Saving Private Ryan: Fascinating Behind-the-Scenes Facts
When Saving Private Ryan was released, it was one of the most accurate, raw depictions of World War II that had ever been produced in an industry as sheltered as Hollywood. The time-defying footage, timeless settings and intense scenes of combat ensured the flick's status as a true depiction of the chaos and terror of war.
From life-like battle scenes to city set constructions, plenty of heavy lifting took place behind the scenes to bring the film to its intense conclusion. Let’s take a look at some of the most fascinating unknown details about the filming of Saving Private Ryan.
The D-Day Scene Cost a Bundle
The most famous scene from Saving Private Ryan is probably the D-Day scene, which accurately depicted the chaos, terror and insanity of the actual event. How did they manage to produce such a terrifying replication of this major battle? By dipping into a major portion of their budget.
The Actors Actually Went to Boot Camp
What better way to prep actors to play soldiers than to send them through actual boot camp? In order to get the lead actors ready to immerse themselves in the experience of fighting in WWII, they went through a 10-day boot camp with retired former USMC Captain Dale Dye.
Matt Damon Was Supposed to Be a Nobody
Before Saving Private Ryan was filmed, Matt Damon was a virtual nobody in Hollywood. He wasn't a household name — which was exactly why Steven Spielberg cast him. He preferred casting an unrecognizable face who could emulate the image of a true soldier of war instead of a celebrity who could distract from the film's central message.
They Nailed 1940’s Styling
The film's crew did an outstanding job making sure the flick's footage looked genuinely vintage. Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski, the film's cinematographer, wanted to ensure everything looked true to the era in which it took place. As a result, they attempted to style the film after news footage from the 1940s.
The Story Was Based on the Niland Brothers
While it was widely reported that Saving Private Ryan was based on the Sullivan brothers — a group of five siblings who were killed in the WII Navy — it was actually based on another family of soldiers. The flick was modeled after the military careers of the Niland brothers: Robert, Preston, Edward and Frederick.
Tom Sizemore Was Given an Ultimatum
Before filming Saving Private Ryan, Tom Sizemore was struggling with severe heroin addiction. When Spielberg was made aware of the issue, he seemed concerned for both the safety of Sizemore and the success of his casting in the film. As a result, he gave him a unique ultimatum.
The Opening Scene Was Spielberg's Experience
The opening scene in Saving Private Ryan wasn't pulled out of thin air. Although Spielberg didn't storyboard much of the flick, the beginning was based on his personal experience in Normandy at a military cemetery. While visiting the cemetery, Spielberg witnessed a remarkably touching scene with a stranger.
Spielberg Filmed in Chronological Order
Despite the fact that it may have been easier to shoot scenes when it suited production, Spielberg refused to stray from the chronological timeline of World War II. He shot every scene in the order the events occurred in the real world.
D-Day Took a Month to Film
Considering that it took more than 1,000 extras, 30 prosthetic limbs and 40 gallons of blood to replicate D-Day in the 24-minute opening scene, it's not surprising that the monumental footage took a lengthy amount of time to capture. In fact, it took more than a month to successfully film the entire sequence.
Private Jackson Was Almost Garth Brooks
Barry Pepper gave an engaging performance in the role of Private Jackson, yet the part was originally slated to be played by Garth Brooks. The country star was initially written into the movie by the script rewriter, Frank Darabont. However, when Spielberg joined the project, Brooks got cold feet.
Robin Williams Got Matt Damon the Job
Before Damon and Spielberg ever knew one another, Spielberg and Robin Williams were already buddies. They had worked together on the set of Hook and developed a strong working relationship. When Williams took his role in Good Will Hunting, he found himself filming in the same city as Spielberg's Amistad.
Damon Got to Skip Out on Boot Camp
All the main actors were required to attend boot camp — except Matt Damon. Although his co-stars suffered through it, Damon got a free pass on the grueling training. Spielberg actually hoped the cast would resent Damon and that their resentment would transfer over into filming.
The Script Was Vastly Modified
By the time the Saving Private Ryan script was in Paramount's hands, it had gone through a stunning number of drafts — 11! — and it still wasn't finished. Scriptwriter Robert Rodat, Steven Spielberg, executives, producers, external scriptwriters and even cast members pitched in to perfect the final script.
Hanks Worried About Working with Spielberg
Tom Hanks is a notoriously wonderful actor to work with, and professionals in the industry consider it a treat to interact with him. It’s only natural that Hanks has made many friends in Hollywood over the years, including Steven Spielberg. When they were both eyeballing Saving Private Ryan, Hanks was worried their personal relationship would impact their working success.
Spielberg Dedicated the Movie to His Father
Believe it or not, Spielberg never intended for Saving Private Ryan to become a blockbuster. He didn't think it would enjoy much commercial success, especially since it was a war movie. So, what prompted him to take on the project? He saw it as an ode to his father.
Damon's Speech Was Entirely Improvised
One of the most genuine moments of the film came near the end when Private Ryan gave a rambling monologue reflecting on his brother's encounter with a girl in a barn. While the casual speech seems to fit in well with the moment, it wasn't part of the original script.
The Film Was Nearly Rated NC-17
The movie was five minutes of violence away from being rated NC-17. Still, even if those five minutes had existed, Spielberg would have been unwilling to cut out any portions of the footage. He was intent on releasing the uncut version, even if it could have cost them part of their audience.
Billy Bob Thornton Was Turned Off by Water
Early in production, Billy Bob Thornton was offered Tom Sizemore's role as Technical Sergeant Mike Horvath. While he showed initial interest, he ultimately turned down the part due to the flick's opening scenery: the beach. What turned him off about that scene?
World War II Veterans Struggled to Watch
The film crew went all out to provide an accurate depiction of one of history's most brutal wars. The resulting footage was raw, gripping and intense — and many war veterans couldn't handle watching the film. From military members on set to veteran theater-goers, many vets had to leave during the film's screenings.
The Two Soldiers Shot Weren't German
In one striking scene, two soldiers who are fighting in the German Army attempt to surrender and are shot down. However, those who recognized the language they spoke realized they were not German at all. Rather, the characters were Czech soldiers who had been forced to fight for the German Army.
Omaha Beach Was in Ireland
Omaha Beach is one of the most significant locations of WWII, which meant the real beach came with severe filming restrictions. It was hard to obtain rights to shoot on the Normandy beaches where the Allies invaded France. Spielberg had to come up with a creative alternative to Omaha Beach for filming.
India Censored the Film
At the time that Saving Private Ryan was slated to be released, India had extremely strict laws restricting movies that included excessive violence. The India Censor Board felt that Spielberg's creation surpassed the acceptable limit. They asked the director to make cuts, but he refused and withheld the movie from Indian theaters.
Spielberg Thought He Invented Shaker Lenses
The authenticity of the explosions in the film can be attributed in part to the shaking of the cameras during peak moments of conflict. How was this shakiness accomplished? Spielberg attached drills to the sides of cameras and flipped them on when they needed to be shaken.
Tom Hanks' Speech Was Cut Short
In the original script for Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks had a much lengthier monologue. When asked about his occupation back home, Hanks was supposed to launch into a detailed description of his life before the war. However, this didn't sit right with the star.
Bombed-Out France Was in London
Although the scenes depicting the destruction in France were highly convincing, they weren't shot on location in France. Trying to film in a rubble-ridden French city would have been a major headache. To avoid this, Spielberg had the fictional town of Ramelle built in a WWII Air Force base near London.
Vin Diesel Was Written into the Script
While Vin Diesel is a household name today, he wasn't well-known when Spielberg cast him as Private Caparzo. He was just getting his start in Hollywood when Spielberg saw him in Strays, where he delivered a breathtaking performance that stuck in the famed director's mind.
Most Uniforms Were Individually Made
In order to create a realistic war scene, plenty of extra soldiers were needed. Costume designer Joanna Johnston was tasked with developing 3,500 realistic war uniforms. While she originally planned to use real period uniforms for the cast of characters, it would have been far too costly of an endeavor.
The Gunshot Sounds Were Real
When it comes to sound development, production crews often find unique ways to come up with the noises required for movies. Whether it's using a fine-toothed comb to produce alien noises or scraping a metal item to overlap with horror music, creativity is often a necessity. For Saving Private Ryan, the sound team went right to the source.
Spielberg Demanded High Volume
Considering how much work the sound editors put into making the film sound like a genuine battleground, it's not surprising that Spielberg was picky about how loud the film was shown in theaters. When the movie was delivered to cinemas, it came with explicit instructions for the volume setting during screenings.
Fans Thought Their TVs Were Broken
In order to give the film an authentic vintage look, Steven Spielberg manipulated the movie’s color in a unique way by turning down 60% of the color saturation. While this certainly added to the period look of the film, many television companies decided to crank up chroma when showing the film on television networks and on-demand streaming services.