Blackstone LaunchPad Filmmaker Shines Spotlight on WSU Veterans

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Jun, 11 2013

Blackstone LaunchPad filmmaker shines spotlight on WSU veterans

If nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, perhaps nothing is more frustrating than an idea whose time has come without the funding to execute it.

That’s the dilemma WSU alumni Cornelius Porter (CLAS, ’12) faced when he approached Blackstone LaunchPad two years ago. An Army veteran (2001-2006) and filmmaker working on an undergraduate degree in public affairs, Porter wanted to make a documentary depicting the struggles of combat veterans readjusting to civilian life. But he didn’t have backing, and he didn’t have a plan.

Blackstone LaunchPad helped him get both, and on May 24 it celebrated its client’s success by screening Porter’s completed film to an enthusiastic audience in the Bernath Auditorium of the David Adamany Undergraduate Library. “Back Home: A Warrior’s Tale,” which was a 2013 Gold Kahuna Winner at the Honolulu Film Awards, is both a cinematic and an entrepreneurial accomplishment for Porter, who says Blackstone LaunchPad gave him the confidence, direction, and connections to make his idea a reality.

Funded out of New York City by The Blackstone Group’s Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Blackstone LaunchPad is the university business laboratory that assists WSU students with business plan development, networking, and venture funding. Porter, who has a one-year certificate in filmmaking from the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, had yet to begin work on “Back Home” when he contacted the laboratory’s staff in 2011. The introduction occurred by chance.

“I came to them out of curiosity,” Porter recalled. “I was in [the Undergraduate Library] and saw their office and walked in to see what they were about. With this film, they gave me a lot of motivation and networking connections.”

In fact, said Porter, it was the business plan he developed with the help of Blackstone LaunchPad that enabled him to persuade a group of doctors in Canada to fund both the production and marketing of “Back Home.” Upon its completion, the documentary debuted thanks to another Blackstone LaunchPad connection. Paul Glantz, owner of Emagine Theaters and a Michigan Blackstone LaunchPad venture coach, allowed Porter to use the Royal Oak Emagine Theater for a premiere on Nov. 8.

Composed largely of candid interviews filmed on Wayne State’s main campus, “Back Home” explores the social, physical and psychological challenges facing WSU students Steven Patterson and James Simon as they work, attend school and maintain families after combat tours in the Middle East. Patterson and Simon recount horrific warfare experiences of loss, injury and sacrifice with a military stoicism that belies the post-traumatic stress that continues to impede their daily functioning and interpersonal relationships. Porter also interviews Lynn Hill, interim director of Wayne State’s Counseling and Psychological Services, who explains the disorientation veterans experience when their civilian relationships don’t produce the intense loyalty that bonds “brothers” during service.

“Back Home” is the first in a series of documentaries Porter plans to produce on veterans, all of which will involve Wayne State’s substantial veteran population. Future installments will look at the challenges facing American soldiers of Middle Eastern descent, the families of returning soldiers, and women in the military. Porter, who will begin work on a law degree at Wayne State in the fall, will rely on the business plan he developed with Blackstone LaunchPad to continue to woo funders.

“Blackstone LaunchPad is just an awesome resource,” Porter said. “If you are looking to start a business and don’t know where to start, they will help you do your research and introduce you to the right people. This is so important, because the business world is getting more complex.”

Aubrey Agee, senior program administrator for Blackstone LaunchPad, said Porter’s project was a particular pleasure to work on because it combined two important objectives.

“First, ‘Back Home’ was a creative project, and we are always trying to demonstrate that careful business planning is as critical to artists as it is to techies,” said Agee, noting that Blackstone LaunchPad this year hosted a workshop entitled “The Art of Business” (http://wayne.edu/blackstonelaunchpad/news.php?id=11663) specifically for entrepreneurs in art, film, fashion and other creative fields. “Second, Wayne State is deeply committed to helping veterans – who have low university retention rates nationally – succeed academically, and we were thrilled to help guide a project that would explain the unique and frequently misunderstood needs they have when they get back home.”

The trailer for “Back Home” can be seen here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUFow4kjrUo&feature=youtu.be).