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Real Military and Reel Military, the Sequel

Filmmakers wanting to make a military film need to go through the proper channels

In October 2011, Government Video’s “Parting Shot” provided filmmakers whose projects involve the U.S. military with information on what needs to be done in order to obtain the help of the armed services to make the film as authentic as possible. That story was from the perspective of military liaison officers, but for this sequel GV interviewed Shane Hurlbut, director of photography on the movie Act of Valor, who shared his experience working with the U.S. Navy on the film.

Armed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark 11 Digital SLR camera, Shane Hurlbut, director of photography on the movie Act of Valor, engages in the Bandito Brothers’ style of filmmaking. Photo courtesy of Canon U.S.A.

Filmmakers wanting to make a military film need to go through the proper channels, said Hurlbut. However, a filmmaker should make an effort to “reach out” in the hopes of finding service members who can help. “If they (the right member of the armed forces) believe in the project, they will make it happen for you,” he added. In the case of Act of Valor, the production company—Bandito Brothers—dealt directly with the Navy’s Special Warfare Command, and the liaisons to that unit “got us all of our military hardware.”

And the film is chock-full of “hardware.” There are scenes on helicopters and on troop transports; on an aircraft carrier and on a submarine; there are amphibious assaults and firefights with enough firepower to gain the envy of big-budget action directors. A highlight of the movie includes a swift-boat Gatling gun taking care of business.

The reason the Special Warfare Command was involved is because the plot follows a Navy SEAL team as it works to stop a terrorist operation. SEAL stands for Sea, Air, Land, which is the terrain where the SEALs operate. As most GV readers likely already know, the movie stars actual SEALs in the lead roles. “It was an absolute pleasure working with the Navy and the SEALs; they are amazing warriors,” Hurlbut said.


How the Bandito Brothers acquired such a high level of cooperation from the Navy, started with the script, Hurlbut said. “We took the screenplay to them and once they read it, that started many talks on how to structure it [the film], and how best to tell the story through the eyes of the SEALs,” as well as “engage an audience in the secret operations of what the SEALs do,” he said.

The Navy requested changes to the script, much like how a studio would request changes, but with a difference, Hurlbut said; the Navy’s changes were focused on authenticity. “They said ‘lets show how they deploy, how they insert and extract,’ those kinds of changes that really show how its done.” Once that was agreed on, the next step was determining how to get footage of the SEALs, he said. Military discipline was present among the filmmakers in order to get the needed shots, he added. “Everything was to their (the Navy’s) specifications and within the window of what they wanted to do,” he said. “When they told us to be somewhere at oh-six-hundred (6 a.m.), we were there.”

However, when it came to the actual filmmaking, that is where the Navy’s control diminished, Hurlbut said. Once the filmmaking began, the crew of Act of Valor implemented “the Bandito model of filmmaking,” he said.