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An action-packed film about the takedown of al-Queda’s leader, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden follows a group of Navy Seals as they take on the mission of a lifetime, and is the first movie that was made on the mission to get Osama Bin Laden. This version of the story is now out on Blu-ray, DVD and available on Netflix. We had a chance to chat with Director John Stockwell and Producer Nicolas Chartier about what sets their movie apart from others on the subject.
What made you and the writer settle on the story you decided to tell?
Nicolas: We had done Hurt Locker before and wanted to find a good action story. [We had] an idea of doing a movie about Navy Seals [and wanted] to make a good thriller.
John: When Nick was working on this, before I even came on board, it was before Matt Bissononnette’s book, No Easy Day, or the Mark Bowden book or the Peter Bergen book. It was long before any of those accounts of the mission had come out. He and the screenwriter, Kendall Lampkin, were working from their sources. Then, I came in, and we were working from, sort of, “off the record” sources. There just wasn’t as much information out in the public domain as there is now. Some of it we just had to conjecture about and some of it we had to make the best judgment based on the information we had, so we were happy when certain things came out and it lined up with actual details of the raid. I think, unlike Zero Dark Thirty, which focuses much more on the CIA, our movie focuses more on the military and the local nationals on the ground in Pakistan. That was the story we chose—to really emphasize the role of the Seal team and less of the CIA.
A lot of people feel like this is a story that, since it can only be told because of leaked classified information, is one that shouldn’t be told—that the enemies of the US shouldn’t have this kind of information about how the seals operate. What would you say to such criticism?
Nicolas: Oh, I think you can find [all the information] on Google and YouTube. You go on YouTube and type Seals and you have all the information. I think it’s out there already.
John: Again, so much of this is anecdotal, but we learned things in the course of the research which we made a decision not to depict, because they could potentially be used by the enemy [during] further raids. I assume that Matt Bissonnette did the same thing—that there are certain classified elements of the mission that will never be revealed because they could, potentially, aide the enemy. I don’t think there’s anything in our movie that, in any way, shape, or form, would assist the enemy.
How do you respond to the criticism of factual errors in Seal Team Six?
Nicolas: We tried, with all the information available, to make the movie realistic and true. At the same time, the CIA has denied the book by the guy from the Seals, the Seals have denied the guy [who wrote] the book, the [writer] has denied the Seals and the CIA. It’s like everybody has five different versions. I wouldn’t even believe it if the President was telling me “This is the true version” because he might, as you said, want to keep some of the elements secret. So, between the people who were there who might be lying, the people who weren’t there who want to hide the truth, the people who want to tell the truth but don’t have the right to, I don’t believe there’s a real version that we’ll ever know.
John: I agree. I think there’s always going to be conflicting information, even with all the stories and accounts that have come out, there’s conflict between all of them. Now it’s all about how much enhanced interrogation techniques were used to get the name of al-Kuwati.
Nicolas: When I have the government telling me they never tortured anyone, I find it tough to believe.
John: I don’t think they’re saying they never tortured, I think they’re saying that torture didn’t result in the information that led to the capturing of Bin Laden. But I think it’s one of those stories—there was no C-SPAN covering it. Even the people on the mission may not know—Team Orange may not know what Team Red was doing on the other side of the compound. I think Matt Bissonnette’s version, he didn’t know what was going on within the CIA or the upper defense department or the executive branch. It’s a very tough movie to research and to vet.
Do you have any envy over the fact that Zero Dark Thirty got the big theatrical release that your film didn’t get? Or do you take more pride in having the first film out about the subject?
Nicolas: I think there’s a difference with the distribution because when Weinstein bought the movie, National Geographic made an offer, which was to get the movie seen by a lot of people all at the same time, and they wanted to do that. We had the movie released in different countries around the world and the principal is people saw it and like it.
John: It was a choice made by Harvey Weinstein. He [made an effort] to get it out there very quickly and available to as many people on Netflix and Nat Geo and on DVD. Some people accused him of trying to sway the election.
Do you think that it did influence any voters?
John: Did you notice Obama won by exactly the number of viewers we had, Nick? It was like 2.8 was the difference, so we take full credit. No, of course not. Harvey Weinstein, if nothing else, is great at creating press. I think he was more interested in that than actually getting Obama re-elected, but who knows. I finally saw Zero Dark Thirty and I think it’s really well made. It focuses almost entirely on the CIA and, what took maybe six minutes in the beginning of our movie, takes an hour and a half in their movie, to get to the name of the courier that leads them to the compound. I was surprised at how little of the raid there is that movie. For a two-and-a-half hour movie, there’s 20 minutes of the actual raid. It’s well done, it’s just a procedural CIA movie. We had less resources and she had a bigger budget and more time. I’m proud of the way we were able to get it done within the constraints that we had.
There was some tension between one of the team members and the team leader, but this was also a team of seals that protected each other with their lives. What was it like getting into the mind of a Navy seal and helping to create these complex relationships between guys that lay down their lives for each other but also are human and competitive?
John: For me, and I think for Kendall and for Nick, the interesting thing was yes, these guys are the best at what they do on the battle field, on their missions, but they were human and they do have shortcomings in their personal lives and conflict amongst each other. But that all gets put aside when their lives are on the line. One thing that we definitely don’t say about the movie was that any of these characters were based on specific members of Seal Team 6. Kendall did a great job of talking with ex-Navy Seals and that’s how he was able to create these composite characters.
There’s an emotional scene where the members Skype with their families. What made you want to put that in?
John: That was totally at the last minute. I felt like it was very hard to figure out how to get any of their personal lives in. We had an hour left at the end of one shooting day and we went over to our production office. That’s everyone’s real family member—it’s Xzitbit’s real dad and his wife and kid. It’s not Freddy’s real wife, but I think that’s the only exception. We did it in about 45 minutes and we really Skyped and just filmed the session.
Do you want to add anything else about the movie? What’s something that will make more people want to watch it?
Nicolas: It’s a great action movie. In the end, it’s like the movie is a non-stop good adventure, male-driven, action movie.
John: What I’m surprised at is how many people tell me that even though they know the outcome and obviously know the ending, they’re still totally on the edge of their seat and there’s an incredible amount of tension. That, I think, is a real accomplishment.