BLACK HAWK DOWN
Learning The Ropes
Harry Humphries is, by all accounts except his own modest self-regard, one of the most remarkable figures in the world of film and television. A former Navy S.E.A.L. who was highly decorated for action in the Vietnam War,
Humphrines has more recently applied himself to matters of security and tactical training through his own company,
GSGI (Global Studies Group, Inc.)—and, usually for Jerry Bruckheimer—serving as a key military or
technical adviser on such films as The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon, Enemy of the State and Pearl Harbor. Once again, Bruckheimer called upon Humphries and his expertise, not only as an on-set adviser but also to prepare the huge cast for their respective roles as United States Rangers, Delta Force operators and helicopter pilots.
Bruckheimer, Scott and executive producers Mike Stenson, Chad Oman and Branko Lustig began laying the groundwork for what would become a remarkable association with the United States Department of Defense, which would provide extraordinary cooperation with the filmmakers while, at the same time, allowing them to tell the story of Black Hawk Down authentically. Certainly, Bruckheimer had already established a strong relationship with the U.S. military and D.O.D. from Top Gun to Pearl Harbor and many other projects in between, but Black Hawk Down is based on a mission which is still highly sensitive, even controversial.
However, as Bruckheimer notes, "Mark Bowden's book is on their reading list.., it was something the military embraced, wanting their officers and men to read it. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Sheldon, is an admirer of the book, so when we went to Washington to meet with [former] Secretary of Defense William Cohen, they were very enthusiastic about the project."
The first, and very tangible sign of such cooperation, was in the D.O.D.'s invitation to allow the actors of Black Hawk Down to participate in orientation and training at the actual military bases of the branches they were portraying: Fort Benning, Georgia for the Rangers; Fort Bragg, North Carolina for Special Forces (including the Delta Force, so secretive that the Army still doesn't officially acknowledge their existence); and Fort Campbell, Kentucky for the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) pilots.
"We felt that it was really important for the actors to actually become part of the military, even for a short time, if they were going to portray soldiers," Jerry Bruckheimer asserts. "And so, as we did with Pearl Harbor, we sent them for training.., not a Hollywood boot camp, but practical orientation. There's nothing like
reality. You can't fake it. We wanted the actors to have respect for the military and understand the physical challenges that they go through. If you talk to any soldier who has been through a battle or a war, they'll tell you that the only thing that saved their lives was either the man next to them, or their training."
"Sending actors to 'boot camp' is almost a conventional thing to do now," says Ridley Scott, "but when you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world, because if any actor has any notions of being better than the next guy, that goes right out the window. And if they weren't fit already, they're a hell of a lot fitter than they will ever be in their lives. And if they were fit already, then they're even fitter than they could possibly be!"
Adds Harry Humphries, "I'm a big believer in making sure that before we start filming a movie such as this one, for which Jerry and Ridley were going for utter authenticity, that actors are taught the necessary weaponry and physical skills up front so that we don't have to coach them so intensely on the set during production. It serves no purpose, to my 'mind, to simply put them through a harassing 'boot camp' session up front s
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