The directors of Act of Valor offer up a guide to restoring action to its ‘70s and ‘80s glory
Next week, Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh will bring real-life Navy SEALs to the big screen with Act of Valor, an action movie loosely based on actual missions. While we wait patiently for someone to bring real-life Ewoks to a theater near us, Waugh and McCoy offer up advice on restoring the action genre to old school awesomeness. And no, “cast Keith Jardine in everything” isn’t on the list.
1. Lay off the CG
MIKE “MOUSE” MCCOY: We’ve been pretty bummed out at what’s happened to the action filmmaking world. It’s gone completely CG; it’s all fake. And audiences know it’s fake now, so it’s kind of a bummer because you don’t connect with it in that visceral way you did in the ‘70s and ‘80s when you knew, “Wow that’s a real stuntman out there and he’s really hanging it out.” Go watch Road Warrior. Those guys are doing it for real. You look at those films and there was a visceral connection, there was a cost of failure and it keeps you engaged. We want to bring that back with this film.
SCOTT WAUGH: We do not do CG. It’s all in camera. So if you see it happening, it happened. Our mantra at Bandito Brothers is “bring back the action genre.” Real action genre.
2. Hire the Real Deal
WAUGH: People always ask us, “What’s it like doing a high fall at 110 feet?” How do you explain that? It’s a similar approach we have with the SEALs. How do you explain being a SEAL to an actor? They operate at such a high level, and there’s so much nuance that comes with that, that we felt taking an actor and putting him in a two-month boot camp would not facilitate that.
MCCOY: And you want to see them move. You want to see them operate, and you want to know that your leads are really in the middle of the action scene without some weird cutaway to the close-up and weird reverse to the stunt double. You want to let it breathe.
3. Don’t Mess with Physics
MCCOY: We never bend physics in our work, because it is for real. So we adhere to the laws of mechanical physics. If all of a sudden the character gets ratcheted a hundred and fifty feet against the building, he’d be dead. And then you know it’s fake. So you have to keep things within the boundaries of mechanical physics for action filmmaking, or I think you subconsciously lose your audience.
WAUGH: It’s hard for us when we watch those movies. We can just tell by the physics of the CG that that’s not a plane. It doesn’t fly like that.
4. When in Doubt, Defer to the Experts
MCCOY: All the operational planning was them [the SEALs]. We would write dialogue with them every day and they’d be like, “Dude, I wouldn’t say this at all.” Or just, “Right now we wouldn’t say anything.” That’s even cool, too. Just let it breathe. And so it became their voice.
WAUGH: Sometimes we would leave plot points up to the SEALs because we wanted it to be real and organic for them. Some of those operations were basically, “You need to get to here, how you get there is your deal. You just need to get there. How would you get there?” And they would say, “Well, we would come in in helicopters and boats,” and you’re like, “That is awesome, can we film that?” “Yes, sir.” “Awesome, let’s go.”
5. Go Indie
MCCOY: People sometimes aren’t thinking about this as an indie film, but the sensibilities of it and the way we were able to go shoot it not having a studio involved really gave us that ability to make it our way. And we didn’t have to sort of compromise throughout.
6. Don’t Lose the Heart
WAUGH: In the end, making heartfelt stories -- that’s a real mantra of ours. It’s heartfelt, human stories immersed in the incredible action. Those two worlds need to be a part of our films. It’s not just sit back and eat your popcorn and have fun. We want you to be on the edge of your seat and feel that jeopardy that the characters are going through.
Act of Valor opens nationwide on February 24. Check out the trailer here!