Retired U.S. Marine Capt. Dale Dye says working with director Oliver Stone means hearing two very different nicknames on the set. “The crew calls [Stone] Ho Chi Minh and me John Wayne,” the decorated war hero says.
But Stone and Capt. Dye share something that trumps ideology - the drive to authentically capture soldiers on screen. Capt. Dye has been serving as a military consultant for filmmakers like Stone for the past 25 years.
His expertise has colored projects like “Saving Private Ryan.” “The Pacific” and “Band of Brothers.” When he’s on the set, you can be sure the actors reflect the real spirit of the U.S. military.
For years Capt. Dye would complain about the “offensive” way studios portrayed soldiers.
“It ran the gamut … from the wrong weapons and the wrong uniforms to people doing things they‘d never do with weapons,” says Capt. Dye, who survived 31 combat missions and earned Three Purple Hearts during his military career. “Those [characters] didn’t act like soldiers, didn’t relate to each other like soldiers and didn’t talk like soldiers. That was leaching the true drama out of those stories.”
So after retiring from the military in the early 1980s he started investigating the reasons why such egregious mistakes kept cropping up in film. He learned very few Hollywood players had first hand knowledge of the U.S. Armed Forces.
He decided to take the matter into his own hands, but it wasn’t easy becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for military expertise. He simply couldn’t get anyone in the industry to hear his sales pitch.
His break came in the form of a trade notice announcing a relatively unknown director was about to start production on a new Vietnam War movie to be called “Platoon.”
“If I ever had a shot, this is it,” he says. He eventually got Stone’s phone number and kept him on the line long enough to seal the deal. “We agreed absolutely from an artistic point of view,“ says Capt. Dye, who went on to work together with Stone on four other films. “I’ll never forget him for giving me a start.”
“Platoon” went on to sweep the 1986 Oscars, and Capt. Dye’s phone began to ringing with new film offers.
Dye, a 21 year veteran of the Marine Corps, says his advising work inadvertently sparked an acting career.
“Directors would see me training actors, and I do it in character - I’m not low key at all, and they’d say, ’who is that guy? Can he do that in front of the camera?” says Dye, whose screen credits include "Rules of Engagement" and "Mission: Impossible."
Capt. Dye heaps praise on actors like Tom Hanks (“Saving Private Ryan”) and Ron Livingston (“Band of Brothers“) for being fast studies when it comes to playing soldiers on screen. And while most of the people he meets on film sets lean left, he’s yet to find an actor unwilling to heed his advice.
“I’ve seen them come full circle, from not being interested in that kind of [military] crap to saying, ’those military guys are really heroes. I need to portray them the best I can,’” he says.
Capt. Dye still talks like a military officer, casually dropping phrases like “know your enemy” and “10-minute drill” into conversation. The former is how he describes the Hollywood establishment, people he found deathly afraid of risk and change.
Now, Capt. Dye is on a new mission. His new literary imprint, Warriors Publishing
, hopes to find and promote books that accurately portray military men and women and bring out-of-print titles back to life. He'll be taking an active role in the new group, writing alongside the authors under the Warriors banner.
“I’ve been a novelist since my last days if the Marine Corps,” he says. “I’ve been noodling around this literary thing for quite some time.”
It’s part of an overall strategy to stay make sure the public understands the true nature of the military. It also keeps him busy.
“You learn quickly in Hollywood you don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he says, adding when he‘s not writing or advising film productions he‘s helping video game titles like “Medal of Honor“ to be as accurate as possible.
Capt. Dye is busy with his literary endeavor, but he’s also gearing up for a new assignment - film director. His debut feature, “No Better Place to Die,” begins shooting in Budapest this April. Even if he doesn’t become the next Steven Spielberg, he’s happy to leave a mark on Hollywood.
“It’s hubris on my part to say I have that big an influence. I’m willing to say I’ve had an effect on a generation of young actors who look at the military [now] in a whole different light.“
He says military misinformation still pollutes the culture, which means Capt. Dye’s work is far from over.
“I’m going to do everything I can in every medium to try to correct that in some way,” he says.