This Friday November 10th is Veterans Day, a national holiday to honor the many men and women, dead or alive, who have served in our armed forces. November is also Veterans & Military Families Month and Warrior Care Month, a time to reflect on how we care for veterans and the sacrifices these men, women, and their families make.
The Writers’ Program is an academic home to several veterans. One in particular is US Navy veteran and Writers’ Program alum, Carolina Bonetti. But first a little about her.
Carolina Bonetti grew up dancing ballet and quickly fell in love with musical theater. Upon her move to LA, Carolina worked on various dance projects including commercials and music videos. She is an accomplished Red-Carpet host and has covered events for The Emmys and “Vanity Fair’s” annual Oscar events. Her favorite hosting gig was on the Spotlight On series where she interviewed guests such as Academy Award Winning Director Peter Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ben is Back).
Carolina has co-starred on CBS’ Seal Team and has a robust voiceover resume including the ‘Top 10’ title High Heat (Donde Ubo Fuego). She has looped numerous series and films, most recently, David Fincher’s The Killer. Carolina is a frequent talent for Voyage Media’s scripted podcasts that include the military stories behind their popular series, True War Stories: Mission Report, including an episode opposite Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans, Sons of Anarchy) titled American Dreamer.
Carolina was kind enough to sit down with us to talk about her time in the Writers’ Program, what she’s writing now, and what this Friday means to her.
Can you tell me a bit about you? Your background, where you grew up?
I am originally from New York, New Rochelle to be exact and spent my high school years in Millbrook, New York. Like most Millennials I am a child of divorce and split my time between The City and Westchester. My mother’s family is really close knit, as they were immigrants. My grandmother immigrated here, but my father was a New Yorker through and through, he was from the Bronx. I definitely grew up as one of those third culture kids, always being Italian and Spanish but mainly, a New Yorker. Anyone from New York can relate, we have our own identity, and culture.
What made you decide to join the military?
I knew I wanted to go to university, but I didn’t want to be saddled with debt and my family just didn’t have money to send me. Additionally, it was on the heels of the horrible 9/11 attacks that rocked New York. Like many New Yorkers I was deeply impacted. I had family members in the first responder units that came out of Westchester’s fire departments to help and give support. And unfortunately, many deaths hit close to home. A lot of businesses around us were small mom and pop shops that took a moment to close to mourn their family. I had friends lose uncles and fathers. We really came together then and it made me want to make a difference. Between needing money for school and wanting to help in light of those horrific attacks, I decided to join the Navy.
Can you tell me about your military career? (Where were you stationed. Etc.)
I was stationed in Virginia Beach VA. I was an Operations Intelligence Specialist. And that is about the beginning and the end of the explanation as my job was and continues to be classified/secret. But I do encourage anyone who is interested in Intelligence-type jobs to seek out more information as serving in the military is a way to enter jobs in the CIA, FBI, NSA etc.
Anything you miss about serving?
The camaraderie. These lines that we so often see play out in the media about race, religion and class fade away when your life is on the line. No one stops to ask you about your faith or check on the color of your skin to lend you a helping hand. I lead with those same beliefs in my daily life and wish the population at large would follow suit. It’s your character that matters.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Be kind. You can achieve a lot more in life by being genuine and trying to lead with empathy. We are all more alike than we are different.
How did you find your way to writing?
I’ve always been a writer, it just took me a while to decide what I wanted to tell the world.
How did you find your way to the Writers’ Program?
UCLA is one of the best schools in the country and when I knew what stories I wanted to pursue in Hollywood, UCLA felt like a no-brainer. I took my time before diving into writing because I wanted to make sure the stories I created were in line with my beliefs and also added value to the world we currently live in. Thus, my projects vary across subjects but always are told through the lens of women that have many shades of gray within them because stories should imitate life and women are as varied in personality as we are in appearance.
Any particular instructor(s)/ courses you connected with?
Yes! I learned so much from the sheer scope of classes available. Really lean into diversifying what you’re learning, classes like real life, should vary in approaches because that is what you will have to handle when you’re pitching. Some of my favorite classes which I found invaluable with deeply insightful teachers are listed below:
Advanced Show Bible and Pitch Deck Workshop with Cody Smart
Television Content for a Global Age with Guillermo Escalona
Take a contract class!! Whatever you do, don’t finish the program without taking a class that delves into the ins and outs of contracts; you will thank yourself in the long run.
What are you writing now?
I am currently writing a feature about past lives and our connection to art. But I am very passionate about a project I am currently pitching titled Squids. Speaking of empathy and humanity, I wanted to bring more of that to how people see US Navy personnel.
While these big action movies of us saving the world and blowing up aliens are fun, they also aren’t realistic. There has been a ton of focus in the media on the PTSD side of coming out of war, but it feels like a lot of these projects are missing the mark on the diversity as well as the humanity that is found in the military.
Squids, is a cheeky take on the daily lives of the janitors of the US Navy. Hopefully you’ll see it on TV soon, it’s finished just waiting for the right pick up. The show is like, if The Office and Scrubs had a baby on an air-craft carrier where you can never escape your co-workers.
Pretty sure I wrote this for CBS’ core audience if they want to give me a call, ha.
What is a common misperception about people who’ve served in the military?
It depends on what end of the spectrum they’re coming at a Veteran from. Some people buy into the big blockbuster tent-poles that make Military members seem ultra human. My second month in LA I met a stunt coordinator who asked me if I could ride a motorcycle backwards while shooting a machine gun because he needed a woman to do that in a film sequence. No. I still laugh about that to this day over a decade later. And anyways, sorry to burst bubbles but the US Navy doesn’t even use machine guns, guys we’re not a cartel with black market weapons or a mafia movie from the 1980s.
And then there is the camp of people who watch what I call the “military pain porn movies.” That lot brings you delightful questions like, “Oh are you okay? I heard that after serving you can see dead people from battle.” My man, we are not in WWII and this isn’t a Michael Bay movie or any of the generally PTSD heavy indie films that love to feature this depiction of grim suffering when you get home.
So again, it circles back to my project Squids and why I believe a show that brings humanity and humor back to service men and women, that honors the diversity of thought and characters that exist in the military, is key.
While PTSD does exist and it is important to bring to life how challenging your mental health can be when you’re returning from war, it isn’t the only result. Just like everyone around you, every single person has a different reaction to the experiences that inform their character and mold their personality.
Has writing helped you process your time in the military?
Well, I think if you need to process your time, I can’t recommend seeing a therapist enough. The West LA VA has an incredible array of services available to Veterans for free. If you are a Vet and need to process, you should begin the work of getting taken care of by professionals. The UCLA writer’s program is a professional program meant to set you up for success as a working member of Hollywood, it isn’t an avenue to avoid therapy.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to share how wonderful and helpful so many of my professors were. Both during my time in and now that I have graduated. I’ve stayed in touch with several of my teachers and their feedback and advice has been invaluable, especially during these strikes which have been challenging to say the least.
If you’re in class and feel supported by your teacher don’t be afraid to ask if you can continue (on a professional level of course) to stay in touch afterwards. They really are there to help you, and their experience is invaluable.
What does, “thank you for your service” mean to you?
I am bad at taking compliments and this always feels like a compliment of the highest order to me.
How will you be spending this veteran’s day?
It’s on a weekend, so hopefully a calm morning with my bunnies and a nice cup of coffee. Our peace is so fragile, my thoughts go out more to those on active duty now who don’t get to have an extra cuddle or a quiet moment with their coffee because they need to report for duty. My thanks is to them. It’s their work now that allows me to enjoy moments of peace and small gratitudes.
How can people who haven’t had war or military experience better support our veterans (from your perspective)?
Read. Read history, vary your sources. And be thankful that we can be so expressive in our daily lives. It’s at the cost of freedom of the brave men and women who serve today.
Anything else you’d like to share.
Yes, this is really important to me. I know we are at a troubling time in history, and I can’t leave out that I am Jewish. With rising antisemitism on college campus,’ even if it’s a small moment in an interview, I want Jewish students at UCLA to know they matter. People care for you, and I am with you, as are many.
Disagreements politically shouldn’t lead to physical abuses on any end. I wish peace upon the Islamic students as well. You should all be able to study in peace and be valued as humans, you matter, your life is important, and you are cared about. Please lead in empathy.
Thank you so much Carolina for sharing with us, and thank you for your service. To all those veterans out there and those on active duty, have a safe and peaceful Veterans Day.