The Movie: Behind The Lines
When the company came home to Los Angeles, post production on "Saving Private Ryan" was completed, with Spielberg working closely with his longtime editor Michael Kahn.
However, one integral element of the film was accomplished on the opposite coast in Boston Symphony Hall. There, composer John Williams conducted the renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus as they recorded his score for "Saving Private Ryan."
Williams and Spielberg mutually decided which scenes should have music. To accompany the journey of Miller and his squad, they chose to have the music flow out in long sequences, followed by scenes with no music at all. Over the closing credits, they selected "Hymn to the Fallen," with a haunting cadence of military drums.
Spielberg reveals that he was so moved when he heard the music for the first time that he could imagine the audience just sitting...listening in a darkened theatre.
"I think it's very important to communicate to an audience that mere mortals--flesh and blood human beings--had to be called upon to make this sort of sacrifice," Hanks notes. "And, in that way, I think we are doing a bit of a service to them...not through a history lesson, but through a humanity lesson."
Author Stephen Ambrose offers, "The search for Private Ryan is fiction, but of the kind that illuminates truth rather than diminishing it. Everything about the story is accurate to the smallest detail: clothes, weapons, language, relationships between men who trained together and newcomers and between officers and enlisted men...the movie catches these nuances exactly. These are the men I have been interviewing for 30 years, the men I wrote about in D-Day and Citizen Soldiers."
"Making a war movie isn't glamorous to me," Spielberg reflects. "My dad brought home stories of the war, and he always explained to me how unglamorous war is. What I tried to do in this film was approximate the look and the sounds and even the smells of what combat is really like."
"The tanks and other vehicles were fairly easy to find but not the landing craft. We found some in England and a couple in Scotland, but, interestingly enough, the majority of them were in Palm Springs, California.
We bought them and built cradles to ship them over. They arrived in Southampton and we sent them to a refurbishing yard. Then we put them on another ship and sent them to Ireland. It was a pretty big moving operation for the transportation department.
There are twelve of these landing craft in the movie and several hundred in the background," states Ian Bryce, producer.
Spielberg was unflinching in his desire to depict the Omaha landing as it really happened. "Omaha Beach was a slaughter," the director recounts. "It was a complete foul-up: from the expeditionary forces, to the reconnaissance forces, to the saturation bombing that missed most of its primary targets. Given that, I didn't want to glamorize it, so I tried to be as brutally honest as I could."
After all the planning, preparations and rehearsals, the attention to authenticity down to the last detail worked its own magic. When Spielberg called "Action" the cast could not help but feel transported from a movie set to an event half a century past.
"The adrenaline rush was like nothing I had ever experienced on any other movie, because it was chaos as soon as you stepped out there," Tom Hanks remembers. "There were people falling and explosions going off around you, and it was not hard to imagine that the carnage was real, that it was caused by bullets and mortars and shells. There's terror in our eyes in some of those scenes, and rightly so, because we were genuinely scared... and we knew that it was all fake."
Edward Burns adds, "I'm really glad we shot the D-Day invasion at the beginning of the schedule because it changed the way we looked at every scene that followed it. Nobody was prepared for how horrific it really was, and you really got a sense of what those guys went through."
To transform their acting ensemble into a credible military unit, the filmmakers enlisted the aid of former U.S. Marine Corps Captain Dale Dye, whose dedication to the military did not end with his retirement from the service.
"I believe there is a certain core spirit that is common among men and women who fight for their country, and I think to understand it fully, the actors playing them need to experience the rigors that combat people all over the world face," Dye states. "So, to the extent I can, I immerse the actors in that lifestyle: I take them to the field; I make them eat rations; I make them crawl and sleep in the mud and the cold and the dirt... And when they come out, if I've done my job successfully, they have an inkling of what people sacrifice to serve their country in the military."
Dye and the staff from his company, Warriors Inc., took Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi and Adam Goldberg through what amounted to nothing less than boot camp. From the start, he kept them constantly reminded of the job at hand, calling them only by their character names and drilling into them the basics of soldiering. They had a total of ten days of training, including weapons drills, close combat, individual maneuvers and tactics, and World War II-era military lingo and hand signals.
"By the end, we were proficient in drills and infantry movements, so we really felt like the genuine article," Diesel says.
"We also knew how to handle a weapon. I was able to disassemble and reassemble an M-1 rifle blindfolded to simulate having to do it in darkness. That was a cool experience." The last five days of boot camp- spent in the field, living in tents and eating rations- proved a test of their spirits as well as their endurance. The actors had to suspect that Dye could even command the elements when, on their first day out, a cold rain turned the ground to muck.
Goldberg jokes, "If you could imagine Stanislavski running boot camp, that's what it was like. We were forced to be 'method,' whether we wanted to or not. The only way I could get through it was to shut myself down and become this soldier. But, in the end, it proved beneficial to all of us."" "Essentially, we were trying to get our heads into the mindset of an infantryman, but the experience of actually being there was indescribable" Ribisi affirms. "We were soaking wet, hiking five miles a day with 40 pounds of gear on our backs, getting about three hours of sleep...only you don't really sleep because you're freezing and shaking in a tent. Afterwards, I had a huge sense of accomplishment."
"I didn't want to do it," Sizemore admits. "The way I looked at it, just because I had to act like a soldier, why did I have to be a soldier? But something happened to us out there. We learned that you don't do anything by yourself in the military; it really is teamwork. If another guy is having a hard time- he can't get his gear on, he's sick, whatever- you stop and help him out. It brought us closer together, so when we started shooting the movie, we felt a bond."
Hanks adds, "We were playing soldiers who were tired and miserable and wanted to go home, and I don't think we could have done that justice without having experienced what Dale Dye put us through. I think he was trying to instill in us the idea that when you think you can't go any farther, you can. You just have to decide to do it, which is exactly the situation in which many of the men involved in the Normandy invasion found themselves."