If you're an American producer and you want to get some impressive combat scenes in your movie, you can call the Department of Defense
(DoD) and ask for some of their fancy equipment. Plus any soldiers who happen to be free. As the examples show, Uncle Sam can be very generous to filmmakers and help you avert tropes like Artistic License - Military
, Improperly Placed Firearms
, and Just Plane Wrong
One reason for this is, if the film is positive about the military, it is good public relations, and thus the movie supports the mission. If the movie is really
good — both a positive portrayal of the military and a box-office success — it may even be a boon for military recruiting
. Indeed, the Navy stated that after the release of Top Gun
, the number of young men enlisting with a desire to be Naval aviators went up by 500 percent.
There's a catch — a Department of Defense project officer will keep an eagle eye on the script and production phases. If they don't like the portrayal of the military in your film, they will yank the co-operation. This was a major reason for the failure of the TV series Supercarrier
. Other movies DoD rejected include Forrest Gump
(because the army protagonist was stupid), Mars Attacks!!
(because everyone was stupid
), and Independence Day
. Still, if your film just has
to have a full-sized aircraft carrier, where else can one turn? There are options for creative filmmakers (for instance, The Asylum
filmed its Battleship
knockoff American Warships
on a museum ship), and CGI can accomplish a lot. But for sheer accuracy and time-saving, Pentagon backing remains an enticing option.
Note that while production assistance rarely ever comes from all
the military services, nevertheless all projects must, without exception, be approved by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, or his designee, before any full official support can be granted at all. If a production is for instance primarily about the Navy and Marine Corps, the production team will probably only maintain contact with representatives from the Department of the Navy. Which can occasionally lead to some amusing results. The Navy technical advisors will be very careful about getting Navy details right and making sure the Navy looks good on the screen... but might not care one bit if it makes the the Army or the Air Force look bad
As might be gleaned from that list, movies can certainly succeed and even thrive without DoD's help. Still, it costs quite a bit more money to go it alone, so some filmmakers give concessions on the script rather than face studio rejection. Sometimes this can be subtle, while other times it becomes almost a form of Executive Meddling
. This article
covers things in a little more depth.
This is not a solely American trope - it has happened on both sides of the Iron Curtain (the Red Army
supplied extras in astonishing numbers to several epics), and elsewhere.
Itís also not limited to the military. If you're shooting a motion picture or television series about any kind of specialized public profession with either lots of hardware or specific locations; such as a police department, fire department, space agency
, or even ocean lifeguards
; it can be very beneficial from both an artistic and financial point of view to get help from the real thing.
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- Black Hawk Down did make a major change to the true story, possibly at the Pentagon's behest. The clerk was replaced by a fictional character, for the very good reason that that person had been convicted of sexually assaulting his own daughter.
- In the World War II set film The Enemy Below, the crew of the destroyer used for the film played the role of the ship's crew in the film, including the captain, who played the chief engineer.
- Pearl Harbor film Tora! Tora! Tora! was filmed on the various active military bases around Oahu attacked that day, and featured a lot of pyrotechnics set off on said bases.
- It also featured a large number of US naval vessels standing in for ships that were there that day, causing a lot of unavoidable anachronism.
- A Few Good Men did not have Pentagon approval, and had to shoot in alternate locations.
- The Final Countdown features a considerable number of the crew of the real USS Nimitz. About the only thing they couldn't do was ask the captain to actually sail into Pearl Harbor (the Nimitz was stationed in the Atlantic at the time).
- One of the biggest bumps in the live-action Transformers movie was that most of the military hardware was going to become the vehicle mode of the Decepticons (bad guys), from a modified Abrams tank for
Devastator Brawl to the top-of-the-line F-22 used for Starscream. In fact, according to the DVD's special features, it was the military's liaison officer who managed to convince them to let the shoot continue, as, good or evil, the Decepticons were being portrayed as the most badass robots in existence — for example, that an ace flier like Starscream, forced to adopt a disguise to hide in an inferior culture, would naturally go with the most dangerous fighter in the world. It also probably helped that (unlike the series on which it is based) this was one of the only alien invasion movies where the military have weapons that actually work (the military men being the good guys who side with the good robots with the intelligence officers being the obstructive bureaucrats who try to capture and study the evil robots was likely a factor). In fact, the two V-22 Ospreys in Qatar at the start of the movie were the only two such aircraft in the USAF at the time.
- Naturally, they're going Up to Eleven in the sequel, where most of the soldier extras present are actual soldiers.
- Michael Bay has been honest in calling himself a "world class ass kisser." The military looks good in his films and he is proud of that fact. He also talked about how obsessed with details they are, the uniforms are accurate and the terminology used was filmed as a training scenario with the actual people who do those things. One scene had a young analyst slipping into a private meeting in the Pentagon held by the Secretary of Defense. The technical advisors said that there is no way that would ever happen — security in such meetings is too strong. A compromise was made: someone knocked on the glass, acknowledging that the analyst was being observed.
- Another Michael Bay film, Armageddon, had official support from both NASA and the Pentagon. NASA probably regretted this decision, as it now uses the film as a test for hiring managers: spot all the inaccuracies in the film.
- Star Trek IV The Voyage Home got US backing too. The real USN nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was unavailable and had highly classified and moderately radioactive interiors though, so USS Ranger stood in.
- As with Transformers, Star Trek IV had only intelligence officers portrayed unsympathetically. That's presumably why the two guys who interrogate Chekov are from the FBI.
- Top Gun. Yep. The Navy wanted some good publicity - and got a huge increase in interest as a result (also on the USS Ranger [CV-61]).
- The Hunt for Red October: The film-makers were allowed in the real USS Dallas to take photos of non-classified areas.
- In an inversion, Platoon was a success in spite of the Pentagon refusing to supply anything for the film.
- As were Apocalypse Now and An Officer and a Gentleman.
- In The Movie of Tom Clancy's The Sum Of All Fears:
- the carrier that was attacked was originally to have been sunk, but in order to keep military support for the film, the script had to be adjusted so that the carrier survived, though it was mission killed (that is, couldn't do much of anything except limp away).
- When the time came to film the nuclear detonation scene, in which the Presidential motorcade is severely damaged by the blastnote , the director used real military personnel that were trained specifically for that situation. All he had to do was point to the overturned limo and tell them "The President is in that car!".
- Amazingly, the Army approved Stripes because they thought it would be a good recruitment tool. Even more amazingly, they were right!
- G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra featured real Apache helicopters flown by real Army pilots. Odd, as most of the film deals with fantastic vehicles and weapons that bear no resemblance to the real military.
- Crimson Tide depicted a mutiny on a US navy submarine, so naturally didn't make the cut. To get around this the filmmakers used chase helicopters to follow an actual submarine out to sea so they could film it diving. They also used a French Aircraft Carrier for some scenes.
- The scene in The Bourne Identity in the US Consulate in Switzerland features a team of US Marines who are the actual guards of US Embassies and other State department buildings.
- The US, British and French militaries supplied about 23,000 troops during the filming of The Longest Day.
- In Battle: Los Angeles, the USMC provided a number of troops to serve as extras, and lent a huge amount of aircraft such as various helicopters and even V-22 Opsreys. They also allowed the crew to film some parts of the movie in Camp Pendleton. Behind the scenes, the cast were trained at a boot camp run by military advisors to make sure they acted, fought, and spoke like Marines. Aaron Eckhart joked that they were very particular about the terminology they used, such as calling a helicopter a "helo" instead of a "chopper".
- The Green Berets is one of the most famous examples of this. Legend has it that John Wayne personally requested support from Lyndon Johnson.
- Similarly to Platoon, The Hurt Locker didn't have military backing, partially because of budget issues. One might think the film's much-criticized lapses in military procedure would have been fixed had they had Army consultants. They didn't... but, curiously, when director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal were making Zero Dark Thirty, about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, they discovered that several highly-placed officials in DoD and the CIA (including then Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta, who went on to become Secretary of Defense) were fans of the film, and they ''did'' receive considerable assistance from those agencies.
- Iron Man - The Air Force provided material with the then-new Airman's Battle Uniform's camouflage patterm. Actor Terrance Howard also did some immersion research with airmen to prepare for the role.
- The Pentagon backed out of supporting The Avengers, specifically because of the ambiguous role of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the movie (part of the U.S. military? An international organization?), and as a result, what sort of Constitutional authority, if any, it would have over U.S. military personnel. The movie's Omniscient Council Of Vagueness appears to be multinational, and even if it isn't, it's not clear that they're properly in the military chain of command.
- In Jack Webb's The DI, active-duty Marines portray all but one of the recruits.
- In the film adaption of Battleship, the US Navy bent over backwards to provide both locations and personnel for the shoot. Those extras and even most of the named characters in the film? Serving personnel, some of them playing themselves.
- Act of Valor(which started life as a recruitment film) takes this to an even greater extreme, as the main characters are all played by real U.S. Navy SEALS (who were between deployments at the time of shooting), the crew was given unparalleled access to Navy equipment, live ammo was used for most scenes (not to mention a scene where a truck gets blown up with an RPG that was done for real without any effects) all the tactics used in the film are real, and several things in the film are based on real life missions. It's worth mentioning that the film gained a considerable amount of support after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. SEALS.
- Seven Days In May was pointedly not given any Pentagon backing, due to the storyline concerning a rogue Air Force general (modeled after real-life generals Curtis LeMay, then Air Force Chief of Staff, and recently-retired USAF General Edwin Walker) planning a Military Coup. This led to situations where John Frankenheimer resorted to guerilla filmmaking — they needed a shot of Col. "Jiggs" Casey (played by Kirk Douglas) entering into the Pentagon, a shot that, without DoD's explicit OK, would have been considered close to espionage. Frankenheimer set up a camera in a station wagon and had Douglas, in full costume, walk up the Pentagon steps. The two soldiers who saluted Douglas were giving genuine salutes, not realizing he was a Hollywood star and not a marine colonel. However, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, President John F. Kennedy, did back the film, to the point of vacating the White House whenever they wanted to film there. It says something about the truths of the film that the President's backing wasn't enough to get the Pentagon to back it (and he's their commander!).
- Sgt. Bilko has a note at the end of the film which gratefully acknowledges the total lack of cooperation from the Army.
- The CIA's involvement with Zero Dark Thirty actually became a major component of the controversy that surrounded the film, with some feeling that this was the reason for the film's depiction of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. While director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal may or may not have approved of the use of torture, there was a strong chance that the CIA liaisons advising them did.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still,original version, was another film where the army refused to help-they didn't like the film's peaceful message. The filmmakers ultimately got their tanks and weaponry from the National Guard instead.
Live Action TV
- The Donald P. Bellisario's Long Runner JAG is notable as a series that had a great deal of Navy & Marine Corps support starting with the third season, and many episodes that were clearly Military On Board.
- JAG's spin-off series NCIS also relies heavily on official support from the Navy cops it portrays, as does its own spin-off series NCIS Los Angeles.
- Stargate Verse:
- Originally the Air Force just wanted to review the scripts to Stargate SG-1, but the producers decided to ask for advisors to avoid Artistic License - Military, and actually listened to them (though a few errors still got through - Samantha's hair getting too long, Gen. Landry having his hands in his pockets, etc). Before long, the show was using real Air Force personnel playing many of its extras, and two Chiefs of Staff appearing as themselves: Generals Michael E. Ryan and John P. Jumper. In a testament to how much the military likes the Stargate Verse, the real life NORAD has a door inside the building labeled "Stargate Command"*, and Richard Dean Anderson was named an honorary Air Force brigadier general for his role as Jack O'Neill.note
- In Stargate Continuum, the Navy let them film the outside and inside of a real nuclear attack submarine, in the Arctic, doing a number of through the ice-pack surfaces for it. Not to be outdone, the Air Force let them film inside real F-15's.
- In-Universe, Wormhole X-Treme! is backed by the Air Force to provide Plausible Deniability to the stargate program. That was the idea, anyway: it ended up getting cancelled after the third episode and wasn't renewed for five years.
- Common to pretty much all shows produced by Jack Webb:
- Dragnet was backed very heavily by the Los Angeles Police Department, and many off-duty officers became extras. Rather than let the producers of the show make mock-ups of the LAPD's distinctive shield-shaped badges, the two main characters were allowed to borrow genuine ones that were brought to the set every day by a police adviser. Reportedly, Joe Friday even had a working phone number. When Jack Webb, the actor who played Sgt. Joe Friday died, the badge number he used, 714, was retired from the LAPD, and is now buried with him.
- Adam-12 also has lots of LAPD assistance.
- Emergency! was backed by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
- Project UFO was backed by the United States Air Force.
- Gunnery Sergeant (Honorary) R. Lee Ermey. A retired Marine drill instructor, he's portrayed similar roles in several movies and served as military technical adviser as well. He's hosted two military-themed shows (Mail Call and Lock 'n Load), and never had a problem accessing military bases and the biggest explosion-making toys they could offer.
- Due to being filmed in New York, the Law & Order franchise has been able to use the NYPD's Movie/Television Division to full effect.
- The various incarnations of Top Gear often manage to get the participation of military services and their hardware:
- The original Top Gear pitted a British Army Apache attack helicopter against a Lotus Exige, to see if the car could outrun or evade it.note
- The American version redid the "attack helicopter vs. sports car" scenario with a Cobra and a Dodge Viper, but without official military participation (it was a retired and privately-owned Cobra.) Top Gear Korea apparently did a similar bit, which ended up with the helicopter crashing.
- The short-lived FOX cop-drama K-ville was filmed on location in New Orleans and the show was allowed to use the real-life uniforms and logos of the New Orleans Police.
- Oddly enough, Paranormal Investigation shows get backing from the military as well. The Ghost Hunters were asked to investigate the USS Lexington and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base while the Ghost Adventures crew were asked to investigate the USS Hornet.
- The documentary miniseries Victory At Sea.
- For most of the latter half of the 20th century, the city of Chicago rarely permitted television shows or movies to use their police department's insignias, reportedly after The Blues Brothers mucked up their reputation. Shows and movies often had to make due with Captain Ersatz versions of the CPD (Hill Street Blues was supposedly set in a metropolis resembling Chicago that was never named). The Chicago Code, on the other hand, depicted the CPD quite accurately and was filmed on location. One possible explanation for the change was the fact that while the original ban was put into place by Mayor Richard J. Daley, his son and successor Richard M. Daley left office shortly before the show began production.
- The first show produced by Gene Roddenberry was The Lieutenant, about a young U.S. Marine Corps officer. It was filmed with cooperation and technical support from the Marines, who withheld approval of one script that dealt with racial themes (and had Nichelle Nichols, who would go on to star on another of Roddenberry's shows, in a guest star role). The official position, apparently, was that the military did not have racial problems. Roddenberry went ahead and filmed the episode anyway, but it was not aired.
- The Carrier Classic, a Collegiate Basketball game is played annually on the deck of an aircraft carrier (hence the name), with the agreement of the Navy. Rivals Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina played the first game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson at Naval Base San Diego on Veterans Day 2011 (11/11/11). The visuals alone are freaking epic, especially as the sun sets.
- Video games, especially first person shooters, that are based on real life military usually get advice and backings from the real deal military branches.
- Similar to South Park using World of Warcraft, the developers behind PAYDAY The Heist got help from Valve to recreate the set pieces of No Mercy, a level used in Valve's Left 4 Dead series. This collaboration helped create the No Mercy DLC for PAYDAY which has familiar set pieces like the vending machines and being startled by the Witch.
- In a non-military example, the South Park episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft", which lampooned World of Warcraft, received extensive support from Blizzard Entertainment, including the use of the Burning Crusade test servers to film the in-game portions of the episode.
Anime and Manga
- Yomigaeru Sora Rescue Wings revolves around Japan Air Self Defense Force search and rescue operations, and got considerable support from the Defense Agency (now the Defense Ministry). Footage from the show was later used in JASDF recruiting ads.
- The filmakers of the original Gojira film were denied this support but in an interesting way of getting around that they found out the schedule of a military convoy (on its way to be decommissioned) and filmed it twice along its route without permission. It was also filmed in cooperation with the Japanese Coast Guard.
- The James Bond film GoldenEye was backed by the French navy, who lent the crew a frigate and a helicopter for a scene in which the helicopter is stolen (the helicopter is a model in later scenes though).
- During the production of The World Is Not Enough, MI6 initially moved to block the filming of a scene around their headquarters, citing security concerns - but were overruled by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, saying "After all Bond has done for Britain, it was the least we could do for Bond."
- The The Lord of the Rings movies used the New Zealand army to do tasks from landscaping Hobbiton to filling out their legions of extras. The Mordor scenes were filmed on an abandoned minefield, being the only place in New Zealand with the right amount of ash and desolation.
- Saving Private Ryan had the help of the Irish Army, Navy, and British MoD reserves for use as extras during the Omaha Beach sequence.
- Irish Army Reservists also served as extras for Braveheart. Since as Craig Charles put it, "(they) see very little real action and were probably making the best of it", on-site medical personnel were kept rather busy during the fight sequences.
- The sixties Danish monster movie Reptilicus featured dozens of soldiers and displays of some of the best gear possessed by the Danish army at the time (apparently unusual at the time; most similar movies had to rely on Stock Footage). That didn't stop the movie from being hilariously awful, though.
- In Hero, starring Jet Li, the extras playing the soldiers of the Qin army were actual Chinese soldiers provided by the PLA.
- This was once again done in the Three Kingdoms period pieces Red Cliff and Red Cliff 2 where the soldiers of the Wei, Shu and Wu armies were PLA soldiers.
- Those Wacky Nazis used thousands of soldiers, some diverted from fighting positions at considerable cost, as extras in the 1945 movie Kolberg, about the unsuccessful (though it was successful in the film) resistance of the fortress-town of Kolberg against the French in 1807. By the time the movie came out there were few theatres left unbombed to watch it in, so its propaganda effect was minimal to say the least.
- In The Empire Strikes Back, Norwegian reservists played the soldiers in the Battle for the Ice Planet Hoth.
- So Hoth might actually be a vacation for them, huh?
- French director Abel Gance was able to get military assistance in making the anti-war film J Accuse (1919) by convincing them it was going to be a propaganda movie. 2000 soldiers on leave from the Battle of Verdun played soldiers who rise from their graves to condemn the uncaring civilians. Within a few weeks of their return to the front, eighty per cent of these soldiers had been killed.
- In The Beast, Captain Dale Dye negotiated to get an old Russian tank from the Israeli Defence Forces. The film, set in Afghanistan, was shot in the Sinai desert.
- Possibly the most epic example: Sergey Bondarchuk's 1968 War and Peace movie, featuring horses and entire military units (as well as a special "cinematographical cavalry corps") provided by the Soviet Ministry of Defense. But then, the Soviet Ministry of Defense was very fond of this trope in general, often providing soldiers for patriotic war films.
- Sergei Bondarchuk did the same thing in 1971 in Waterloo, where Soviet soldiers were used in huge shots featuring thousands of soldiers. Hilarity Ensues in several known instances where the soldiers panicked and scattered during scenes with cavalry charges.
- Most of the U.S. Marines who invade the Bashaw's palace in The Wind and the Lion were actually Spanish Special Forces, as the movie was filmed in Spain, with Sevilla and Almeria standing in for Tangier.
- Many Vietnam War movies, such as Apocalypse Now and the Missing in Action series, were filmed in the Philippines, which has jungles, needs money, and most importantly, uses US military equipment. The Armed Forces of the Philippines often lent vehicles such as F-5s and Hueys to the film makers in place of American military vehicles.
- Ironically the helicopters in Apocalypse Now were taken away to fight real-life communist guerillas in mid-production.
- The Swiss comedy movie Achtung, Fertig, Charlie!' (English: Ready, Set, Charlie!') set in basic training of the Swiss Army was supported by the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (yes, it is rather odd) by providing vehicles, extras etc. Later on, said department criticised the moviemakers for their "unrealistic, comical illustration of basic training"...a claim most Swiss thought was silly, even if they agreed it was true, seeing as Switzerland has universal male conscription.
- According to Turner Classic Movies, the castle in Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood was a full-scale authentic Japanese castle, built by US Marine Engineers as a construction exercise for the production.
- The Mexican military was going to provide the vehicles for the movie Once upon a Time in Mexico, but they changed their minds once they found out the villain was an army General. The filmmakers had to make do with donations from private collectors.
- The 2010 remake of The Karate Kid got official support from the Chinese government, and features several prominent scenes set in notable national landmarks.
- Sergei Eisenstein's films are made of this trope. The best example would have to be the film October: Ten days that shook the world in which Eisenstein convinced the powers that be to actually have the Cruiser "Aurora" shell the Winter Palace again. Apparently more people were injured in its re-enactment of the storming of the palace than were in the actual, historical event.
- Lord Of War is a subversion. Most of the military hardware - like the rows of battle tanks and the piles of rifles - is real. But, consistent with the theme of the movie, the lenders weren't governments but private arms dealers.
- District 9 borrowed some Casspir AP Cs for the film, and also used them as part of the South African advertising campaign.
- The live-action adaptation of '"Rescue Wings'' was set at the Komatsu JASDF airbase, and featured actual F-15s, UH-60Js and support from both the Air and Maritime Self Defense Forces.
- Iron Eagle had to make use of IAF aircraft, as the USAF thought the script was so ridiculous that there was no way in hell they'd support it. This explains why the enemy country is using Israeli "Kfir" aircraft.
Live Action TV
- In the climactic battle of the Doctor Who serial "The Invasion", most of the UNIT members are actual British soldiers of the Coldstream Guards. Highly impressive, considering Doctor Who's usual budget (a third of a shoestring).
- The Sea Devils saw the Royal Navy waive fees on Stock Footage and many extras were played by volunteering sailors.
- The new series appears to be getting quite a bit of military backing, culminating in the appearance of Challenger II battle tanks in one of the Christmas specials.
- A Polish 1960s cult series on WWII called Four tank men and a dog had its equipment granted (free of charge) by the Army. Either through connections or simply thanks to magic of Television. Someone called the general: "Comrade, we need a thousand men and a tank squad for two weeks, it's for TV series", and boom.
- Actually, during the Soviet occupation, the communist nations had quite an easy access to both military hardware and personnel (not so hard with mandatory enlistment and wanting to glorify the military a bit). Strangely though, at least in Czech production, the resulting series/movies were surprisingly realistic, dealing with bullying and other darker topics of peacetime military.
- Top Gear frequently has appearances from members of the British Army or Royal Marines, taking part in all sorts of hijinks under the guise of car tests. This includes hunting down Jeremy Clarkson in a tank and more recently having the new Ford Fiesta take part in a Royal Marine beach assault.
- In one episode, the RAF* lend a Eurofighter Typhoon jet and pilot to race Richard Hammond's Buggati Veyron.
- Segments have taken place on the deck of an aircraft carrier at least twice.
- The production for CCTV's live-action TV adaptation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms had some help from the People's Liberation Army, who provided a few divisions of troops for use as extras.
- The 1973-77 BBC series Warship was filmed on a number of Royal Navy vessels.
- The Bill was backed By Scotland Yard and was allowed to use real police logos, actual uniforms and real equipment. When the show ended they bought all their props to prevent criminals getting hold of them.
- The Mexican show El Equipo (tagline: "They know Good Defeats Evil"), basically a 60-minutes long government ad, used troops of the security agencies. And vehicles. And equipment. And classified locations...
- In a decisively non-military example: The Australian series H2O: Just Add Water was backed by Australia's Gold Coast tourist board and Sea World, providing much of the Scenery Porn.