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Act of Valor: How the Movie Was Made

The story within the story, Part 1 of 3

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Act of Valor, a Bandito Brothers/Relativity Media production, is scheduled for release on over 3,000 screens nationwide on Feb. 24, 2012. Just a quick look at the movie’s trailer on the movie’s official website (http://actofvalor.com/) gives some indication of how successful this unique movie – the first one ever starring active duty U.S. Navy SEALs – will be. 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.

First, 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.

“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 genesis of the project was perhaps best explained in an article by John Jurgensen in the Aug. 26, 2011 edition of 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.

Act of Valor

A Navy SEAL is engaged in a personnel recovery mission in Relativity Media’s upcoming release, “Act of Valor.” Credit: IATM LLC Copyright 2011 Relativity Media, LLC. All rights reserved

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 presence.

And while Act of Valor is not a recruiting film, per se, as Navy SEAL Capt. Duncan Smith explained at a screening of Act of Valor for the San Diego Cinema Society on Feb. 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 Feb. 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.

Act of Valor

Navy SEALs train on a high altitude low opening (HALO) jump in Relativity Media’s upcoming release, “Act of Valor.” The film is earning high marks for getting SEAL tactics right. Credit: IATM LLC Copyright 2011 Relativity Media, LLC. All rights reserved

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.

While the movie features SEALs as the primary protagonists, one cannot watch the movie and not come away with the 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 won’t be any longer.

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.

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Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...

  • Glad to see that live ammo was used when possible, and it was great to see the humor that is unique to all Navy SEALs including other units who serve in combat. Many people would not understand our sense of humor, which is why I wrote a book about it. Well done my SEAL brothers!

  • Ulick mcEvaddy

    Seals,I have the greatest admiration for what you do for western civilisation. You have been my
    heroes for many years. Keep up the good work,we need you more than ever today.

  • With more than 25 years of active duty SOF behind me, I can say that the trailers on this, and the realism shown, give me goose bumps. Well done, lads!