Kristen Stewart Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin
Director: Ang Lee
Genre: History, War
Based on Novel by: Ben Fountain
Three-time Academy Award® winner Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, based on the widely-acclaimed, bestselling novel. The film is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour.
Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad – contrasting the realities of the war with America's perceptions. The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, with Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin. Only at the Movies. November 24.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Release Date: November 24th, 2016
About The Production
From Acclaimed Novel To Ground-Breaking Film
While its development and use of technical breakthroughs may secure Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk's place in film history, it's important to recognise that its achievements are securely driven by the drama of a human and compelling narrative. The story is based on a novel that producer Rhodri Thomas at Ink Factory read eight months prior to its publication (it ultimately became a 2012 National Book Award finalist). 'A friend of mine, a publisher, gave me the manuscript and said, -You've got to read this book. It'll change your life.' Which turned out to be quite prophetic words. I read it on vacation and loved it"it had a particular magic that spoke so well about our times. It was anti-war but very much pro-soldier which is something that moved me deeply"and I wanted to tell this story. After some inquiries my co-producer Stephen Cornwell and I found ourselves in dialogue with Ben Fountain the novel's author."
'I thought it spoke to an era in which the whole country was going through the collective trauma of the Iraq war," continues Stephen Cornwell, 'a time that hadn't really been addressed, recognised or reflected upon. And I thought that in the character Billy Lynn Ben had found a very engaging and sympathetic way to enter what it meant to experience that war. But when we initially reached out, Ben's representatives said that it was way premature"they wanted to wait until the book was published. So Rhodri and I made a trip to Dallas and after spending some time with Ben were able to convince him it could be the movie it's becoming."
'So the Ink Factory optioned the book in 2012," says Rhodri Thomas, 'and developed it with Film 4, the film arm of the UK broadcast Channel Four. They're incredibly supportive of cinema--they like to take risks and six months before its publication they took a risk on this material. Happily, the book was phenomenally well-received. We then started developing the screenplay. With that screenplay, in 2013 we began work with TriStar"in fact they came to us because Tom Rothman, who at the time was running TriStar, was a fan of the book, which had been published by then. When Ang Lee signed on, we were thrilled"there was no one else that we could imagine telling the story quite as honestly and sensitively. What we didn't imagine was that he was going to make it as a 3D, high frame rate spectacle"which, while quite a surprise, we embraced in an instant having been completely blown over by Life of Pi. Ang Lee's vision for the film was completely right from the get go"he's a visionary director who saw in the material the ability to create an experience that was immersive and emotional in the newest possible way.
Producer Marc Platt remembers receiving 'a phone call one day from Tom Rothman, who said that he had a very special project to be directed by Ang Lee and -we're not quite sure how to push it up the mountain.' Ang Lee is someone that I've always held in the highest regard as a filmmaker"back in my years as a production executive and President of Universal Pictures we made a film together called Ride With the Devil. So the moment he said Ang Lee of course I was interested. He asked me to read the screenplay first and then the novel. So I first read the screenplay and was immediately struck by what I saw to be the importance of the story that honored our soldiers by really explaining that none of us truly understands what the experience of a soldier actually is. That we can only project what we think it is. And that the best way to honor our soldiers is, in fact, to understand that they do their job, and they are just soldiers. And to give them the distance, respect and space to honor that experience in the way that is very unique to each of them. In this particular story, our group of soldiers is brought back [to the U.S.] to be honored for their heroic deeds. To be trophies if you will."
'The genesis of the novel," says novelist Ben Fountain, 'began in 2004 during a Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game. This was three weeks after the general election when George W. Bush had beaten Kerry. I felt like I didn't understand my country. Then, we had a bunch of people over at our house for Thanksgiving. We had the game on. Halftime comes and I'm sitting on the sofa. And everybody else gets up, -cause nobody watches the halftime show. But I stayed and started watching the halftime show"I mean really looking at it. And it's very much the way I write it in the book: a surreal, pretty psychotic mash-up of American patriotism, exceptionalism, popular music, soft-core porn and militarism: lots of soldiers standing on the field with American flags and fireworks. I thought, this is the craziest thing I've ever seen. But everybody else was okay with it, the announcers on TV and everybody around, just another normal day in America. Since there were lots of soldiers in the field at that time, I wondered what it would be like to be a soldier who had been in combat who gets brought back to the US and dropped into this very artificial situation. What would that do to your head? I wanted the reader to feel like he or she is in Billy's skin. And I think that's what Ang's trying to do too."
'Adapting the novel," notes Stephen Cornwell, 'was a big challenge. And like any adaptation, it evolved. One of the big questions was how to place Billy at the center of the story. How to find a way of creating this character whom, in the novel, engages the reader with his internal dialogue. How do you make that work cinematically? How do you place this character, his experiences, observations and point of view in the center of the story without resorting to narration, something we didn't want to do. So as we adapted it, we went on a journey of trying to find the best way to express Billy's point of view: how do you realize that first person experience in a cinematic context? How do you evolve cinematic language and the way we experience film in ways that allow us to get inside Billy's head and go on this journey with him?"
Initially, it was Billy Lynn's story that captivated Ang Lee, his literal and emotional journey and the complicated juxtaposition of the glorification of returning war heroes and the horrific nature of the war they've fought. It was the kind of story that he thought lent itself to a new filmmaking approach he had been considering, one that could really connect the audience to Billy Lynn in an immersive, organic way, the cinematic equivalent of the first person, internal narrative of the book.
'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was a very compelling book. His observations of the absurdity of the over the top welcome home these warriors receive, the juxtaposition of this extravagant celebration of his heroism intercut with his battlefield service in Iraq, the irony of those two experiences side by side, it's kind of an existential examination of what's real and what's not, there's a sort of Zen quality to that comparison that fascinated me. I was attracted to the situation of the storytelling as well, the halftime show to celebrate the soldier in 2004 juxtaposed against the real battle – the drama, the conflict, a kind of coming of age story of a young soldier who has to sort it all out. It was great material to use this new technology I had been considering to really engage the audience. To me, when we see movies, it's as if we're watching someone's story from a distance. My hope with this new technology is that it could allow for greater intimacy, to really convey the personal feelings of a conflicted young soldier. That's why I call it -new cinema' – because it's a new way of making, watching and experiencing a movie and it seemed perfect for this project. It's a great way to put Billy Lynn in the center of this halftime show that is very dramatic and an intriguing way to examine humanity and our society. About halfway through the book, I knew I wanted to do it," Ang Lee remarks.
The Groundbreaking Technology Of Ang Lee's -New Cinema' 3d/4k/120fps
Ang Lee's use of this new technology creates an immersive experience that is designed to allow the audience to deeply experience Billy Lynn's emotional, physical and spiritual journey in a personal and profoundly encompassing way.
'The film explores what the reality of his experience is for this one soldier, Billy Lynn; the technology allows us to realize how he hears it, how he views it," notes Producer Marc Platt.
'This particular story is very well suited to the use of this technology. Depending on the scene the world can be rendered hyper real by the frame rate or it can be blended down to be a little bit more movie-like. When people are talking to Billy, particularly if it's an intimate moment and they're in a close up, their eye line would be directly at the camera, which is very unusual. When it's the other person's perception and we're on Billy, it's a more traditional eye line, a little bit to the side. The effect of that, particularly in a high frame rate is that when someone is looking right into camera you are in the space of Billy, seeing and hearing it the way he is and you're feeling it in a visceral, intense way. Or if Billy is feeling separate from what's around him, if he's hearing what's being said but he's not processing it or feeling defensive about it and is in his own head space, it allows us to isolate Billy, creating a feeling of subjectivity and it's as if we the audience are sitting with him while things are being projected around him. These are just a few of the things that are being developed along with the high frame rate and high resolution that will make this a particularly singular cinematic experience."
'What's so exciting about the process," says Stephen Cornwell, 'is that Ang was fascinated by finding a way to explore a new language with cinema"the high frame rates, the three dimensions"not simply for special effects but to actually define a way to tell an emotional, character-driven story; embracing new technology as a tool to create a wholly new way of cinematic storytelling."
Ang Lee's approach would create logistical and technological challenges never before encountered on a traditional movie – the team developed a new cinematic lexicon by necessity, every shooting day and on into post-production, but always in service of the story. And his careful use of this new approach allowed him to explore shifts of dimension, film speed and perspectives with brand new tools. The movie even set up its own lab in Atlanta in order to process a vast quantity of data, as Ang Lee and Toll invariably relied on two cameras running at five times the normal speed with twice the amount of data running on each of those cameras. That translated into twenty times the data storage of a normal high-quality Hollywood film on a daily basis. Before cameras even rolled, Lee knew he was entering uncharted territory and yet he also believed that it was the best way to tell the story in an authentic way.
'I stepped into a new world with this movie,' Ang Lee says. 'The use of the high frame rate and high dynamic range will provide, I hope, a unique opportunity to feel the realities of war and peace through the protagonist's eyes. It's not a political statement as much as an opportunity to experience what the characters do on a human, emotional level. I thought that taking a platoon from the battlefield on to this Thanksgiving Day halftime show as some sort of celebration of valor would freak them out. The difference between the heroics that people project on them and their experiences on the battlefield where it's just chaos, a fight for survival … the adrenaline level is extraordinary. Those two antithetical experiences next to each other seemed to be the perfect way to explore this new cinema. I didn't have a proper name for it but early on, I was thinking the higher frame rate to view 3D more accurately could really explore what digital could do in terms of conveying the human condition. The way we see each other in life, the way we pick up nuances from each other is very different from how we've been depicted in film. So this approach seemed to be a direct way to carry on the soldier's sensation, as he goes into what we call normal life. It was very dramatic and inspiring and I knew it would be very difficult, technologically and artistically. But I like a challenge and trying new things," Ang Lee says.
'This movie was challenging on many different levels," adds Marc Platt. 'We had logistical challenges" a large portion of it took place in a stadium and we needed another location to shoot war sequences. The tone of it was a challenge. And then on top of everything, of course, was Ang Lee's intention to undertake and employ a technology not heretofore utilised in cinematic history, which is to shoot the film at a frame rate of 120 frames per second, resolution of 4K, and 3D"to really explore that technology and develop a vocabulary, a cinematic grammar using that technology to tell a specific story, none of that had been done before. The vocabulary hadn't been created. In fact it was actually created every day on the set.
'Ang Lee's new immersive cinema, Stephen Cornwell adds, has the potential to move the art form forward in a bold way. 'I think what's interesting is how you make cinema evolve," says Stephen Cornwell, 'how you speak to a younger generation along a broader spectrum, how you keep cinema fresh. In some ways the language of cinema hasn't really evolved for a hundred years. The frame rate's been the same. The way things are performed, spoken and constructed and the way narrative unfolds is something that we've all come to accept as norms. And what Ang Lee has done is ask how do we evolve cinematic language to stay relevant, distinct and unique in the post digital age, in an age where cinema is plateauing, where story telling has become very familiar? To do that, we have to change the way people experience cinema, and that's what Ang's reaching for, what we're all reaching for in this film. How people will respond"that is a new frontier. Personally, I think it's going be an eye-opening extraordinary experience."
The high frame rate and the corresponding crystal clarity of the image it would capture affected every department, including the actors.
Garrett Hedlund remembers that 'when I first met with Ang Lee, he said, -Now, you have to understand these cameras, we've been doing the tests with them. This 120 frames per second is unlike anything I've seen before. It will revolutionise moviemaking from this point on. Everything is so clear you can see everything even if it's on your back. You cannot act. If you try to act, we will see you act.'"
'I've never shot a live action film in high def before," notes Steve Martin. 'I've never shot a live action film in 3D before. And it's just extraordinary, the clarity and the scope of everything. When Ang Lee told me it's a drama and it's in 3D, I immediately, thought, -What a great idea!' And [the film] is truly about character. Some of the movies I've done have been about character and comedy and character and jokes. This is truly only about character and the honest interaction with other characters. Ang has been very diligent about expressing that there can be nothing false in the performance"you can't hide. And I think it's capturing and showing much of every one of us. Ang Lee's been so brilliant at expressing the scenes, the dramatic scenes, the action scenes" it's just an honor for me to be here after all these years."
Tim Blake Nelson, who appears in a key scene at the Lone Star Dome during Thanksgiving Day, notes the technical demands of the film's lighting. 'The set is just blasted with light. Because of the frame rate and the 3D, the camera is just gobbling up information; it has access to so many details, so to record them all a lot of light has to be thrown onto those details. We're used to light being shaped in a different way when we go onto movie sets"light being withheld, and this is the opposite because the camera is just devouring everything in front of it. [Director of Photography] John Toll and his team have just had to pour light onto this set and that's very different. Ang Lee is using 3D in a drama to explore the spectacular action that goes on inside of the human mind.
That's what makes it so exciting. He's using the technology to bring us close in, to put us in the room with characters, and he's taking that even further because a lot of this movie is told from the point of view of its main character and so he's turning the camera around and giving you real POV shots in 3D. So you're Billy Lynn, the central character, and as an audience member you're immersed by looking around from his perspective. You are going to feel like you're in the room with him and the characters are intruding on your space. I think it's potentially revolutionary and could change the way that we think about drama when we go to the movie theater." Ang Lee has experience, of course, with elaborate visual effects built to help tell an emotional story, most recently in The Life of Pi.
Technical Supervisor Ben Gervais (whose past credits include Hugo, 47 Ronin, Pacific Rim and X-Men: Days of Future Past) describes how Ang Lee's work on The Life of Pi led to the innovative technology of Billy Lynn. 'Ang Lee saw that there was a need for advancement. He worked with the 3D [on Pi] but he didn't like the movement as recorded at the normal 24 frames per second. Since 2D is just a picture on a wall we can buy that movement. But your brain wants to believe a 3D picture is real, it wants to believe that things that are moving are actually in front of you but, because of the slower frame rate, you see gaps in the motion that undermine believability and causes stress, headaches, eye pain for viewers. So Ang Lee decided very early on that he wanted to shoot this movie at a higher frame rate"although he wasn't quite sure at what frame rate he'd be able to actually shoot the movie.
Indeed, in order to achieve the 3D look, the positions of the two cameras on the rig must always match each other exactly. The cameras are physically bigger and sit on a rig that comes from a German company called Stereotech. Between the cameras is a mirror that's half silver that allows us to overlap the cameras. The rig is run by motors, encoders and robotics that allowed Ang Lee, John Toll and Demetri Portelli, the film's sterographer, to manipulate the 3D depth. In other words, the team could shoot a 2D image as well as 3D, which occurs as soon as they start to separate the cameras. It allowed a huge range of flexibility in that they could choose the depth, essentially controlling how pronounced visuals were or how or how much they receded into the screen based on, among other things, Ang Lee's sense of the emotional content for the scene.
'Ang Lee came to us with what he calls -gears,'" continues Ben Gervais, 'this idea of feathering the image in order to bring us from what he would call a movie (classical movie mode where we're close to 2D, close to 24 frames) to something that's more realistic, tangible and solid by increasing the 3D depth and increasing the realism of the shot. It gave him flexibility to maneuver the images to create an emotional impact and connection to the characters. I think it becomes less about just passively watching and more about, in some ways, emotionally participating."
This emotional participation is truly what Ang Lee wants to achieve with his new immersive cinema. 'These soldiers are teenagers who get thrown into war without much idea of what they are about to undergo, no matter the training they've had. The battlefield, the hostility and also the camaraderie, their brotherhood. When they return as -heroes,' even though people are thanking them, they are still projecting their hopes and expectations on them. Nobody really understands how lonely they feel, how out of place and how much they love each other, hang on to each other. It's a poignant story and technology only serves the purpose of portraying human stories, human feelings. I just thought the most important thing for this was to look in our characters eyes, their faces with dimension and honesty in an intimate and immediate way. It seems to me that with traditional filmmaking, it feels very third person, like you're watching someone else's story. With this movie, I wanted to really step into it all, the storytelling, how we feel about each other, how we relate to each other, how we share our feelings. That's the essence. It's about the human experience and my hope is that this new immersive cinema will help take us there," Ang Lee says.
The higher frame rate became a particularly evocative way to depict the sensation of the horrible horrors of war. Many battle sequences in prior movies achieve that sensation through the use of motion blur, which obscures detail but conveys a sense of the turmoil of war. Handheld cameras with lots of shake and blur; at 24 fps it's very chaotic for the viewer. While that chaos exists in battle, many soldiers also experience battle as a traumatic, adrenaline-charged situation where many details are crystal clear. There's no motion blur with 120 frames – it highlights all the little pieces of dirt flying as the camera pans, facial expressions are revealed even in a moving shot. The new immersive cinema allowed Lee to depict war in the sharpest, highest visual quality, which dovetailed with his belief that that for a soldier the war is real"everything else is not. Indeed, as early as 2010, CNN reported that a soldier who had returned from Afghanistan had vivid memories in flashback of a particularly gruesome fight with the Taliban.
Ang Lee's approach also provided several options from which to create multiple formats that will end up being shown in commercial theaters. It all came down to math, essentially. 'There are a few reasons for that with one of the most important being that 120 is a multiple of 24, and that gave us the most options." The film will be able to be shown in multiple formats, all of which will be more immersive and have more clarity than any film has before.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was shot in native 3D and not in 2D with later 3D conversion. On set the filmmakers and crew wore special glasses to watch the 3D monitors; Lee worked off of a fifty-five inch 3D monitor. 'Ang Lee, who can see things dramatically in ways that other creatives don't, insisted on shooting in 3D rather than converting for 3D," says Scot Barbour, Vice President of Production Technology for Sony. 'One of the reasons is that it maintains textures. Imagine you're shooting a film [in 2D] that will be released in 3D, but you never see it in 3D during production. Everything happens in front of you in two dimensions. No one ever witnesses it until the end."
Along with 3D, 120fps the production is shooting in 4K. 'Most movies are shot in and/or finished at 2K," explains Ben Gervais. '4K is twice the number of pixels, both horizontally and vertically, as 2K"so there is actually four times the amount of information at 4K. Add to that the fact that we're 3D, you can double the amount of information, so now we're 8 times the amount of information. And then, by adding 120 frames, instead of 24, actually presenting the viewer with 40 times more information than you would see in a normal 2K 24 frame 2D movie."
Production Designer Mark Friedberg notes that the film's technological innovations infiltrated the needs of all departments.
'Normally, the art department comes on three-to-five months before shooting; we do our drawings, find our locations and sometimes scout with the cinematographer.
Then a week or so before filming begins, the shooting crew joins us to tech scout the locations and then we shoot. By virtue of this film being filmed in a new technology and also by virtue of Ang Lee being a scientist as well as an artist we ended up shooting tests with a full crew for months before we started shooting the film. There's a real sense of pulling for each department; there's no territory, everybody's under the same challenges and everybody is really eager to see how they can help other departments. 120 fps at 4K in 3D created a visual truth serum. The camera saw as much and seemingly more than our eyes. In the 24 fps world we can hide in the shadows. Motionblur, the black between frames limits detail. I used to say that the most important set-dressing tool was black tape because it could just make things disappear. In 120 fps it looks like Black Tape trying to hide something. So our sets had to stand up to real time scrutiny. We worked hard to refine our techniques to be as real and non- theatrical as possible.
The great part of our process was that because this was all a new world we built a lot of testing into the prep. We shot all the time then went to the lab to dissect what worked and what did not," Mark Friedberg says. Lighting however turned out to be particularly vexing for both Mark Friedberg and cinematographer John Toll. 'The one big challenge is light because shooting at 120 frames means you need five times as much light. So the great challenge of the whole film is on DP John Toll to figure out how to work with so much light. This has an impact on the art department's designs because we're always building light into the sets or constructing things that hold up his lights. We were thirsty for light."
Mark Friedberg and his team worked closely with John Toll to solve this lighting issue while also designing the set so it looked natural and not like a special movie light in disguise. 'Any stylised lighting looked extreme in our format. We ended up designing a great deal of LED lighting into the sets. Because the refresh issues were so specific we could only use a few types of LEDs. As a result we ended up designing housings to look like fixtures so we could incorporate the lighting into the design and dressing of the sets," Mark Friedberg says. The company move to Morocco where they filmed the battle sequences serendipitously provided a natural light source that was perfect.
'Initially, there had been talk to shoot in the American West but it looks like the American West. The landscape itself had to also had to stand up to a higher standard of authenticity. So we ended up in Morocco. In order to keep to our 'as real as possible' mandate we hired many local villagers to build our battle village and they were excellent but most importantly, the huge Saharan July sun provided enough light to see what this tech can really look like in all its glory," Mark Friedberg says.
'Both the story and the technology demanded that casting of the Bravos, the group of young soldiers be age appropriate," notes Marc Platt. 'So our actors are young men, as most young soldiers are. They're all fine actors, although not a lot of them had much acting experience; to unlock the truth in the film they had to behave as much as to act. To understand and express the nuances of the character, they needed to live them, not to act them"because with the high frame rate you can see the acting. We put them through boot camp so that they could understand both the physicality of what it means to be a soldier as well as how to perform in front of the camera as soldiers. We also had to develop the chemistry that develops when a group of kids thousands of miles away from home must find and form a new family in order to survive."
'During the first conversation I had Ang Lee," notes Military Consultant Mark Wachter, 'he asked me what I thought about other war movies and what was right and what was wrong"and the first thing I said to him was the soldiers' age. How casting older people for roles as Privates and Junior Enlisted doesn't fit. These kids are 19 and 20 years old. I was 26 at the time of my service"I was sort of the old man"and what struck me at the time was just how young these kids were. You see a kid with a gun and you watched the change. It's a neck up change, which is a phrase we repeated a lot to the Bravos, to the actors. You look at a 19-year-old soldier's eyes and you can see that he's seen a lot more things than have most of his peers at home for whom the war is very, very distant despite it coming into their living rooms. These young soldiers have seen a lot, they go through a lot and they grow up quickly. And I think that's noticeable."
Ben Fountain, the novelist, who created this group of young soldiers, believes that 'in any halfway functioning collective effort of which I've ever been a part, you develop a bond. And it seems that the more difficult the experience, the closer that bond can become. With every sports team I've ever been on and every trial I worked on when I practiced law, either camaraderie develops or you end up killing each other by the end. With the Bravos you are talking about a human experience exponentially different from sports or business"it's literally life and death, and I think what develops among men and women in these situations is a very intense form of love. The young men of Bravo are a family, and like a lot of the families I've ever been around"they bicker, get on each other's nerves, pick at each other and are extremely, hyper aware of one another's faults flaws and failings. But they love each other. They can't help but love each other, I think. Maybe our culture hasn't focused enough on how this very profound form of love would come to be in a situation like this, but that's the way human beings are wired."
'It's a real like mishmash of people," says Joe Alwyn. 'They don't get along and they fight with each other"as you would with a family"but at the heart of it, they would jump on a grenade for each other. The bonds that they now have with each other are the strongest things in their lives. They would literally die for each other. When they close ranks at the stadium it's not an aggressive us-versus-them, rather it's because they are their own unit. There is no stronger bond than what they have with each other."
As Seargeant Dime (at 27 the elder and leader of the group), Garrett Hedlund notes that 'these young guys are in a position that most people could never imagine, fighting for something that most people don't appreciate. They are a diverse group of real guys"some are very young and naïve and some are older, more experienced and mature"who are forced to become brothers. The younger Bravos are ordinary soldiers"18, 19, 20, who aren't worldly, haven't gone to college or traveled very far from wherever they're from, and are now all of a sudden transported into this foreign country that's under attack. Having the Bravos be as young, kind of naïve and as silly as they are makes it very real."
'All these young actors seem very fearless to me," observes Steve Martin, 'and very cohesive with each other. Even as we would just be sitting around during rehearsing I thought how natural and honest they looked, how nobody feels like they're acting. They're really genuine. I really like and admire all of them."
'The film doesn't go into the politics of war or why they guys are fighting over there," says Joe Alwyn, 'but it brings the war home and explores people's projections on the soldiers rather than getting into the morality and the politics of it so much. And when they return to the States for this PR tour, that image of the perfect brave American soldiers fighting for America is pushed on them, when that's not necessarily the reality of it. And this is not just specific to America. There are soldiers fighting all over the world for whom this will resonate because it's universal."
Mark Wachter, the film's Military Consultant describes how he 'was hired to help develop the psychological readiness of the Bravos and to oversee film's honest depiction of the military," he says. I was with the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004 [when the story takes place] up in Diyala Province [which extends northeast from Baghdad to the Iranian border]. 2004 was the year when the insurgency really gathered steam, which I think is a key story element. For me, working on this film has been very personal. The Bravos are new soldiers who may have been in country for a bit but they haven't necessarily seen intensive combat and would have been caught off guard by what they faced [at the Al Ansakar Canal]. At the time, a lot of people considered Diyala a sort of backwater of the war"the battle in Fallujah and scandal at Abu Ghraib took the headlines, but there was a lot going on in that Province at the time. There's a book called House to House written David Bellavia [with John R. Bruning] about the 1st Infantry Division on their fight in Fallujah and their life in Diyala Province that Ang Lee read at the start of the film and talked with me about. It has a great quote that Ang Lee repeated, about how soldiers don't like war but they're proud of theirs and they always will be. I think that's a great quote and it's the truth."
'This was the first war of the 21st Century and [because of technology] the public had access to a lot of things that brought the war home and provided a high level of inspection by the public like never before," notes Mark Wachter. 'As soldiers we were also watching ourselves on CNN and when the internet started coming to the bases during the second half of my tour and we had greater access to the outside world, we were also able to see ourselves"and that's kind of a weird thing." At the end of production, during filming in Morocco, Rhodri Thomas observed that the young actors 'look, feel and act like soldiers, both in terms of the way they carry their weapons but also the way they act and behave with each other. And now we're shooting this heightened situation in battle, where it's life and death, at the end of the production, they've bonded incredibly now over the course of the film"they've become brothers-in-arms as people as well as their characters. And you see that in what they're doing. They're a unit. They're in sync. They're a machine. But also they look after each other. They love each other."
The young actors' bonding started before production. 'It was unlike anything I've ever experienced, unlike anything that any of us had experienced or quite imagined that we would be going through," remembers Joe Alwyn. 'We were taken away for two weeks and put up into this kind of motel where we had to build our own bunk beds and stay and live 24/7. All access to the outside world was taken away from us, no phones or any form of communication. And then every morning, very, very early in the morning, we'd be taken off to this training camp in the woods run by former Navy seals who put us through our paces, to say it lightly, in terms of both physical and mental training. It was very hard, very intense."
'Before we went to the boot camp with these Navy seals," remembers Garrett Hedlund, 'they asked Ang Lee -how far do you want us to take it with these guys psychologically and physically?' And he said, -Think of a stick. When you bend a stick so far, it makes that first little crack, like it's gonna break. I want you to quickly put it back together.' And I think a lot of the men cracked but never broke. My first day of boot camp entailed probably about 400 to 500 pushups, blowing bubbles in mud, doing Army crawl following someone's feet for about 300 yards, over what was probably broken glass and concrete. Then after lunch, we ended up going on an 8.1 mile rock pack run with the sacks and the combat boots"and that was day one. Every night, Ismael Cruz Cordova (who plays Holliday) and I would have to assign two men to stand watch, so every day two of the guys were sleep deprived after having been up all night. And if we messed up or any of the guys messed up, we were punished for it and the punishments were never nice. For some of these guys, it was their first film. And for some it was their first physically demanding film. I've been through a few of these boot camps before (and I grew up with factory-working coaches and extreme wrestling and football programs), so I was able to take the reins a little bit. On Friday Night Lights, we had extensive boot camp and on other films we had to do things like pull tires for five days with military trainers. Maybe it's just the luck of my draw that I end up always jumping into these situations, but yeah, it gets a little intense."
Stunt Coordinator JJ Perry was also involved in the Bravos' boot camp experience. 'One of Ang Lee's requests during my interview was that we run an all immersive boot camp as it would be experienced by regular soldiers, who are the dogs of war. So, the first two weeks was basic infantry work, just like in basic training. We took their cell phones. We took their computers. We took all their belongings. We shaved their heads. No contact with the outside world"and 10 none of them knew what they were getting themselves into. The past 25 years I've done a bunch of boot camps, but this is the first time I've ever done anything this intense where I lived with them for two weeks, 24 hours per day"including sleep deprivation, the whole nine yards, and nobody left. And I'll tell you, boot camp was probably the hardest thing some of those boys have ever done and maybe will ever do."
'Ang Lee's theory was that putting them in a situation of strife would push them together as a group," notes JJ Perry. After the two weeks of boot camp we moved on to three weeks working on and training them in the specifics of what we would be doing in the movie."
'Ang Lee wanted realism," notes Mark Wachter. 'He pushes for that in everything (and he initially wanted the boot camp to be a significantly greater amount of time"seven or eight weeks), so it was a challenge on how to get that because at the end of the day they were actors. But I think we ran a pretty good setup, something I don't think has been done before. There were three goals: tactical readiness, technical readiness and psychological readiness. Ultimately, we wanted the guys to push themselves past what they thought their limits might be, to know what it feels like to look back and see yourself in unchartered territory. It was not easy, but I think it was exciting for them, especially the younger ones." And while the experience tested each of them individually, it also created a strong unit. 'They're all used to being individual performers and striving for excellence on their own, so to put them in an environment where in order to maintain the whole they may be required, as individuals, to take themselves back a couple notches was a huge challenge for some. But they all did it."
'Boot camp was something I was not expecting," says Arturo Castro who plays Mango. 'I knew it was going to be intense, I just didn't know how psychologically and physically demanding it was going be. I didn't expect them to treat us like this"normally actors get treated well," he laughs. 'A lot of people are curious about our experience, but how do you describe the moment you thought you were going to pass out and you're still walking and the reason you're still walking is because that guy that you didn't know a week ago has grabbed you and pulled you up by your shoulder and he's walking with you. What does that mean to feel so helpless and so saved and so grateful?"
'You come in with all these limitations that you think by this point in your life are the truth about yourself," says Ismael Cruz Cordova who plays Sgt Holliday, one of the senior members of the group. 'I'm asthmatic, so I anticipated that I was not going to be able to run as fast. I'm not going to be able to do this. But as they push you in a safe but very tough way you find yourself going past your limit once. Then you pass that limit twice. Then you pass that limit again, and you start learning things mentally and physically about yourself that you never thought. I never knew I was as strong as I am. And they appeal to your leadership as well. They always addressed us by our character names. So I was -Sergeant' during boot camp and I had to step up to my leadership. I had to make a lot of decisions that sometimes weren't that popular, but they worked for the good of the group. I came out feeling very proud, very strong and very grateful for a lot of small things." 'You don't really go through something like that and not learn a couple things about yourself," confirms Mason Lee (Foo). 'It's a pretty mind-altering experience. I can't imagine us filming this movie without having done boot camp. And I think most of us developed a strong respect and a pretty close bond with the instructors--I had never encountered that sort of lifestyle and that kind of person is something."
'Being thrown into the deep end of a boot camp was something I don't think any of us had ever done," says Barney Harris (Sykes). 'I certainly hadn't done anything that was so quick to build relationships. Whether they were bad or good relationships didn't matter, they were real and very potent and strong. Even though our experiences was only a glimpse of what a real soldier would have gone through, it was still very visceral and bonds you together quite tightly. We were like a dysfunctional family. We lived in the same room for two weeks and now [during production] we live together still. Spiritually it became about having one mind as a group, as opposed to an individual who just sort of floats around and doesn't give a shit about anyone else. So yeah, I wouldn't have changed it."
'Soldiers who served will remember the days in Iraq," says Wachter, 'what they did there and the brotherhood and bonds that are built. If I don't see you for 20 years and then walk into a bar where you happen to be, it's like we were never apart. We'll talk about it when we're 80-years- old. So trying to replicate that was huge challenge. But [as the battle sequence was filmed in Morocco], I think looking at the Bravos interact with each other you can see how they communicate and the love they have for each other. We can talk about how capably they perform on camera, but what I'm most proud of is how when I'm watching the actors when no one else is watching them I see them train each other, ask each other if they're okay or if they need water. And right before the camera starts rolling they'll check each other's equipment. I didn't have to coach them to do that and nobody's taking note; through training process they picked this up on their own and that's the stuff that we really want to see on the screen"how they're looking out for each other"and I think we've seen that."
Billy Lynn, the film's pivotal character, was born in the imagination of novelist Ben Fountain. 'I really conjured him up although I have to say that there is probably a lot of my 19-year-old self in Billy Lynn. Like most 19-year-olds, Billy's got two things going on: his body is doing crazy things and sex is pretty much foremost on his mind. And, I think, also like most 19-year-olds whether they know it or not, he's going through these very intense, existential series of crises" asking who am I, what am I doing here, how am I going to live my life and what constitutes a decent life or a good life? And I think for Billy it's even more intense because he's been in that ultimate life and death reality of combat. The scales have dropped from his eyes, so when he comes back to America he sees the place for what it is. Over the two weeks of the victory tour, in the midst of trying to get laid he's also trying to figure out the world."
For the filmmakers, casting the right actor was crucial. 'We searched and searched and searched," remembers Marc Platt, 'and many fine actors were tested and read. Ang Lee knew what he was looking for, even though he didn't know exactly what he was looking for. He kept turning over every stone"we saw actor after actor. One day when we were near the end of our search but still not completely satisfied, a tape came from a young kid, Joe Alwyn, who was at university in London [the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama], and on his tape there was innate power, nuance and intuition that felt very much like the Billy Lynn we were looking for. So we brought him over to New York where he read and tested and the work spoke for itself.
There was something about Joe that presented both the kind of blank slate that the film required Billy to be (because with the character so much is incoming which he's processing) and yet also expressed the complexity that goes on the mind and gets translated in the eyes and in the face, often without dialogue, that lets you know that there's a process going on, that there's hurt, anguish, insecurity, love, fear or courage all mixed into this very young soldier. This actor encompassed all of it. And I'm happy to report that every day he was in front of the cameras, the intuition he had as an actor and a chemistry he formed with the camera and this technology created what will be the memorable, powerful character of Billy Lynn."
'This is obviously a huge transition for Joe and, I think, a huge discovery by Ang Lee," says Stephen Cornwell. 'Billy is the heart and soul of the film and I think the detail of Joe's performance, the way that he lets you into his soul and the way you share his feelings, is extraordinary and profound. Joe's freshness (he's someone that an audience hasn't seen before so he brings no baggage) and the subtlety and range of his performance encourage you to want to know Billy and, I think, ultimately feel for him." Ang Lee, who has a knack for recognizing and nurturing new talent, had a very specific idea of the actor he needed for the title role and until he saw Alwyn, no other actor had fulfilled his requirements.
'I mean, it's called -Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk,' we needed him to carry the movie. It's a coming of age story really, more than anything, a boy recognises what his life is about, what he's going to be. I really needed a compelling, soulful actor, one who, most importantly could blend innocence and sophistication because he starts as a naïve teenager and during the course of the film he becomes a man. We went through the regular casting process and my casting director Avy Kaufman is particularly good at finding new talents. Joe was still in school in London when we saw the tape he'd made. I was on my way from New York to Atlanta to make the movie, we're already in pre-production so I wasn't really going to see him but Avy Kaufman said, -You have to, you have to.' She's done that to me quite a few times in the past and she's always right. So I stayed a little longer in New York to meet with him. I remember it was a very cold morning, a Sunday. I saw this handsome young man standing outside of the building, freezing, definitely under dressed. I felt cold for him! And I met him, he read and that was that. It was immediate.
Perhaps the best reading I have ever witnessed," Lee says.
Joe Alwyn confides how 'throughout the whole audition process it was hard to compute the scale of it"this being Ang Lee and such a huge project. So when I was flown to New York to meet and audition for Ang Lee I didn't feel particularly nervous because in my head it was something completely other and so big that it didn't kind of compute. So yeah, it's a big one, I guess, to take on for the first-ever job. Coming from drama school and not having done any film work before, it's taken some adjustment to be acting in a way that does not incorporate the entire arc of a journey over a few hours, as you would in a play. Film work being so fragmented and broken down (which is so common and obvious to people who do it all the time) has definitely taken some getting used to, especially patching together the emotional continuity of the character, getting that all to make sense and really having where it all fits into place in your mind, especially since so much is recorded his point of view."
Joe Alwyn believes that 'what is attractive about Billy is that he is this image of the all-American normal kid, which is why people try to turn him into what they want to project onto him, to mold him into what they can use him for. I also think of Billy as a rebel, but not too much the rebel, who is a bit on the outside, on the fringes and quite a solitary character who likes to get on with things by himself. I think he has leadership qualities, but I think he likes his solitude." Garrett Hedlund talks about how 'between Billy and Dime there's a definite older brother/younger brother thing going on. Dime is the mentor, the guide. Throughout the book it refers to Dime as giving him this look that's challenging, seeing through the bullshit then turning to compassion, understanding. He sees Billy's struggle and empathises with it, relates to it, always wanting him to rise above and show his true sort of warrior or heroic spirit. In Iraq, Dime and Shroom rode Billy incessantly because they sensed something about him, the potential to be a leader that he himself never knew he could be. And now, in Dallas, Dime needs Billy to help keep the guys in line after this unsettling tour through the States where they have gone from town to town where everybody's saying, -We're so proud of your efforts over there, and we're so proud of what you've done, thank you for your bravery.'"
'And Joe Alwyn," Garrett Hedlund continues. 'Joe Alwyn's a strong guy. During boot camp when other guys were dropping like flies, he kept his mouth shut, did the work, didn't whine, hardly ever spoke and just did it. This was his first film and he knew there was going to be a lot on his shoulders. You could tell that he knew that he would have to bring it. And he's done it! I have nothing but respect for him. He is Billy Lynn when it comes down to it. I think he's going to be the next great thing." 'I admire Joe Alwyn a lot," notes Steve Martin. 'He's a young actor who has never done a movie before and in the scenes I've had with him he's been incredible and very honest. And he's English doing an American accent. It was bizarre"when he started talking to me in his English accent after we did a scene together I think did a double take because he had been so flawless."
'Joe Alwyn comes from the Central School of Drama in London," notes Tim Blake Nelson, 'and that's a serious training program"one of the best in England. As soon as I heard he'd gone to Central, there was no question in my mind that he probably deserved the role and now, having worked with him, I completely understand it. In film you can't get away with dishonesty; riding along inside of ourselves we all have to have some essence of a character we're playing and Billy, who's impressionable, decent, moral, self-reflective and humble is perfect for Joe Alwyn"who is also all those things. He's just a disarmingly decent guy and Ang is a director who can sit across from you and look inside of you and ask, alright, is he going to be able to access what's needed for this character from who he is as a person-because that's essential to film acting. When you look at Joe, even I can see that"so of course Ang Lee was going to see it."
Dime And Shroom
'Dime and Shroom are Billy's sergeants," says Joe Alwyn. 'In Iraq, Shroom became one of his best friends. And Dime, for whatever reason, initially gives Billy a hard time and isn't his biggest fan. And then he sees this quality in Billy that separates him from the other boys. So over the course of being in Iraq, and especially the day at the stadium, his relationship with Dime changes hugely, and Billy grows into not quite replacing Shroom but stepping into his shoes so that when they go back to Iraq he can help Dime, as he says, keep these clowns alive."
'After Shroom is killed, Sergeant David Dime is surrounded by a group of younger privates and specialists," says Garrett Hedlund. 'He is now their older brother, their father, their mentor, their guide, their saving grace, the voice of reason. They have to trust him and he has to trust them to have his back going into these insanely dangerous terrains to complete these missions." While slightly older than the rest of the surviving Bravos, Dime is also different from the other soldiers because of his more privileged background and the fact that he went to college.
'Dime is the quiet leader of the troop," says Stephen Cornwell. 'With the death of their other sergeant Shroom in Iraq, Dime is the guy who is holding it together. He is the quiet strength at the center of Bravo. He has emotions that he controls; he doesn't show much, but at the same time, he has this absolute leadership. And he recognises in Billy's own quiet way someone who is also ready to share that mantel with him. The character of Dime calls for a deeply subtle performance. With this quiet force comes a wry observation of humanity around him. He very rarely lets his own emotions show but there are these great flashes where you get to see Dime's bite. And Garrett is fantastic."
'Yes, I find Garrett to be very, very strong," confirms Steve Martin. 'Very controlled as an actor in the best sense, like his soul is deep. I have lot of respect for him." 'I really like the way Garrett brings the character to life," says Military Consultant Mark Wachter.
'The NCO, non-commissioned officer, the sergeants, are the backbone of the Army. They lead from the front. When there is uncertainty you look over to your sergeant, you see how that person is and carries himself and that's what gives you confidence. And I think as Dime, Garrett exemplifies that role. And he also exemplifies this kind of new warrior poet. You know he's got a little education. He's from a wealthier family. And when he talks he has wit and some intellectual ability to draw upon that I'm hoping will surprise the audience. He's not the good old simple country person that a lot of people think populates the military. By calling him a new warrior poet I mean that he questions the right things but ultimately understands his responsibilities."
'Shroom is written as a Zen kind of soldier who feels things deeply," observes Marc Platt. 'He's a leader, he's a thinker and a philosopher and has a compassionate warmth about him but he's no nonsense at the same time. He's literally the heart and soul of this unit. When I thought about who you'd believe as a Zen philosopher and as a soldier, a big bear of a guy to a group of these Bravos, I thought of Vin Diesel. It was a perfect marriage of an actor and a role. And fortunately for all of us Vin is an actor who loves film and filmmakers, and one of his heroes is Ang Lee. I reached out to Vin and he reached back to me and he said thank you for making my dreams come true. We love having him in the movie and we love that he gets to play a character close to his soul."
'Shroom's a very interesting and challenging character in the movie, because he is the older, wiser soldier warrior within this group of kids (with the exception Dime who, while younger, is the other leader)," notes Stephen Cornwell. 'The challenge of the role is to provide that quality of leadership and the sense of mysticism, and Vin's a perfect fit. He brings acting skills and a presence that really makes that character come alive, which is very important to establish and by choosing to play Shroom, Vin was looking to do something different and very challenging.
We've come to a very remote place in the world to film the scenes that establish Shroom's position with the Bravos, and I think that Vin and Ang are having a fantastic time working together."
'Mango is the jokester of the group," says Stephen Cornwell. 'He's the energy boy, an upbeat force that keeps the wit and the bite going. And he is Billy's most comfortable companion"the guy that he would most naturally hang out. And Arturo is great"in his wit and energy you can really feel the strong connection between actor and character."
'Mango and Billy are best friends," says Arturo Castro. 'They're buds and I think they crack each other up. He's protective of Billy"I can feel myself checking in with him to see if he's all right. Mango may always have a sarcastic word for people, but when he's talking to Billy, he's open. And that's a really nice relationship to have, especially since you have to bullshit so much to everybody else around you. What I liked about Mango in the book and the movie is that while he happens to be Latin, he's just one of the guys. His Latino-ness is neither his defining characteristic nor a handicap"which is really what America looks like. Your best friend can be any race or ethnicity, but he's still an American."
What's interesting about Ismael," observes Stephen Cornwell, 'is that when he came to the film it was to a slightly lesser role. And his character's rank was lower. But Ang's responsiveness to the strength of the cast and the potential of their acting led to Ismael being promoted"he entered a private and was elevated to sergeant. While Ismael is not necessarily older than the other guys he carries the genuine authority, perspective and wisdom of greater age"
'While we were in boot camp they took elements of who we are individuals and tried to apply them to our characters," notes Joe Alwyn, 'so because of Ismael's personality, Holliday has a little more sense of authority"but not on the same level as Dime. He's still part of the pack, although not quite to the same degree as everyone else."
'Foo is not in the book," says Mason Lee who plays him, 'but I think it was good to add an Asian face into the scope of the military. One of the most interesting things about the Bravos is that they come from different walks of life and background, a variety that is thoroughly represented in the cast that, I think, brings a vibrant energy this production. And while they are all dedicated soldiers, they each have very different personalities. Foo is a very avid football fan"he really looks up to Norm, Steve Martin's character, and he's the only one who is really interested in the football game being played that day. So he has a lot very interesting All- American qualities to him, even though he comes from an immigrant background."
'Lodis is a young man from Brooklyn, New York (where I'm from in real life)," says Brian 'Astro" Bradley. 'He loves his brother Bravos and I think this bond with the Bravos is the most important thing to him because back home he's just an ordinary kid from Brooklyn"there are a million people like him. But when he's in this circle of Bravos it's like he's unique. He's his own person. I think it's like that with each and every one of the Bravos and that's why we cherish the friendship we have in the movie."
'Lodis is the youngest of the group. In a way, he's the most starry-eyed, the most open," notes Stephen Cornwell. 'And -Astro' brings a lovely humanity. He's a bit of the clown within the group, there's always a goofball edge to him that adds another voice that helps form a balance within the group."
'Crack is just a wild man from Birmingham, Alabama," laughs Beau Knapp. 'He has his flaws"he can be angry, aggressive and violent, but he can be loving as well. I don't think everybody likes him very much"but you would always choose him in a firefight."
'Crack's the Bravo with more of a wild side"we did a scene at the stadium when Crack, set off by this drunken preppy guy who's mocking the boys, leans forward and puts the jerk in a serious choke hold," says Joe Alwyn. 'He's more on edge. He senses danger and will suddenly flip out. And Beau's got that down!" he laughs. 'He's good at that."
'Sykes is a 19-year-old guy from Pennsylvania with two kids and a wife," says Barney Harris, 'and he's one of the people more damaged from war. The first thing Ang said to me about Sykes was that -he's a messed up kid, run with that.'
'It's nice to have another Brit on the film," notes Joe Alwyn. 'Sykes is the one that the halftime show most heavily unsettles and I know that Barney has worked hard, studying how this assault might affect him, how his reaction would manifest itself physically."
'Yes, Sykes is on the edge of breaking down," says Stephen Cornwell. 'Each of the characters is obviously suffering the trauma of what they've been through in Iraq, but Sykes is the closest to the breaking point. Barney has found that in a very interesting and genuine way. You can really feel the trauma of war in his character and you can also feel this family around him, the Bravos, holding him together."
Marketing (Exploiting) The Bravos
Two older, experienced men play key roles in the Bravos lives on this Thanksgiving Day. Albert is a successful movie producer who has acquired the soldiers' story. He is accompanying the Bravos through their two-week tour, spending his time on the phone trying to attract a cast (for a brief moment Hillary Swank is interested in playing Billy!) and securing financing. But on this Thanksgiving Day as the Victory Tour comes to an end, prospects that once looked so promising (a potential $100,000 was dangled before each Bravo) are rapidly evaporating. Which is the moment when rich, powerful, patriotic Norm, owner of the Texas football team, enters the picture.
'To a degree everyone is trying package the Bravos in some form," notes Joe Alwyn. 'To market the war or satisfy their own financial gain, to squeeze what they can from them or project onto them an image. And the guys realize how in all this interest in them they are being short changed."
'Albert is a film producer who has gotten his hands on the rights to the Bravo story," relates Rhodri Thomas. 'When we meet him on Thanksgiving he's spent the past couple of weeks trying to set up a deal with a studio and cast the movie whie traveling around America with the Bravos. Now time is running out; the Bravos are about to go back to Iraq and he's getting a bit desperate. In this commercialized culture, Albert is taking a true experience of war, death and devastation and turning it into entertainment"perhaps in a most inappropriate way. But what I think is interesting about Albert is that as he begins his relationship with the Bravos he may be in it for himself, he comes to realize that his heart is with these young men, that he could be happy to sacrifice his movie deal in order to stay true to them."
'One of the roles from the book is this delicious Hollywood producer who is trying to sell the Bravos' movie rights," says Marc Platt. 'Many names come to mind when you think of that sort of schticky Hollywood producer, but we wanted to go in a different direction and cast someone who would be real in the role, someone who would be unexpected in the role, like the rest of our casting. And Chris Tucker, who is someone known mostly for comedy (although he's done a couple dramatic terms as of late) is such a rich and interesting person and actor that we thought that by casting him Albert would became a producer you hadn't quite seen before. He created an Albert that's funny and endearing; he's a great seller"he's on the make. But he also feels something for guys and he feels slightly broken, which makes for such an interesting chemistry on the screen."
'Albert is an ambitious producer," notes Chris Tucker. 'He believes in what he does and has to fight the cynical qualities of Hollywood. He's honest and sincere with the Bravo guys, because he really loves and respects them, but at the same time he also wants to tell this great story as a career move. Ang wanted me for the part. I am a big fan of his work. I think he's a great director and even greater person. So when I met him, I said, -I'm in!' Playing a producer, a married man, is a different kind of part for me, which excites me. And I like what Ang would be doing with the 3D and technology; I knew he would bring something totally different to the table, like he did with Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So this is a blessing to be in a movie with him."
Costume Designer Joseph G. Aulisi describes Albert's look as 'nicely tailored; he's a Hollywoodstyle guy"he wears the latest jeans, loafers, a good neck chain. But it was all slightly understated and not in any way cartoonish."
'Norm is the owner of a Texas football team," introduces Steve Martin. 'He's a very powerful guy which means that everyone listens to him, everyone is slightly on edge around him, slightly afraid.
People with power get a lot of respect, they can afford to be friendly and they have a little easier way in the social world than others may have. I've known people like this, some have been good friends and they've ranged from extremely warm and affable to just big powerful men. The Norm in the film has been slightly changed from the book where he was originally very tough, almost unlikable. Ang wanted the character be more of a father figure, more likable, even though he's a good strong businessman. Because villains can't be all bad"it's just too easy. I think at first Norm deeply admires the Bravos. In some way he wants to be them. He wants to have an accomplishment that is truly heroic. I think he also wants to be a bit of a father figure, but he always maintains his professional business acumen with them. He's not just going to give away something just because he likes them."
'In thinking of how to cast Norm we wanted to find someone who would be slightly unexpected and therefore real," says Marc Platt, 'and Steve Martin, who is from Texas by the way, is such a fine actor. We probably think of him first and foremost as a comedian; all the great comedians are wonderful and complicated actors and Steve is no exception. He brings his accomplished and many-faceted talent to the role of Norm"he's endearing and scary, powerful, and intimate.
And all of those qualities make for a really fascinating character. Everyone has their own agenda and projects things onto the Bravos; Norm probably really cares for these soldiers and yet he's smart enough to use them for his own interests and for his own feelings. It's very complicated and, therefore, hopefully, very real."
'Steve has such a unique twist on Norm's character and he's so brilliant at it," says Garrett Hedlund who, as Dime, has a serious confrontation about the rights to the Bravos' story with the film's ostensibly most powerful character. 'He's always at such ease while employing such a degree of manipulation with all these hidden desires."
Ben Platt plays Josh, 'a midlevel employee who works for Norm who picks up the Bravos from their hotel and is with them all the way through their day at the stadium. I think that a lot of the character's nervousness and eagerness to please comes from how much he respects his boss and how much he wants to impress Norm and not upset him. So it's been very helpful for me that he is played by Steve Martin, because I don't want to upset Steve Martin. I want to impress Steve Martin." I love the dynamic between with these guys (who give Josh a hard time for being this buttoned-up preppy). It's a nice juxtaposition"they are contemporaries, but these other guys that have gone a very different way with their lives and I think Josh has a certain amount of guilt about that and makes him want to be sure that this day in enjoyable for them."
We first meet Billy when he arrives at his family home in fictional Stovall, Texas for a brief visit during the Bravos Victory Tour. Things have never been easy in the Lynn household for Billy where he grew up with two older sisters Kathryn and Patty, a doting mother and a former rightwing radio host father. Returning he soon finds that recent history (his deployment, the physical and emotional damage of Kathryn's disfiguring car accident and their difficult father's stroke) has not made things any easier.
Production Designer Mark Friedberg describes how in designing the home to which Billy returns he was 'trying to present a house is a family home, but one that is coming apart; there is a sense of the thing unhinging, a sense of them really not being able to upkeep it anymore. Mom is really trying to keep it together, but the meal is not a turkey dinner, it's turkey tetrazzini; I think that says it all pretty much."
'When Billy comes home from he war his father, Ray, makes no effort to connect with his son or to welcome him back," notes Joe Alwyn. 'There had never been a great relationship between Ray and the rest of the family. When he was on the radio he was popular and smiley and cut a nice figure but he's had a double stroke and is suddenly without a voice, he can't speak, and he's in a wheelchair. He shows no signs of being proud of Billy for the marvelous things the rest of the country seems to think he's done. Denise, his mum, is a lot more openly loving and warm but she's been beaten down trying to hold the house afloat. His oldest sister Patty, to whom he is not close, is married and has a young son."
'Before Billy was incredibly close with his other sister, Kathryn," Alwyn continues. 'When he comes home from the war (not having seen her since her surgery), he sees that she's changed. She's cynical. And she doesn't want him to return to Iraq. She has a plan for him to meet this doctor and find medical grounds to not have to return with the rest of the boys. She also feels guilty for his being in danger in the first place because after her accident Billy went after her ex- fiancé " trashing his car and chasing him around with a tire iron"after the creep dumped her. For Billy it was either the Army or jail. Now that he's home questions are already circling in his head about not wanting to go back, but Kathryn's the one who pushes him to think about it seriously." 'Kathryn is one of the folks in our country who, in 2004, was disillusioned with the war, with the state of their lives and perhaps with the lack of opportunity with the economy," observes Marc Platt.
'She sees how you may have been raised to believe in and buy into a certain something, but it doesn't work out for everyone. She represents the reality of those who have been scarred in some way"she's been literally scarred, but also metaphorically scarred. She doesn't think the war is good and she wants her brother safe, she wants him home. Kristen Stewart fills that role with tremendous originality and a lot of truth. She creates a very real character. You feel both her pain and anger for the scar she's carrying and the state of her life. And you feel her love, her protection for her brother."
'One of the key relationships in the film is between Billy and his sister Kathryn," says Rhodri Thomas. 'We meet them at the beginning of the film when Billy goes home for Thanksgiving. His family is incredibly dysfunctional yet he and Kathryn share a particular kind of love. They're incredibly similar and they are both outsiders in their own family. Kristen Stewart is perfectly cast because she is very intelligent and conveys an all-American sensibility that's in crisis. It was very important for us to present in this rural Texas town somebody with the same kind of worldliness that the returning Billy also has."
'On the flip side, another girl comes into Billy's life"and that's Faison," says Marc Platt. 'She is a more romanticized notion of what a woman is. She's a cheerleader and represents the potential of romantic love."
'Billy meets Faison when he spots her across the room as the Bravos are being interviewed by reporters," says Joe Alwyn. 'They exchange glances and once they get to speaking it all happens very quickly."
'The audience will watch this romance unfold and wonder, -Can this really be true?'" says Rhodri Thomas. 'Faison is this beacon of hope and it seems like Billy's dream is coming true. But when he considers deserting and running off with Faison, you realize that she was never an attainable dream. She wants Billy to be a hero and has no intention of running off into the sunset with him.
Ultimately the irony of the story, maybe the tragedy, is that everyone wants Billy to be something for them. Nobody really allows Billy to be who he is. At the end of the story Billy makes his decision. He can't pursue the dreams that his sister or the cheerleader or anybody else have for him. He realizes that the only people who really understand him for who he is are the other Bravos." Stereographer Demetri Portelli provides an insight into the character of Faison (as well as the process of devising the particulars of 3D). 'Since Billy's experience with Faison is a bit of a fantasy"it's like she's out of a -movie,' my instructions from Ang were for that character to be just on the edge of stereo"she's almost a 2D character with just a hint of stereo."
Makenzie Leigh plays Faison, the cheerleader with whom Billy has this 'almost movie-like romance," relates Rhodri Thomas. She is an extremely humorous and quirky actress who lends a ray of light to the film whenever she's on screen."
'I'm from Texas, so Faison's world is one that I'm familiar with," says Makenzie Leigh. 'She really respects the men who serve our country and sees it as her job to make sure that they feel welcome and loved during this period of time that they're back.
'I went through cheerleading boot camp," she continues. 'I got a fake tan, accent coaching and Sydney Durso, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, did an incredible job teaching us the dance routines. I was a ballerina when I was younger, which I suppose would have been helpful to learn choreography, but these moves are very sharp and very peppy. I was much better when Sydney was working with me one on one. While everyone else was doing beautifully I would do the first eight count, realize that it was just hopeless, give up and stand in the corner."
'For all of us involved in the film, I think this has been an extraordinary journey," notes Stephen Cornwell. 'To be part of something that is trying to change the way cinema interacts with an audience, taking it into a new place, is an extremely exciting, dangerous thing. It is risky. But I think that there is no one better positioned and more uniquely talented to take us on that journey than Ang Lee."
'It's been pretty amazing working with Ang"as a first time job, it's an opportunity that you would not think would fall into your hands," says Joe Alwyn. 'He's obviously got an amazing vision of what he wants that you can sense not just in the actors' performances but in the whole work of the entire crew as well. From a performance point of view, after each take he'll give you some very detailed little brush strokes of direction in quiet but meaningful and profound little statements that are really useful. And he's also very direct and blunt in his feedback concerning what he's looking for which is, again, constructive and useful."
'He's very clear about what he wants," agrees Steve Martin, 'and he has an extremely good eye for when it's not there. He's really watching the actors instead of, 'Okay, we got that shot. Let's move on." This is a real artist at work."
'Ang is a treasure as a filmmaker," says Marc Platt. 'He is very soft spoken, very kind of Zen- like in his approach. But you can hear the gears of the mind working and working all the time because he sees things that we don't see. He thinks of things that we don't think of. One need only look at his films, the genres, the size and the technology employed to recognize the range and the abilities of that intellect, and the cinematic heart and soul that permeate all of his films." 'It all starts with the leader," says Chris Tucker, 'and Ang Lee is the best! It's just loose, it's calm and you need that to be creative. He'll say -I don't know if this is going to work, but we're going to try it.' When somebody comes with a humble spirit like that it makes you relaxed and opens up your creativity"and that's what Ang Lee does. He just works in a way like a ninja: he just floats around the set and knows exactly what he wants. There's no pressure. You feel like it's okay to stretch. And if you don't get it right, it's okay because he'll tell you and he won't get mad.
He'll just say, -just go back to that or don't do that.' And the way he says it is just the best."
'He lets you in on the visuals more than any other director I've worked with," says Ben Platt, which is very helpful, because while he's a very technical guy who creates such beautiful shots, he's always explaining to you what the goal is for all of the components, like if there's a strange mark you need to hit, he'll explain why that's important. This is definitely, visually, the most challenging film that I've been a part of and you can just feel in the air on the set that you're working with someone who's such an artist. Everybody wants to bring their best because you want to please him because he's so humble and warm."
'There's no time or space for anything but constructive criticism," says Makenzie Leigh, 'which I really love. He's a man of few words and his words are chosen carefully. On the first day that we were filming Ang held a Good Luck ceremony that he said wasn't religious but was spiritual, if you wanted it to be. Or it was just wishing the film well. So the cast and crew had our incense sticks and were facing north, west, south, east, and then we all turned back around and he has a big gong in his hand and he starts banging on it and chanting. He has this ability to rally the troops like a drill sergeant apparently which seems to come out of nowhere, but of course it makes the most sense in the world because he is this strong, able human."
'Often when you work with a director it's like, -okay let's do this, oh no I meant, let's go over there, no, no, no, no, wait, wait a minute, wait a minute, let me think about this,'" says Brian 'Astro" Bradley. 'But with Ang it's -let's do this, let's do that' and it comes out looking amazing. He knows exactly what he wants, he knows how to give direction. And he's very humble; he had a trailer that he only went into once to use the bathroom."
Production Designer Mark Friedberg worked with Ang Lee on Ice Storm set in suburban Connecticut in the 1970s and Ride With The Devil, set along the Kansas-Missouri border in the 1860s. In this story set in the US and Iraq of 2004, he describes how in 'this truth serum that Ang's dreamed up [4K, 3D and 120fps], we see everything so we have had to up our game, as Ang puts it, and create spaces that are real down to the smallest detail, which is about eight times more work"but in a good way because I like to design for detail. We're trying very hard to make a world you recognize. A lot of that world is defined by a consumer culture, like the signage you find at the Texas stadium"Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Verizon. Billy Lynn is a particular challenge because it's not so different from today"sometimes it's easier to do a period movie based in a time farther removed from today because the differences are striking.
The most interesting part of this time period is how much things have changed since 2004 which was the dawn of the digital age; it's been only the last 10 years when it's become a part of everything we do. In 2004 devices weren't -smart' yet. And the notion of the football stadium, where much of the film is set, has also changed quite a bit. The football stadium in our story, which is perfectly fine, is going to be knocked down to build a new stadium capable of encompassing things grander than just a football game. As we filmed at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta the same thing was happening"its successor was being built nearby."
The Halftime Show
'Ang and Don Mischer, who served as a live entertainment consultant on the film, became friends when they did some initial work on the Beijing Olympics," says Mark Friedberg, 'so when this movie came up, the idea that Don would be a part of the planning of our halftime show was seminal with Ang"because Don Mischer is the god of halftime shows. He knows more about it than anyone."
'We did the very first big halftime show with Michael Jackson," notes Don Mischer, 'and since that time we've done them with such people as Paul McCartney, the Stones, Prince and Bruce Springsteen. So we supplied the Ang Lee team with the people who knew how to make it all work"find and rehearse a cast, lay out the music and a create playback that allows everybody to know exactly what they're doing at any time."
'From the beginning we were all aware that while Don Mischer's big halftime shows are made for the television camera and for the people in the stadium," says Friedberg, 'the point of view in our halftime show was what the soldiers, especially Billy, were experiencing. The key for Ang was how uncomfortable it made the characters, so the audience, rather than simply enjoying the show, shares the soldiers' unnerving experience."
'Yes," agrees Mischer, 'the halftime show in the film provides a lot of color, energy and excitement but it's basically in the background behind the dramatic story. As well, the work we ordinarily do is geared to a live, one-time only broadcast: with Bruce Springsteen, in 2010, we had 28 cameras in place to capture the show live"it started and 12-1/2 minutes later it was over. With Billy Lynn we filmed this one half-time show over the course of four solid nights."
'The nights we shot," remembers Joe Alwyn, 'the action had us marching across the field with the music blaring with hundreds of musicians and soldiers beside us and dancers, cheerleaders, etc. " it was crazy. Add to that the fireworks going off, the CO2 and everything else they had" it was overwhelming. Of course there was acting required, but our natural reactions to the pyrotechnics did half the job. As the show progresses Billy, who is more able to keep it together, tries to help Sykes who is having a very tough time. The entire day in this huge stadium has been a minefield" surrounded by thousands of people (many of them loud, aggressive fans), this football war is going on in front of them and this deafening assault is the culmination!"
'I had read the description of the halftime show on paper, but seeing it brought to life on the big screen was incredible," says Mason Lee. 'The pomp and circumstance of the whole thing"the performance, the huge marching band"it was America as a kind of a big circus and we, the Bravos, were right in the middle of it. And so will the audience."
Football… And War
'In this film, I think we are drawing a direct line between American consumer culture, specifically American sports culture, and America's patriotism," continues Friedberg. 'And I think it's to Ang's credit that he's not having a character say what that is; I don't think we are exactly saying what that is"I think we are saying there's a connection. When you look at the football players, how they train, put on their pads and interact with each other, there's an interesting analogy to be drawn with soldiering. How, in fact, a lot of the words are the same: we're gonna run a sweep, we're gonna throw a bomb."
'In this story I think football represents fake war," says Steve Martin. 'And I see that as a good thing"that it's not real war at least. You have these true warriors who may be very young and callow but are incredibly experienced with life at its worst. And then you have the world of football, which is also extremely serious and battle-wise, but which these young people see as -It's got nothing on us.' I think the football tradition goes back to Rome"they are gladiators and warriors who are looked up to, cheered, booed. Every kind emotion that can be laid on them will be, but it's still a game. And for the young soldiers it's not a game, for in a game you might lose and you can afford to lose. In the real war, you can't afford it."
Chris Tucker believes 'that's why the Olympics were created"to show our endurance, our toughness, our greatness without people suffering. Some people are triumphant, some people lose, and then you get another chance to do it. But like what my character says to the Bravos, -you guys are the real real heroes. We wouldn't even be able to enjoy this game without you guys protecting the country.' We take a lot for granted with these peaceful games and sports."
Football Coordinator, Mark Ellis, whose credits include Jerry Maguire, Any Given Sunday, The Replacements, Varsity Blues and The Waterboy, notes that real football players were cast to perform the Thanksgiving game the Bravos are watching"'if it's not real, if it's not authentic, I think the audience will sniff it out right away. And if it's not real, it'll take you out of the movie.
These guys are big and strong and we really wanted to show the aggressiveness and maybe a little bit of the violence in this sport, expressing the analogy of war and football. These guys rely on each other, they learn what each other's strengths and weaknesses are, what to expect. As with soldiers, it's also about not ever leaving your partner, your brother, on the field. But certainly football is still a game and war is far more dramatic and serious; these guys get paid multimillion dollars and the Bravos are a bunch of grunts. But at the professional level these guys take it very seriously"there's a lot at stake. A lot of people say, about football, that maybe our priorities are bit out of whack"and these and other things are going to be thought about and discussed when audiences leave the theater."
Dallas (in Georgia)"eight weeks
In order to make sure that the production was able to create a professional football game that might have been played in Texas in 2004, the filmmakers set up a trip to the city to catch a Thanksgiving Day football game," remembers Executive Producer Brian Bell; 'to see the crowd and get a feel for it all. None of us had ever been there before and none of us were sports fans. And it's so loud and bright there, constantly, without any break, that by the time we got to Ben Fountain's house for Thanksgiving dinner, we were shaken." And from a production design perspective, we determined that there are leaves on the trees in November in Dallas."
'I grew up in North Carolina and moved to Dallas when I was 25," says novelist Ben Fountain. 'I realised pretty quickly once I hit town that I was in a different place. Everybody wants to be the biggest, the richest, the baddest, most beautiful; have the biggest hair, the biggest boobs, the nicest house. Big is the Dallas way. Which I'm not saying is good or bad. In some ways I think Dallas is the most American city"you get the purest strains of a certain kind of America in Dallas. While a very religious, Christian city, it's very much devoted to making money where conspicuous consumption is celebrated. So if you're looking for the paradigm of America, you could probably do worse than look at Dallas, because I can certainly make the argument that in many ways it's the most American city."
Iraq (in Morocco)"two weeks
'We needed to find Iraq somewhere in the world," says Mark Friedberg, 'and given the way the world is right now, we were not going to be shooting in Iraq. We originally planned to shoot in Jordan, which was geographically and ethnically very close to Iraq, but the unrest in the surrounding areas raised concern that it might not be a good place for us to stage US infantry stomping around villages. So we moved our scenes to Morocco and ended up in a place called Erfoud down near the Algerian border at the edge of the Sahara. It is a very stark landscape, one where the walls of the buildings are made out of the ground you stand on which creates a very intense monochromatic feel. It's oppressively hot and dusty and maybe not so different than parts of Texas"they're both sucking oil out of the ground and they both have big swaths of desert, areas of few people but lots of land. We built a set where our battle takes place that was integrated into a real village. Because of the nature of the scene things are being fired upon and blown up, we can't just go to people's houses, but we worked with the villagers, hiring them to help build in their style our set of mud brick structures, which is a new one for us. But we have to, because it's real."
'To be in the hardness and the beauty of the desert was well worth the effort of schlepping out here and slugging through 115-degree days," Mark Friedberg continues. 'And as the scenes in Iraq are cross cut with what's going on in Billy's experience in the Dome, it creates an incredibly interesting lighting contrast with the artificiality of the lighting inside the stadium where there is no daylight; everything about the lighting experience in Texas is manmade"strong and intense, but electric.
The contrast with this natural wonder is very unusual and interesting."
'Authenticity was definitely something very important to Ang right from the get-go," echoes Rhodri Thomas. 'He wanted this film in Morocco not only for technical reasons, but for emotional ones as well"to be truthful and honest about the war experience for both the soldiers and the Iraqis, to portray them with dignity. He emphasized that this is not a western where the Americans come in and blow them to hell. To that end, we have been very careful about casting Iraqis. He said that we owe the Iraqi people the same possibility of looking at the film in their country and seeing themselves to the same extent that we would show Americans the film in America. As well, Warzer Jaff, who is from Iraq and lived in Baghdad during the war, was on set as our Iraq Consultant, advising on everything from behavior and history to culture and dress."
A journalist based in New York, Warzer Jaff is Kurdish, from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. 'This is the first time I've worked on a Hollywood movie," he says. 'The production first approached an Iraqi NYU professor who's a good friend of mine (we worked together in Iraq) and he recommended me.
I've covered Iraq for major news agencies and worked as a producer on documentary films. I lived in Baghdad"I had a house in Baghdad, a car, just living there like anybody else." 'Ang told me that he wanted to get everything related to Iraq right," remembers Jaff, 'like the market and the house raided by the soldiers (I've been embedded with the US Army when they were going inside the homes). He just wanted to get it right. I helped to choose the actors who play Iraqis- they look Iraqi. I advised on wardrobe, set decoration"all that. For the market we discussed the kind of vegetables we have in Iraq. The landscape around Erfoud, Morocco, where Billy Lynn was filmed, is very similar to Diyala province. It's flat with hills or mountains in the background"in Diyala you have the Hamrin Mountains nearby. There are some differences but if you drive around you're not going to be able to tell it's not Iraq unless you see Moroccan flags or signs on buildings.
For me it was a great feeling to be somewhere that's safe for in my work on documentary films, if you want to show a battle, you have to be at the front."
The Battle At The Al-Ansakar Canal
The fictional town of Al-Ansakar, set in Diyala Province, was built amidst a cluster of small homes in a dusty section just outside of the city of Erfoud, Morocco. 'We very much wanted to make sure that our scenery didn't look like Hollywood," says production designer Mark Friedberg, 'so we needed to find a place where the background of the village preexisted and then built our part of the village. To make it all look authentic we worked with the people of the village to help us build our sets in their style, the way that they live. Part of the great violence of this battle is not just between the insurgents and our Bravos but how this beautiful, peaceful place is torn apart with 50-caliber gunfire explosions."
The battle begins when the Bravos respond to an attack by insurgents on a Civil Affairs team at the site a sewage project"one of the many civil construction projects in the occupied country being built to develop and restore services, provide the local people job opportunities and to build good relationships with the community. When this battle with the insurgents is captured on video, SPC Billy Lynn and the other Bravos are propelled into the American consciousness.
Preparations for the Battle at the Al-Ansakar Canal started during preproduction. 'After the two weeks of boot camp," says military consultant Mark Wachter, 'we spent three weeks at the production office running through the tactical side of the operation establishing what the movements would look like and rehearsing each component of it. We had a mock-up of the whole [battle] set in Atlanta where we ran all the patterns. One of Ang's requests was that all of the soldiers' moves be totally authentic and true to form not of Navy seals or Rangers but of regular infantrymen. So we had them moving in formation, clearing rooms, tactically reloading-- things they would have had to do if they had been boots on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan, clearing houses, rooms, places just like this."
'We really saw the whole thing come to fruition on location in Morocco where they were really tight," says Stunt Coordinator JJ Perry. 'To see where they came from"a bunch of silly kids, actors, who were -Well, I need to check my Instagram,' to holy smoke, they look and act like soldiers. I don't think they're going to go and enlist anytime soon, but they definitely made it.
And they made it look great on camera. And I'm telling you, when this movie's over we're delivering them back to their homes in way better shape than when they came to this movie. They don't even look the same. In the beginning I was more of a drill sergeant; I would yell at them and give them a really hard time but as things progressed the relationship evolved into me becoming more of a big bro/stunt coordinator role"I'm the one that has to deliver them safely."
The FOB and Iraqi Marketplace
When the story cuts to scenes Iraq, the first things we see are Billy's experiences at the FOB (the Forward Operating Base). 'In a very uncomfortable part of the world the military base is home for these young guys," says Production Designer Mark Friedberg. 'We conducted a lot of research with input from many people including our military consultant Mark Wachter who been in these kinds of places. He described it as a prison where the guns point out, not in"or a frat house in a palace. In a town near Erfoud we found Kasar Alfaida, a walled palace of concentric courtyards. An FOB could range from something constructed out of naked land and razor wire to taking over old Iraqi army posts or occupying Saddam's former palaces. In our story, it's a Babylonian palace that had been taken by Saddam and then re-taken by the American forces representing layers of history stacked on top of each other as Iraq and the Iraqi people have endured various regimes coming in and out. It's where the guys sleep unless they're on an extended patrol or some sort of mission and they'll have phones and laptops set up to try to get in touch with home as well as areas for recreation activities like basketball or playing cards and chess."
'In the inner courtyards of this palace there was a 250-year-old tree," Mark Friedberg continues. 'With nothing else green anywhere this tree somehow forced its way into this courtyard and it was beautiful. Since in our story Billy develops a spiritual relationship with Shroom, the enlightened warrior who talks with him about Vishnu and other things, Ang Lee and I had discussed that if there were a tree in any of these places, we might use it as a kind of Bodhi tree. And this looked like the Bodhi tree"if you were the Buddha that's where you would sit in the middle of this fort. I was completely blown away. If nothing else about the fort had met our criteria I believed that we had what we were looking for. I asked Mark Wachter, -What if I put in the sand bags and guard towers, and a couple of gunners, and the tanks?' and he was with me. We presented out findings to Ang Lee and he agreed: -We've got to shoot that tree.'"
Along with Al-Ansakar and the FOB, the film finds the Bravos patrolling an Iraqi marketplace, reinforcing the U.S. military presence in the country. A marketplace in operation for centuries was used. 'Our big design was to remove traces Morocco, which is a much more colorful world that Iraq," says Mark Friedberg. 'So take away things specific to Morocco"the colors, the tiles and particular architecture (notably curved arches) and you get to Iraq. Essentially it was about -undecorating.'"
Iraq consultant Warzer Jaff suggested various adjustments, especially to the clothes the townspeople would wear. He also inscribed the Arabic on some of the marketplace signage. In the end, Ang Lee hopes that his new cinema will prove to be more than an exercise in innovative technology but rather a compelling and novel way to experience cinematic storytelling.
'The book was inspiring on a human, emotional level and I thought this approach was a chance to undergo this sensation in an immersive way that is artistically authentic and part of the communal experience we all hope for every time we go to the movies," he says.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Release Date: November 24th, 2016