‘Hunter Killer:’ Speaking with authors Ret. Commander George Wallace USN and  Don Keith

Coming to theaters this Friday from director Donovan Marsh and Summit Entertainment comes a story based on the book “Firing Point” of cat and mouse when you are a “Hunter Killer.”

This film tells the story of American submarine U.S.S. Omaha and Commander Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) who is given orders when an American ship goes down to go into Russian waters. Getting his crew ready, the top brass in Washington led by Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), want answers. So does Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) and ears for the White House Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini).

While the sub is readied, Fisk sends in an elite team of Navy Seals to have boots on the ground. Led by Lt. Bill Bearman (Toby Stephens), his men are ready for the mission’s objective. Especially when it is discovered that Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) has been overthrown by Defense Minister (Vladimir Sutrev) and what he proposes is all out war.

Commander Glass arrives to discover that the American submarine has indeed been sunk, but so has a Russian submarine and people are still alive. They rescue Captain Sergei Andropov (Michael Nyqvist) and the level of mistrust is extremely high.

Now would be the time for everyone to take a deep breathe and work together because this isn’t going to be easy – not by a long shot.

“Hunter Killer” is based on the novel by George Wallace and Don Keith. Wallace is a retired Commander in the United States Navy after serving twenty-two years as an officer on nuclear submarines. Keith is the co-author who covers the military and submarines in the work he does.

I had the honor of speaking two them both and this is what they had to say about the book “Firing Point” and watching their vision come to the big screen.

Jeri Jacquin: Good morning gentlemen, thank you for joining me this morning.

George Wallace: Thanks for talking with us Jeri.

Don Keith: Yes, it is so appreciated.

JJ: I am really curious after seeing the film, what drew you to this story?

GW: There was a number of dynamics that went into writing it. One is that we wanted to write about what the submarine lifestyle is like and at the same time make it exciting because frankly sometimes submarining could be considered boring most of the time. We drew on events that were happening during the time we were writing and projected them into the future. It’s a good story and talks about what submarining is like, especially under the ice, and at the same time it is fun with lots of adventure. We think it will do well in explaining what that life is like.

DK: For me I’m a storyteller so I wanted to take an average person and put him in a situation where he does remarkable things. There are 125 people on the submarine and four Seal Team men doing remarkable things in the book and in the movie.

JJ: I like the dual story telling of being on the sub as well as being on the ground to deal with the issues the film is about.

GW: That was the idea frankly, to mix it up with the action for the Seal team and the submarine. The Seals deal with a lot of gunfire where as the submarine is a little more intense.

DK: And contained! Remember you also have the third element going on back in Washington making decisions based on a lot of factors that didn’t necessarily affect the submarine or the Seals. It affected them yes, but they had to take other things in account that were more political than what the people in the sub and on the ground were dealing with.

JJ: What was the researching like for the book?

GW: Well, researching wasn’t a lot actually because I am a retired submarine Captain and I commanded the U.S.S. Houston several years ago. I spent a lot of time working with the Seals so I drew on that experience. I did have to talk to Seal friends a little bit for things like the Halo jump and make sure it was right. I mean Don and I have never done a Halo jump.

DK: Nor do I want to. I think the biggest researching was that of Russian names! [laughing] There are so many Russian names in the book.

GW: Yes, we did have a little bit of a struggle with that because we were trying to hard to get them correct and we wanted to make sure we could pronounce them.

DK: I had a spread sheet of all the Russian names in the book.

JJ: Did you use your own code like G for good guy and B for bad guy?

DK: That’s a good idea; I’ll have to do that for my next book.

JJ: How do you feel now after writing the book to know that it would fit in the climate today?

GW: [laughs] We wrote this book in 2004-2005 and back then the Russian economy was in the tank, there were bread lines and real concern if Russia was going to be a viable country anymore because it was falling apart. Obviously it has changed considerably since then and what we were looking at is that the Russians are a very proud people, proud of their country and so what would happen if a Russian in some form of power wanted to restore the Motherland? How would he go about doing that? That is the general gist of what we started with.

JJ: A good ole’ fashion coup.

GW: Yes, that how he felt he had to deal with things with that response. He felt others around him were weak.

JJ: The scene where they go through the mine field, where did you come up with that?

GW: That whole scene came up when I was presented with that problem during Commanding Officer school. This is in the attack center where I had to penetrate a mine field to get to mission success which was a boat on the other side of the mine field. Off the top of my head I had to come up with a tactic to do that. I had to do it on my own. That’s where the idea came from.

JJ: From story idea to book, how long was that.

GW: This book was quick, it sort of flowed.

DK: That happens sometimes.

GW: Yes, everything just fell into place which made it easy to write. Other of our books, those weren’t so easy to write.

DK: We painted ourselves into a corner a lot.

JJ: You two seem to be a good team!

GW: We were very happy with it.

JJ: When you were told this was going to be a film, watching your book go to script, how was that for you to see that happen?

GW: Changing a 690 page book into a 160 page screenplay, that process was not easy. It was painful on several different levels not to mention psychologically. They whacked at a big chunk of our story.

JJ: Messing with your baby.

GW: Exactly!

DK: There are things in the book that obviously didn’t make it in to the film but like George said it’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They kept the strongest storyline to make the best film.

GW: They took what might be a 16 to 18 hour read down to a two hour film.

DK: The other big concern was that they would take the story and muck it up or get it all wrong doing things with technology that doesn’t exist. Thank goodness they did not do that with help from the Navy.

GW: The level they spent to get the authenticity right was amazing. My wife and I went over to see the set that they were filming on in London a couple of years ago. When I walked on the set I thought I was in the control room of a submarine. It was so very realistic.

JJ: So they got the dimensions and everything about a submarine right?

GW: Yes, they got the dimensions right, everything was in the right place and they even got the wiring color right. Some of the signs on the bulk head were actually correct. They even had the sub up on gimbals so that could make the sub rock and roll and dive and rise. It felt like you were on a submarine.

DK: One think you might not notice because the film is so intense and full of action is the scenes were the sailors are doing things they really do on a submarine. Things hanging on the wall or guys on the exercise bikes, you can really see what life on a submarine is like.

GW: It was pretty realistic.

DK: I think the Navy will see it as a two our recruiting film because people are going to look at this and say ‘that’s pretty cool!’

JJ: How do you deal with the intense proximity inside the sub?

GW: Being a submariner it just feels natural to me, it feels comfortable. Mr. Butler and Donovan Marsh went to see on the U.S.S. Houston for a few days so they got to see what it was really like. The rest of the actors spent time on the set that felt like they were on a real sub. The U.S.S. Houston Commander Scott McGinnis said that Mr. Butler was a true gentleman during their visit and when one of the sailors asked him to do a Mother Day’s greeting for his Mom and he did it. Of course the others wanted to do one as well and Gerard did them all.

JJ: So once you went to book to script to screen, what did you think of the final product?

GW: I think the final product is great and tells the story we wanted to tell. We understand it’s a bit different from the book but its also a different audience. I thought it was very, very good.

DK: I’m a story teller by trade being I tell lies for money writing fiction but I consider the perfect story taking average people and putting them in situations were they can do remarkable things and that’s exactly what the book did and I’m proud to say it’s also what the movie does as well.

JJ: It is intense to watch that’s for sure. Watching it I’m holding my breath and leaning toward the screen waiting for the next thing to happen.

GW: Yes, that what will happen.

JJ: When people see the film, what do you want viewers to come away with?

DK: For me, I’d like the viewers to have enjoyed a very exciting motion picture but also have a deep appreciation for what these service members do. The submarine service, or the silent service as it is so aptly named, gives people a look at what they do. I mean the ultimate way to deal with the enemy is not having them know where you are but knowing you can do a lot of damage if attacked. I hope people have appreciation for them knowing they are on the front line.

GW: What can I add to that? Our goal going into this was to tell the story of submarining and I think the movie does that and I think the book does that. To have the average submariners come away saying ‘this is us…this is our story’ and that means everything to me.

JJ: Thank you for your time and congratulations on “Firing Point” and the film “Hunter Killer.”

This film brings action, adventure and appreciation for what our military go through both the Navy Seals and submariners. “Hunter Killer” is definitely a thriller in the sense that the story telling is filled with unexpected twists and turns. So grab that huge buck of popcorn and hold on to your seats because this is a ride from start to finish.

In the end – courage runs deep!

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About the Author

Jeri Jacquin

Jeri Jacquin covers film, television, DVD/Bluray releases, celebrity interviews, festivals and all things entertainment.