Director Scott Waugh discusses Act of Valor, available on Blu-ray and DVD June 5
I was recently invited to take part in a unique press event for Act of Valor, which debuts on Blu-ray and DVD June 5. I was told we would be heading to San Diego to participate in a SEALFit workout, which is essentially a much more intense version of crossfit. I figured it would be a simple demonstration. It was not, and frankly, I'm surprised I survived, but I'm definitely glad I did it.
I was easily the most out-of-shape person who participated in the workout, but even those who were in better shape than me had their asses kicked by this grueling hour, which instilled the fundamentals of teamwork, mental strength, and physical strength. Each team had to work together in drills such as doing unified sit-ups... with a huge log on top of our chests. The goal was to get each person rising and falling in unison, making sure the log stayed straight the whole time. Every push-up we did, every step we ran, was designed so we did it all together, as a team. The hour-long workout concluded on the beach, where we all had to link arms and do more synchronized sit-ups... in the sand... as the tide came rolling in. The experience was definitely one I'll not soon forget, and it gave me an even greater appreciation for Navy SEALS and any man or woman who dons a uniform in service to this great nation.
After the workout, and a much-needed shower, I had the chance to sit down with Act of Valor director Scott Waugh to discuss his action-adventure starring active duty Navy SEALS. Here's what he had to say.
It's nice to sit.
Scott Waugh: Did you go through the boot camp? How was it?
I did. It was... interesting.
Scott Waugh: Come on! Tell me about it, man.
I wasn't really quite sure what to expect, and it was a lot worse. It was intense for me. I rarely work out, and it was definitely an experience I won't forget.
Scott Waugh: That's awesome though.
They set these exercises up to build teamwork, but you really see it.
Scott Waugh: You see how that trust factor gets built, and how teamwork becomes imperative. You watch those rudimentary drills, like the log PT, and you realize that if one man is weak, it brings down the whole team.
Absolutely. First off, when Kurt (Johnstad) was writing the script, was it always set that you guys would craft this around actual Navy SEALS?
Scott Waugh: You know, it was an unorthodox way, how the film was actually developed. Kurt didn't come in until halfway through the process. (Co-director) Mouse (McCoy) and I had spent the better part of six months down in Coronado. They invited us in and asked if they would do a movie on their community. First of all, absolutely, I'd be honored to, but second, I don't know anything about your world. We wanted to go down to Coronado and spend a lot of time with the guys, A) to get to know them and see what kind of guys they really are, and B) we knew if we could extract real stories, real acts of valor that happened to these guys, it would probably transcend any fictitious idea we could come up with. You always hear these crazy stories, so we just knew if they trusted us, and we could get these stories, it would be amazing. We found out, after six months, we got five incredible stories that are in the movie, the ones where you go, 'Nah, nobody survived that.' We met the operator that survived that, and he's just amazing. Then we came back and hired Kurt Johnstad. We said, 'Here are the five acts of valor, these are the stories we want to weave a fictitious story line through.' By that time, we had already cast the eight guys. We were originally going to cast actors, but once we spent time with all these guys and their wives and kids and saw who these guys really are, we felt like everybody shows the one side, and they're dysfunctional on the other side. These guys are not dysfunctional. Like watching Chief Dave, he's such an amazing person. Who's going to play him? So we approached them and asked if they wanted to be in the movie, and the Navy said if these guys were willing to show their faces and they wanted to do it, it's up to them. We approached them and they all turned us down. We just kept whittling at them, we tried to develop their trust. We said we wouldn't have them say or do anything that wasn't authentic to them, and they finally said yes. Then we came back to Kurt Johnstad and said, 'Here's our eight, these are their characters, and let's come up with a Navy intelligence idea of how to weave these acts of valor in.'
That is unorthodox.
Scott Waugh: It's usually backwards, right? It's usually, 'Let's come up with the story, and then we'll find the people to play them.' No, we found the people and the real stories first, and then wove together the script.
You said you were going to go with actors first. Were there any acting growing pains for these guys at all, or was the world so authentic that they just slipped right into it?
Scott Waugh: First of all, they were being themselves, so that was a lot easier for them. We were really encouraging them to not act, because they're not being somebody else. As time progressed, they became really comfortable in front of the camera. In the beginning, there was definitely a bit of, 'What are we doing?' But they overcame that very quickly. They're real professional.
Can you talk about where you actually shot this, and what decisions lead to finding those locations?
Scott Waugh: We shot around the world, so wherever we said we were, we were there. We were in the Philippines, Cambodia, the Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico, and all through America. We used a lot of real live-fire ranges in America to replicate some places, because you can't shoot live-fire in certain parts of teh world. We really wanted to keep the movie out of the sandbox, out of Afghanistan and Iraq, so we really focused on other threats that are out there right now. Those are all based on real facts.
Obviously, every director wants their movie to be shown on the big screen in theaters. With the intriguing nature of this, using actual Navy SEALS and all the special features, do you think this might be suited better for the Blu-ray and DVD format, because they can see what their actual backgrounds are?
Scott Waugh: It's a different fit, and I think it's as exciting. I think a theatrical experience is a different experience. You can't really replicate a 100-foot screen in your house, unless you're Bill Gates. The thing that you touched on which I think is really great about the Blu-ray, is you're going to be able to see the interviews and all the other featurettes, so you can really see that these guys are who they are. I think it really authenticates the experience. We did spend a lot of time re-mastering the sound for the home experience. Most people have great home theater systems now, and this movie is a great home theater movie.
Coming from the stunt background that you had, was there anything that these guys might have taught you, about tactical stuff and how action scenes might be approached differently?
Scott Waugh: The thing that I learned from them, mostly, was their professionalism. That goes a long way. When you say you're going to be somewhere, you're there on time. You're there, present, and ready to work. You're not there to bullshit around, and I think that's a lost art form, in today's society. When we showed up at 0600, they were there ready to work. It wasn't like they were showing up at 6:15 to grab a bite or have some coffee. It's like, oh, if you want that, you're going to have to show up at 5:30, but at 6 o'clock, we're working. I loved it, and I try to use that all the time in my personal life now. It's a a sign of respect, that I respect you, and you respect me on my time.
Obviously these guys don't need a lot of training, but were there elements that you needed them to work on, certain tactics? Did you bring these guys to SEALFit or anything?
Scott Waugh: Oh, no. These guys train every day. When they swam across the river, we were like, 'Can you guys go down and hold your breath for like 30 seconds? Are you cool with that?' They were like, 'How long do you want us to go down?' 'Can you go down for a minute?' 'Yeah, sure.' It was the opposite. We were like, 'Can you do this?' They were like, 'We can do that, and this.' It was such a rewarding experience. An example would be in the truck chase. If you watch this move with Dave, he's in the back and he's taking fire by the enemy, and he's protecting the hostage underneath him. I said, 'Dave, if they were firing at you, what would you do?' He said, 'I would cover her, so if any bullets came, I would take it, she wouldn't.' And when they stopped firing, he would do this move. He does this pivot move and turns around and throws lead and kills the guy. It's so bad-ass. An actor couldn't do that. It's amazing.
Did you have to modify your style then, to capture some of this stuff. It happens so organically to them, but it would take months and months to teach an actor how do to that.
Scott Waugh: That's why you see a lot of first-person and all-in-one shots, because we didn't have to create it in the edit bay. When they entered the house where the hostage is, and they clear that whole room, we said to them, 'How would you guys do this? Would you show us?' They just cleared the whole house. First of all, we'd be here for a week with actors, trying to teach them all these subtleties. So we just said let's put the helmet-cam on Dave, and we'll do the whole thing, so you get to experience it on the inside. It's like ballet. There are a lot of scenes where you just plop the helmet camera on them. It's so cool. For us, we'll never get to be Navy SEALS. In the movie, you get a chance to be one for awhile.
Is there anything you can say about Need for Speed?
Scott Waugh: I'm in negotiations right now to do Need for Speed, based on the video title. I'm really excited about that franchise. I've been super passionate about car movies, and with our style of filmmaking, and my background as a stunt guy, I know we can really rock that world. I've been actually eyeing a car picture for a couple of years, and this just came about. DreamWorks bought it, and Steven Spielberg really wants me to direct it, which is the biggest honor on the planet. I'm like, 'Sir, you know I'm just Scott Waugh, right?' To work with Steven would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It's a video game that isn't quite like today's, where they have these intricate stories lined up. Is that more appealing to you because there isn't a set story attached to it, so you can create your own way through it?
Scott Waugh: They already have a screenplay, so they already have a story, but I'm going to come in and manage it so it becomes more real and authentic. That's what's so cool about the game. It's a kick-ass driving game that's real, and I come from that racing world, so I want to make sure that it is real, and the characters are real, because that world's fascinating. I just want to elevate that. With Act of Valor, all the military people have always wanted their world shown properly, and I kind of feel the same way about the racing world. Need for Speed is in that world. There are big shoes to fill, because it's a massive game that a lot of people have seen. I think a lot of people are nervous that someone is going to go in and screw it up.
I believe they just released the 19th game, or the 18th?
Scott Waugh: 18th, yeah. It's crazy.
I played the first two or three in college, and college was awhile ago.
Scott Waugh: Yeah, it's amazing that it's still going.
Is there anything else you're working on?
Scott Waugh: I'm going to do a modern-day A-Team on TNT, a new TV show. We'll be using real guys. It's a real group of bad-ass operators who go around the world doing secret operations. It's called R.E.A.C.T., which stands for Restricted Evolution and Adaptation on Counter-Terrorism.
TNT has a very defined set of shows. This could be really different.
Scott Waugh: I have this real passion right now to bring action to television again. This is one of my little obsessions, and that's why I designed the show. I want this style of action on television.
Is it still in early stages? Are you still working on the script?
Scott Waugh: Yeah, we're working on the script right now. We'll probably shoot the pilot in either September or October. Hopefully it goes right to series after that.
That sounds awesome. I was a huge fan of The A-Team as a kid.
Scott Waugh: I was too. I come from a stuntman background, and my dad used to work on The A-Team. I used to hang out on the set with all those guys. I got to meet Mr. T when I was a little kid. It was so cool.
Great. Well, that's my time. Thank you so much.
Scott Waugh: Yeah, man. Great talking to you.