Taking part in HBO’s ‘The Pacific’ | TheUnion.com

Taking part in HBO’s ‘The Pacific’

If you want to know what it takes to pursue your dream, talk to Bear River High School graduate Dustin Spence about his fledgling film career.

With a bit part and research recently completed for the upcoming HBO mini-series “The Pacific,” Spence, 25, is starting to carve out his own personal niche in Holly-wood.

“I want to be a filmmaker,” Spence said in a recent interview. “I’ve just got to keep working at it.

“I live cheaply in L.A., and I do extras, stand-in and double work and commercials.”

Spence also has attended screen-writing school at the UCLA, and has completed a 10-minute Western with his new production company.

Four years ago, Spence appeared in actor-director Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” about the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.

His role was done in a fleeting instant when he played a sailor cheering the famous flag raising at Mt. Surabachi from a ship.

Iwo Jima has proved a constant in Spence’s fledgling career, and it was his interest and research about the battle that eventually led him to Eastwood’s film.

While he was studying at UC Davis, Spence read “Flags of Our Fathers,” the book by James Bradley, whose father was one of the men in the famous photos of the flag raisings at Iwo Jima.

The aspiring actor had heard about Eastwood’s film based on the book, and he wanted to be in it. He figured the best thing to do was learn all he could about the U.S. Marines during World War II and on Iwo Jima.

He started out meeting World War II veterans at Marine Corps League meetings in Grass Valley, and he came across Dick Bowen, an Iwo Jima survivor. Bowen got Spence linked to the Eastwood film at an Iwo Jima veterans reunion in San Francisco, and the aspiring actor eventually landed his bit part after moving to Los Angeles.

At the same time, Spence was talking to other area Iwo Jima veterans. One of them was former Bay area newsman Raymond Jacobs, who was living at Lake Tahoe and had been at the famous flag raising.

Jacobs showed Spence discrepancies in a June 2002 issue of the Marines periodical, “Leatherneck Magazine,” about the flag raising and Bradley’s book. The people identified in the magazine photos did not coincide with those for the same pictures in “Flags of Our Fathers.”

That led to a lot of legwork by Spence, who contacted more veterans who were at the flag raising. Their information about the photos challenged Bradley’s, and the author eventually had to change his book to fix the discrepancies.

Spence’s work was acknowledged at a special panel discussion of Iwo Jima historians in Washington, D.C., in 2006, and no one challenged his conclusions.

Since then, Spence has been working in Los Angeles, where he auditioned for the part of Chuck Tatum, whose story is in the Iwo Jima part of “The Pacific.”

Spence didn’t get the part, but he had an in. While getting ready for the audition, he did research on Lena Basilone, the wife of John Basilone, a famous decorated Marine whose story is integral to Iwo Jima and the min-series.

The research was sent to the head writer and chief historian for the mini-series. They told Spence he could get more work on the project if he could get to Australia and get a work visa on his own for the shooting.

With the help of his south county family, Spence arrived in Australia alone, with no place to stay. He ended up as a historical consultant to the mini-series and went to a special boot camp for combat scene extras.

In November 2007, he went to “a giant hole with black sand” in Australia that looks like Iwo Jima and began working on episode No. 8 of the series that involves the famous battle.

During his battle scenes, “there were explosions all around, and you didn’t know where they were going to be, so you really didn’t have to act, you just reacted to all this stuff happening around you,” Spence said.

His character has one special speaking moment involving John Basilone – but Spence could not divulge more for fear of revealing the plot line.

While filming, Spence learned the story of famous Australian war cameraman Damien Parer, who was killed at the Battle of Peleliu with U.S. Marines. He has written the first draft of a screenplay about Parer, and hopes to have it filmed.

Spence shot his 10-minute Western in Amador County in November 2009, and plans to use that as an introduction to filmmakers and others to show he knows what he is doing.

He will premiere the short publicly this spring and hopes to screen it in Nevada County.

Meanwhile, Iwo Jima doesn’t go away.

Spence has dreamed of a documentary about the men who raised the flags at Iwo Jima.

Although the Iwo Jima monument depicts the famous photo taken by San Francisco Examiner photographer Joe Rosenthal, the American flag was, in fact, raised on two occasions that day. Along with his earlier research, Spence hopes to “correct the record” with the documentary.

Part of the documentary has already been shot as interviews with the late Raymond Jacobs. He has plenty left to do, and Spence is not sure where the work will take him.

“It will be a road trip with the people who were there” and those related to them, Spence said. “We’ll keep shooting.”

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4237.

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