographic Books c.1972
'Miles' Cell' Set Design Cutaway 'Rough', graphite on paper 11x14" 1986
Drawings/Designs for Hanoi Street Scene Protest Placards/Signs, colored pencils, ink on paper, 1987