Rebecca Murga is a writer-producer-director and U.S. Army veteran who recently directed veteran-focused spots for two current Ad Council campaigns, End Family Fire and Caregiver Assistance, all while advocating for women and veterans through her work with AFI, Heart and Armor, Veterans in Media and Entertainment other programs. (Since August, she has also worked in extraction efforts in Afghanistan.)
We sat down with her to talk about what went on behind the scenes of her work with us, why she is so passionate about advocating for veterans, and why good stories have the power to create change.
Rowena Patrick: Tell us a bit about your career trajectory. How did you come to work with We Are the Mighty?
Rebecca Murga: I’d been producing for over 10 years, and after my Army deployment I decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue writing and directing as a career. When I arrived, I happened to be in a meeting with David Gale, who was just launching We Are The Mighty, a production company focused on powerful storytelling for the military community. Part of his vision for and commitment to WATM was to hire veterans as creators to ensure the content was as authentic as possible, and I came aboard.
That authenticity of storytelling—allowing veterans to tell stories about veterans—was really the magic sauce that has made We Are The Mighty such a creative powerhouse.
RP: What did you want to convey in your work with us, and how did you ensure that message comes to life?
RM: This Ad Council work involving the military community is what I'm most passionate about because it allows me to channel all of my experiences, skills and emotions from both my military and film careers.
The latest PSA we did about military caregivers truly was a shoot I will never forget. We met two amazing human beings in Victor and Roxana. They not only let us into their home, but were incredibly open, and honest about their experience after Victor was injured in Iraq.
As a leader and director, I will always put people first, and so creating a set environment filled with both trust and love was important to me. We spent a lot of time listening to their story and understanding their concerns. We wanted Victor and Roxana to know that we would portray their lived experience in a way that was grounded and real. Once we were able to build that trust with them, we thought it was important to capture them in their home as they spoke about their incredible love story and their resiliency.
RP: What are the other ways that you’ve advocated for veterans, and why is this work so important to you?
RM: Serving in the Army gave me a sense of purpose, and I now work on veteran social causes because it fulfills my need to continue that sense of purpose and make a difference.
After returning from my second appointment, I began to work with the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is a transition program for veterans returning from deployment. I started teaching classes on mindfulness and reintegration, and I started getting very involved in women veterans’ issues. I currently work with Heart and Armor, the foundation created by John Mayer, and I also help run a nonprofit called Veterans in Media and Entertainment. We have over 4,500 members, and provide classes, jobs, internships to veterans transitioning into the media and entertainment industry.
RP: And occasionally, you sleep? In 2015, you were selected for the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women, and in addition to everything else you’ve mentioned, you’re now a director of the program. Could you talk a bit about what this work means to you?
RM: When I was accepted into the AFI Directing Workshop for Women in 2015, there were very few women directors working in Hollywood—only 8.8% of film directors. And though we still have a long way to go, over the past five years, programs like DWW have been instrumental in increasing the number of women, including women of color.
I am only able to direct in this industry because women who came before me smashed doors and ceilings. It’s important to keep pushing to ensure all underrepresented humans including women, veterans, people of color, disabled and LGBTQ+ are able to work in the careers they want, and are paid equal wages.
RP: Let’s talk craft. At a time when nearly every aspect of American life is polarized and politicized, how do we cut through? What messages will resonate with people and bring them together?
RM: In our civilian lives, social media allows us to pick and choose the news we read and the friends we have. But I value my veteran friendships so much because when you join the military, you are forced to work alongside human beings who are all so incredibly different, and though each service member comes with their own set of experiences, beliefs, cultures and traditions, my life depends on them and their life depends on me. That unique relationship allows us to rethink our beliefs and see the world in different ways.
My hope is that we can start treating our fellow humans with openness and kindness by listening more and connecting with human beings one on one. I believe messages conveying inclusivity—there is far more that unites us than divides us—will always resonate with audiences.
RP: What are your aspirations for the future, and what do you need to make that happen?
RM: I always want to follow my passion for the military community and feel like I am making a difference. My aspirations for the future are to continue writing and directing. My ideal job would be to get staffed on a television show or direct my first episode of television. There are some incredible shows on the air right now, and I am hoping to find one that wants a quirky Latin military veteran on board!
RP: What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and how has it helped you?
The best advice I’ve ever received is to get in and go for it, win or lose. I have been working in Afghanistan extraction operations since August. That work has been taking an emotional toll. I find myself revisiting Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena" speech. His advice in a nutshell: Don’t be the critic, be the man in the arena who is daring greatly.