Act of Valor: Making of a Special Movie

A blend of real-world heroism and original filmmaking, Act of Valor stars a group of active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs in a motion picture unlike any in Hollywood history. A fictionalized account of real-life U.S. Navy SEAL operations, Act of Valor features a gripping story that takes audiences on an adrenaline-fueled, edge-of-the-seat journey through a dangerous and unpredictable world.

When a mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA operative unexpectedly uncovers a chilling plot with potentially unimaginable consequences, a team of the most elite, highly-trained warriors in the modern world is dispatched on a top-secret operation. As the valiant men of Bandito Platoon race against the clock in an ever-widening mission to hotspots around the globe, they must balance their commitment to country, team and their families back home.


Act of Valor combines combat sequences, up-to-the-minute battlefield technology and heart-pumping emotion for the ultimate action adventure film—showcasing the skills, training and tenacity of the greatest action heroes of them all: real U.S. Navy SEALs.


Act of Valor is directed by Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh of Bandito Brothers, who also produced the documentary Dust to Glory and Step Into Liquid.  It is written by Kurt Johnstad (300).

The film stars Active Duty U.S. Navy SEALs, as well as Roselyn Sanchez (“Without A Trace”), Alex Veadov (“Svetlana”), Jason Cottle (Remarkable Power) and Nestor Serrano (“90210”). It is produced by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. Director of photography is Shane Hurlbut (Terminator Salvation, Semi-Pro). Editors are Scott Waugh and Michael Tronick (Green Hornet, Iron Man). Production designer is John Zachary (Wonderland). Original music is by Nathan Furst (Punch-Drunk Love). Executive producers are Jason Clark (Red State, Hotel for Dogs), Max Leitman (Black Sands), Michael Mailis (It Might Get Loud), Jay Pollak, Lance Sloane (The Good Life), Benjamin Statler (Hello Herman).

In 2007, the Los Angeles-based production company Bandito Brothers filmed a short documentary about the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen. Descendants of the Vietnam era swift boat operators, the SWCC’s primary responsibilities include inserting and extracting U.S. Navy SEAL teams from seemingly impossible destinations, where they carry out their sensitive and exceedingly dangerous work.

“We did a seven-minute piece on who these guys really are,” says Max Leitman, a partner in Bandito Brothers and Act of Valor’s executive producer. “As we got to know these men, we were extremely inspired by them and I think it showed in the work. We viewed it as a gift to them, something they’d be able to go home and show to family and friends to help them understand a little better. And the Navy recognized the passion we put into it.”

Coincidentally, Naval Special Warfare, which includes the U.S. Navy SEALs and the SWCC, viewed the finished project just as they were considering giving their support to a feature film. “They had been approached for a ton of movies about the U.S. Navy SEALs,” says Mike “Mouse” McCoy, who co-directed Act of Valor with Scott Waugh. “The Navy knew they had the bandwith to support one project only. Several production companies submitted proposals and ours was chosen.”

Captain Duncan Smith, a 27-year Navy veteran and active duty U.S. Navy SEAL, was one of the key players in developing Act of Valor. “We needed a vehicle that would allow us to tell the story of who we are and who we’re not in an authentic way,” he says. “The idea had to be approved at a very high level. This is the first film to begin as a Naval Special Warfare project. The goal was to allow outsiders to come in and view us for who we are, with an emphasis on understanding the men themselves, and the sacrifices that they and their families make every day.”

The finished film is truly unique, he says, capturing the U.S. Navy SEAL ethos in a way that has never before been seen on film. “It’s live fire, it’s real operators—and not just U.S. Navy SEALs. The pilots and the aviators who were involved in this film, the people in submarines, they are all real military members. The script was written and rewritten to accurately reflect how operations are conducted. In terms of reality, it goes far beyond anything people have seen. No other movie has ever really captured the heart, the teamwork, the modern technology and the training that go into making a U.S. Navy SEAL.”

Drawn from the Navy’s most elite recruits, the U.S. Navy SEALs undergo unmatched training for missions on land, sea and air in small, highly mobile teams. Able to slip in and out of some of the most dangerous sites in the world, they carry out missions critical to U.S. interests. Each year, about 1,000 sailors start SEAL training, reputed to be the toughest in the military. Only 200 to 250 recruits complete the year-and-a-half course required before being assigned to a team, where they train for an additional year or more prior to first deployment.

A daring blend of reality and fiction, Act of Valor puts real-life active duty U.S. Navy SEALs in starring roles and presents the first authentic look behind the scenes of their world. To gather information for the project, Waugh, McCoy and their partners at Bandito Brothers were given unprecedented access to the military’s most elite and enigmatic force as they created the script.

McCoy and Waugh spent months getting to know members of the elite community on their home turf in San Diego, California, the site of Naval Special Warfare Command. “We felt that the best way to tell our own story was by allowing in an objective observer who is able to see what we do for what it is,” says Captain Smith. “The Bandito Brothers were the right guys to come in because they are, at their core, athletes. As former stuntmen, they are professionals who work in a high-risk environment every day, so they were able to appreciate what we do and who we are.”

In that atmosphere, which encompassed the U.S. Navy SEALs’ professional and personal lives, the filmmakers began to absorb the culture. “It was the men, first and foremost, that inspired us,” says McCoy. “They pulled the curtain back for us and allowed us to enter their world. We spent a lot of time finding out who these guys really are before we tried to accurately and authentically tell their story.”

Behind that curtain they discovered a special breed of warrior—a surprisingly diverse group of highly intelligent, painstakingly trained and uniquely talented men who are deeply committed to their country and to each other. “It’s a secret lifestyle these guys live,” says Waugh. “And it’s pretty incredible. We’re action guys, and this project was like being kids in a candy store. But we really didn’t know much about the U.S. Navy SEAL community before making the movie.

“They’re capable of doing miraculous things,” he adds. “They have physical and emotional capabilities beyond what most of us have. I’m a former stuntman and a stuntman is required to be a Jack of all trades, master of none. You need to be able to do everything, whether it’s ride a horse or a motorcycle, handle fire or do high falls. As a U.S. Navy SEAL, the discipline is very similar, except they’re masters of all trades.”

Lieutenant Commander Rorke, who appears in the film, felt previous film characterizations of his peers had been misleading and he was eager to share a bit of their lives with the filmmakers. “We’re not a bunch of loud, obnoxious, aggressive guys,” he says. “That component exists in our capacity for work and for aggression on the battlefield. But that’s not who we are when we’re back home. The U.S. Navy SEALs are mostly quiet, humble men who want to serve and do the nation’s work.”

Indeed, Waugh says his preconceived notions about his subjects turned upside down. He admits he had imagined the U.S. Navy SEALs would be a platoon full of Terminators. “I thought they would be so highly disciplined that they wouldn’t have much personality,” he says. “By hanging out with them, we learned they were charismatic, wonderful guys. Maybe there’s a time and a place for them to be like Rambo, but not 24-7. These guys are well-rounded human beings.”

McCoy concurs: “They were the opposite of the stereotype of a special operations warrior, intellectual and down to earth at the same time. And the stories they told blew our minds. The U.S. Navy SEALs in combat are far more than anything Hollywood could ever write.”

The filmmakers used their unique access to rough out a script, conducting extensive interviews with the U.S. Navy SEALs, as well as with their families. As they became closer to the team, they eventually gained their trust. “We were having some chow, drinking some beers, shooting the breeze,” says McCoy. “They eventually got the idea that they were going to have an important influence on the way the movie developed and saw the value this would have to their community.”

The U.S. Navy SEALs shared stories of survival and sacrifice that would seem outlandish to civilians, according to McCoy. “In what other group would someone take a bullet to save their brothers? Where does that even happen? Well, it did actually happen to these guys. Those stories helped define the brotherhood for us.” In the end, the directors found five particularly compelling narrative acts of valor they felt they had to weave into the script.

The film’s narrative follows a U.S. Navy SEAL team on a riveting and action-packed journey around the world in pursuit of a dangerous adversary. But it starts with the men and their families at home in Southern California. “The heart of the film is the sacrifice made not only by the guys, but also by their wives and kids,” says Waugh. “They are able to spend time with each other maybe two months out of the year. If U.S. Navy SEALs are not in the field, they’re training. The result is that their ability to keep going in situations that most of us would quit is astounding, as is the sacrifice that they continually make for their families and for the country.”

Even a seasoned veteran like Captain Smith found some of the moments the filmmakers uncovered eye-opening. “The scene that struck me the most, the one that completely surprised me, was the Lieutenant’s wife sliding behind the door crying when he left,” says Smith. “I had no idea that goes on. So I asked my wife about it. She said absolutely it happens. She said it’s a sad day when we leave. It’s frustrating and she’s angry and lonely and upset. I just didn’t know. So for me, Act of Valor has opened my eyes in terms of how my family and other families, particularly the wives, react when we deploy.”

What struck the deepest chord in the co-directors was how little is known about the sacrifices made by the U.S. Navy SEALs and their loved ones. “We want the world to know what these guys and their families have done for us over the past decade,” says McCoy. “They’ve been at war for 10 years straight. They’ve had to forgo things we all take for granted in order to keep us safe.”