“Act of Valor” directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh were surprised to learn the Navy SEALs who star in their new film were nothing like the characters seen in modern war movies.
“They were intellectual, down to earth, dedicated family men,” McCoy tells Big Hollywood. “They’re some of the finest people we’ve met in our lives.”
One can forgive McCoy and Waugh for anticipating something different, what McCoy calls a “Rambo-Terminator with his head screwed on sideways.”
Hollywood has been mistreating U.S. soldiers for some time, either dehumanizing them or painting them to be monsters worth our scorn (“Redacted”).
“Act of Valor” tries to correct the record. Not only does the film star active duty Navy SEALs in a battle to stop a wave of terrorist attacks, but the narrative lets the warriors share their struggles, sacrifices and heartaches. Those sequences are nestled between blistering action set pieces that marry the modern video game aesthetic with sturdy cinematography.
The directors call “Valor” a “true independent film,” but that wasn’t by choice initially. When they told major studios they wanted to use active duty SEALs in an action-adventure, “they looked at us like we were crazy,” McCoy recalls.
Not only did McCoy and Waugh, both veteran stunt men, stick with their plan to use real SEALs, they put aside the phony weaponry. The SEALs are trained for combat with live ammunition, says Waugh, and the directors didn’t want to introduce blanks into the equation. Plus, using real bullets gave the film a visual edge.
“The tracer bullets you would see are real tracer rounds, muzzle flashes … that’s the real, authentic experience. You had to treat the set in a different way than normal Hollywood movies,” Waugh says.
Those set modifications were born, in part, out of their collective frustration with a film industry far too enamored with CGI effects.
“Hollywood has gotten away from that in-camera experience,” Waugh says of swapping out live stunt work for computer trickery. “We can still do whatever they’re doing, and then some.”
“When you’re doing stunts,” McCoy adds, “People always ask you what it’s like to crash a motorcycle at 100 mph. That’s an immersive experience.”
The directors wanted audiences to feel a similar sense of immersion while “walking” in the boots of the SEALs.
“It took all our background as stunt men [to accomplish].” McCoy says.
“Act of Valor” won’t be able to change the cinematic impression we have of the modern U.S. soldier. One movie can’t wipe away years of pop culture depictions. But McCoy says it puts movies on the right path.
“They’re doing such heroic things for our country and going totally unrecognized,” McCoy says.
“We’ve been in the Vietnam hangover for 40-plus years,” Waugh adds. “The world’s a different place now.”