About Act of Valor – Part 1

Act of Valor, a Bandito Brothers/Relativity Media production, has hit over 3,000 screens these past two weekends, and claimed the number one box office spot (with $24+M) its first weekend ($45+M after ten days). It is not hyperbole to say that Act of Valor is the most unique movie ever made. Those who have seen the movie, and even those who haven’t but have heard the “buzz” know that this is the first movie ever starring active duty U.S. Navy SEALs. There is a great deal about the movie on Act of Valor’s official website at: http://actofvalor.com/. This post, and two to follow, will take you inside and behind-the-scenes to understand the “story within the story” about how this incredible movie came to be made.

We’ll also share how this first-of-a-kind movie spawned a novelization, Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor. More faithful to the movie than most novelizations, the book has enjoyed unprecedented success because it is tied so closely to the movie. And success begets success, Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor has enjoyed several months on both the New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly mass market paperback best-seller lists, rising as high as #4 on both lists and moving into its second printing only six weeks after its initial publication date.

Some basic blocking and tackling about the movie. Act of Valor is a feature-length film about a team of Navy SEALs who are charged with finding a kidnapped CIA agent, which in turn, leads them on a mission to stop terrorists planning a series of suicide bombings in cities across the United States. The way that the SEALs take bits and pieces of intelligence and piece it together to support their operations closely mirrors the way SEALs – as well as other U.S. Special Operations Forces – conduct their missions today.

The genesis of the project was perhaps best explained in an article by John Jurgensen in the August 26, 2011 The Wall Street Journal. According to Jurgensen, “The goals of the production were to bolster recruiting efforts, honor fallen team members, and correct past movie productions that did not represent the SEALs accurately.” The movie accomplishes all this, and more.

Importantly, Act of Valor did not cost American taxpayers a cent. As the Navy’s Chief of Information explained, “All evolutions you see in the movie involving ranges, vessels, aircraft, and submarines were part of regularly scheduled training and were at no cost to the Navy or American taxpayers.” Uniquely, and unprecedented for the SEAL community which prides itself on being “the silent warriors,” Bandito Brothers was given access to Navy SEAL training evolutions and allowed to shoot training operations – many of them live-fire events – in a way that did not interfere with the training ops. While not “invisible,” the Bandito Brothers’ cameramen were an unobtrusive force.

And while Act of Valor is not a recruiting film, per se, as Navy Captain and SEAL Captain Duncan Smith explained at a screening of Act of Valor for the San Diego Cinema Society on February 13, 2012, “Some people will see this film and just be glad that someone else is performing these challenging and often dangerous missions. But others will see not only SEALs, but other U.S. military professionals, doing their job and be motivated to explore that as a career option.”

Bandito Brothers’ director, Mike “Mouse” McCoy, has spoken with the media on numerous occasions and has pointed out that Act of Valor is, “Rated ‘A’ for Authentic.” A February 17, 2012 article by Ward Carroll and Jim Barber on Military.com confirms this. As Carroll and Barber point out:

Every SEAL mission area is featured in luxurious visual detail — from HALO to high value boarding search and seizure to SEAL delivery vehicle ops. And veteran special operations bloggers who’ve attended pre-opening screenings have unanimously gone on the record saying that AOV “gets it right” from a technical and operational point of view.

The Bandito Brothers spent two years filming these actual SEAL training events and emerged with 1,800 hours of film footage. Working in close coordination with the Naval Special Warfare Command, the Bandito Brothers were careful not to film any evolutions that would reveal matters of a classified nature. Additionally, once this massive amount of film was “in the can,” SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Command carefully reviewed the footage to be absolutely certain no SEAL tactics, techniques or procedures were revealed that would in any way compromise current or future operations.

The Navy and the Naval Special Warfare Command have also taken great pains to ensure that the identities of the SEALs starring in this movie are protected to the greatest extent possible. While their faces appear in the movie, their names are not featured in the credits of the movie nor are their current duty stations revealed. Navy officials do point out that subsequent to the filming of Act of Valor all of the SEALs featured in the movie have returned to their normal duties and most have had additional tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US SoldierWhile the movie features SEALs as the primary protagonists, one cannot watch the movie and not come away with strong impression that there are a host of “enablers” who support SEALs on their missions and are often “in the fight” with them. Naval Special Warfare Command representatives have made that point repeatedly at early screenings of the film because, not surprisingly, most of the general public is unaware of these enabling professionals. Now they will be.

The Naval Special Warfare Community professionals who work most closely with the SEALs are the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, commonly called SWCCs. The SWCCs, work closely with SEALs in combat missions, providing their surface mobility support primarily in coastal and river areas where larger craft can’t go. The SWCC community traces its heritage to the U.S. PT boats of World War II as well as the combatant craft such as Swift boats during the Vietnam conflict.

But the enablers go beyond the SWCCs, to the intelligence and communications specialists who support the SEALs on all their missions and who are also part of the Naval Special Warfare Community. This “team effort” comes through loud and clear in Act of Valor and the movie provides the viewer with a full and well-nuanced understanding of how these other Naval Special Warfare Community professionals support the SEALs.

But as Act of Valor so vividly depicts, this team effort extends even beyond – and sometimes far beyond – the professionals of the Naval Special Warfare Community. The SEALs, of course, are part of the larger U.S. Special Operations Command (currently led by U.S. Navy SEAL, Admiral William McRaven) and other Service components of this team are also featured in the film. Conversations with people who have seen pre-screenings of the film confirm that they “get it” regarding what an integrated force the Special Operations Command represents once they see Act of Valor.

But Act of Valor also sheds an “insider’s look” at other parts of the U.S. military – and especially the U.S. Navy – that is typically opaque to the general public. The film features U.S. Navy amphibious ships, U.S. Marine Corps helicopters and AV-8B Harrier “jump jets,” U.S. Navy H-60 helicopters – many of them armed – U.S. Navy submarine operations, unmanned U.S. military drone aircraft, and much more.

It would be easy for the lay person to watch Act of Valor and come away with the impression that the SEALs no longer aspire to be the “quiet warriors” and have even “gone Hollywood.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Act of Valor was made with a specific purpose in mind and it accomplished that purpose magnificently. Now the Naval Special Warfare Community has returned to what it does – and will continue to do best – ensure America’s security and prosperity.

Admiral Sean Pybus, Commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command made this point repeatedly – and emphatically – at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association/United States Naval Institute “West” conference in San Diego, California in January 2012. Admiral Pybus put it this way in response to a question regarding whether the Navy and the Naval Special Warfare Command planned any further efforts of this nature. As captured by this writer (who was in attendance at Admiral Pybus keynote, plenary address) as well as on Military.com:

I hope, personally, to be ‘one and done’ with the sanctioned movie business for a while. Navy Special Warfare is challenged in this environment – with the media exposure – and the number of public domain transactions. Operational security matters to us. We, as a community, are not used to operating under such a spotlight.

Bandito Brothers’ directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh have worked mightily – and successfully – to ensure that this unique movie kept its riveting authenticity and didn’t go “Hollywood.” That said, Act of Valor is a major film release by a major motion picture studio so there has been “glitz” in advance of the film’s opening on February 24, including a Hollywood premier on February 13 featuring the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs parachute team as well as extensive representation by the Naval Special Warfare Community.

And lest the reader think that the film is only action and gunfire, award-winning recording artist Keith Urban has produced a song for the movie. For Urban, his song, “For You,” co-written by Urban and Monty Powell, marks the first time that he has written and recorded a song specifically for a motion picture. “For You” is featured during the film’s end credits. Urban’s comments regarding why he wrote “For You” is perhaps most representative of the powerful emotions Act of Valor stirs:

I loved the challenge of writing for a film. I’ve never done that before. After seeing Act Of Valor, my co-writer (Monty Powell) and I wanted to capture the essence of not only what these men and women do so extraordinarily well, but how that relates to all of us. Valor shows us what they are willing to give their all for, which made me wonder, “what am I willing to give my life for?” “For You” is intended to allow the listener to define who that is for them.

To reveal any more about Act of Valor could run the risk of telling the reader too much so this part of the story will wrap up here. But the “story within the story” about how Act of Valor came to be made in the first place is as intriguing as the movie and novelization. That story will be the subject of “Part II” of this telling in our next blog post.


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