Saving Private Ryan’s opening scene is one of the most intense shoots in American cinema.
Here is how it was made.
First off, the actual D-day beach of Normandy (Omaha Beach) is a protected historical landmark.
As such, filming the Normandy scene took place at Curracloe Beach in Wexford, Ireland.
The opening invasion scene was filmed in only 15 days but it included 1,500 extras.
Of these extras, one thousand members were from the Irish Army Reserve.
Costume designer Joanna Johnston recreated 3 thousand uniforms.
She found the company that made the original boots and ordered 2 thousand pairs.
Mr. Spielberg wasn’t the only one giving direction during this film.
Extras took direction from former Marine Corps Captain Dale Dye. In preproduction, he put the main actors through a bootcamp which brought the actors together for filming.
Tom Hanks talking about the boot camp,
“We are playing guys who are tired and miserable…we couldn’t have done that without having gone through something like Dale Dye put us through”.
Many of the soldiers are either shot of die under water before making it to the beach. These scenes were captured by attaching a 40 foot crane which lowered into the sea.
Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski helped helped Spielberg give the film a gritty diffused look.
They achieved this by stripping the cameras of their protective coating.
In addition, the editors (color correctors) put the film’s negatives through a process to extract color.
The final touch came from using 45 and 90 degree shutters instead of the usual 180 degree shutters. This removed movement blur during action sequences…
…which adds a crisp look to the explosions making them, in Spielberg’s words, “even more frightening”.
Everything from rain-drops to dirt particles become clear to the audience.
To capture moments such as the Germans firing down on the troops took a full night of setting up gunshot squibs (small explosions from the bullets hitting the beach).
They only had 2 chances to get the shot right or they’d have to take another day to reset-up.
Spielberg’s FX team created guns that sent a signal from the moment a blank was fired to a small squib explosion on the character hit by the bullet.
They even measured distance for timing between firing a gun and when the bullet impacted for a squib explosion.
Photos from above and below show an example of a short distance gun firing.
At a short distance the squibs exploded immediately (smoke puff).
If the distance was long, there was a delay between firing and the explosion.
Again, ALL squib bursts in just 2 takes.
As for audio, Spielberg choose to leave out music during the battle to emphasize only the sound of terror along with ear ringing moments in which Tom Hanks took in the moments of D-Day.
Sound designer Gary Rydstrom wanted to recreate the feeling of being, “shell-shocked”.
During the “ringing” moments, he played ocean noises over a speaker while recording the sounds through a long tube to re-create putting your ear up to a seashell.
From the tranquility, he added a whistling sound to,
“snap (Hank’s character) back into reality”.
FX teams made over a thousand dead dummies along with poring in hundreds of gallons of fake blood. They had actual amputees play as extras to add an additional layer of graphic horror to the beach.
Steven Spielberg did not story board the scenes.
This was uncommon of how he traditionally operated. Spielberg wanted to have the scene’s action dictate camera placement for a spontaneous feel.
His theory was to show the chaos of war.
I’d say he and Mr. Hanks did a pretty great job capturing the feel of War and the World Changing D-DAY in this masterful film:
“Saving Private Ryan”
I’ve posted this gallery before…BUT, I think Tom Hank’s “That’s my Mission” monologue is perfect for this week.
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