As part of the Professor for a Day event, CSUSB Alumnus Danny Bilson talks about his successes in the theater industry and his contribution to Da 5 Bloods, which will premier on Netflix on June 12.
Graduating from CSUSB in 1978 with a BA in theater, Bilson co-wrote The Rocketeer with his writing partner Paul De Meo, co-produced the Sims, was Executive Creative Director for Electronic Arts (EA), and is now a professor and Interactive Media and Games Division Chair at University of Southern California (USC).
As for his contributions to Da 5 Bloods, Bilson and De Meo wrote the original screenplay which was later adapted by director Spike Lee.
“The story of Da 5 Bloods came from San Bernardino. That’s where it started,” says Bilson. “When Paul and I were students from ’74 to ’78, the Vietnam War was ending and there were three bases out there—Norton, George and March. A lot of the veterans did their last duty there and then went to school to Cal State, San Bernardino.”
In Bilson and De Meo’s dorm, the veterans told stories of the war and hearing them inspired Bilson and De Meo to write about it.
“I always felt like it was my older brothers’ war and I always wanted to do something with it in a story, but something different,” says Bilson.
In 2013, after writing for many projects and doing video game work, Bilson wanted to get back to screenwriting and thought about how his generation was unable to retire, along with the Vietnam War veterans. This prompted him to write The Last Tour with his writing partner, De Meo.
According to Bilson, The Last Tour is about four guys who go back to Vietnam in 1978 to look for the bones of their squad leader who was left behind. They lost some Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) payroll gold when they were young and were looking for it.
“It’s really about how we’re not taking care of our veterans,” says Bilson. “I mean what are these guys, in their 60s, doing in the middle of the jungles in Cambodia looking for gold? The theme was about that generation of soldier and what remains of the war.”
Bilson adds that this central plot they wrote for the Last Tour is still in Da 5 Bloods, which is why they get first position credit. Spike Lee was inspired by the book Bloods, which tells the story of Black Vietnam War soldiers, and saw Bilson and De Meo’s script as a great way to tell that story.
“Our work was the script, but it’s Spike’s rhythm. It truly is a Spike Lee Joint film,” says Bilson. “It’s a good movie.”
Staff and faculty alike were impressed by Bilson’s work.
“After hearing Danny Bilson’s accomplishment, I was really shocked and really impressed,” says first-year theater arts major, Isabel Rodriguez. “I was like ‘Woah, this guy is really serious!’ I really want to watch the film when it comes out!”
After talking about Da 5 Bloods, theater arts majors attending the Professor for a Day event asked Bilson many questions about how to get started and succeed in the theater and film industry. He inspired some students like Bernard Iyawe, a senior in the Theater Arts Department.
“I learned that if you are passionate and determined enough to do what you love, it will happen,” says Iyawe. “Danny motivated me more and I’m even more passionate about acting.”
As for theater arts major Janeth Shayo, Bilson’s advice to “write the movie you want to see most” resonated with her.
“I learned that the most important thing I should be doing right now is creating as much content as possible,” says Shayo. “It’s going to be difficult to get into the industry knowing someone is always one step ahead of me, but I am excited to see Danny’s work and hopefully build my own story.”
The advice Bilson emphasized that evening was to persevere and always go on to the next project.
Bilson says, “Nothing lasts forever: you gotta keep going.”