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Directors on Their Teams: Peter Berg on ‘Lone Survivor’

Peter Berg wrote and directed Universal’s year-end opener “Lone Survivor,” which centers on Marcus Luttrell, who was part of a Navy SEALs mission in 2005 to capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. It was a difficult shoot, with the mountains of New Mexico doubling for Afghanistan. But Berg is quick to praise his team and the collaboration.

Editor: Colby Parker Jr.

Colby has edited everything I’ve ever done. He understands what I like and vice versa. And he understands how to edit the mass amount of uncatalogued film I dump in his computer every night: I tend to shoot three cameras all the time. The film’s gunfight is almost an hour-long, with lots of different experiences within that. There are moments when it’s calm, quiet, slow and precise, also moments when it’s dynamic, disorienting, chaotic. We had to create it like a piece of music, with different builds, drops and climaxes. It was a great experience in teamwork, what we were able to do on the set and then in post-production.

Cinematography: Tobias Schliessler

This was our fifth movie together. He knew I wanted a dynamic style, but didn’t want handheld cameras; I wanted it to have a more stable look. He was able to get on that mountain with a substantial amount of equipment and a big team of grips, electricians and so on, to get up shots to give me a more stable look. Tobias’ father was a mountain-climber, and he’s a lover of the outdoors and of the physical challenges that were present when filming. Tobias did a great job of bringing beauty and a cinematic aesthetic to the film, in an extremely difficult shooting environment.

Sound: Wylie Stateman

This was the first time I’ve worked with so much sound design. I’d never worked with him before. When we met, he’d just finished “Django” and he’d seen a cut of my film and began talking about it like a piece of jazz music. He wanted to use silence to create a “piece of music” out of the gunfight. I wasn’t sure what he meant and wasn’t sure I agreed with him. He persuaded me to use less music than I would have and to let the organic sounds of a mountain gunfight be the score. He approaches sound design from as unique a vantage point as I’ve ever seen.

Music: Steve Jablonsky, Explosions in the Sky

Steve did the last reel; the band Explosions in the Sky did pretty much did everything else. They have an emotional, tender quality to their music, even when it gets aggressive. I didn’t want the score to be overly aggressive, I wanted it to be haunting and emotional. Steve Jablonsky came in at the end to do something more traditional, but when Steve does “traditional,” it’s not the usual strings. He created a wonderful sound at the very end.

Stunts: Kevin Scott

Stunt coordinator Kevin Scott really stepped up. I’ve worked with stuntmen before, but I’ve never seen anyone attack their stunts as aggressively as this team. Those mountain falls are as intense as anything I’ve seen in a movie. The stunts were all real, there were no dummies; they committed so intensely to the film. That’s partly because there were Navy Seals on the set all the time, so the stunt team were very aware of the men they were honoring.

Those stuntmen were doing very hard-to-control falls on a mountain at 8,000 feet, without backup: There were no ambulances if anybody got hurt. Kevin had to have one eye on safety and one eye on the work, and he did a great job. Even before filming, he helped us create an incredible training camp so the stuntmen and actors could become very proficient at their weapons. Having been there to see what these stuntmen put themselves through and what Kevin gets out of them…

Writer: Peter Berg

It was almost five years between the time I read the book (“Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10”) and met Marcus and the time we started filming. I was ready to do “Lone Survivor,” but then there was a deal with the studio to do “Battleship,” so I pushed “Lone Survivor” back. But my enthusiasm never waned. By the time I finished writing, I’d spent a year with Navy Seals and I got to live a month with them in Iraq. Plus, I did quite a bit of research on how they operated and I had a pretty good idea on how to bring that script to life. The script that I finished three years ago was more or less the script that we shot. I tend to improvise a lot, so there are always dialog changes, but the script that we shot was basically the script that I wrote.

Directors on Their Teams runs Monday through Friday. Tomorrow: J.C. Chandor.

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