Act of Valor: How the Novelization Was Done
The story within the story, Part 3 of 3
Like many movies, there is a novelization attached to Act of Valor. The book, Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor, by Dick Couch and myself, was published in January and is in its fourth week on the New York Times mass market paperback best-seller list, currently sitting at #8 on the list that will hit the print edition of The New York Times on Feb. 26, 2012, the same weekend the movie is released. How the novelization came to pass is a unique story unto itself.
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. “Composing ourselves” isn’t an overstatement or hyperbole. Act of Valor is an emotional film and a moving one, and we were, at once, completely riveted and blown away by what we had seen.
We talked with McCoy and Bandito Brothers COO, Max Leitman, about our impressions of the film and talked about some other initiatives related to the film, as well as about some of Bandito Brothers’ other projects (the day we visited they were in the middle of filming a commercial for the new BMW X6). There was a slight lull in the conversation and I turned to 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 under way.
By the summer of 2011, we were well-embarked on a novelization. Working with the Kurt Johnstad script and a pre-release DVD of the movie, we created a backstory for 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, and 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.
A novelization is a different and unique undertaking. In a novel, the writer comes up with a high concept for the story, originates a plot and a story line, introduces and develops the characters, and drives the action – lots of action if the novel is to be successful. When a writer really gets into writing a novel, the characters can take on a life of their own and start to drive the action themselves, and you find yourself asking, “Well, what would this person do now?” If you really get cranking on a novel it can feel like you’re just a reporter watching the action and writing down what you see the characters doing.
But in a novelization, that’s not what happens. In Act of Valor, the story had already been developed by the Bandito Brothers team and the characters brought to life on screen by the directors. And in film, it’s all visual and aural – we watch what the characters say and what they do. In Act of Valor, like most movies, we learn a little bit about what the characters are thinking through the directors’ use of voice-over. But the rest of the film the viewer has to intuit.