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'SEAL Team Six' Director John Stockwell Talks Fact and Fiction, Harvey Weinstein, 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Interviews
by Anne Thompson
October 30, 2012 6:58 PM
1 Comment
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"SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden"
National Geographic Channel "SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden"

JS: That must be pretty self-evident. What NatGeo will do with an upfront card, I don't know. We had no way of knowing what [Seal Team member] Matt Bissonette wrote. In no way is [our film] all true. I wasn't on the mission, not inside the counterintelligence discussions or the White House. Some of this is conjecture.

AT: What was Harvey's beef with the NYTimes piece?

JS: He was aghast at NYT article, it was not fair or accurate, it was misportraying events and his involvement, it was not the press he wants; he wants people to watch the movie and judge for themselves. The unfair part is it in no way shape or form idolizes Obama. I'm not sure what the Republicans would think, this is not the counterpart to "Obama 2016."

AT: Where did you get the voice of Obama as narrator over the action?

JS: That comes from his "60 Minutes" piece. I had an archivist bring materials to see what we could build. We didn't get any exclusive access to the president! Thankfully in that interview he's talking in the present tense, which made it useful to lay over sections of the movie as to what was going on at the White House at the time and in the thinking of the president.

AT: Presumably Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow had more special access?

JS: I'm not sure they had different access. My understanding is that the movie was written and meant to symbolize the failed hunt for Bin Laden and our intelligence and White House failing, like Tora Bora. It was written before. There was a rewrite after May 2. Our movie didn't start germinating until after May 2, 2011. Their movie was scripted and they were raising money for it.

AT: When did you finish the movie?

JS: I finished it --I've made another movie since--at the end of June. We first did the final mix in July.

AT: Weren't you trying to get this movie out before the election?

JS: As in all these issues it's a question of timing and marketing costs, how to get in front of the most eyeballs on all these weekends. There was interest in having it come out, if not before Kathryn's movie, at the end of the day NatGeo pursued it aggressively, wanted it to be a centerpiece of the network, to showcase their upcoming slate. Harvey knows how to draw attention to whatever projects he's involved in. It's the financials as well as the attempt to get it seen by as many people as possible and to be sure to make money on it. The timeline was, no one would be talking about it coming out three days after the election. It was ready to be aired.

AT: Where did you shoot in India?

JS: I went to India by myself, with a local crew shooting all of it with no permits in markets with an iPhone, not telling anyone. We were two hours outside Mumbai. I was running behind women in burkas with the Epic on my shoulder. We had to shoot quickly and get out of there. I had known that Kathryn had problems filming in India, so we went quickly before anyone knew what we were doing. The Indians are not big fans of Pakistan, they didn't want their country portrayed as Pakistan. I was not changing every flag, we were running and gunning.

It was a challenge. One issue is wherever you go, thousands of people show up. Our two actors were semi-well-known there. Sometimes we used the crowd, they're all real people showing up saying, 'what the hell is going on?' They swelled to such a large number that we couldn't keep them in control in a lot of instances. I loved that I got to operate the cameras, which are so small and nimble. Nobody saw the camera when we were shooting with GoPros.

AT: How accurate was your version of the raid? Is William Fichtner based on a real CIA person?

JS:. I haven't gotten Leon Panetta to go on record with me. It was everything I've read. I had lunch with Valerie Plame in Santa Fe, she wasn't still in the CIA, wishes she had been, but I learned a lot from her. Fichtner is not a specific CIA figure, he's a composite. The real intelligence community is so sprawling and multifaceted, it's impossible, it's rooms filled with 50 people, it was a massive operation. I heard about a woman that Kathleen's character is based on spearheading the drive to get Bin Laden. I never met her.

AT: Why did you show Bin Laden the way you did?

JS: One of the most challenging decisions. One version of the final takedown was initial reports that he was in an armed offensive position. We chose not to show him in a frontal position. It doesn't take place quite the way Bissonette talks about it, but it's close. We made it a capture or kill mission, with the CIA comfortable with either outcome. It's clear someone said that unless Bin Laden was naked holding his hands up he was going to be killed.

1 Comment

  • lovemovies | October 30, 2012 8:08 PMReply

    isn't the director hugely misinformed about Bigelow's movie? I thought that the movie was about failure to capture Bin Laden, but after his death, they scraped off and found a new direction, right? Why haven't we heard about this movie until now?

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