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Oscar Watch: 'Lone Survivor' Is Peter Berg's Bid to Redeem Himself After 'Battleship'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 16, 2013 at 3:46PM

Peter Berg directed "Battleship" for Universal Pictures so that he could direct the movie he cared about, "Lone Survivor," which he has been working on for five years. Universal is giving "Lone Survivor" an Oscar qualifying run on December 27 in advance of a January 14 wide release. Like "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty," it is based on a true story.
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'Lone Survivor'
'Lone Survivor'
'Battleship'
'Battleship'

Peter Berg directed "Battleship" for Universal Pictures so that he could direct the movie he cared about, "Lone Survivor," which he has been working on for five years. Universal is giving "Lone Survivor" an Oscar qualifying run on December 27 in advance of a January 14 wide release. Like Oscar-winners "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty," it is based on a true story.

The story of how Berg, whose 2004 "Friday Night Lights" inspired the landmark TV series, wound up directing "Battleship" at Universal has to do with a studio that is loyal to a director they believe in--even when a badly-conceived Hasbro tie-in movie winds up losing more than $100 million. Universal also believed in Berg's $72.5 million Iraq war movie "The Kingdom" (2007) which while well-directed, at an $86 million worldwide gross was a costly disappointment. Luckily their $150-million 2008 "Hancock," starring Will Smith, delivered $624 million worldwide. 

Peter Berg directs Mark Wahlberg in 'Lone Survivor'
Universal Pictures Peter Berg directs Mark Wahlberg in 'Lone Survivor'

Former actor Berg, 51, who probably wishes he could have directed "Lone Survivor" first instead of the misbegotten "Battleship," is considered to be a writer-director with filmmaking chops, and what better way to redeem himself than to adapt a true Navy SEAL story and work for scale (the DGA minimum of $17,000 a week) directing a modest-budget movie. He also welcomed a New York Times reporter to the New Mexico set to write up a lovely profile in the Magazine. 

$40 million "Lone Survivor" was shot in 42 days with Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch starring for cut-rate pay. He adapted a true story, the failed June 28, 2005 mission "Operation Redwing," when four members of SEAL Team 10 were sent on a dangerous mission in rugged Afghanistan mountain terrain to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Only one member of the team, Marcus Luttrell, survived to write a memoir of his fallen comrades.

This article is related to: Lone Survivor, Peter Berg, Universal Pictures, Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Awards, Oscars


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.