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To War And Back Again
The visual design for HOME OF THE BRAVE has a unique yin-yang tension that drives the film's emotional core – moving back and forth between the hot, dry, adrenaline-drenched action sequences shot in Morocco standing in for Iraq and the cool, green, heart-wrenching dramatic scenes shot amid the typical small American city of Spokane. But one concept underscores the entire production: keeping it 100% real. 

To boldly underscore the dizzying transition that soldiers experience in journeying from war back to the home front, Irwin Winkler knew he would first have to capture the unique anatomy of the Iraq war – with its harrowing, close-in, house-to-house gunfights -- in a very direct and authentic way. Thus it was that the cast and crew traveled across the globe to the Kingdom of Morocco, the beautiful and culturally rich North African country that also stood in for war-torn Somalia in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down.” In the city of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara, the desert landscape and traditional villages provided a close facsimile for the remote towns outside of Baghdad, where much of the Iraq war is being fought. Nearby in Tabount (also seen in this year's "Babel”), Winkler mapped out the second-by-second action of the unit's final mission in Al Hayy as the truck driven by Jessica Biel's character heads right into a deadly ambush. 

To get these visceral scenes on film, Winkler selected as his director of photography one of the most experienced and exacting cinematographers working today: Tony Pierce-Roberts, who received two Oscar® nominations for his work on Merchant-Ivory's "Room With a View” and "Howard's End” and previously collaborated with Winkler on the stylistically opposite "De-Lovely.” Given that the production would be working in a fast and furious manner on a modest budget, producer Rob Cowan suggested that they also stake out new photographic territory – exclusively using the brand new Viper High Definition Widescreen Video Cameras to shoot the entire film. "I had done two films using HD cameras previously with Irwin's son, Charles Winkler, and felt that the fast-moving style and versatility would be right for this film,” says Cowan. "Tony Pierce-Roberts had never shot with the Viper cameras before but he hit the ground running.” 

In Morocco, Pierce-Roberts pushed the Viper cameras in ways they'd never been tested – mounting them on helicopters for aerial shots and taking them through the multiple camera set-ups (often using 4 or 5 cameras simultaneously) and dust-and-smoke filled atmosphere of intricately choreographed battle sequences. Working closely in concert with Winkler, his emphasis was on spontaneity and authenticity. "We did storyboard the entire film in detail but once we started shooting, the storyboards became almost irrelevant,” comments Pierce-Roberts. "I'm a great believer in serendipity. It's all very well to choreograph every detail but when the actors come along and maybe do something that's more interesting – you have to be open to that.” 

But if Pierce-Roberts was attempting to feed off the wild chaos of the battle scenes, he was also thankful to have a backdrop that was wonderfully predictable. "One of the great things about Morocco is that you have absolute consistency of light from the minute you get there. This really allowed us to capture the smoke and dirt and grime of combat with realism,” he notes. 

As production got underway in the village of Tabount, the cast and crew had to be respectful of the fact their "backlot” was also home to many locals. All were impressed by the enthusiastic support of the Moroccans. "Everyone we worked with in Morocco was very friendly and cooperative,” says Winkler. "We were able to take over whole streets and buildings for days and days at a time.” 

The Moroccan government provided additional support to the filmmakers by supplying authe

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