|(E) Behind Enemy Lines inspired by Scott O'Grady's experience
|By Nenad N. Bach |
Culture And Arts
(E) Behind Enemy Lines inspired by Scott O'Grady's experience
LA Times Initiatives
November 28, 2001
A War's Sharp Shooter
Director John Moore brought lifelong knowledge of battle to 'Behind Enemy
By GINA PICCALO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Warfare in one form or another has always been a part of John Moore's life.
He grew up in Dundalk, Ireland, the hardscrabble border town long known as a
hide-out for the Irish Republican Army where car bombs killed a few of his
relatives and bloody riots were commonplace.
As a news cameraman years later, Moore braved Israeli shelling while covering
the peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon. The wars in Bosnia so haunted him
that he studied the ethnic conflicts and visited the war-torn nation looking
So it's not surprising that Moore's first feature film, "Behind Enemy Lines,"
would depict the complexities of modern warfare with such a visceral edge
that at times it feels more like a documentary than a big studio
action-thriller. In the 20th Century Fox film that opens Friday, Owen Wilson
stars as a naval aviator who must fight his way out of Bosnia with the help
of his admiral, played by Gene Hackman. The story is loosely based on the
experience of American pilot Scott O'Grady after he was shot down in Bosnia
in 1995. Moore employed a variety of styles to film the civil war in Bosnia
in all its surrealistic horror. In one particularly vivid scene, a satellite
camera tracks Wilson as he hides under a pile of dead bodies in a mass grave
site. In another, images flash by with the staccato rhythm of live news
footage as we watch, close-up, a fierce battle inside a village. Moore said
he used hand-held cameras in that scene to prevent "the distancing that goes
on with the more glamorous techniques in the film."
The $35-million film was originally set to open Jan. 18, but the studio cut
production time by seven weeks to open it this year. It's one of two war
movies moved up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--Sony's military
thriller "Black Hawk Down" opens Dec. 28; it had been scheduled for a March
2002 release. Both Fox and Sony felt that the timing was right for films
about the U.S. military, even if they aren't conventionally patriotic.
Fox Chairman Tom Rothman hired Moore after he saw Moore's commercial for
Sega. It aired during the 1999 MTV Music Video Awards and featured a chase
scene with dozens of sophisticated stunts. "It got a lot of attention in the
movie world, which was something I didn't really expect," noted Alex Blum,
who produced the commercial and co-produced "Behind Enemy Lines."
Moore could hardly believe that he had landed a film about the conflict in
Bosnia. After years in the commercial world, he was anxious to use his
technical skill and storytelling ability to share his understanding of the
region's ethnic conflict.
"I always imagined that somebody ripped open Pandora's box," he said of the
beginning of the conflict in Bosnia. "I felt obsessed about researching it. I
couldn't accept the fact that it had just flared up. It was so enticing and
appalling at the same time."
The burly, bearded Moore, 31, favors camouflage fatigues as a wardrobe
staple. Compromise has never been easy for him, and his early success did
little to soften his all-or-nothing attitude on the job, Blum said.
"I don't think he expected to live past 30," Blum added. "I think he expected
to have a very intense and short life. For him to have his life turn out this
way is surprising."
Moore's fearlessness shocked his producers while scouting locations in
Eastern Europe last year. "He wanted to shoot the movie in Sarajevo and went
there on his own," producer John Davis said. "We had to say to him, 'We can't
shoot this movie anywhere that they're going to shoot at you.'" Ultimately,
the film was shot in remote areas near Bratislava, Slovakia, during three
months in late 2000.
The second oldest of three brothers and one sister, Moore's roots were Irish
working-class. His father was a carpenter, his mother worked at a computer
hardware manufacturing plant, and the family didn't have a car. His younger
brother Paul went on to become a sniper for the Irish military. (Paul has a
cameo role as a sniper in "Behind Enemy Lines.")
Moore said he got "hooked on imaging" at age 11 after he watched the
televised assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat by Muslim radicals.
As a teenager, Moore dreamed of becoming a combat photographer and idolized
British television war correspondent Aernout Van Lynden. While shooting his
film last year, Moore spent months tracking down the journalist to play
himself in the movie.
Moore graduated from Dublin Technical Film School just as Ireland's film
industry was booming. He worked as an assistant cameraman on several films
including "The Miracle," "The Butcher Boy" and "Braveheart." He also directed
music videos for Irish bands.
Around that time, Moore took interest in the Bosnian conflicts and began
researching the complicated history of the region's ethnic strife. The
director's knowledge became useful years later when producer Davis asked for
his feedback on the original "Behind Enemy Lines" script.
"It [the script] was so horrendously out of whack," Moore said. "I had
studied the wars in Bosnia. I'd been there. I took that stuff very seriously.
[This script] was genuinely ridiculous with the actors escaping in World War
I biplanes and stuff."
For the next several weeks, "Natural Born Killers" writer David Veloz and
screenwriter Zak Penn rewrote the script, adding a survival element and
structuring it more as a traditional action film. Still, Moore wasn't
satisfied. When the director first met Owen Wilson, he told the actor flat
out, "There's not one good line in this script."
"That was kind of an interesting way to try to sell your movie to an actor,"
Wilson said in a recent interview. "But I appreciated it, because I agreed
Moore admired Wilson's talent for improvisation.
"I've looked at executives and seen them look slightly puzzled when you're
saying Owen can carry an entire drama," Moore said. "But the guy is a
straight-up Steve McQueen."
Hackman was another matter. Moore prepared himself for directing the veteran
by watching every film the actor had made, including multiple viewings of
"The French Connection."
Still, he was incredibly intimidated when the two-time Oscar winner arrived
on set a day early. They exchanged a curt introduction and then Hackman urged
him to "get back to work."
Moore, with his stubborn nature and unwavering intensity, clashed with
Hackman. One scene resulted in Hackman storming off the set. "I got blasted
once," Moore said. "We were all sleep-deprived.... He wanted a rehearsal and
I wasn't ready for it."
As the production continued, Moore learned to be more prepared. In fact, he
said, the crew's work style became somewhat militaristic as the shoot wore on.
"You have to know what you want [with Hackman]," Moore said. "You don't
disrespect him by over-explaining on set."
Actors aside, Moore's toughest scene was depicting a horrific battle in a
Muslim-occupied village. "In many ways, it's very badly shot," he said. The
only cameras used were hand-held to add realism.
As a commercial director, Moore said this type of filming felt
counterintuitive: "I've sat on sets and spent four hours to get the
condensation on a Coke can perfect."
For his most technically difficult scene, the shoot-down of Wilson's jet
fighter, Moore spent two months planning and four months shooting.
With the help of military technical advisors, he depicted nearly every one of
the 164 different mechanical operations that occur in 1.2 seconds of a pilot
Now that the film is complete, Moore is conflicted about the idea of the
picture serving to boost American morale after Sept. 11. He said he doesn't
want the more subtle messages of his work to be lost.
One key example, Moore said, is when a French admiral accuses Americans of
protecting their own lives before fighting for justice.
"Part of me is afraid that the film will be perceived as uber-patriotic and
uber-jingoistic," Moore said. "But if the public decides for themselves that
the film gives them a sense of comfort and satisfaction, then I think they're
absolutely entitled to do that."
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