“No, I’m not allowed to watch douche bag military movies” I smirk in reply to Scott Waugh, director and producer of Act of Valor when asked if I’ve seen the movie. We both laugh together in the hotel bar at the MilBlogging Conference in Arlington, Virginia. Both of us feisty, discussing life in 29 Palms to include African bees, coyotes, black widows and mojitos at the 29 Palms Inn. I suspect onlookers might be terrified of the ‘Two-Nine’ after listening to the myriad of stories being passed between a military spouse who lived there for three years, and the trials and tribulations of a director making Marine Corps commercials in the desert.
I couldn’t help but like this guy and his self-deprecating humor. He put up with my sarcasm and wasn’t the stereotypical L.A. dude; aloof, entitled and utterly boring. I learned about Scott’s background and how he got into filmmaking. His father, the original Spiderman, provided an early passion for stunts and soon began his own career as a stuntman in 1982, retiring in 2005. He went on to invent the 35 mm helmet camera and innovative Pogo Cam in collaboration with his father. His experience includes working with several military branches including the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps directing films and commercials, and producing Bandito Bros independent movies including Step into Liquid, Dust to Glory and Act of Valor.
Scott relayed to me how they originally were going to find actors to cast the Sea, Air, and Land Platoons (SEALs) in Act of Valor, but after working and forming relationships with them, he just couldn’t imagine anyone else portraying them on-screen. Beaming when discussing the SEALs and the relationships that they formed was heart-warming. After all eight SEALs originally said no (several times) to portraying themselves in the film, Scott kept after them and finally got a couple of the guys to say yes. After that it was a domino effect as the guys thought this would be a great opportunity to leave a legacy for their families.
Scott is very much affected by the sacrifices made by both the military and their families. He choked up at points when speaking about the hardships and difficulties of wives who sit back and wait, not knowing what kind of danger their loved ones are facing, all the while trying to keep everything positive and moving forward back home. Scott formed some very close bonds with the SEALs, experiencing the pain of not-knowing for himself, first hand during those four years of filming Act of Valor. Many times, he found himself awaiting his friend’s return from deployments, all while his life was moving forward, busy getting married and having two children.
I picked up an early release of the DVD to take home and watch with my husband, an infantry Marine who has been deployed in four war-time deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The real truth of the matter is that our lives revolve around our children, watching G rated movies… but really there is truth to my douche bag statement of not watching Hollywood military films such as Jarhead and the Hurt Locker. I can’t sit on the couch or in the movie theatre watching my husband squirm and say things like “that would never happen”… over and over again, all the while perpetuating and rewarding Hollywood financially for making unrealistic films.
Fast forward to Sunday night, I was exhausted after flying all day, but we were going to watch the film. It began with the writing of a letter:
“Before my father died, he said the worst thing about growing old, was that other men stopped seeing you as dangerous. I’ve always remembered that… how being dangerous was sacred, a badge of honor. You live your life by a code, an ethos. Every man does. It’s your shoreline, it’s what guides you home. And trust me, you’re always trying to get home”.
There it is. Every warrior’s kryptonite laid out beautifully for all to see. I loved the cinematography and stunts depicted, captured as only a master stuntman in the business would be able to do. I respect what the SEALs did, but the conversations appeared formal and awkward at times, but was glad to see these guys in their element during the action sequences. As usual, the hubs provided the typical cynical commentary: “I can’t believe they don’t have suppressors… you wouldn’t see their lasers on (infrared night aiming devices) … where’d the zodiaks (small rubber boats) go when the team rendezvoused with a submarine in the middle of the ocean? That’s $8000! They aren’t going to leave them out there floating”… Visibly laughing when a SEAL is calling home with a satellite phone on the flight deck of a ship…
The biggest laugh we both shared was the guys hanging on the beach with their families their last night before deployment. We ALL know what the guys are doing and it’s not surfing. They are mentally preparing for the upcoming challenge all the while packing necessary gear which has been spread over the largest room in the house, ensuring that they haven’t forgotten that one thing that they might need overseas. They are sharing moments with their children hoping that they won’t be forgotten. They are recording books on tape so their children will remember their voice. They are sharing a last moment in bed with their wife, cherishing their last intimate moments as husband and wife.
The film also depicts how professionals deal with that fear. When I asked how my husband dealt with that terror, he said “You can’t think of the people at home, that you have to think of the shame (either personally imposed or the perception of your comrades) that will befall you if you don’t think about the men on your flank or the ones you are leading”.
When I asked my husband what rating he would give the film, ten being the highest, he gave it a six. To get some perspective on his scale, I asked what movie would be a seven. He replied, “part of the movie in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket – the last third of the movie where Cowboy’s squad is in Hue City”. I then asked what would be a ten, he paused, and said “It doesn’t exist”… All this from a guy that served 19 years in the infantry in places like Nasiriya, Fallujah, and Now Zad. That’s fairly high praise for a guy that watched the first ten minutes of Hurt Locker and said it was a horrible movie on so many different levels and turned it off. For the record, had I not asked him to watch Act of Valor, he never would have. He told me he made fun of people at work that saw it, even though a lot of Marines said it was a good movie, he didn’t believe them.
All in all, I thought it was a great film and would suggest for all to see. My husband commented at the end of the film that while he himself has never operated in South America, there is something utterly terrifying about being in Iraq and Afghanistan… it’s the not knowing if the next step you’re going to take is going to be your last… that’s it just really horrible and scary. I think this was Scott’s intentions with the film, creating a metaphor for the sacrifices and hardships all service-members and their families face. The film is being released June 5th on BlueRay and DVD.