'Act of Valor' stars were employed by U.S., filmmakers say

Call them heroes, role models or even box office stars. Just don’t call them actors.

Though the eight active-duty Navy SEALs who topline “Act of Valor,” which grabbed $24.5 million over the Feb. 24-26 frame, delivered scripted dialogue, they weren’t covered by SAG’s collective bargaining agreement.

In fact, the mere mention of SAG put the project’s uniformed participants in defense mode.

“We’re not going to get into that at all,” says the film’s co-producer, Capt. Duncan Smith, when asked if the newly minted movie stars have become SAG members. “They were portraying themselves. They weren’t playing gas station mechanics or school teachers. They were playing Navy SEALs going through training. We worked with SAG. This is how these men would work in a Navy ad. Same situation.”

Still, it is not uncommon for a policeman who plays an officer of the law in a Hollywood production to simultaneously hold a badge and SAG card. But “Valor’s” filmmakers point out that unlike their film’s uniformed players, SAG-covered cops are not on duty during production and are required to take a paid leave during lensing.

“(These SEALs are) not playing a part,” explains Scott Waugh, who directed the Relativity action thriller with Mike (Mouse) McCoy. “They’re playing themselves. They are government employees. It would be illegal for them to take another contract and be paid.”

SAG was unable to clarify why the SEALs were granted an exemption.

So instead of taking meetings at CAA or WME, the mono-monikered SEALs — who dropped their last names for the film’s credits due to Navy protocol — say they immediately followed up their 18-month “Valor” stint with more risky (and clandestine) assignments.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers were equally cryptic about budget issues. Waugh declined to discuss “Valor’s” cost, which a source pegged at $12 million. Distributor Relativity, which was not involved in financing the pic, put up just north of $30 millionfor P&A.

“We financed quite a bit of it ourselves,” notes McCoy, who declined to name additional investors. “This is a true indie film. We didn’t have a studio come in and have us make certain changes.”

The source adds that Legendary also put up coin and nixed any notion that the government financed “Valor,” which some critics have likened to a feature-length recruitment video with Hollywood production values.

McCoy says the Navy’s involvement was limited.

“The Navy gave us complete creative control on the story,” he adds. “But they had to (ensure) that we didn’t give away any classified information.”

Waugh, who like McCoy has a background as a stunt coordinator and in docus, describes the film as a hybrid — part narrative feature, part quasi-documentary. He notes that unlike most action films, “Valor” eschews CG and stunt doubles, giving a sense of real consequences.

“We’re definitely going into unchartered territory,” notes Waugh, who will next team with McCoy on the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “Black Sands.”

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