Speaking with directors Scott Waugh and Mike “Mouse” McCoy
In theatres February 24th is a film that will leave audiences spell bound. For the first time, a story is being told about the United States Navy Seals but instead of actors, real U.S. Seals will take the lead.
The film tells the story of kidnapped CIA agent Morales (Rosyln Sanchez) who had been looking into a terrorist plot aimed at the United States. First the SEALs must rescue the CIA agent before going global to find Shabal (Jason Cottle), the terrorist who could wound thousands of Americans.
There is only one man who can tell the platoon where to find Shabal and that is Christo (Alex Veadov). The global reach begins as the men of Bandito Platoon balance their families with doing what is needed to keep everyone safe.
ACT OF VALOR is a film that shows the technology used by the teams, along with action, adventure and intensity. The film allows audiences to see the skills that come with being a member of a Seal team.
The script, written by Kurt Johnstad who also wrote the script for the film “300”, was done so to reflect the true training, planning and operations conducted by Navy Seals. These men are considered the elite who are ready for land, sea and air mission as a mobile team.
Directors Scott Waugh and Mike “Mouse” McCoy, spent months getting to know this community of elite here in San Diego which is the site of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command.
Director Waugh admits to having preconceived notions about these men but, those notions were quickly turned around. Through their contact with the men and their families, the co-directors learned of the sacrifice and deep emotion that runs through these family men.
Because of this connection, these co-directors were able to put together a diverse and complete team that truly reflects the U.S. Navy Seals. Working with these first time actors was, in the directors’ eyes, surprisingly easy. Waugh believes it is because these men are the characters it gave them so much to go on for the film so how could one argue with that!
Having the U.S. Seals be the advisors came to be an invaluable source for making ACT OF VALOR. Director Mike “Mouse” McCoy says they men were often given free reign to keep the film real and authentic. Given dialogue, the men were able to tell the writer and directors what would work and what would not. To keep the film as realistic as possible, the directors used twelve cameras at a time working independently to get the shot from every angle.
ACT OF VALOR was also the first time a United States SSGN submarine was made available for the shooting. To catch the shot, the filmmakers were told when and where a submarine would be and if the camera was not there, the would lose a very valuable piece of the film.
The best draw on how the film came together and the commitment from both director and actors, I had the opportunity to sit with the directing team of Scott Waugh and Mike “Mouse” McCoy to ask them about their vision, their work with the Seal team members and from the team members themselves: Lt. Commander Rourke, Captain Duncan Smith, SOl Ajay, US Navy Seal, and SO1 Ray, Active Duty, US Navy Seal.
What was your first interest in making this film?
McCoy: Overall we were connected with the community and they asked us to really take a look at it – an exploration of what it really looks like to tell the story of the SEALs. We were allowed access into the community. Once we were inside we met these men and they were just some of the most amazing men we’ve ever met in our lives, it was truly compelling. They were the most confident, intellectual, obviously physically but even emotionally these guys range across the being great warriors but also being great dedicated family men. For us it just became a mission right away once we connected to the brotherhood to tell the story authentically.
Scott: They broke every stereotype the mass media has portrayed them as. That was why we said there was no way to accurately tell the story then to use the real guys.
McCoy: These guys have been to radically misrepresented in popular culture and by Hollywood that it was almost criminal. They are so different, they weren’t this screwed up Rambo-Termination concoction.
Captain Duncan Smith, Active Duty, US Navy Seal: ACT OF VALOR is a film that is truly unique in every way. There is live fire, its real operators and goes far beyond anything people have seen in any other movie. I don’t think Hollywood has ever gotten the Seal ethos or Seal persona right. Everyone said ‘no’ when first asked to be a part of ACT OF VALOR. The goal is to allow somebody to see who we are understanding the men themselves and the sacrifices they and their families contribute everyday.
How did the NAVY react when you proposed this idea to them?
McCoy: We really kept working on it as an evolution. Once we connected with the guys and connected with the stories and understand the sacrifices that have been laid down over the last ten years. The stories of these actors of valor that had been told to us were really inspirational. We figured out a way that we could do this that wouldn’t impact deployment cycles and wasn’t going to impact their training cycles. It would be something we could integrate over all and do in a sustainable way without it impacting the community and they felt comfortable with the project. They felt we were going to do it authentically and in their voice.
Scott: There is a big level of trust on their part with us. Obviously it was earned, we spent a lot of time with the community and they under Mouse and my background as stuntman and we had that common language with our cultures. With that they said to us ‘we want you to have creative control’.
McCoy: We want somebody to objectively look at our community and tell it from that perspective.
SOl Ajay, US Navy Seal: At first I didn’t want to be involved in the project. I’m not interested in fame or glamour but I would like to shine on the different facets of the U.S. Navy Seals. There has been a lot of mystic and mystery about the Seal Teams and about who we are and what we do. This is the most accurate depiction of how Seal operate.
Scott: That’s right, warts and all. They saw our previous films and our previous works and it was like ‘you guys are good at looking at a subject matter from the whole and showing it all’.
McCoy: But they had a TTP scrub, so they had control of technical, tactics and procedure, a full scrub on that. They gave us story control but they made sure the TTP was clean and no classified information was given.
How did you manage to put the film together with the team going on deployment and coming back?
Scott: It took four years; normally it would take four months!
McCoy: Four years of principle photography and almost everyone in the film went on a full combat deployment while making the movie.
Scott: When they are home, they are back in training cycles and work ups. Its not like they come home and they are on leave – we had to work within their training cycles.
McCoy: We worked around existing training evolutions that were already on the books. So no assets or resources were dedicated to the making of the movie. We augmented existing operations and again that’s why it took so long.
From the beginning did you know that there was no way you could get a Hollywood actor to do this with the concept you had?
Scott: In the beginning as a filmmaker you do use actors. It was our initial conception of the project, telling real stories and using the actors. But once we got to meet the guys is when we realized the complexity of the character and had the realization that we had to use the real guys. An actor is only going to portray on aspect of the character. We wanted the complexity of it; the husband side, the brother side, the father side, the warrior side and the sacrifice.
McCoy: Then you start to look at operation; these guys are the best in the world at what they do. When we are integrating in the side of real operations, they are real operations! We set out to make an authentic action film that showcased what they do. Then you had to use the real guys. We set out to make an honest action film and you start to move forward. The way the film started to string itself out you couldn’t even think of using anyone else. It naturally involved into that.
Lt. Commander Rourke, Active Duty, US Navy Seal: Its a lot of quiet and humble servant oriented people that want to serve and do the nation’s work. We all said no because of the history of the quiet professional and not advertise the nature of the work. These are the things that are the fabric of our ethos as a warfare commuity and culture. Hopefully it jumps off the screen as something different. It gives a glimpse into what we experience in our daily lives and what we have been living with for a decade and beyond with sustained combat against our enemies – and it will continue.
Scott: That was the exploration of the film. There are so many incredible Americans doing such valorous things for no recognition. All of our military and all of our first responders all do things like this and we wanted to explore that. They are such humble people.
McCoy: Its counter to our current culture. Our current culture is all about forget what you did lets talk about what soap box I’m on.
Scott: The film stars the seals but it’s metaphorical of all men and women like Scott said that are doing great things for our country. That’s what it is all about for us. It’s our way of saying thanks.
McCoy: That’s why it was so important to show the wives. How heroic are there women? Mothers are almost badder and tougher than there men. What they go through raising there children then go off and do what needs to be done to protect us all.
Captain Duncan Smith: The goal is to allow somebody to see who we are understanding the men themselves and the sacrifices they and their families contribute everyday. When I first saw the movie the scene that struck me the most was the Lt.’s wife sliding behind the door crying when he left. No other movie has captured the heart and essence of being on a Seal Team and I don’t think a film like this will be made again. This is the one opportunity to get our story right and it worked out brilliantly.
SO1 Ray, Active Duty, US Navy Seal: We didn’t kid ourselves into thinking we are actors. This is just who we are.
Lets talk about you filming the actions – was it tricky, scary, both, all?
McCoy: That’s our whole lives are about action, that’s what we do day in and day out. It was just fantastic to be challenged and keep up with the boys. We were completely challenged mentally and physically. We put the cameras in the middle of the gunfights and in the middle of the ops. That was Scott and I in the middle of the cameras.
Scott: That was all the dangerous stuff and the light fire stuff. I retired as a stuntman around 35 so it had been five years since doing anything so I was a kid in a candy store getting back in the middle of the action.
McCoy: We wanted to bring a new level of action to the big screen, real action. This movie is in camera, for real action. There is no CGI in this, there’s no trickery. There is no CGI. Everyone is use to faking it, no, this is for real!
Scott: We are bringing back the action genre because it died. In the 90’s is when it died and went into this CGI actor on a green screen world. It sucks! What happened to the great action films! We are determined to bring it all back.
Talk about the toys in the film, the boats, the guns and the weaponry how was working with such an arsenal?
McCoy: What’s interesting in the film is that we got all the toys and its spectacular but we wanted the film to end with all of that stripped away and just the men amongst themselves with what they had in their hands to work with. That’s why at the end scene there is no air support and the men augment with whatever they have to find. That’s really representative of them having to think on their feel and respond. These are really intelligent guys and they just figure it out. So we had to end it without the toys.
The boat scene is pretty intense.
McCoy: And that was all live fire!
Scott: The audiences are so use to seeing CGI so when they see it for real it’s kind of shocking.
McCoy: Its almost like people have forgotten that we can do things like that for real. Filming was all about for real and then it got completely fake in the last ten years. It’s become too easy to just ‘create it’.
I read you did a twelve-camera set up, is that how the whole film is?
McCoy: We like to be light, lean and tactical. It’s like our special ops.
How much input did the Seals have?
Scott: A lot. We wanted that, we wanted to make sure it was authentic. The operational plans came from them. A target vessel in the South Pacific has something you need, how would you get it – that’s what we’d ask them. So we’d get our camera crew around them.
Do you stay in contact with the men?
Scott: Yes, we feel very lucky to be part of their culture. It makes us extremely proud that they have let us become part of their family. We have such deep admiration for our military.
McCoy: We are very happy to we were able to put our skill set to use to serve our country.
The story is completely believable and you’ve done it with such action
McCoy: You know everything that happened in the film has happened at one time to a team member. It is so accurate to what happens and the stories these men shared with us we incorporated into the film. The moments are sometimes so profound and having families allowing us to use their stories are amazing.
Scott: We think this movie is important and it’s taken on a life of its own. The guys don’t really want any recognition but Mouse and I feel like they deserve it. They do some incredible things.
McCoy: They deserve for the American public to pay respect to them and understand how hard they’ve been laying it down the past few years.
What do you want your viewers to get from seeing this film?
McCoy: We want the American public to connect with the concept of an act of valor. Doing heroic things for the sake of your brothers and sisters. There are people all throughout the military and first responders that risk their lives on a daily basis for the person next to them or people they don’t know. We really think that that’s an important idea to grab a hold of in America right now.
Scott: I always use this analogy; you never know who’s in line behind you because he might save your life sometime. I think that so important.
No one could argue with these directors nor the fact that they used real seal team members AND live fire to create a film that is not only action packed but real in its telling. The genre of a genuine action film is here through and through! ACT OF VALOR opens Friday in theatres – see it!