It is not hyperbole to say that Act of Valor is the most unique movie ever made. In much the same fashion, the novelization of this movie, Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor is also a unique novel. The book was published on January and has enjoyed a steady presence on the New York Times best-seller list, residing in the top-ten for an extended period. It has also been recognized with the Military Writers of America Book Award in the Thriller/Mystery category. you can visit Amazon.com to pick up your own copy.
While some novelizations bear little resemblance to the movies they purport to ‘novelize,’ due to our close coordination with Act of Valor directors Mike ‘Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh, as well as our first-person association with members of the Navy Special Warfare community, Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor is truly aligned with the movie Act of Valor and the two are virtually inseparable. This reader/viewer’s reaction is typical:
I was really glad I had read the book before I saw the movie. They did such a good job of pulling things together in the book. I think the movie is even more enjoyable after reading the book. I also liked how the book developed the family.
Here’s how it all happened. In April of 2011, co-author Dick Couch and I were invited by the principals at the Bandito Brothers film company to visit them at their Culver City studio and see a screening of their new film. After the screening, we were sitting with one of the directors, Mike “Mouse” McCoy, composing ourselves after the event. Act of Valor is an emotional film and a moving one, and we were, at once, completely blown away by what we had just seen.
We talked with the Bandito Brothers about our impressions of the film. There was a slight lull in the conversation and I turned to Mouse McCoy and asked, “So, who’s writing the book?”
“The book?” he replied. “No one. We’ve been so busy making the movie we hadn’t had time to think about that.”
“Well, would you consider having Dick and I do that?” I said. And with that, the novelization of Act of Valor was underway.
By the summer of 2011 we were well-embarked on our novelization. Working with the Kurt Johnstad script and a pre-release DVD of the movie, we created a back-story of all the major characters; the Navy SEALs of the Bandito Platoon (the informal name of the SEALs who starred in the movie), SEAL family members, the villains the SEALs needed to defeat, as well as other characters – major and minor. While the movie implicitly addressed core values such as honor, courage, commitment, character, nobility, sacrifice, family values and others, for the novelization, we needed to walk the reader through these explicitly and show how the success the U.S. Navy SEALs have enjoyed in missions throughout their history has been critically dependent on these core values.
To turn a movie into a novelization, it’s all about the text. Our job in the novelization of Act of Valor was to take a 97-page screenplay and an approximately one hundred minute film and turn them into an 87,000-word book. Among the challenges we faced with this project were issues of characterization and white space. In a film, you can see the characters, and in Act of Valor, they are introduced visually and colored in by using a few sentences of dialogue and sometimes a voiceover. In the novelization, we used that as a starting point. We then had to give each character a physical description, history, and a dozen other characteristics real people have. We had to, in text, give each of them a personality and individuality.
The issue of white space is also important. Films use what we call white space liberally. They can have an action or scene taking place on a ship and the next one taking place on land thousands of miles away, with the same characters and very little transition. In doing the novelization, we had to take the reader from one place to the next and provide texture and information as to how and why a character went from one location to another. This often involved adding scenes and dialogue just to make this happen. We had to account for how they got to where they were going. They couldn’t just materialize somewhere.
We believe we were largely successful in producing a novelization that does justice to this phenomenal film. Best-selling author Larry Bond put it this way in a post on Amazon as well as on a military/industry website:
There are the two words that best describe the novel Act of Valor. It’s exciting because it pits a lot of really interesting good guys (the SEALs and their friends) against some very nasty narco-thugs and terrorists. The action ranges from Costa Rica to Somalia to the Pacific Ocean, and as hairy as it gets, the danger they face is nothing compared to the danger they’re trying to prevent. There are lots of fights, and lots of good story between the fights.
It’s authentic because not only do we see the SEALs with their wet suits and M4 rifles, but we see them before deployment, as family men. The authors create complete, realistic characters who have decided to take on the most challenging duty in the armed forces. At the same time it’s showing us the tremendous demands SEAL duty and missions place on these men, it shows us what kind of men are capable of performing them.
And while the story in Act of Valor is fiction, thanks to the news we know there are other stories out there that are not. Even if you’re planning to see the movie, buy the book.
Tom Clancy wrote a Foreword to the book that includes a link to the Navy Seal Foundation website at: (http://nswfoundation.org/). His support for the movie, the book, and the Navy SEALs has been unwavering.