It might have been relatively simple. .. if anything in war can be termed simple. A quick extraction from a target building in downtown Mogadishu, Somalia of two lieutenants and other "Tier One" associates of brutal warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, leader of the Habr Gidr subclan, determined to maintain power over his increasingly anarchic country, even at the price of starving and killing his fellow Somalis. U. S. soldiers were in Somalia as part of a multi-national United Nations force that were attempting to maintain some kind of peace and prevent the mass starvation that had erupted across the East African nation, killing some 300,000 people-partially from famine, partially because warlords such as Aidid were hoarding food provided by the peacekeepers and killing their own countrymen as they attempted to collect relief packages. One of the Habr Gidr clan's response to the U. N. efforts was to ambush 24 Pakistani soldiers under the world body's flag and literally eviscerate them.
By capturing Aidid's lieutenants, the U. S. hoped to cut off the warlord at his feet, whittling away his power bit by bit. Thus, under the command of Gen. William F. Garrison, a mission was devised to capture the clan leaders who would be meeting in a house near the Olympic Hotel on Mogadishu's downtown Hawlwadig Road. About 75 U. S. Rangers in four separate chalks would fast-rope down from four Black Hawk helicopters to provide cover for a Delta assault force of about 40 men, which would storm the building, "extract" the targeted clan members and bring them to a convoy of 12 Humvees and trucks that would travel up Hawlwadig to pick up the prisoners and return them to the U. S. base some three miles outside of the city near the Indian Ocean.
The mission was scheduled to begin at 3:42 in the afternoon and last, perhaps, 45 minutes to an hour. Night vision goggles and other special equipment were left back at the U. S. base three miles away near the Indian Ocean. .. they wouldn't be needed. But when Black Hawks Super Six One and then Super Six Four were shot down within 20 minutes of each other, the mission took a fateful turn from an assault into a rescue mission. The city was essentially a hornet's nest as American soldiers on the ground found themselves under heavy fire from well-armed Somali civilians. The battle that ensued would rage all through the night and into the morning of October 4, resulting in 18 Americans dead, 73 injured and huge casualties among the Somalis who waged furious war on soldiers who were perceived as enemies and invaders.
October 3, 1993
2:49 PM The principal targets, Habr Gidr clan leaders, are spotted at a building on Hawlwadig Road in downtown Mogadishu.
3:32 PM The force launches with 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles and 160 men.
3:42 PM The assault begins, with four Ranger chalks fast-roping in from four hovering Black Hawk helicopters and Delta Force soldiers delivered on Little Bird choppers. One Ranger,Pvt. Todd Blackburn, misses the rope and falls some 60 feet
to the street.
4:00 PM Forces of armed Somali militia converge on the target area from all over Mogadishu.
4:02 PM Assault forces report both clan leaders and about 21 others in custody. As the force prepares to pull out, three vehicles are detached to rush the wounded Private Blackburn back to the base.
4:15 PM Fighting and confusion delays loading the prisoners and pulling out.
4:20 PM Black Hawk Super Six One, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Cliff Wolcott, known to his friends as "Elvis," is hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashes five blocks northeast of the target building.
4:22 PM Crowds of Somalis race toward the crash site. The prisoners, the convoy and ground forces begin moving toward the downed chopper. Black Hawk Super Six Four, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, takes the crashed helicopter's place in orbit over the fight.
4:28 PM A search-and-rescue team ropes in to assist the downed crew.
4:35 PM The U. S. convoy makes a wrong turn and begins wandering lost through the labyrinthine city streets of Mogadishu, encountering roadblocks at every turn and sustaining heavy casualties.
4:40 PM Mike Durant's Black Hawk, Super Six Four, is also hit and crashes about a mile southwest of the target building. Hostile crowds begin moving toward the downed chopper.
4:42 PM Two Delta Force snipers, Sgts. Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, volunteer to be inserted at the second crash site by helicopter to help protect the injured Durant and his crew.
4:54 PM The "Lost Convoy," with more than half of its force wounded or dead, abandons its search for the first downed Black Hawk and begins fighting its way back to the American base on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
5:03 PM A smaller, emergency convoy is dispatched in an attempt to rescue the men stranded at Durant's crash site. It encounters fires, roadblocks and other obstacles.
5:34 PM Both convoys, battered and bleeding, link up and abandon the effort to break through to Durant at the second crash site. The remainder of the ground force of Rangers and Delta commandos converge around the first crash site, sustaining many casualties.
5:40 PM Somali crowds overrun Durant's crash site, killing Shughart and Gordon and the rest of the crew of Super Six Four, except the wounded Durant, who is taken hostage and carried off by Somali militia.
5:45 PM Both convoys return to the base. Ninety-nine men remain trapped and surrounded in the city around the first downed Black Hawk, fighting for their lives.
10:00 PM A giant convoy, with two companies of the 10th Mountain Division along with the remainder of Task Force Ranger-as well as Pakistani tanks and Malaysian armored vehicles under the United Nations peacekeeping force-begins to form in order to rescue the trapped soldiers.
11:23 PM The huge rescue convoy moves out, blazing into Mogadishu.
October 4, 1993
1:55 AM The rescue convoy reaches the trapped Ranger force. The night belongs to the U. S. "Nightstalkers"-crack pilots of the 160th SOAR-as they make innumerable strafing runs with heavily
armed Little Bird attack helicopters in order to protect their comrades in the streets below.
3:00 AM Forces struggle to remove the pinned body of Cliff Wolcott, pilot of Super Six One, determined to follow the creed of leaving no man behind, living or dead.
5:30 AM Wolcott's body is finally recovered and the rescue convoy begins to roll out of the city. But with the vehicles packed with 10th Mountain and U. N. forces, the Rangers are left to run "The Mogadishu Mile" through considerable gunfire behind the convoy.
6:30 AM The force returns to the safety of a U. N. -controlled sports stadium, with 18 dead and 73 injured. The casualties among the Somalis has never been confirmed, but is thought to be approximately 500 dead and many more wounded.
March 8, 2001: A New Mission
3/8/01: The first day of filming in Kenitra, Morocco on Black Hawk Down, a motion picture based on the acclaimed book by Mark Bowden that explored, in great detail, the Battle of Mogadishu. From the time he read Bowden's book in galley form, producer Jerry Bruckheimer knew that it was time for a new mission: to bring it to the screen as vividly and authentically as possible. It was executive producer Simon West who first brought the book to Bruckheimer's attention.
"I read the book before it came out in bookstores, and fell in love with it," states Bruckheimer. "I've always liked to tell stories that involve brotherhood amongst men, caring about somebody else's life more than you care about your own. And that's what these Rangers, Delta Force soldiers and pilots did. It was more important to get their buddy home alive than it was to save themselves. It's heroism under fire, and that's a powerful subject for any film. "
Mark Bowden, a journalist of repute for The Philadelphia Inquirer, began working on the story some two-and-a-half years after it was fought, when it had already begun to fade from the news, perceived by the media as a military fiasco and early foreign affairs failure of President Bill Clinton's administration. Bowden became intrigued by the details of the battle itself and its aftermath. Who were these men who fought on that long day's journey into night? What were their feelings? After some initial research, the battle was humanized for Bowden when he was invited by Jim Smith-the father of Cpl. Jamie Smith, a Ranger who was tragically killed in the battle-to a dedication ceremony of a building being named in the young man's honor. There he met about 12 Rangers who had fought in Mogadishu with Jamie, and all agreed to be interviewed. This was the beginning of a path which led Bowden to years of additional research, a multitude of interviews and an actual, perilous journey into Somalia in the summer of 1997. The book that emerged, entitled Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, was published in 1999 to great acclaim for its detail and evenhandedness.
"No matter how critically history records the policy decisions that led up to this fight," wrote Bowden in his conclusion of the book, "nothing can diminish the professionalism and dedication of the Rangers and Special Forces units who fought there that day. " It was this approach to the matter that so intrigued Bruckheimer. "Mark Bowden really did an amazing job with his book," notes the producer, "and how he took it inside the lives of these young men and what they went through. With today's highly competitive mass media, life-altering events happen in 15-second sound bites, so the battle was very quickly forgotten. Hopefully, this movie will honor the lives of the young men who sacrificed so much. "
To bring Bowden's book to the screen, Bruckheimer called upon Ridley Scott, one of film industry's acknowledged visionaries, a man whose work had altered, influenced and irrevocably changed filmmaking as we know it.
Bruckheimer already had a longtime association with Ridley's brother Tony Scott, who had directed five of the producer's megahits: Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Days of Thunder (1990), Crimson Tide (1995) and Enemy Of The State (1998). However, he hadn't yet had the opportunity to collaborate on a feature with Ridley Scott, whom Bruckheimer deems "one of the greatest directors living today. He's a world-renowned artist as a filmmaker. Ridley's movies have lives of their own. "
"I had a relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer for years," notes Ridley Scott, "but the last time I worked with him was about 30 years ago when I was directing a tire commercial in San Francisco, and Jerry was the producer for the agency. After we finished, we were driving back to the hotel, and Jerry said 'You know, this is my last job. ' I asked him what he was going to do, and Jerry responded that he wanted to produce movies.
"And I said, 'Oh, yeah? Sure!,'" recollects Scott with a laugh. "Through the years, Jerry and I had talked about doing something together. Then he contacted me about a project which he thought might be good for me called Black Hawk Down. "
Ridley Scott remembers full well his response to the actual incidents. "I was in London at the time, and I recall watching BBC News and seeing this tragic sight of what was clearly two bodies that were being seriously mauled. And I realized, my God, those are U. S. troops. I'd already spent 20 odd years in and out of the United States, and I pretty well had a handle on how Americans respond to such things. I knew that it would be a giant shock to the system, seeing that being pushed into the forefront of their lives on the television sets at home. "
Scott was not surprised when the battle and its aftermath quickly began vanishing from news broadcasts. "Those of us who live in protected societies tend to forget how lucky we are to be born in them," notes the filmmaker. "Witnessing the kind of events that occurred in Mogadishu makes one start to grasp what it's like to live in third world countries. But protected societies also tend to be somewhat isolationist, and they like to close down and shut out the horrors. I think that when you're coming from such a successful society-and America is regarded as the most successful and wealthiest society in the world-there's a cozy comfort zone that one tends to wrap oneself up into.
"The feeling back then," continues Scott, "was whether it was worth it to send Americans to fight in a part of the world that 90 percent of the people couldn't even identify on the map. But I think that the events of this past year proved that you have to, because if you don't-if you let things slip past you, even though for the moment they apparently have nothing to do with you-they will come back around the other side and bite you. "
After Ridley Scott read Mark Bowden's book, he was immediately taken with the idea of filming it. He had already re-created ancient warfare in Gladiator (2000), and with Black Hawk Down saw the opportunity to tell a timeless and timely story of men in combat. Although there have been war films by the thousands, very few have set out to portray, in detail, just one battle rather than sweeping conflicts. For Black Hawk Down, Scott sought to create an unflinching, uncompromising portrait of war, with all of its attendant horrors, heartbreak and, at times, undeniable heroism.
As in the book, Scott was determined to create a story of combat which eliminated any information except that which was occurring during the battle. It was not in his interest to create "backstories" for each of the soldiers, or for the audience to learn their histories before or after the battle. Anything revealed of their personal world emerged in their actions during the mission.
A great challenge facing Bruckheimer and Scott was how to translate the complexities of Bowden's book into a viable feature film. "The event itself took about 16 hours from the start of the mission until it ended, and of course we can't spend 16 hours in a theatre," notes Bruckheimer.
"The book is like a giant jigsaw puzzle of cause and effect," adds Scott. "As the pieces start to come together, it forms into the very anatomy of a war which takes place in 16 hours. I thought it was a fairly formidable task to put it in screenplay form. "
Helping Bruckheimer and Scott to fashion the book into a workable screenplay was young writer Ken Nolan, who through 10 years of scribing in Hollywood had sold some scripts, but never seen his work come to fruition on screen. When Nolan read Bowden's book, "It was an amazing read," states the writer. "What struck me about Black Hawk Down was that it was a war book that put the reader right in the soldiers' boots. "
"Condensing these events into two-and-a-half hours was difficult," Bruckheimer comments. "We knew that a certain amount of creative license would have to be taken, telescoping events and compositing some of the real people involved in the battle. You have to make choices while staying true to the subject, and hopefully we've made the right ones. "
"The thing is, all these guys were heroes," adds executive producer Mike Stenson. "The reason they ended up in a 16-hour firefight was that they went to rescue their fallen comrades instead of going back to base and waiting for reinforcements. We wanted to make sure we paid tribute to the group while focusing on certain characters for dramatic purposes. "
(In the film, the characters of Sgt. First Class "Hoot" Gibson, Spec. Grimes, Sgt. First Class Jeff Sanderson and Master Sgt. Chris "Wex" Wexler are fictionalized composites of real soldiers; however, the rest of those depicted bear the actual names of their real-life counterparts).
"The book follows the fortunes of almost 100 soldiers," notes Bruckheimer, "and of course, that would have been impossible on film. I think what's remarkable about the screenplay is that we still get to know 40 characters, and live the battle through their experiences. "
"Audiences have to care about these men," adds Ken Nolan. "At the end of the day, I'm hoping that people will really make an emotional investment in these people and incidents. "
The filmmakers decided that "The story will be seen through a number of eyes in a large ensemble," adds Bruckheimer, "but to a great extent through a young Ranger sergeant, Matt Eversmann, who takes over the command of Chalk Four after its leader, Beales, has an epileptic seizure the night before the mission.
"Eversmann's counterpart," explains Bruckheimer, "is a toughened Delta Force operator, known as 'Hoot,' who is the ultimate soldier, one of the most elite units of the U. S. Army. 'Hoot' has 'been there and done that,' and acts as a kind of mysterious older brother figure to Eversmann, who is inexperienced in actual combat. "
As the screenplay came together, so did the rest of the primary production team. Coming into the Black Hawk Down fold in crucial positions were longtime collaborators of Ridley Scott's-most of whom had worked on Gladiator (2000) or Hannibal (2001), or both. Many of Jerry Bruckheimer's associates also enlisted-most prominently Key Military/Technical Advisor Harry Humphries, who had worked with the producer on several projects from Rock, The (1996) to Enemy Of The State (1998) and Pearl Harbor (2001). Humphries has also collaborated with Ridley Scott; he was an invaluable resource on the director's G.I. Jane (1997).
"Jerry's the ideal person and friend for me to work with," notes Humphries, "because he's always looking for accuracy-as much as film will allow-and he's not going to compromise. He will always vote in favor of accuracy with respect to military or law enforcement activities, as opposed to the Hollywood view of how it should look. "
Selected by Bruckheimer and Scott as director of photography was Slawomir Idziak of Poland, who had impressed both director and producer for his remarkably sensitive work and even experimental work on several of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski's films (including the great Dekalog series, The Double Life of Veronique and Blue), who had also demonstrated an ability to handle such bigger-budgeted action films as Proof of Life (2000). Bruckheimer and Scott were impressed by Kieslowski's visual dexterity and experimental use of color washes to underscore atmosphere and psychology.
As he had on Schindler's List (1993), Gladiator (2000) and Hannibal (2001), executive producer Branko Lustig-with some 50 years of moviemaking experience around the world behind him-would handle the tremendous day-to-day responsibilities of keeping the production on track. "I am only here to help the filmmakers make the movie," notes Lustig, "and I knew as soon as I read the script that the production would be very difficult because of all the smaller stories being told within the larger framework of the film. Here we have nonstop action, often with incidents happening parallel to each other. And although Ridley is a master at controlling the set, I knew that shooting would be enormously complex. "
Finding East Africa in North Africa
Fifty years ago, if a filmmaker wanted to shoot a film against an exotic backdrop, it was usually built on a backlot in Hollywood. Nowadays, Hollywood goes out into the world, and films Paris in Paris, Tokyo in Tokyo or Kathmandu in Kathmandu.
However, the notion of actually filming Black Hawk Down in Somalia could never be more than a fantasy, for the onetime vacation destination for wealthy Italians is, unfortunately, as anarchic and dangerous now as it was in 1993. "When I first read the book," recalls Branko Lustig, "I told Ridley that I would go to Mogadishu to scout, but soon discovered that no one issues visas for Somalia. The only way to get to Mogadishu is to travel to Ethiopia and then try and hire a boat to take you there. It's not exactly practical. "
"Mogadishu is a no-go zone," adds production designer Arthur Max. "It's dangerous and overrun by armed militias. So knowing that it would be impossible to film there, we decided to scout locations in the Mediterranean area, including Israel, Jordan, Egypt, as well as Southern Spain and all of North Africa. We finally settled on the area of Rabat and its neighboring city of Sale, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, as they were the closest to all of the research materials that we had seen-photographs and films-to the architecture and terrain of Mogadishu. "
"We had to do this film relatively quickly," says Ridley Scott, "because we started in March and were going to release in December of the same year. It's really about decisions, and how fast you make them. While I was mixing Hannibal, I asked Branko and Arthur to scout locations. We looked at the photographs they came back with and went straight in to Morocco. That's how you get a kick start. "
Branko Lustig had already done other films which filmed partially in Morocco, as recently as Gladiator (2000), which had filmed in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate (or the "Desert Hollywood," as it's come to be known). Thus, he had wide knowledge of the Moroccan film industry and its personnel. Over the years, Lustig had gotten to know and befriend the noted Moroccan film director Souheil Ben Barka, who had since become head of the Moroccan film commission known as the CCM (Centre Cinematographique Marocaine). "I had some guarantees from Mr. Ben Barka and the Governor of Sale that we could film there, and after Jerry and Ridley approved the locations I returned to Morocco with a letter for His Majesty King Mohammed VI, sending him a script that had been translated into French.
"The King and his ministers reacted positively," continues Lustig, "feeling that it was about an historical event and was in no way slanted against Muslims. They not only agreed to allow us to film there, but also put a great deal of Moroccan military materiel, from tanks to Humvees and helicopters, at our disposal. "
It was to be a propitious choice. Rabat, the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, is a progressive French and Arabic-speaking North African city with a good infrastructure, which could provide the necessary hotel accommodations, restaurants and attractions to provide for a huge cast and crew looking towards more than four months of location filming. The ancient city of Sale, across the Bou Regreg River from Rabat, featured remarkable similarities to Mogadishu. Both are cities at the edge of a great ocean (albeit on opposite sides of the African continent, with Sale on the Atlantic and Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean), but unlike Somalia, Morocco could afford the filmmakers the cooperation of King Mohammed VI, the authorities at the CCM (Centre Cinematographique Marocaine) and their expert, highly experienced film workers.
Morocco has had a lot of companies from around the world come in to film, notes Jerry Bruckheimer, "and has a considerable national moviemaking community of their own. So you have a lot of Moroccan crew who are technically excellent at what they do, and their industry has blossomed. So when you go there with a production, there are camera people, production people, lighting and prop people, all of them readily available and anxious to work.
"Morocco is also such a beautiful and culturally rich country," Bruckheimer adds, "so there's a lot for the cast and crew to do on off days. They could travel to Marrakesh, Fez, Casablanca or Tangier, or even to Southern Spain, which is just a few hours away from Rabat. Even in the city, one can go to the ancient medina, or get to know the Moroccan people, who are wonderful. "
Casting An International Net
As Scott, Bruckheimer and Lustig began organizing the giant production effort, the filmmakers also began to search for the appropriate actors to inhabit the more than 40 principal roles in Nolan's screenplay. Despite the fact that the film focuses on American soldiers, Scott felt in no way inhibited by the separation of cultures or continents, for in the end he cast not only a large group of Americans, but also selected several talented actors from the British continent (English, Scottish and Welsh) and even one from Denmark.
"I just look for good actors," Scott states, "wherever they happen to be from. It was tricky to cast this ensemble, because there are some 40 speaking roles. All of them are important, and it's always sensitive when you're talking to an actor who's accustomed to a bigger role, and they're saying 'Well, I've only got four scenes. ' I say, 'Yeah, but they're four really good scenes. ' So it was a hard process of casting and persuading them what a good project it was going to be, and that all the effort would be worth it. "
In fact, most actors in Black Hawk Down were more than willing to cast their egos aside for the opportunity of working with Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer on a project of such significance.
Of key importance, of course, was casting the key roles of Eversmann and 'Hoot,' and Bruckheimer and Scott were in full agreement as to who they wanted as the lead- Josh Hartnett, one of America's most talented young actors who had just starred for the producer with Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor (2001). States Bruckheimer, "I think Josh is unique in that while the camera certainly loves him, and he has undeniably 'heartthrob' appeal, he's a young actor of genuine commitment and depth who completely immerses himself in his work. As handsome as Josh is, there's also a remarkable vulnerability and humanity about him, which was perfect for the role of Matt Eversmann. "
Hartnett, having been through one tremendous war recreation for Pearl Harbor (2001), saw elements in Black Hawk Down which were substantially different than the World War II epic. "What really sets this movie apart is that it tells a story about something important that most of us don't know all that much about," comments Hartnett. "It's one of those stories that when people watch it, they'll say 'My God, I can't believe this actually happened. ' And hopefully, it will get people interested in all the other things that are currently happening around the world. "
Eric Bana came to Bruckheimer and Scott's attention from his native Australia, where he had carved out a big reputation, first as a stand-up comic and star of his own television series, and then for his astonishing starring role as complex sociopath Mark "Chopper" Read in the feature film Chopper (2000). Virtually unknown in the U. S. , he immediately impressed both Bruckheimer and Scott during initial meetings. Bana was enthusiastic about the project and the enigmatic character of Delta Sgt. First Class "Hoot" Gibson.
"I grew up watching war films, notes Bana, "but Black Hawk Down is different in the sense that it's about modern urban warfare, which hasn't really been captured on film. I was a little bit angry with myself for not knowing more about the Battle of Mogadishu, but then realized that most people don't, which is a great reason to make this movie. As tragic as aspects of the event are, the heroism of those soldiers is unbelievable.
"I knew as soon as I read the book and the script that the film couldn't fail," Bana continues, "and I think that's really rare. And when I considered that Ridley Scott was the director and Jerry Bruckheimer was producer, it immediately became the greatest project I ever heard about. The decision-making process becomes really easy at that point. I'm proud to be a part of it. "
Another fine talent from across the ocean to make the leap was Ewan McGregor, the young Scot whose remarkable escalating range of roles from Trainspotting (1996) to portraying Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and his musical wooing of Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge (2001) had made him one of the most sought-after talents in film.
As with Hartnett and Bana, all it took to whet McGregor's appetite to become involved in Black Hawk Down were the subject matter, director and producer. But he initially heard the project's clarion call from a great distance. "I was about to leave on a trip to the Honduras rain forest," recalls McGregor, "when I received a paper envelope in the mail containing the book Black Hawk Down. There was no note-just the book. I took it on my trip, read the entire book on the flight over, and thought it was an incredible, moving true story. As soon as I reached Honduras I called my agent and said, 'Look, I think you better make sure that I'm not going to miss out on this, because this is something I want to do. '
"So I was in the jungle," continues McGregor, "and we could only switch on our satellite phone for 20 minutes every morning because we couldn't recharge it. And after spending two weeks of walking through the jungle, which was really hard work, my agent told me that if I got the part, I should be prepared to go to military training camp as soon as I returned! I said, 'I feel like I'm doing boot camp right now in the jungle!' But I called Ridley as soon as I got home and told him I wanted to be part of the movie. "
Two other principal actors were already well known to Jerry Bruckheimer, for both of them had also performed in his other films, including Pearl Harbor (2001), Enemy Of The State (1998) and Rock, The (1996): Tom Sizemore and William Fichtner, respectively portraying Ranger Lt. Col. Danny McKnight and Delta Sgt. First Class Jeff Sanderson.
Sizemore is already something of a war movie veteran, having not only fought the Japanese in Pearl Harbor (2001), but the Nazis alongside Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998). Nonetheless, he was more than anxious to jump back into his combat boots for Black Hawk Down. "I wanted to work with Ridley Scott, because I think he's one of the finest directors in the world," Sizemore declares. "And Danny McKnight is a kind of American icon, a fighting man who doesn't flinch. He's a real leader, and was already 37 years old-exactly my age-when he fought in the battle. "
To portray Major General William F. Garrison, a man still standing in the judgment of history for his command of the mission, Bruckheimer and Scott turned to an American icon of a different order-Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who had also become one of the country's most versatile and respected actors. Shepard himself recalled the actual events: I can't say that I knew very much about it, but I remember very clearly my strong, emotional reaction to Mike Durant's battered face in the photograph released by the Somalis when he was captured, as well as the bodies of the dead Americans being dragged through the streets. These were very disturbing from the American point of view. Shepard was also impressed by Bowden's detailed, journalistic approach to the battle in his book.
British actor Jason Isaacs, who had fought the Americans as a brutish British officer in the Revolutionary War epic The Patriot, was now to wear a more contemporary U. S. uniform as Ranger Captain Mike Steele. As with the others, Isaacs also found that Bowden's book packed an emotional wallop, with the screenplay doing it justice. "My first reaction was something entirely selfish," admits Isaacs, "which was that I hoped I could be a part of putting it on film. When Ridley Scott is the director, and he says, 'I want to make a movie based on this book,' you take some things on faith!"
To fill out the huge speaking cast, the filmmakers cast their nets in the extraordinary talent pool of the United States, Britain and Europe, many of them leading players in their own right who were anxious to contribute to Bruckheimer and Scott's ensemble. Summoned from America were Ron Eldard, Brian Van Holt,Jeremy Piven, Charlie Hofheimer, Thomas Guiry, Gregory Sporleder, Carmine Giovinazzo, Gabriel Casseus, Chris Beetem, Tac Fitzgerald, Johnny Strong, Steven Ford, zeljko Ivanek, Glenn Morshower, Kim Coates (although Canadian by birth), Brendan Sexton, Danny Hoch, Kent Linville, Enrique Murciano, Michael Roof, Jason Hildebrandt, Ty Burrell, Richard Tyson and Boyd Kestner.
From England came Jason Isaacs as well as Hugh Dancy, Thomas Hardy, Matthew Marsden, Orlando Bloom (fresh from a year of playing Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Razaaq Adoti, George Harris and Treva Etienne. From elsewhere in Great Britain, Ewen Bremner (in addition to Ewan McGregor) hail from Scotland, with the Welsh contingent represented by Ian Virgo and Ioan Gruffudd. From Australia came Eric Bana. And from Denmark, there was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a major star on home turf.
As for the seemingly offbeat notion of casting foreign-born actors in roles of American soldiers, Ewan McGregor notes, "In Britain, we've got so many different regional accents in such a small place that I've always been called upon to do different accents in all my films. I've done a couple of films in America before, and the accent is just something you have to work on. And we've been so saturated with American movies and television in Britain anyway, that we're all familiar with the accents from the time we're very young. "
"We're also raised on American films and TV in Denmark," affirms Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. "I've heard American accents for so long that it's actually harder for me to do a British accent!"
Concurs Jason Isaacs, "If you can't do accents as a British actor, you're in big trouble!"
"Playing an American is exactly the same as taking on a role as anything other than exactly who and what you are," adds Matthew Marsden, a young British actor and singer who portrays Spec. Dale Sizemore (no relation to Tom). "Obviously, I cared about getting my accent right, and just as important to me was playing a United States Ranger authentically. "
Notes Orlando Bloom, "I decided to speak in my American voice all day long so that I felt the voice was my own. Americans are also very strong and focused in the way they communicate, whereas the Brits kind of offer something and then stop a bit. There's also a difference in the body language between the two nationalities. I had to learn to just kind of relax, whereas we're somewhat more formal in Great Britain. "
As a support for the non-American actors, dialect coach Sandra Butterworth would be on set nearly every day, making certain that the "r"s weren't rolled and the "a"s were properly flattened.
Orientation. .. Learning the Ropes
Harry Humphries is, by all accounts except his own modest self-regard, one of the most remarkable figures in the world of film and television. A former Navy S. E. A. L. who was highly decorated for action in the Vietnam War, Humphries has more recently applied himself to matters of security and tactical training through his own company, GSGI (Global Studies Group, Inc. )-and, usually for Jerry Bruckheimer-serving as a key military or technical adviser on such films as Rock, The (1996), Con Air (1997), Armageddon (1998), Enemy of the State (1998) and Pearl Harbor (2001). Once again, Bruckheimer called upon Humphries and his expertise, not only as an on-set adviser but also to prepare the huge cast for their respective roles as United States Rangers, Delta Force operators and helicopter pilots.
Bruckheimer, Scott and executive producers Mike Stenson, Chad Oman and Branko Lustig began laying the groundwork for what would become a remarkable association with the United States Department of Defense, which would provide extraordinary cooperation with the filmmakers while, at the same time, allowing them to tell the story of Black Hawk Down authentically. Certainly, Bruckheimer had already established a strong relationship with the U. S. military and D. O. D. from Top Gun (1986) to Pearl Harbor (2001) and many other projects in between, but Black Hawk Down is based on a mission which is still highly sensitive, even controversial.
However, as Bruckheimer notes, "Mark Bowden's book is on their reading list. .. it was something the military embraced, wanting their officers and men to read it. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Sheldon, is an admirer of the book, so when we went to Washington to meet with former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, they were very enthusiastic about the project. "
The first, and very tangible sign of such cooperation, was in the D. O. D. 's invitation to allow the actors of Black Hawk Down to participate in orientation and training at the actual military bases of the branches they were portraying: Fort Benning, Georgia for the Rangers; Fort Bragg, North Carolina for Special Forces (including the Delta Force, so secretive that the Army still doesn't officially acknowledge their existence); and Fort Campbell, Kentucky for the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) pilots.
"We felt that it was really important for the actors to actually become part of the military, even for a short time, if they were going to portray soldiers," Jerry Bruckheimer asserts. "And so, as we did with Pearl Harbor (2001), we sent them for training. .. not a Hollywood boot camp, but practical orientation. There's nothing like reality. You can't fake it. We wanted the actors to have respect for the military and understand the physical challenges that they go through. If you talk to any soldier who has been through a battle or a war, they'll tell you that the only thing that saved their lives was either the man next to them, or their training. "
Sending actors to 'boot camp' is almost a conventional thing to do now," says Ridley Scott, "but when you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world, because if any actor has any notions of being better than the next guy, that goes right out the window. And if they weren't fit already, they're a hell of a lot fitter than they will ever be in their lives. And if they were fit already, then they're even fitter than they could possibly be!"
Adds Harry Humphries, "I'm a big believer in making sure that before we start filming a movie such as this one, for which Jerry and Ridley were going for utter authenticity, that actors are taught the necessary weaponry and physical skills up front so that we don't have to coach them so intensely on the set during production. It serves no purpose, to my mind, to simply put them through a harassing 'boot camp' session up front so that they can simply say, 'Man, I've been through hell. ' My response would be, 'Well, that's very impressive, but what skills have you learned?' So my concept is not to harass, but to train the actors in actual skills.
"In this particular situation," Humphries continues, "because of the intense support we received from the Department of Defense, I had three separate training commands. Twenty-one of our actors portraying Rangers went through a modified Ranger indoctrination program, or a RIPIT as they call it, with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning. The Regiment put up the best instructors they had in house, and it was without question one of the finest training sessions I've ever seen any group of actors go through. At Fort Bragg, three actors portraying the commandos went through another training program with the 7th Special Forces. Our two Black Hawk pilots went to Fort Campbell and worked with the 160th SOAR helicopter training program. This was unparalleled to any D. O. D. training program that has ever been put forth-a wonderful, cooperative effort. "
At Fort Benning, Ranger instructors felt a strong personal stake in Black Hawk Down. Many of them had fought there, many knew men who had died there. Ranger Training Detachment commandant First Sgt. James Hardy's goal was to ensure that the 21 actors had a good understanding of the Ranger mentality and way of life, and how events played out in Mogadishu over those two days.
Ranger instructors taught classes from general military knowledge (how to wear the uniform properly, customs and courtesies) to advanced marksmanship skills. The actors learned the Ranger Creed and Ranger history, hand-to-hand combat techniques, how to tie knots and use radios. Hugh Dancy, who would portray Ranger medic Kurt "Doc" Schmid, worked with Ranger medics in combat scenarios. On the fourth day of training, the actors fired M16-A2 rifles and squad automatic weapons. While at Fort Benning, the actors got their "high-and-tight" Ranger haircuts, wore desert-camouflaged uniforms and nametags with their Ranger characters' names on them.
Remarked Ranger instructor Sgt. First Class Martin Barreras, "I want them to remember the sense of teamwork that is inherent to a Ranger organization and the amount of attention to detail that's required from every individual that is part of that team. "
Josh Hartnett, who had already been through a training program for Pearl Harbor (2001), faced a different set of goals for his portrayal of Sgt. Matt Eversmann, who had faced down the enemy in Mogadishu just eight years before. "We were taught how to move and think like a Ranger," notes the young actor. "They teach you slogans like 'Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,' which means that if you're bouncing around, you can't really see what's happening around you. "
"The Ranger Orientation Program was great," says Ewan McGregor. "It was quite heavily laden with how we had to portray the Rangers. We did a lot of marching around, and lots of classroom stuff. In the end, we had to work our way down the street of a mock village and avoid being shot.
"I got shot, of course," laughs McGregor. "But the psychological aspect of the orientation program was fascinating. We met a few of the soldiers who are actual characters in the film, and it was extraordinary to see how they thought and what they remembered. Our weapons training was invaluable. Being able to shoot live rounds is not something you do every day, and to these soldiers a gun is so second nature they're hardly aware they're even there, whereas for an actor it's like 'Oooh, it's a gun!' I don't particularly like guns, but I have to admit that I quite enjoyed firing them, and of course, it was necessary for the work ahead. "
Adds Tom Sizemore, "What really got me at training camp was the Ranger Creed. I don't think most of us can understand that kind of mutual devotion. It's like having 200 best friends, and every single one of them would die for you. I'd be lying if I said that I knew what it means, because I really don't. I can get close to it; I can go to Fort Benning and watch them together, but I don't really know if I would have it in me to die for somebody else, or risk my life to retrieve the bodies of soldiers who have already died. That's a different type of person. .. that's a Ranger. "
"We thought that it was an unwritten rule among the Rangers that you don't ever leave a man behind," says Jason Isaacs, "but when we got to Fort Benning for training, we learned that it's a written rule! The Ranger creed is recited every morning, en masse, wherever they are. And they mean every word of it, because in a conversation with the Rangers who were in Mogadishu, every single one of them said that their first instinct, after learning about the crashed Black Hawks, was to get out there to the site and bring back every single one of their brothers. It's a bit of a culture shock for us actors to understand their philosophy. The Rangers were fighting for the guy on their left, and the guy on their right. "
Brian Van Holt confirms this assessment. "From the amount of time I spent with the Rangers, they're the tightest fraternity I've ever experienced. And it's something that I really can't articulate or explain, because you have to be a Ranger to really understand. But from the vantage point of an outsider looking in, what I got from them was that they were just a solid group of guys trained to finish the mission, but just as importantly, take care of their fellow Ranger. They take care of their own, and they're willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. It's incredible, and it made me want to work even harder to portray these guys correctly and as accurately as possible. "
For Michael Roof, an urban comedian of definite non-military bent known to his friends and fans as "Chicken," Ranger orientation was culture shock to the nth degree. "Oh God, weapons training, running five miles, jumping on monkey bars, fall 20 feet, blow up doors. .. I threw up, like, three times. Look at my hair! My hair was down to here, and they chopped it all off!
"But more seriously," Roof adds, "every one of the actors came away with a lot of respect for the Rangers, and we just hope we can portray them with integrity and respect. "
At Fort Bragg's Special Forces orientation, Eric Bana, William Fichtner and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau received detailed instruction on the proper handling and operation of weapons used by the soldiers in Somalia, as well as "breaching training" (entering locked or obstructed doorways or windows using explosives, and learning how to enter and clear a building of possible threats).
On their final day, Bana, Fichtner and Coster-Waldau trained at Fort Bragg's Urban Terrain site, a cinderblock mock village where Special Forces soldiers demonstrated movement through a city that poses threats at every turn. .. which Mogadishu certainly did on that fateful day and night in 1993. The actors-now starting to resemble Special Ops soldiers-fought their way against an opposing force using simulations through the mock city to a fictional helicopter crash site.
Eric Bana, who had packed on the poundage to portray "Chopper" Read, began shedding it as soon as he learned he had the role of "Hoot. " In fact, Bana lost 35 pounds in three months, which involved weight training and what he called "a very strict, extremely boring insanity diet," which he would stick with throughout the entire four-month shoot. Recalls the actor, "I got as fit as I've ever been before going to Special Forces training, 'cause I knew that it could be severely embarrassing if I showed up in bad condition.
"Let's face it," Bana continues, "embarrassment is the key thing here! So luckily, orientation was almost exactly the opposite of what I expected. I was predicting some kind of horrendous physical torture, but it was very hands-on, extremely interesting and very specific. We got to learn some incredible things, some of which I can't even reveal. "
Meeting actual Delta operators "helped in ways I couldn't have imagined," Bana says, "and not only in terms of learning tactics and weaponry. Since there were only three of us-me, William Fichtner and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau-we spent a lot of time with our eight instructors. We'd go out to dinner with them, hang out and really get to know them. They were very worldly, extremely well-read, incredibly intelligent and had an amazing sense of humor. It gave me the confidence to go with things for my character that I had been thinking about, but wasn't quite sure were relevant. And it also allowed for an on-screen rapport between Bill, Nikolaj and myself that was completely non-manufactured. "
William Fichtner amusedly describes the difference between training with Delta and the bigger group of actors training with the Rangers. "Let me give you an example. .. the first day the actors were at Fort Benning with the Rangers, they were in a classroom. The first day we were at Fort Bragg, our instructors were saying 'See that door there? Let's blow it up. ' It was a phenomenal experience. The three of us were sponges for the information. I would have paid money to go through that course. "
Also to receive an extraordinary education was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, cast as Congressional Medal of Honor winner Gary Gordon. "To be honest, before being cast, I didn't even know what the Medal of Honor was," admits the actor. "I mean, I'm Danish, and have always lived in Denmark. But when I went to Fort Bragg for training, I visited a Special Forces museum on the base, and Gary Gordon's name is on the wall. I soon came to realize how much of a hero he was, and I'm truly honored to portray him. "
Along with his fellow actors, Coster-Waldau was surprised by the character and personalities of the Special Forces soldiers he met and befriended. "I had an image of these people that just didn't fit the bill," he acknowledges. "I was expecting some hardass Rambo kind of guys, and these were just laid back, friendly people. I never would have picked them out as soldiers if they were out of uniform. "
Further west, at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Ron Eldard and Jeremy Piven were learning some of the ropes of what it takes to be the best of the best with the men of the 160th SOAR, the legendary "Nightstalkers" (so called because of their expertise at night flying). The actors met with several veterans of Somalia, "flew" missions in the unit's flight simulator under the same conditions faced by Wolcott and Durant during the mission, and received an in-depth briefing by the recently retired Mike Durant himself.
Along with many of the Black Hawk Down actors who had the opportunity of encountering or speaking by telephone with their real-life counterparts, Eldard met Mike Durant, who retired just a few weeks before the orientation began. "He was taken hostage for more than a week and had very bad injuries from the crash, but he stunningly survived it all," says Eldard admiringly. "For all that he went through, he's such a great guy.
"And that's what they're all like," Eldard continues. They're so heroic, but so normal at the same time. I was surprised by how moved I was meeting them. At one point, I remember saying 'This could be a convention of schoolteachers in the Midwest. ' The pilots are not chest-out, macho guys. They are all very calm, relaxed, very professional. "
Adds Jeremy Piven, who portrays Chief Warrant Officer Cliff Wolcott, "Flying Black Hawks is incredibly intense. All of one's motor skills are needed at every moment, the controls are so responsive and delicate. We trained in simulators and studied the actual Black Hawks on the ground, and these machines are incredible, the highest level out there. They can maneuver into anything. They can fly at night. They're jet black; they're ominous. You have to be at the top of your game to fly them. The guys of the 160th have such a sense of loyalty and camaraderie towards each other.
"Every pilot who came up to me during training just said, 'Just do Cliff Wolcott proud, because he was the real deal. All we ask is that you all try to keep it real. '"
Keeping It Real. .. The Filming of Black Hawk Down
Following their training, the large contingent of international performers descended upon Rabat, Morocco, along with a tremendous group of behind-the-scenes artists, craftsmen and technicians from around the world organized by Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott and Branko Lustig.
The crew of Black Hawk Down represented a truly awesome international coalition. The largest contingent was actually from home turf in Morocco, with expert workers hailing from every corner of the country, from Tangiers in the north to Ouarzazate in the south, as well as Marrakesh, Casablanca, Fez, cities and tiny country villages, and many from the local Rabat/Sale area. The second largest group was from Great Britain, including most of the special effects, props, wardrobe, set decorating and armoury departments. The better part of Arthur Max's art department hailed from Italy, artisans who had previously worked with him on the massive sets of Gladiator (2000). Approximately 50 Americans, sprinkled through the production and other departments, traveled from New York, Los Angeles and points in between. Branko Lustig, originally a native of Croatia, brought in some 50 of his former countrymen (and women) to work in various departments (again, many of whom were veterans of Gladiator (2000)), and the better part of the stunt players under coordinator Phil Neilson were from the Czech Republic, many of whom had also seen action in the bloodied ancient arenas of Gladiator (2000).
Other countries represented on the Black Hawk Down crew were Canada, France, the West Indies, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Poland, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Russia, Slovakia, Austria, New Zealand, Senegal and even Thailand. All told, there were nearly a thousand crew members on the most demanding days, in addition to the huge cast and extras.
Further internationalizing the production was the dedicated group of extras assembled by William F. Dowd to portray the Somalis. "Since there are few, if any, Somalis living in Morocco," Dowd explains, "we had to organize people from some 30 other countries in Africa who are working or studying in and around Rabat. When I first came to North Africa, I got word that there was a group of people from Nigeria who went to mass at the Rabat Protestant Fellowship Church. So I went there, met the pastor, and spoke to the people about the movie and asked them to get the word out to the African community in Rabat that we were hiring people to play Somalis.
"The word got out all right," continues Dowd. "We not only attracted people from Nigeria, but also from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Angola, Djibouti, Senegal and Congo, just to name a few. "
Dowd also enlisted Moroccans and many Berbers from the southern deserts of sub-Saharan African descent. The Africans would create their own rich babel of languages, including Creole, Wolof, Dutch, Italian, French, English and several tribal dialects. And with the aid of stunt coordinator Phil Neilson, 50 Africans were chosen as the core Somali militiamen, which would require intense physical and weapons training that converted them into what everyone considered to be extraordinary stunt players.
Three British actors-Razaaq Adoti, Treva Etienne and George Harris-were cast by Ridley Scott as major Somali characters. Adoti plays the fierce militiaman Mo'alim, Etienne is Black Hawk pilot Mike Durant's captor Firimbi, and polished, educated businessman Osman Atto is played by Harris. All were determined to bring a sense of humanity and balance to an "enemy" which had a firm belief in the righteousness of their cause.
Notes Adoti, "As an actor, if you're going to play someone who's responsible for despicable acts-even if it's alien and incomprehensible to yourself-you still have to find the truth and the reasons behind them so that you can play the character believably. On a moral scale, Mo'alim is doing a lot of wrong. He's killing his own people. At the same time, I try to understand that Somalia had been occupied by many nations, and this created a mistrust or even hatred of foreign armies in their midst. So Mo'alim sees the U. N. forces as just another occupying entity, as opposed to seeing that they were there to help his country. As far as he's concerned, he's a Somali patriot doing the right thing for his people. "
For his role of Mo'alim, Adoti had to learn several words of Somali and much about the culture. "But to be honest," the actor says, "as a Muslim with Nigerian parents, I already had an understanding of Koranic Arabic, which is the basis of the Somali language. I also had an opportunity to learn a different African language for Amistad, which also helped prepare me for this. "
Production Design to the "Max"
Before actors and crew could begin filming, the physical backdrop needed to be created, and Ridley Scott turned for the third time (after G.I. Jane (1997) and Gladiator (2000)) to production designer Arthur Max. "At the beginning of the process," Max explains, "Ridley and I do a pinup of imagery on the walls, as much reference material as we can find. We whittle that down to things that resonate with us, trying to find inspiration from certain images. Then we scout together on the ground and try and fit those images into the context of a situation as much as we can. "
"For Black Hawk Down," continues Arthur Max, "we worked a great deal with very large-scale models, as well as aerial photographs mapping sections of the city that we were interested in. We then developed the actual set designs and began to build them four months before shooting was scheduled to begin. "
In effect, an entire neighborhood had to be "made over" in a transformation from Morocco to Mogadishu. The specific section of Sale selected as the primary backdrop for filming was a teeming, decidedly downscale, pungent working class district called Sidi Moussa, comprised of two- or three-story, mostly illegally constructed dwellings, and populated to a large degree by rural Moroccans seeking a better life in the big city. What Ridley Scott required for his cinematic vision of Black Hawk Down was an African urban area large enough to be photographed from the ground and air-primarily without the benefit of visual effects-and resemble the grungy Somali capital of Mogadishu as closely as possible.
"We combed through Sale for a month, photographing both from the air and ground level," comments Arthur Max, "weaving our way through the street grids, before finding Sidi Moussa. There were so many areas of interest there that we had to decide where not to shoot. In Sidi Moussa, there's a rich array of walled cities from Crusader times, old medinas, half-completed new towns, coastal roads, cemeteries, areas of abandonment, and some very fine architecture, with beautiful markets and mosques. In effect, it was a tremendous back lot set for us, and we wanted to take advantage of everything. "
There was major construction of sets in several parts of Sidi Moussa, with crews of at least 150 in each location working simultaneously. Several sets were built from scratch, others were added on to existing buildings and others were basically utilized as found.
Perhaps the greatest alteration occurred on Sidi Moussa's Avenue Nasser, the main "strip" of the district, lined with tenement apartments and an array of humble, ground-level shops. Here, Max and his crew designed Mogadishu's Hawlwadig Road, and constructed in its entirety-on a soccer field-the "Target Building" from which the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers must extricate the Aidid lieutenants. Because the actual Target Building in Mogadishu was a nondescript cinderblock structure revealing little of its location, Max decided to take some creative license.
"We decided to go from scratch," he explains, "because we had so many action sequences to film here-with helicopters, soldiers fast-roping into the streets surrounding the building, people rushing onto rooftops-that it would have been difficult to choreograph so much activity onto an existing structure. So we built a new football stadium for the community further down the road, and then custom designed the Target Building from photographs of Mogadishu in the Italian colonial period in what is an Arabic/Colonial style. It's meant to be an abandoned administrative building, because the government in Somalia had disappeared at the time of the story. And since it needed to be filmed from the air, we tried to blend into the existing grid as best we could. "
Several blocks of Avenue Nasser were transformed into a recreation of downtown Mogadishu so convincing that participants in the film and visitors to the set who had been in Somalia during the actual events were thunderstruck by the similarity. Facades of residential buildings on the avenue were completely refaced, eliminating recognizable Moroccan design motifs and pockmarking them with bullet and shell holes (which were almost always painted in, except for false facades which could be easily removed after filming). Street after street of tumbledown buildings were strewn with copious amounts of rubbish, burnt-out vehicles, roadblocks and other detritus of war, the setting truly redolent of a city on the brink of apocalyptic madness. In all, some 35 square blocks of "downtown Sidi Moussa" were transformed into the war-torn backdrop of Mogadishu.
Also constructed near the Target Building was an intentionally faded and even pathetic remnant of Somalia's sad colonial past, an "Arco de Triunfo Dopolare" built by the Italians during their misadventure in East Africa. "This was based on a real piece of architecture put up in Mogadishu in the 1930s," notes Max, "which we replicated to give more of a sense of the colonial history of the country. We tried to recreate the ambiance of Mogadishu with its very layered history of generations of occupancy by various powers: the Ottoman Turks, Italians and British were there, and finally a Soviet-backed puppet government which was eventually overthrown by Aidid in unison with other clans, which then began to bicker and fight. "
The first Black Hawk crash site, and several buildings surrounding it in which much of the action of the film takes place-dubbed the "Alamo" complex-was designed and constructed over an unfinished housing development in the Hay Arrahma district of Sale, about two miles from Avenue Nasser. "We've used the half-built apartments as a skeleton and added our set pieces onto it," Max conveys, "ancient arches, restaurants, shopfronts, beauty salons, cafes, a movie theatre and Communist-inspired fountain as its centerpiece. And since there were four entrances into this area that we were able to control, this set was truly like a back lot. We were given a great deal of cooperation by the Moroccan government and city fathers of Sale to use these areas for our film. "
Layered onto these sets were meticulously recreated shop signs, Somali graffiti in both their language and broken English, and naively painted propaganda murals, achieved with the assistance of Somali expatriates who served as technical advisers. Palm trees and other foliage native to Somalia were transplanted by greensmen to the somewhat barren landscapes of Sidi Moussa for further authenticity.
Yet another section of Sale, one even less developed than the area around Avenue Nasser, was utilized for the second Black Hawk crash site. "We constructed a ruined medrassa, or Islamic religious school, next to an existing mosque in a very impoverished area of the city," says Max. "We wanted to make this set a bit more rustic and traditional in terms of style.
"Rabat and Sale are rich with history," continues Max, "and we tried to take advantage of its historical architecture as much as possible. " One example of this was the use of a courtyard off the famed Rue de Consuls shopping street of the 17th century Rabat medina, its old walled city, to re-create Mogadishu's notorious Bakara Market, where weapons and hand grenades were for sale along with fruits and vegetables. For the days of shooting, the thriving corner of the medina was converted into an atmospherically teeming but terrifying marketplace of death.
To re-create the U. S. military base in Mogadishu, Jerry Bruckheimer and Branko Lustig made arrangements with the Moroccan government to allow production to utilize a working Royal Moroccan Air Force field some 20 miles north of Rabat in the coastal town of Kenitra, creating sets inside of hangars, and building other structures. Even for this utilitarian set, Scott and Max's visual creativity resulted in a fascinatingly designed makeshift barracks for the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers, with set decorator Elli Griff and her team extraordinarily detailing each man's diminutive personal space with myriad personal effects absolutely true to their character and the early 1990s setting. A firing range was also constructed on the beach at nearby Mehdiya, a popular recreation area for local Moroccans.
The only set not built in a "practical" location was the JOC, or Joint Operations Center, the headquarters from which Maj. General Garrison commands the mission, with banks of television monitors allowing him to track the fate of his men. However, even the JOC was located in the "Zone Industrielle" of Sale, constructed inside of an abandoned warehouse just a few blocks from the Black Hawk Down production building. And yet another huge, half-developed chunk of Sidi Moussa was utilized for the climactic "Mogadishu Mile," in which the desperate, exhausted Rangers run through withering enemy fire to the safety of a U. N. -held sports stadium in the north of the city.
Explains Arthur Max, "Our goal was to try and capture as much as possible of Mogadishu in terms of place, sense of history and life as it was at the time of our story. Doing that, we used a crew of some 400 mixed nationalities. We had Americans, English, Moroccans, Croatians, Italians, Spaniards, Russians, Czechs, Slovaks and French, and the flavor of this international group, I hope, is reflected in the hybrid style that was Somalia, having been occupied and re-occupied over its history by so many invasions and outside influences.
"One of the biggest differences between what we did in Morocco for Black Hawk Down and what we did on Gladiator," Max informs, "is that here, we had to build and work within an existing, thriving city. It's really a location movie, whereas Gladiator (2000) had sets constructed in a protected environment, set apart from large populations. Here, our back lot is in the midst of a population in residence. It was an interesting challenge to deal with day to day, to say the least. "
Costumes: From American Military to Somali Militia
The expansive wardrobe needs of Black Hawk Down required two costume designers: Howarth-Sheldon Sammy to wardrobe Somali militiamen and civilians, and David Murphy to uniform the various armies depicted in the film.
Howarth-Sheldon faced the same problems encountered by Arthur Max in researching her departmental task, which was the impossibility of traveling to Somalia to get a first-hand look at how the people there are arrayed. "But there's a lot of original news footage from the event," Howarth-Sheldon explains, "and a few books. I also did a lot of research on the internet. " What she discovered was that clothing worn by Somalis then and now are a melange of hand-me-down western clothes-much of it provided by the United Nations or other relief efforts-and the colorful traditional ma-awi wraparound skirts worn by the men, with longer garments and shawls or headscarves for the women.
Howarth-Sheldon went about combing thrift shops in England for garments dating from the 1970s to early '90s, as well as purchasing old fabrics, both in Britain and the medinas of Morocco, to "build" other costumes.
Since there was no standard uniform for the Somali militia, "We've art directed that a bit more so you can identify the difference between them and other members of the Somali public," says Howarth-Sheldon. I tried to make the militiamen a little camouflaged, and we've broken their clothing down severely so that they look really dirty and worn. " Several of the men, militia and otherwise, are dressed in combinations of western clothing and the ma-awi. "The fabric they use for the ma-awi is Madras cotton," explains Howarth-Sheldon, "so we obtained as much of the material as we could to make the garments. " All told, Howarth-Sheldon and her department bought or fabricated nearly 3,000 outfits. She then spent nearly all day on set doing "field work," adjusting headscarves for the women, or ma-awis for the men, fixing what was broken and dirtying up what wasn't.
Meanwhile, it fell to David Murphy to arrange for some 600 uniforms representing not only different branches of the United States military-Rangers, Delta Force and 160th SOAR pilots-but also the various armies under the United Nations banner, including Pakistani, Italian and Malaysian. .. as well as accurate badges and ensignias to insure absolute authenticity. Military adviser Harry Humphries helped to ensure that these uniforms and ensignias were always worn properly by the cast and extras, and the military "webbing" (helmets, flak jackets, equipment belts, etc. ) were specifically attended to by a mini-department comprised of one young woman from the Czech Republic and another from its neighbor (and former confederate), Slovakia.
Epic Story, Epic Filming
To be on the set of Black Hawk Down in Sale during filming was to be witness to a daily spectacle that sometimes defied description. Thousands of actors and extras arrayed in respective uniform or Somali native costume, myriad weaponry, fearsome explosions and fires, hovering helicopters either photographing the action or being photographed from both ground and air, all in the midst of a population either fascinated or puzzled by the incredible activities of the cast and crew. Tremendous base camps were set up for both first and second units, with a huge array of campers, trailers, trucks and other production vehicles, and numerous tents for catering, extras holding and costuming. When not being utilized on set, dozens of military vehicles-Humvees, tanks, trucks, and Somali "technicals" (dilapidated pickup trucks with jerry-mounted . 50 caliber machine guns), most of them purchased by the production and then either severely damaged and destroyed during filming-were also housed at the base camps, which often had to be packed up and moved depending upon which part of the city the production was based on any given day.
While there's no question that inhabitants of Sidi Moussa and other districts of Sale were occasionally inconvenienced or unnerved by filming, the production also provided an extraordinary number of jobs or financial compensation for its inhabitants, a welcome relief considering the district's 85 percent unemployment rate. More often than not, the good citizens of Sale-particularly those in Sidi Moussa-displayed remarkable cooperation and friendliness toward its cinematic visitors, often inviting crew members inside their homes for several glasses of the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea and sweets.
"When we first got to Sidi Moussa," recalls Ridley Scott, "some of us said, 'Wow, it's pretty rough here. ' But when you got used to going there every day, it was actually rather nice. We'd have practically the entire town there every day, just watching. It was quite a feat of politics to get us there in the first place and keep everyone happy, but everything fell into place pretty quickly. We made sure to employ a lot of people from Sidi Moussa, which I think was appreciated. "
To properly film the expansive action setpieces, Ridley Scott and director of photography Slavomir Idziak would normally shoot with multiple camera setups, six to eight being the average, with many more for the bigger sequences. Unlike many action films, in which scenes are shot in 30 to 45 second segments, Scott preferred filming long, complex combat sequences from beginning to end, with cameras capturing specific moments as per their placement. This technique added to the spontaneity and authenticity of the battle scenes, and for spectators was rather like watching a real war. Helping to control matters was first assistant director/associate producer Terry Needham, acknowledged as one of the best, most experienced and most unyielding of anyone in his profession. A colorful veteran of several films with Ridley Scott and the late Stanley Kubrick-including the latter's Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket, which filmed for over a year-Needham and his production crew somehow managed to hold the diverse elements together.
"It looked like chaos," notes Branko Lustig, "but it was organized chaos. Everybody knew what he or she was doing. It was an enormous crew with everybody speaking different languages, but somehow, when Ridley called 'Action!,' everything functioned. "
Although many in the Black Hawk Down cast had been involved in big-scale moviemaking before, few of them were prepared for the sheer scope of what Ridley Scott set out to accomplish. "We did a shot at the 'Alamo' that took half a day to set up and maybe about three minutes to shoot," recalls Josh Hartnett, "in which I run across one building, grab a strobe on the ground, flick it up on top of another building where Somali militiamen are positioned-who are shooting at me the whole way-and then two American Little Bird helicopters fly over the building and strafe the Somalis. The way Ridley sets up and films the shot, it's continuous action from the beginning to the end of the scene, and it totally affects you. It's kind of frightening, and kind of exciting, but with all of the squibs and explosions going off, it's going to be a hell of a lot more realistic than running away from something fake.
"You never really know what it's going to be like," Hartnett continues. "You have guys on the building shooting blanks at you, so you hear the noise and gunshots, you hear the RPGs and see the explosions right next to you. It's easy for an actor to suspend his disbelief and feel like he's actually being shot at. "
Adds Ewan McGregor, "There's really no acting required. It feels like the real deal. The special effects guys are amazing. I've done films where the special effects are all done afterwards on computer, and that's fine, but here, when you're running down these streets with squibs going off everywhere, it really feels like you're in the line of fire. "
"It's literally overwhelming the first time you're exposed to that," affirms Eric Bana. "I remember the first take I did where there were . 50 caliber machine guns being fired. It was just an aural assault. You know, Ridley has at least 100 Somali militiamen shooting at you at the same time, so it was an overload of the senses at first. .. and then you kind of get used to it, which is even more scary. "
William Fichtner notes that "I've never been around a set this big. There's no room for a panic button. Know your job-that's what Ridley expects-and they all do it, like clockwork. It was exceptional. "
Ridley Scott noted that the cast "really got into it more than any other film I've been involved with. If they weren't shooting, they would usually come to the set and watch the procedure anyway. It became so fascinating that the actors formed this nucleus, a real team, which was pretty impressive. And it becomes totally real in the film. Because at the end of the day, we were trying to find the philosophy of what made those soldiers tick. Some of them enlisted to sort themselves out, but above all things, they wanted to test themselves, looking for a challenge. For others, it was a family thing, having fathers or grandfathers or brothers who'd been soldiers. There's a historical connection as well. They're a very interesting group of men, very seriously devoted to flag and country. "
The weapons department was supervised by Simon Atherton, one of the foremost armourers in motion pictures. For Black Hawk Down, Atherton and his mostly English crew had to assemble a mighty arsenal of weapons actually used in the battle, including Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and "technical"-mounted recoilless rifles used by the Somalis, and for the Americans, M-16 automatic rifles, Browning . 50 caliber machine guns (with their earthshaking and earsplitting reports), LAWs (Light Antitank Weapon), M-60 machine guns, SAWs (Squad Automatic Weapon) and lethal miniguns mounted on the Black Hawks and Little Birds, electric-powered machine guns capable of firing up to 4,000 rounds per minute. These were all retrofitted by Atherton and his team to shoot blank cartridges, and were often duplicated in amazingly realistic non-firing rubber replicas for non-firing extras.
Stunt coordinator Phil Neilson was responsible for helping to re-create a world of ancient warfare, on battlefields and in the arena, for Gladiator (2000). Now he was called upon to utilize his own background in the American military to create complex stunts and combat action. "I brought in a lot of former military personnel who came with the knowledge already built in," explains Neilson. Because we were working on huge action setpieces, with hundreds or even thousands of extras, I had to delegate responsibilities because it was impossible for me to keep my eyes on everything. So we had stunt players as the Americans, and others as the Somalis, with virtually nonstop fighting and explosions, not to mention extensive use of helicopters, which present their own challenges.
"Number one in our minds," continues Neilson, "was the safety of cast, crew, extras and the people living in the areas where we were filming" (in fact, by the end of filming, there wasn't a single major injury among cast, extras or crew). It was also important for Neilson to follow Ridley Scott's dictum to keep the action within the bounds of reality. "I'm not crazy about over-the-top Hollywood hokum," states Neilson. "I like realism, and it was important to keep Black Hawk Down gritty and authentic. "
Also a crucial factor in helping to create that battlefield mayhem was special effects supervisor and prosthetics supervisor Neil Corbould, an Academy Award® winner for his work on Saving Private Ryan (1998), and his large crew of technicians and specialists. "The biggest part of Black Hawk Down was the sheer quantity of it," Corbould states. "I've done war movies before where a section of the movie is combat, but there are quieter moments in between. But in this movie, it's nonstop bullet hits, explosions and helicopters crashes. We brought 25- and 40-foot trailers from the U. K. full of air cannons, mortar parts, bullet squibs with striker boxes and radar control units. Then we brought even more vehicles containing the prosthetic materials that were required.
"We typically have five to seven cameras set up on nearly each take," explains Corbould, "and every camera has to have bullet hits and maybe one or two explosions in front of it. We also have to have smoke atmosphere, flame effects, prosthetic bodies, and blood dressing on the actors. Almost every shot in the battle scenes lasts for quite a long time, which requires full effects, so we had some 40 guys on the floor working flat-out.
"Timing is very critical," adds Corbould, "and obviously safety is paramount to us. We rehearse as much as we can until we're happy with it, because in the busiest shot we let off probably 1200 bullet hits in one take. "
Corbould and his crew would also construct several full or nearly full-sized mockups of the Black Hawks, including the remains of the crashed Super Six One and Super Six Four. “We started off with 50 sheets of three-quarter plywood designed from a computer-generated model of a Black Hawk that we acquired. We then cast the body out, and built the interior from photographs that I took in Florida. It’s exactly to scale... every detail is in there.”
Most remarkable, perhaps, was the helicopter gimbal mounted on a high crane that Corbould designed and built for sequences with the key actors inside the Black Hawks as they fly or hover over Mogadishu (although shooting also would occur with the cast during actual Black Hawk flights). Ridley Scott, for the sake of authenticity, wanted no old-fashioned optical "blue screen" visual effects shots.
"Basically, we adapted a 160-ton crane with a motion base and rigged a Black Hawk mockup on it to give the impression of real movement," explains Corbould. "We were able to give the helicopter 360-degree movement, with left and right and backwards and forwards pitch. Also, we can swing the crane around so it looks like we're actually traveling around the city. " For the scene in which Super Six One crashes into the square of the "Alamo" complex, Corbould devised an even more complex mechanical setup. "Using the same 160-ton crane, we strung two wires 150 meters down to a point in the ground. Then, we built a lightweight Black Hawk that we suspended from the cables. Basically, it travels down the wires, crashes through a fountain in the center of the square and then, when we release the cables, the helicopter hits the ground and gives us the impact of the crash. "
Because of the radio-controlled explosions and squib hits, cell phones-endemic on movie sets-were strictly banned from the filming area under penalty of dismissal, due to the danger factor of having them accidentally set off the effects so carefully arranged by Corbould and his team.
Corbould and his team also merged prosthetics effects-usually a separate department-into their unit so that all could be coordinated from within. Full body casts had to be made of several actors so that the appropriate wounds of war could be created and applied, with their efforts backed up by the expansive makeup department under the highly-experienced Fabrizio Sforza (with The Last Emperor, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hannibal only a few of his credits), mostly comprised of his fellow Italians.
Also helping to "keep it real" were Military Adviser Harry Humphries and two key members of his staff, both of whom were deeply involved in the actual battle and had only recently retired from the military. Col. Thomas Matthews, air commander of the mission who circled above the battle in the "C-2 Bird," the Command and Control Black Hawk, was unit commander of the "Nightstalkers," the helicopter organization that supports the Special Operations ground forces worldwide. Special Forces Col. Lee Van Arsdale was the officer in charge of the Joint Operations Center who helped lead the rescue convoy into Mogadishu to rescue the trapped Rangers and Delta Force troops.
"Harry Humphries plays such an important role on set," notes Jerry Bruckheimer, "working with the actors and extras day to day to make sure everything looks accurate. It was also invaluable having Tom and Lee with us, because they went through it and could answer any question that Ridley might have. They helped our effort tremendously. "
"It was great having Harry, Lee and Tom on set nearly every day," concurs Ridley Scott, "and they were absolutely upfront if there was something they thought was less than authentic or realistic. "
"Going to Morocco was not exactly what I had planned to do with my retirement," admits Matthews, "but for the memory of the soldiers who were killed in that combat operation and their families, I came to the conclusion that I would go off on this project, put my second career on hold, and do the best job I could to technically advise on the movie. "
Lee Van Arsdale, who had also recently retired from the military and was involved in a new career, not only concurred with Matthews' personal commitment to the men they had served with in Mogadishu, but also saw an opportunity to finally set the record straight after nearly 10 years of misunderstanding. "A fact that I think has been lost on a lot of people-but certainly not those of us who participated in it-was that from a military and tactical perspective, we had a successful mission. We had a job to get two of Aidid's top lieutenants and any of their bodyguards who may have been around that day, and that's exactly what we did.
"Now obviously, it didn't go according to plan," continues Van Arsdale. "We had a contingency for a helicopter going down, but we certainly didn't plan on losing 18 of our comrades. But I would not confuse the tragic loss of life-and that's what it was-with a failed objective. I was shocked when I read the media accounts calling it a 'debacle' or 'failure. ' By that logic, the invasion of Normandy on D-Day was a 'debacle' because we lost so many American lives, but the obvious is true. We have evolved into a certain mindset that no lives can be lost on the battlefield, and from a certain perspective, that's good. I lost some very good friends out there that day in Somalia, and don't want to lose any more.
"But when you commit military forces to engage in armed combat, there's always the risk that you're going to have some killed in action, and when it does occur, that doesn't mean it was a failed mission. Some damn good soldiers went in and did something that I'm not sure any other military force on the planet could do against those odds. The Battle of Mogadishu has been relegated to the dustbin of history by most people, and the reason I'm here is to help get the tale told accurately and realistically. "
The actors were certainly appreciative of having Harry Humphries and his team on set every day. "These guys were just super," enthused Tom Sizemore. "If you had a question about any little detail, very specifically, they would patiently explain everything. They want us to tell the story well, because those guys fought valiantly and were never really given their just due. "
Also with a great personal stake in telling the story was Black Hawk Down utility stunt player John Collett, who as a Ranger Specialist was in one of the four chalks that fast-roped down to the target building in "the Mog," and then proceeded to fight throughout the rest of the day and night alongside his buddies. Throughout production, Collett relived his experiences on a daily basis, which was not always easy. "There's a lot of misunderstanding of what happened in Mogadishu," says Collett. "I joined the military to serve my country, and I don't need a pat on the back for it. But for people to realize that here are real human beings behind this machine that provides freedom for our country is important. We want to help out in the world, and sometimes things go wrong, but at least we're trying to do the right thing.
"I believe we went to Mogadishu for the right reasons," affirms Collett. "I believe that certain things went wrong that day. I met a couple of Somalis working as extras on this film who were actually in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. We sat down and talked, had a few beers together, and they actually showed me some photographs of one of the Black Hawks after it had been shot down. Now, that was an experience! Eight years later, to be sitting across the table in the bar of the Rabat Hilton with people who were on the ground. Whether or not they were shooting at me at the time, I'll never know. Will they tell me? No. Were they? Probably. But they were good people, and believed in what they were doing as well. "
The "Insertion". .. History Repeats Itself
Of all the Herculean tasks facing Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Branko Lustig and the other commanders of Black Hawk Down, none were so great as the extraordinarily sensitive negotiations between the production, the Moroccan government and the U. S. State Department and Department of Defense to allow approximately 100 U. S. Rangers, four Black Hawks, four Little Birds and their pilots from the 160th SOAR-and all of the backup military personnel accompanying them-to fly across the Atlantic and help the production properly recreate the first several minutes and other key moments of the mission with utmost verisimilitude.
This was no small matter. Even before recent events, the notion of bringing armed forces and materiel of the United States to a sovereign North African kingdom with a Muslim population-however friendly relations might be between the countries-
was far-reaching, to say the least.
"However enthusiastic the government was about our project," informs Jerry Bruckheimer, "there were still bureaucracies to deal with, and there were many voices to be heard on the matter. There were a lot of issues that had to be worked out between the State Department and the Moroccan government, and it took a lot longer than we expected.
"There were so many issues, such as security," Bruckheimer continues. "Who would protect the helicopters and the men? Where were they going to be quartered? How many days of filming would they be required to participate in? All of these details had to be minutely worked out in advance, and even though we have a great relationship with the government, this was a much bigger operation than anything we had attempted before, even on Top Gun (1986) and Pearl Harbor. We were talking about actual troop deployment. "
Admits Ridley Scott, "There was a lot of negotiation and a lot of anxiety. "
For several days after filming commenced, there were rumors of imminent "delivery" of the men and equipment, only to be dashed at the last minute. Notes Branko Lustig, "How do you make a movie called Black Hawk Down without Black Hawks? You cannot independently buy these helicopters for filmmaking purposes. They are the property of the United States Armed Forces. We had a last-minute plan that if we couldn't get the Black Hawks, we would use Huey helicopters, and then digitally alter them afterwards to look like Black Hawks. .. but that was really the worst-case scenario. "
"Ultimately we decided the only way to make the movie correctly was with the real Black Hawks, the real pilots and the real Rangers," says Mike Stenson. "We basically camped out at the U. S. Embassy and conducted a three-way negotiation between the U. S. State Department, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry, and the Department of Defense. The U. S. Congress even kicked in crucial support. We pushed back the helicopter work until we finally got the deployment on its way about five weeks into photography, about 48 hours before we would have had to switch to Hueys. "
The tremendously complex "insertion" scene, in which the mission commences at the Target Building in downtown Mogadishu, was postponed again and again. But finally, word came that all necessary paperwork received the signatures of top U. S. and Moroccan authorities (including King Mohammed VI), and two C-5 transport planes landed at an airport near Rabat, delivering their cargo: more than 100 soldiers from the 3rd Batallion, Bravo Company of the 75th Ranger Regiment-the same company that actually fought in Mogadishu-four Black Hawks and four Little Birds, ready for duty, along with their pilots from the 160th SOAR. Each Black Hawk had its own name emblazoned just below the rotor blades: Nightstalker, Black Scorpion and-by some incredible coincidence-Armageddon (1998) and Gladiator (2000), the latter two also the titles of, respectively, Jerry Bruckheimer's and Ridley Scott's cinematic triumphs.
Officially, it was a training deployment, and nothing could have been more true, because Rangers and helicopters were to receive quite a workout on behalf of the movie. The Rangers and choppers immediately swung into action, rehearsing the "insertion" on a half-contructed apartment complex not far from Sidi Moussa. SOAR pilots began working closely with Black Hawk Down aerial coordinator and camera pilot Marc Wolff to harmonize their efforts. "The director told me what he needed for his cameras, and I had to come back to him with a military plan," explains Major Brian Bean, the Operations Officer from the 160th SOAR for the task force deployed to Morocco. "We've integrated very closely with the film's aerial coordinators. They attend all our briefs, we fly together, communicate on the same radio frequencies. .. we're all on the same page. And on the artistic side, a member of our Task Force stood next to Ridley Scott, making sure we understood his vision and executed it to our standards and safety. "
"What's unique about the military supporting this film," adds Lt. Col. Kirk Potts, the Task Force commander, "is that you actually had the units which participated in the military operation eight years ago, here doing it again. In fact, we have three or four of the actual veterans of that operation flying the helicopters while we film it. "
On Avenue Nasser in Sidi Moussa, in preparation for the filming of the "insertion," Arthur Max's art department began battening down the hatches, carefully combing all residences and shops near the target building-over which eight helicopters would be hovering or landing-to make certain that rooftops, windows and shutters were properly secured. Several residents were temporarily housed elsewhere for safety reasons; others chose to remain in their apartments and calmly watch the unusual action taking place across the street.
On April 16, a multitude of cameras both on the ground and in the air began to roll. From his Aerospatiale "A-Star" helicopter, aerial director of photography John Marzano readied his gyro-stabilized Wescam camera system, with almost 360-degree reference. The faint sounds of helicopters in the distance became a mighty roar as the four Black Hawks and four Little Birds hit their marks above and near the target building. Ropes were thrown out of the hovering Black Hawks, and in the ferocious wind and dust kicked up by the chopper blades, U. S. Rangers brilliantly fast-roped 60 feet from air to ground, while the Little Birds deposited stuntmen portraying Delta troops on rooftops. Meanwhile, with precision timing, the 12-vehicle extraction convoy rumbled to the front of the target building from a nearby street, as hundreds of extras portraying Somalis either ran from the mayhem. .. or towards it, weapons in hand.
And then, for the benefit of different angles, this sequence of surpassing complexity and painstaking organization and cinematic choreography would be repeated again for the cameras no fewer than eight times over the following two days, and history repeated itself with as much authenticity as humanly possible.
"You have four of these huge, sleek 65-foot-long Black Hawks loaded with U. S. Rangers, and they have to pinpoint where they're going to land and the soldiers rope down in the swirling dust and get to their positions," exclaims Jerry Bruckheimer. "It was an awesome sight to see. This isn't a movie where we're using a lot of computer- generated imagery. It's the real deal, and I've never seen anything quite like it. They did an amazing job. "
"I wish I had a big piece of wood to knock on," laughed Lt. Col. Potts after the insertion was filmed. "Everything worked out perfectly. My biggest concern was that we were asked to do two days of full mission profile, but the air crews did a great job and the Rangers were perfect hitting their spots going down. No injuries at all. Some of the things that we weren't accustomed to was when the assistant director said 'Okay, just hold what you've got there for about six minutes while we get the actors on the bottom of the ropes,' but our guys can hold a hover. "
"We probably had the best flying team from the U. S. Armed Forces," enthuses Ridley Scott, "and these guys came in and treated filming like a serious exercise. They loved it, and repetition was no problem, but we had to abide by their rules. They had to be in the air and down again by such-and-such time. And they were only allowed to fly a certain number of hours per day, and if we asked for seven more minutes, the answer was quite simply, 'No. ' We would argue that it wasn't dark yet, there was still another hour of daylight, but they were already gone. We were constantly working against the clock, losing the light in Sidi Moussa at about 5:00 p. m. because the sun would vanish behind the buildings. "
Witnessing the re-creation of the insertion was Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden, who commented, "You really can do things on film that you can't do in a book, and the visuals in this movie are going to be extraordinary. Just being here on set and watching them re-enact this raid. .. it's a very powerful image. When I wrote the book, I had to imagine the insertion in great detail, but the film will show people things they've never seen before. "
Military and moviemakers began to form something of a mutual admiration society-cast and crew members in absolute awe of the commitment and precision of the Rangers and SOAR pilots, and vice versa. "Our guys have a newfound respect for the cameramen, grips, stunt people and everyone else working on Black Hawk Down," noted Major Bill Butler of the 75th Ranger Regiment. "We didn't realize how much work actually goes into making a movie. "
"I think we originally had some apprehension," admitted Major Bean. "We were very concerned with the legacy of our fallen comrades, and wanted to make sure that it was the first thing in everybody's mind. But once we got on the ground, we really enjoyed working with the professionalism of the production company, and they've been great showing us that they totally care about the memory of our men. So the skepticism had eroded, and our guys really enjoyed the experience. "
Although the majority of the Rangers departed Morocco after the completion of the insertion scene, several remained behind to continue participating in the film, as did some of the helicopters and their pilots. Stunt coordinator Phil Neilson and his second-in-command, former Navy S. E. A. L. Keith Woulard, began working with real Rangers intermingled with their team of stunt players. "Integrating the actual military and stunt guys worked great," Neilson notes. "Both have a lot of respect for the other one's job. The Rangers are ground hitters. .. they're not afraid to get in there and get dirty. And the military are teaching the stuntmen lots of things that they didn't know. "
As mentioned, several of the men who fought and flew in the actual battle were either deployed to Morocco as part of the 75th Ranger Regiment or 160th SOAR, or, if no longer in the military, traveled to North Africa to get a first-hand look at the re-creation. In addition to John Collett, Spec. Shawn Nelson, who is portrayed in Black Hawk Down by Ewen Bremner, participated in the film and took part in battle scenes of considerable scope, as did Pfc. Carlos Rodriguez, who was wounded in combat and struggled his way back to full recovery. Collett also enjoyed a reunion with Sgt. First Class Sean Watson, his Chalk Three leader.
Perhaps the most moving example of art imitating life was when Chief Warrant Officer Keith Jones of the 160th SOAR, who had been deployed to Morocco with other pilots, was called upon by the production to re-create his own heroic efforts during the battle as the pilot of Little Bird Star 41. Initially, Star 41 delivered Delta assaulters to the target building; but after Cliff Wolcott's Super Six One was shot down, Jones daringly landed at the crash site with co-pilot Karl Maier, and rescued two men from the wreckage under heavy Somali fire.
Jones, a modest, unassuming man who sloughs off any suggestion that he's a hero, did not ask to play himself in Black Hawk Down. He was following orders, as he had eight years before, and it wasn't always easy for him to resolve his memories of the actual event on the day of filming. One of the men Jones rescued, Delta sniper Dan Busch (portrayed in the film by Richard Tyson), died of his wounds soon after rescue.
A visitor late in production was former Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann, depicted in the film by Josh Hartnett. And although the two men had talked on the phone, they never actually met face-to-face until the day Eversmann walked onto the set of a U. N. refugee camp built on a huge, empty lot in Sale. "When I walked up to the set on the first day," recalls Eversmann, "it was eerie how much it looked like Somalia. I literally had to take a step back, it was that surreal. "
The Quiet "General"
Core members of the cast, although often fatigued by the length of the shoot, the long distance from home and loved ones and the daily demands of filming in fire and brimstone, were deeply impressed by the perfectionism and professionalism of their "general," Ridley Scott.
Projecting quiet authority, the calm behind the carefully controlled chaos ("The eye in the middle of the tornado," as Tom Sizemore put it), Scott was attentive to every conceivable detail. With his everpresent cigar and often trenchant wit, Scott was always approachable by the cast and crew, but very much about the work and certainly not the "glamour"-as if any existed in the rough-and-tumble Moroccan locations.
At times, during long setups for the complex action setpieces, Scott worked on what have come to be known as "Ridleygrams," storyboard-like scene concepts in which he utilizes his considerable skills as a pen-and-ink artist. Scott was constantly conceiving and re-conceiving upcoming scenes, knowing exactly what he was looking for by the time they were ready to be shot. These sketches were also useful in allowing the filmmaker to illustrate to cast and crew members what he wanted in terms of the action.
"Ridley's a visual genius," states Josh Hartnett. "He draws these storyboards that are stunning, and when you see the shot afterwards it almost exactly matches what Ridley drew. He's totally immersed in the subject matter, and knows everything there is to know about filmmaking. "
Notes Ewan McGregor, "I can't remember working with a director who knew exactly what he wanted and needed. I've never seen Ridley fazed by anything, and he shoots the way he's going to edit, which saves time. He's absolutely precise and dead-on, and I think the movie is going to give you a very clear idea of what it might have been like to have been fighting in Mogadishu that day. "
"There isn't a person in the world who would be under so much pressure and look so calm," says Eric Bana. "I don't know what kind of pills Ridley takes, or what kind of yoga he does, but he's the most relaxed person on the set. It's incredible to be around that kind of vision and artistry. "
"Ridley has got an extraordinary visual gift," affirms Jason Isaacs. "I remember the first time I came to set, he said, 'I've just done these little drawings in the car to show you what's going to happen in the scene,' and I thought, 'Bloody hell, he just did that in the car?!! Can I have one of those to take home?' Ridley doesn't have the slightest shred of doubt that he knows exactly where to put the camera and what to do with it at any given moment. And he makes it all seem so effortless. "
Visual Effects: Enhancing Reality
For Gladiator (2000), VFX supervisor Tim Burke accomplished the Academy Award®-winning feat of helping to re-create the ancient world on a grand scale, utilizing the technological miracles of CGI (computer-generated imagery). Burke faced similar tasks with Black Hawk Down, albeit on a more subtle scale.
"My job was to work closely with Ridley Scott and Arthur Max, the production designer, to help create various effects they need for the movie," explains Burke. "Originally we were going to be involved primarily with enhancing several crashes, but our roles expanded during filming. For the sports stadium under the control of the United Nations, they filmed on a practical location in Sale, but the real stadium was only partially built. So we had to expand that stadium in the computer, adding grandstands where none existed. I'm glad that we already had a lot of experience in that regard from our work on Gladiator. We have a wide range of embellishments, such as adding rocket propelled grenades, muzzle flashes, tracer fire and dust. "
Once again, Burke sought to enhance reality by integrating visual effects with on-set photography, so that the two would be seamless. Just one example of this alchemy occurred for a scene in which a Somali rocket-propelled grenade is fired at a hovering Black Hawk, which causes Private Blackburn to miss the rope and fall 60 feet to the ground. "There was quite a complicated choreography that was needed to tell the story, so we worked very closely with Pietro Scalia, the film editor, and filmed elements of Black Hawks doing specific kinds of flying. We then matted those into other shots to relocate them in the correct environment. Then we added computer-generated rockets being fired at the Black Hawk, so the final shot was be a combination of two elements: live action and computer graphics.
"Again, for the first Black Hawk crash, we had a similar scenario," continues Burke. "Our job was to digitally remove the wires and cables from Neil Corbould's Black Hawk rig, and then add in, with computer graphics, the rotor blades and mechanism driving them. When you see the final film, the rotor blades will smash into the ground, break off and fly past the camera, which will be our digital additions. "
Principal photography of Black Hawk Down was completed on June 29 after 92 days of filming, right back where it started: at the Royal Moroccan Air Force Base in Kenitra. Back in Sidi Moussa, the art department was not only restoring the buildings on Avenue Nasser to their pre-Mogadishu look, but actually giving them an attractive facelift. The Target Building was dismantled, and the empty field could once again be used for pickup soccer games. For the inhabitants of Sale, life returned to normal, although many later claimed to miss the excitement and constant activity of production.
It would now be time for Bruckheimer and Scott to attend to the complexities of post-production, with Academy Award®-winner Pietro Scalia editing a Ridley Scott film for the fourth time (after G.I. Jane (1997), Gladiator (2000) and Hannibal (2001)), and Hans Zimmer composing the musical score. Zimmer, another Oscar® winner, had already scored such Bruckheimer films as Days of Thunder (1990), Crimson Tide (1995), Rock, The (1996) and Pearl Harbor (2001), as well as Scott's Black Rain (1989), Thelma & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000) and Hannibal (2001), thus maintaining long relationships with both filmmakers.
Zimmer had already pioneered merging traditional African music with dramatic film music with one of his earliest scores, World Apart, A (1988), and continued with Power of One, The (1992), Lion King, The (1994) and Endurance (1998), which he produced for composer John Powell. Therefore, he was once again the perfect choice for what Scott sought.
"I didn't want to start putting pop tunes over these events," states the director. "Hans' score will be very much influenced by ethnic and Muslim music.
"In Morocco, I was awakened very early every morning by the muezzin's call to prayer," Scott recalls, "which was very beautiful and haunting. So Hans' music will be a mixture of both eastern and western traditions. "
After four exhausting and exhilarating months, cast and filmmakers finally had time to reflect upon their experiences breathing life into recent history. .. and what they hoped audiences would take away from the film after seeing it.
"Most of the soldiers will tell you that the mission in Black Hawk Down was a success. The tragic element lies in the country's reaction in the aftermath," says executive producer Mike Stenson. "These guys are professionals and expect to take casualties occasionally when they're sent on dangerous missions such as this. But they want to make sure that the public and the leadership understands the potential costs and are sending them on a mission worthy of paying that price. In Somalia, they weren't prepared. "
"I think this film will show the good and bad of an operation like this," proffers Steven Ford. "Is our military supposed to be peacekeepers, feed people or fight wars? Each one of these is a separate job, and in Mogadishu, the lines got blurred. The world is moving so fast today that what happened in Somalia was a blip on the radar screen for three days on CNN. If you were on vacation, you missed the news that some very special guys lost their lives trying to do something meaningful. "
"War is futile," says Eric Bana, "but at times it's also unavoidable. We want to keep doing the right thing by our fellow man, and that unfortunately is going to mean that there are going to be many more battles to be fought. I want audiences to feel like they were there in the target building, there in the rescue convoy, there at the 'Alamo. ' I hope they come out of the theatre feeling like they've been through the battle with the soldiers, so that they have a greater understanding of what these men are expected to do in combat. "
Adds Johnny Strong, who portrays Delta's Randy Shughart, "What's really important to me is how the families of the men who were there are going to respond to this film. If I could say anything to them, it's that we committed ourselves to portraying these people as they actually were. "
"Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die," quotes Orlando Bloom, applying the famous lines of fellow Englishman Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade to the men who fought in Somalia. "They went in to Mogadishu, did what they were trained to do and put their lives on the line. The fact that their government soon after pulled out of Somalia was out of Task Force Ranger's hands. These men were the foot soldiers. And anyone who puts themselves in that position succeeds on every level in my book. "
Notes Tom Sizemore, "I think Black Hawk Down will bring home just what these guys had to endure and how heroic they were. Whether or not the mission was successful or botched is ultimately beside the point. We need men like this to keep us free. "
"At the end of the day, I think that Black Hawk Down is very much from the universal soldier's point of view," proffers Ridley Scott. "The Somali militiamen, though less trained and equipped than the Americans, were nevertheless very efficient. Therefore, what happened in Mogadishu became the meeting of two groups of fervent soldiers. As 'Hoot' says in the movie, 'once that first bullet goes past your head, politics goes right out the window. ' Then it becomes about looking after the man next to you and getting the job done.
"But in the end," says the director, "are the obvious questions about whether or not the United States had a right to be in Somalia. And I think that when there's a humanitarian issue on the baseline, the answer is. .. yes. .. yes . .. and yes. Somebody's got to go in and do it, and it really falls at the feet of the U. S. because of the country's weight, prestige and power.
"In October 1993, we all watched the bodies of the dead American soldiers on television, said 'Oh My God,' and turned the channel to something more cheerful. But the world was already changing eight years ago, and how much it's changed was, unfortunately, illuminated on September 11. And the lesson is that if you don't watch the back door, somebody will come through it. .. "
Says Jerry Bruckheimer, "These men were sent to Somalia, which was really a hot zone, and under enormous political pressure to bring some results and stop the civil unrest. The guys who fought there gave their lives, or watched their friends die, and I'm sure they were affected by it for the rest of their lives.
"Black Hawk Down will take audiences into a harrowing situation," concludes Bruckheimer. "They will see the complexity of the situation at hand in Somalia at that time. They will see the heroism of the men, the commitment and discipline they had. They will see how brutal war can be-and what the battle taught this country about how to conduct it in the future. "
September 11, 2001:
In the aftermath of the most damaging act of war ever committed against Americans on their own soil, accounts of Osama Bin Laden relate that in a 1997 interview, the international terrorist took credit for helping to train Somali militia who fought Rangers and Special Forces troops in Mogadishu-with some of Bin Laden's men claiming to have taken part in the battle.
October 19, 2001:
The first boots on the ground in the new war against terrorism belong to soldiers of the 75th Ranger Regiment and other commandos, including the Delta Force, who parachute onto an airstrip about 100 miles southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan-the same Ranger regiment whose men fought in the Battle of Mogadishu, and assisted in the filming of Black Hawk Down in Morocco.
November 7, 2001:
The United States freezes the assets of 62 organizations and individuals suspected of raising money and providing other critical support for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. One of them is al-Barakaat, a conglomerate operating cell phone companies and postal services, which has a significant presence in America and 40 other nations, accused of funneling millions of dollars to Bin Laden and his organization.
The base of operations for al-Barakaat is in Mogadishu, Somalia. The battle that began eight years ago on Hawlwadig Road. .. until recently just a faint echo of American history. .. is still being fought.
Appendix: "The Ranger Creed"
"Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high "esprit de corps" of the Rangers."
"Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One hundred-percent and then some. "
"Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, my neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country. "
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.
RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!