DEAUVILLE, France — Steven Spielberg dearly wanted to shoot all of “Saving Private Ryan,” on location in Normandy where the Allies landed, but withering costs stopped him, the director revealed over the weekend.
“We started asking about permits and authorizations only to discover that the production would be taxed at a rate of 52%. Instead of costing $65 million it would have cost something like $95 million. Ireland gave us a tax reduction and England charged us a flat rate,” Spielberg told a press conference.
So, the only scenes shot on French soil — this time last year — and just a short drive from Deauville — are the contemporary bracketing sequences in the military cemetery.
It was exactly 20 years ago that Spielberg first visited the beaches whose storming led to the liberation. “I was here in 1978 at the fourth edition of Deauville with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale as the producer of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ the first film Zemeckis directed,” Spielberg recounted. “The three of us went to Omaha Beach, and I had a profound experience poking around the casements.”
What was it like shooting the cemetery sequences among the actual headstones of American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice? “It was tearful and profound that day last year,” Spielberg explained. “We all worked in whispers and were extremely respectful of the price that was paid and the meaning of the spot where we stood.”
Tom Hanks, star of “Saving Private Ryan,” took the mike when Spielberg was asked what kind of soldier he would have made. “Steven will say he is Corporal Upham, the bookish guy,” Hanks said knowingly. “But who he wants to be is Mellish, the tough Jew who taunts the Germans with his Star of David saying ‘Juden. Juden.’ ”
Spielberg paid tribute to a fellow Jew who was as tough as they come, Samuel Fuller. “I knew Sam, and I put him in a small part in ‘1941,’ ” Spielberg said. “I spoke to him about his Omaha Beach experiences in the second wave. He was obviously upset that the people who financed ‘The Big Red One’ wouldn’t allow him to show a lot of what he wanted to portray.”
Spielberg spent time with Fuller in the editing room on “The Big Red One” “listening to Sam tell me the difference between what he was permitted to put on film and what he’d actually experienced on Omaha Beach.”