SpouseBuzz blogger Lori Volkman got to chat with Scott Waugh, director and producer of the film Act of Valor before the Military Blogger’s Conference outside D.C. earlier this month. Check out these excerpts from her interview with him for a great behind the scenes peak at what it was like to make the movie:
Lori Volkman: Where did you get the idea to do a movie about the Navy SEALS?
Scott Waugh: It actually came from one of the SEALS. I had been doing action movies and military commercials for the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army, and they apparently checked me out. It’s never comfortable when the SEALS are checking you out. But they must’ve thought I was OK, because they approached me to do the movie and I was like “Um, let me think … hell yeah!” Or I may have used a different word…
L: The story is “based on real events.” There’s so much sensitive information when you’re dealing with Special Operations forces. How did the script get written?
S: That’s a funny story. When they came to me with the idea I asked them about the storyline they had in mind. They said they didn’t have one, they just liked the idea. So I spent time in Coronado with the SEALS, and I listened to their stories. I spent time with their families, and I spent time just watching and interacting with them. That’s what led us to start the movie the way we did. If you notice, the entire first twenty minutes you won’t see a single uniform. We wanted you to identify with them as people – not military machines. So we took five real events and we weaved them into one story line. And that’s where the “true story” really emerged and we realized we couldn’t use actors. That’s when we asked the SEALS to consider actually being in the film.
L: The realness is reflected in every detail. For me personally, since I’m a military spouse, the goodbye scene was pretty poignant. How did you capture that moment so accurately?
S: You know, I spent time with the spouses, too. For that scene I talked extensively with Rorke and his wife. In their case, she never goes to the hangar to see him off. They always do it at home, and so that’s where that scene came from. She talked about how you hold it together, as long as you can, and then what it feels like the moment the door closes and the reality of what’s possible hits you. It really opened my eyes to the silent sacrifices the spouses make that we never really think about. I’m really happy with how that scene came out. Watch Scott’s interview with Military.com editor Ward Caroll where he elaborates on this story.
L: Was there a moment where you realized working with real SEALS was a bigger challenge than you anticipated?
S: Ha, well I had worked with them filming a “Swcc Boat" piece, so I knew what it was like working with these guys, and what a challenge it was using real equipment and technology. But I do remember one scene in particular where I remembered how badass they really are and that I’m d___ glad they’re on our team.
It was the interrogation scene where the SEALS drop onto the Cristo character’s yacht. Senior Chief [Miller] called me the night before and told me he wanted to lock the actor up overnight. I was like, “Senior Chief, we can’t do that. He’s an actor. There are unions and things.” And he finally said, “Fine. Then I want the temperature turned up. I want it hot in there.” So we did, we cranked it up. When you watch the scene you can see how they’re both really sweating hard. We all were. And that day we only had one day to shoot, and I’m calling for action and Senior Chief isn’t coming in, and the film is just rolling and he’s nowhere to be found. So I go out to check on him, and he’s just sitting there, waiting. “I want to be in his head,” he said. I had to remind him this was just an actor, but he was really taking it seriously.
Because that whole Hthat scene, it’s loosely scripted, because I wanted Senior Chief to do it the way he really would, make it realistic. That part where he clears the table with one swipe of his hand, that scared the shit out of us. And at one point we had to take a break, and I had to lean down and ask Alex [the Christo actor] if he was okay, because I could see he was really unnerved. It made us all appreciate that we would not ever want to be interrogated by Senior Chief. Ever.
L: How was the process of getting DoD buy-off on this kind of a film?
S: We developed the script with the SEALS, so you know from the beginning we knew that we were both being accurate and not violating any national security or anything. But when we sent the whole thing to the DoD, they just couldn’t wrap their arms around the idea that it was a full-on feature film because it used real SEALS and nobody had done that before. They kept referring to it as a documentary, which I tried to explain, but they didn’t quite understand. Then the commercials came out on Superbowl Sunday and I got a call from somebody surprised that it was an actual movie, not a documentary, and I was like, “Hey guys, I have it in writing … you already approved this. The movie’s done.” They basically got a copy of the film and, after an objection period passed, it was okayed. But it was a hard concept for everyone to grasp.
L: What’s next for you and Bandito Brothers Productions?
S: Well right now we’re gearing up for the DVD and Blu-Ray release [of Act of Valor] on June 5th, right before Father’s Day, which is really cool. I was involved in the editing of the movie, and there were lots of really great scenes we had to cut. But the DVD release gives us a chance to show people those extra scenes. There are interviews with the SEALS on there too, which I really like. And you can go behind the scenes and see how we filmed with the real equipment -- because we didn’t use special effects for those scenes and it’s an amazing process to see. We decided this was a good chance to do something great for the military community, so we’ve decided that a portion of the proceeds are going to Operation Homefront for every DVD or Blu-Ray sale. But beyond that, you know, we’re looking for our next action film now and we don’t have anything in writing yet. I don’t like to jinx myself until the project is underway.
To read the entirety of Lori's interview with Scott, hit up her blog.