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Mel Gibson on the ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Artisans Who Brought WWII to Life

Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” looks like a mega-budget epic, though it was filmed in only 59 days on $40 million. The saga tells the true story of Desmond Doss, who wanted to serve during WWII, but refused to carry a gun. The opening moments show vivid scenes of battle while Andrew Garfield’s voice is heard reading a psalm. “I wanted to juxtapose the crazy war images with the lyricism of the psalm,” Gibson says. “This was a situation that reduces men to the level of animals, yet Desmond Doss always kept his higher self intact. The spirituality doesn’t work unless you see how hellish it was. What the guy did was unbelievable.” Gibson singled out some of his colleagues who helped bring the story to life.

Editor, John Gilbert
I have such respect for this guy, with all the footage that we had, making it move along, making it snap. The first battle scene was fog — “What’s out there?” — and extremely violent. The second was faster and more overrun, a lot of explosions. The third is almost lyrical. At that point, you don’t want to focus too much on the battle stuff, you want it more impressionistic.

Production design, Barry Robison
He did excellent work with such limited resources. It was all filmed in New South Wales, but Barry created Lynchburg and Okinawa. And he got away with it! We showed the film to some folks in Lynchburg, Va. They said, “How did you get up to the Peaks of Otter (in the Blue Ridge Mountains) without our knowing about it?” They thought we’d shot in the area. One guy in Lynchburg said, “I was born in that hospital!” Actually, Barry found the hospital in Manly, just outside Sydney. For Okinawa, he found cliffs in Goulburn, and married them to that huge battlefield, which was 300 miles away, but made it look like the same place.

Re-recording mixer, Kevin O’Connell
He hears the story. Sometimes he would say quietly, “Might I suggest something?” And you think “Yeah!” He’d come in and would have all kinds of weird stuff; sometimes he would turn down the
roar of battle and pick up the sharp sounds of metal hitting helmets or of a flapping flag. He’s the best.

Cinematographer, Simon Duggan
He lit everything beautifully; he was mobile and agile. When we started I said, “For the battles, we will get the rough stuff, but I don’t want a shaky camera all the time.” He’s a great camera guy, and all his crews were great too.

Makeup, Shane Thomas
The war carnage, the wounds — dynamic stuff. I’m sure it wasn’t easy and he did it on a budget. We had maybe 100 guys playing American soldiers, and 70 Japanese soldiers, though it looks like we had thousands. It was enormous, but it was all in a day’s work for Shane and his great team.

Visual effects supervisor, Chris Godfrey
Some of the battle stuff — we wanted to make it look like the whole place was exploding. We had a lot was practical explosions, but there were also a lot of effects in there. And when you watch the film, I’ll bet you can’t tell the difference. If special effects are there and you don’t know where they are, that’s great special effects.

First AD, P.J. Voeten
He’s kind of a computer with legs. He’s very logical and so organized, which I need, to allow me the time in my playpen.

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