About Act of Valor Part 2 – Behind the Scenes

Now for a truly behind-the-scenes look at Act of Valor. We think this “story within the story” about how Act of Valor came to be made in the first place will resonate with you. It is a story that is as intriguing as the movie and novelization.

Like many things that still impact us today, it started on September 11, 2001, a day that is riveted into the consciousness all Americans. That day caused a national catharsis and forced civilian and military leaders within the Department of Defense to begin to rethink how to deal with threats to the Nation in the twenty-first century.

As this re-evaluation began to take shape, one thing became immediately apparent, the U.S. Special Operations Command – or SOCOM – would have a vastly more prominent role in dealing with emerging threats to the United States. As explained by Rear Admiral Denny Moynihan, the Navy’s Chief of Information, in a February 19, 2012 article in the New York Times:

Every four years the Defense Department looks at itself and says, “What is it that you need to be moving forward and where do you think you are?” For the Navy and the SEAL community it was, “Hey, you need 500 more SEALs,” and that launched a series of initiatives to try to attract more people. This film was one of those initiatives.

For the U.S. Navy SEALs, knowing they would have to have 500 more enlisted SEALs serving in SEAL teams within five years presented a unique challenge. But as all SEALs know, you cannot create SEALs overnight. The U.S. Navy SEALs received an incredibly tough challenge. But true to their nature, they didn’t shrink from that assignment. But how tough an assignment was it? That is the challenge that led to movie Act of Valor as well as the subsequent novelization Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor.

Given the number of young Americans who are qualified in all respects for military service of any kind, the fact U.S. Navy SEALs are all male, and especially the fact that the rigors of SEAL training result in an attrition rate of over 75% of thoroughly-screened candidates for this training, the U.S. Navy SEAL community recognized that it was facing a daunting challenge.

How daunting was this challenge? The average net growth of the SEAL force for the previous decade had been fewer than five new SEALs each year, far short of the 100 new SEALs required annually for five consecutive years in order to reach the Navy’s goal for SEAL manning. To address this challenge, in late 2005, the Navy Special Warfare Command reinvigorated the Naval Special Warfare Recruiting Directorate and charged it with accelerating its efforts to tell the Naval Special Warfare story. As part of this effort, the Directorate reached out to the civilian media community.

Previous efforts in the first half of the decade to tell the SEAL story, while somewhat successful, had been fraught with a number of issues. As Navy SEAL Captain Duncan Smith explained it to the New York Times, “There’s quite a bit of misinformation in the way movies usually represent us.” In November 2006 the Navy and the Naval Special Warfare community invited production companies to submit proposals for projects where the Navy would grant access to Naval Special Warfare training sites for projects that would support SEAL recruiting. As part of this agreement, all costs needed to be funded by the production company.

It is important to note how unique this outreach was. While the military and the media have worked together on many projects (such as Top Gun, Red Dawn. Men of Honor, and others), for the most part, the military and Hollywood have held each other at arms-length. As John Anderson explained in his article, “On Active Duty for the Movies (Real Ammo),” in the New York Times:

After a decade of war and with the economy shaky, the services are seeking to remold themselves into a leaner, less-expensive force made up of soldiers capable of special-operations missions involving cyberspace and intelligence. How better to attract those elite fighters than with a film about an elite force? Hence Act of Valor which is opening Friday. It actually originated with the Navy in 2006.

As the Navy reached out to the media community, the Bandito Brothers entered the mix. In August 2007, the Navy Recruiting Command engaged Bandito Brothers to produce a recruiting film for the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) community. The SWCCs, while not Navy SEALs, work closely with SEALs in combat missions, providing their surface mobility support. For Navy SEALs, the SWCCs are their closest brothers-in-arms. The Bandito Brothers-produced video was an important element in enhancing SWCC recruiting and overcoming a longstanding SWCC manning shortfall.

With the successful SWCC project behind them, the Navy and the Naval Special Warfare community decided an optimal way to enhance SEAL recruiting was to create a new SEAL production to tell the SEAL story and invited media companies to submit proposals to create this product. The production was designed to inspire young men, primarily in the 19-24 year-old age group, to consider service in Naval Special Warfare and to demonstrate to taxpayers the capabilities of Naval Special Warfare.

Several respected production companies expressed interest in the project and submitted proposals. As the Navy evaluated the merits of each production company, the Bandito Brothers’ outstanding sports cinematography and previous award-winning sports documentaries made their production company a consensus first to undertake this project. As Bandito Brothers’ director Mike “Mouse” McCoy explained it to the New York Times:

I think they were fans of our previous films, “Step into Liquid” and “Dust to Glory,” and by the fact that Scott [Bandito Brothers director Scott Waugh] and myself were former stuntmen.

The project was given the green light by the Navy in April 2009 and a production agreement was drafted to define roles and responsibilities between the Navy and Bandito Brothers. While the Navy and the Naval Special Warfare community would provide unprecedented access to SEAL training sites, there were constraints to the project.

It is important to note that no taxpayer money could be used in the production of this film, so Bandito Brothers’ film crews were simply granted access during already scheduled Navy training evolutions as the Navy did not get underway or airborne just to support the filming. As a result, the filming took several years due to the timing and coordination of SEAL training. As explained by Ward Carroll and Jim Barber of Military.com:

[Act of Valor] was shot outside the system. All of the money was raised independently and Relativity studios didn’t get involved after the May 2011 Osama bin Laden mission in Pakistan, which allowed the directors to focus on Navy input far more than they would have if they’d been working in a more traditional Hollywood setting.

“We really started to connect with the community and say they can have a hand in everything in the film,” said McCoy during an exclusive interview with Military.com. “All the operational planning was done by the teams on a day-to-day basis. We [wrote] dialog together. We really set course on making it truly authentic and legit and accurately representing the brotherhood.”

Part of the success of this project stemmed from the unique synergy between the Bandito Brothers directors, who were champion athletes in their own right, and the Naval Special Warfare community. Additionally, Bandito Brothers had a strong background in military films, having made nine films for the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps. Filming took place in a variety of land sites where SEAL and other special operations training is conducted as well as aboard U.S. Navy ships and submarines, including USS Florida (SSGN-728) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6).

But the making of Act of Valor involved more than just gathering riveting film footage during these SEAL and SWCC training missions. The Navy and Bandito Brothers had to create and agree upon a story line, a believable plot, some background and a family story line for the SEALs in the film, and all the other elements that comprise a feature film. However, the film stayed absolutely true to actual SEAL missions. As Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander Rorke Denver explained it to John Anderson of the New York Times:

Any SEAL who sees it [the missions and SEALs depicted in Act of Valor] will recognize that this was that person and that was this person. [Lieutenant Commander Rorke Denver was also featured on ABC’s Nightline in a Martha Raddatz piece earlier this month].

The cooperation between the Navy Special Warfare Command and Bandito Brothers was truly unprecedented. While the directors were given control over all aspects of the film, with the exception of final cut (which the Navy reserved for themselves), it was the SEALs themselves who made this movie so real. As Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh explained to Reed Tucker of the New York Post:

Much of the SEALs’ dialogue was rewritten by the men themselves so that it sounded the way they actually talk. The stars also provided a blueprint for the action scenes. We’d tell them, “We have a bad guy; he’s on a yacht in the middle of the ocean. He’s got two counter-piracy boats protecting him.” They’d bring out the whiteboards and design the entire ops plans. We would develop the camera plan around that.

In order to undertake a substantial project of this nature, Bandito Brothers secured funding from a number of private equity investors including Legendary Pictures. By early 2010, over 1,800 hours of film footage had been shot and the Navy undertook a detailed “tactics, techniques, and procedures” scrub of this footage to ensure that nothing would be seen that compromised security in any way.

By early 2011, Bandito Brothers had Act of Valor essentially complete and the company was in the process of editing the film footage. In June 2011 Relativity Media secured worldwide rights to the film. After viewing a pre-release version of the movie and being impressed by both the action and the message of the film, Tom Clancy became attached to the movie.

Like many movies, there is a novelization attached to Act of Valor. The book, Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor by Dick Couch and George Galdorisi was published on January and is in its third week on the New York Times best-seller list. While some novelizations bear little resemblance to the movies they purport to ‘novelize,’ due to authors Dick Couch and George Galdorisi’s close coordination with Act of Valor directors Mike ‘Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh, as well as their 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/viewers 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 would be even more enjoyable after reading the book. I also liked how the book developed the family.

How the novelization of Act of Valor came to be made will be covered in the next post.


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