Inside View: Douglas Sloan
Director/founder – Icontent • New York City • www.icontent.tv
By Christine Bunish
Markee: What is the focus of Icontent?
Mr. Sloan: “My forte as a director is in the documentary realm, and our core strength as a company is storytelling. We were early pioneers of digital content and longer-form pieces and launched Icontent in 2001 to leverage our strength in that area and merge it with our TV commercial business. Icontent operates in parallel with the passion work I direct for Icontent Films.”
Markee: Your commercial work includes TV spots and content for prestige brands such as Avon, Conde Nast, Estee Lauder, ICP, Macy’s, Regent, Tiffany & Co., Under Armour, United Technologies and Vogue.
Mr. Sloan: “We’re very committed to pushing the creative of our commercial work. We’re currently producing a series of edgy digital shorts re-launching Billboard’s new website featuring icons of the music industry; a project that’s off the beaten path for Conde Nast’s Allure; and unique mobile and broadcast spots for Macy’s.
“Within our commercial work we work hard to maintain a point of view. Whether it’s directly tied to the product or to the brand’s positioning, a commercial spot still requires a POV. Audiences respond to depth; they’re tired of facades and commercial trickery.”
Markee: You recently directed the documentary short, Eddie Adams: Saigon ’68, which premiered at the DOC NYC festival in November. It explores the story behind one of the most influential photographs of the Vietnam War – Eddie Adams’s image of South Vietnamese police chief Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Vietcong prisoner in the head – on the 45th anniversary of the photo.
Mr. Sloan: “I made five short films in the past six years while looking for a right subject for a feature length project. I was introduced to the story behind the Eddie Adams photograph by an agent and was immediately intrigued by the surprising history, personalities and events and thought it was the basis for a great film.
“About a year ago, we optioned the rights from Eddie’s estate to make a feature that I intend to approach as a hybrid narrative-documentary. In order to raise funding, we decided to make a short film/trailer in documentary form – [we wanted to] get it out there, start to feel out its potential and get audience reaction.”
Markee: One of the unexpected elements of the story is that Adams felt that Gen. Loan was justified in summarily executing the prisoner. Adams said, ‘The General killed the Vietcong, I killed the General with my camera.’ Can you explain what that means?
Mr. Sloan: “The crux of the story is the power of one image and how it drastically changed two people’s lives. Eddie spent the first half of his life trying desperately to get recognized for his work. He finally [achieved] it, won the Pulitzer Prize, then spent the rest of his life disavowing the photograph and hating everything it stood for. He was conflicted by it until the day he died. Gen. Loan, a hero in South Vietnam who ended up operating a pizza shop in Virginia, also died a broken man.
“The story is highly relevant because we’re an increasingly visual society, but we’re not very visually literate – and that’s a dangerous situation. Revolutions today are started and communicated by videos and still images. We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is it that we’re seeing?’ We have to know and understand the context before we can pass judgment. After you hear the story behind an image, your perspective could change drastically.”
Markee: So where do you stand now with Saigon ’68?
Mr. Sloan: “It’s starting to make the rounds in film festivals and will hopefully gain the attention of prominent developers of both film and TV. We’re applying for grants to help finance a feature-length documentary – that’s the relatively easy sell. The hybrid narrative-documentary feature is a bit more challenging, but that’s my ultimate goal.
“Vietnam is a hot topic right now and so are violence, guns, morality, war and the potent role images and their interpretation play in our culture. The response to Saigon ‘68’s premiere screening at DOC NYC couldn’t have been better; the panel we put together of journalists featured in the film provoked intense debate from the audience.
“We need to understand how to read images. Eddie’s photo is a perfect example of how we have to understand the context before we react.”