From the makers of the brilliant Band Of Brothers, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, The Pacific is an epic 10-part blockbuster exploding onto Sky Movies Premiere in stunning HD from 5 April. Sky Movies Magazine talks exclusively to Hanks and his team to find out what it takes to produce the television event of the year…
The Path To War
Based on the real-life memoirs of two Marines – Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge – who fought against Japan as part of the 1st Marine Division during WW2, The Pacific has taken more than three years to make. But it’s been a labour of love for Tom Hanks and his fellow executive producers Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman...
GARY GOETZMAN: Steven had felt, while making Band Of Brothers, that if that show turned out how we hoped, it would be great to represent the war in the Pacific. We didn’t really think about the timing, we just kept chugging along.
TOM HANKS: The story begins in the consciousness of two of the principles, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge. Sledge was desperate to go to war – his friends were going, the country was mobilised – but he couldn’t as he was too young and he had a heart murmur. Leckie is completely different. He had a dysfunctional background and went into the Marine Corps just as a piece of experimental surfing. It was ‘what was going on’, so he went. The third character, John Basilone, had been in the army for four years, he was already a professional soldier. He knew the Marines would be at the forefront of any fighting, and had enlisted well before Pearl Harbor. He was ready.
Diving Right In
Whereas Band Of Brothers centred on the United States Army’s heroics in Europe (the European Theatre of Operations), The Pacific focuses on the Pacific Theatre of Operations (PTO). After a brief
introduction, the first episode thrusts us directly into the heart of the action during the Guadalcanal campaign.
GARY GOETZMAN: We start right at the beginning of the war [for the US]. We see our three boys, how the news of what is happening affects each ofthem and how they follow their own paths into the conflict.
TOM HANKS: The world these young men live in has been turned upside down and they’re looking at a future that is absolutely blank. There’s no real rah-rah sense of “I must go off and save the world,” but there’s much more of a personal mission for each of them, which is, “I couldn’t live with myself unless I went off and participated.”
GARY GOETZMAN: The Pacific is very much about what the cost of war is on a human being. On their psyche, on them physically, on how it affects everything else in their life, what follows after the war. That’s what we try to portray.
From Boys to Men
Prior to filming, The Pacific actors were put through two weeks of ‘full immersion field training’ by Captain Dale Dye. A decorated war veteran who served in Vietnam, the captain’s military expertise was first utilised in Oliver Stone’s Platoon and he has since trained upwards of 1,000 actors in the art of combat, including Tom Hanks for Saving Private Ryan.
CAPTAIN DALE DYE: We put the actors in a situation in which there is no reality but that of the situation in the Pacific during WW2. We isolate them completely. Then we work on them night and day. We begin as early as five in the morning. We feed them rations twice a day. They sleep in a hole in the ground. We take them on long jungle patrols so they see how the environment is also an enemy. We teach them to communicate. We teach them to rely on each other. Actors tend to feel that the sun rises and sets on their posterior. That’s atypical to how a military person feels, so we’ve got to teach them that.
TOM HANKS: I told the actors: it’s not easy, it’s not fun. But the challenge was, can you do what you’re told? Can you make mistakes and recover? Can you physically and mentally push yourself to a degree that you never have before?
CAPTAIN DALE DYE: As long as we’ve done this, in almost every instance you’ll hear them say: “This changed the way I look at things – not only as an actor, but as a human being.” For instance, young Jon Seda said: “Captain, I didn’t get it before, but now I understand what ‘Semper Fidelis’ means.” It’s the Latin motto of the Marine Corps and it means ‘Always Faithful’.
In The Line Of Fire
As well as exploring the effects of war on the characters, the series features such famous battles as Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. To ensure both the height of realism and the safety of the actors, the producers turned to special-effects veteran and long-time Spielberg collaborator, Joss Williams.
JOSS WILLIAMS: My team and I would do all the on-set stuff… the body hits, bullet hits, small explosions, high explosive charges. Then anything that they wanted to add in during post production would be done by the visual effects team. One of the producers, Tony To, who I’d worked for on Band Of Brothers, had asked me to do The Pacific, so he knew that I could get through 10 episodes and not just one movie. We shot the equivalent of five two-hour movies in a year. Normally, one war film would take six to eight months.
GARY GOETZMAN: You can spend two weeks on one battle. You have to be meticulous about it. It’s well planned but still it’s a slow process because you have to be safe.
JOSS WILLIAMS: The most challenging aspect is safety. The producers wanted to use actors as much as possible in the action, so we had to devise methods of being able to shoot with the actors in a safe manner in situations where you would normally use stunt people. The second aspect is logistics. We filmed The Pacific for a year and every day included some kind of massive pyrotechnic scene.
Shot over a 12-month period in Australia, with a reputed budget of $150 million, The Pacific is both a huge television event and a faithful tribute to those who fought in the conflict.
GARY GOETZMAN: I’m proud that we’ve made what is really a 10-hour movie of what I consider to be the most authentically represented experience of any war.
JOSS WILLIAMS: This project was the best marriage of two departments that I’ve ever worked on. The visual effects team were fantastic. They helped us out so much. It was a very harmonious job.
CAPTAIN DALE DYE: I believe in working from the inside out, not the outside in, and what really makes The Pacific sing for me as a combat veteran is the relationships. The look in the performers’ eyes, the way they relate to each other. It comes across as being absolutely credible, and that’s crucial.
TOM HANKS: We have a moment on Peleliu, in which two characters, just to blow time, are doing something so horrible and impossible to imagine, and yet it was commonplace. This is what they were reduced to. I can’t help but think, how can we ask those guys to do just that and then come home and pick up pens, or go back to their banks, or return to school after that? The truth is that’s what you ask somebody to do every time you ask them to go to war. Moment after moment in The Pacific we show human beings doing something they’ve never been shown doing before – and I’m very proud of that.