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Authors reflect on 11-year journey bringing ‘Hunter Killer’ to big screen

Actor Gerard Butler and "Hunter Killer" director Donovan Marsh at Groton Naval Base. (Gerard Butler/Facebook)
November 10, 2018

“Hunter Killer” was recently released nationwide and showcases for the first time ever a U.S. Navy Virginia-class submarine on the big screen, as well as portrays the Navy’s “Silent Service” – the submarine force – in a thriller full of action, international intrigue, teamwork and inspiration.

Taking place primarily underwater in the Barents Sea, Russia, submarine Captain Joe Glass, portrayed by actor Gerard Butler, is the commander of the USS Omaha, on a mission to find a U.S. submarine in distress as Russia aggressively builds up its military in anticipation of what is assumed could be World War III. Aside from impressive submarine scenes, there is a team of Navy SEALs on a mission to rescue the Russian president being held captive after a coup in his own government.

The movie has been a few years in the making, but work on the book, “Firing Point,” began more than a decade ago. One of its authors, George Wallace, served 22 years in the U.S. Navy. He sold the screenplay option for the book in 2007, he said.

He and Don Keith, who co-authored the book, have been working on this project for 11 years, he recently told American Military News.

“Gratifying really doesn’t say it well. I’m at a loss for how best to describe it,” he said. “It’s been a long road with twists and turns. The tremendous job that Gerard [Butler] and [director] Donovan Marsh, and the production companies have done with it, it was great.”

The most important thing wan translating the book onto the big screen was authenticity, Wallace said.

“With the Navy support they had, they nailed it. That was my biggest worry for the last 11 years, that somehow this was going to get messed up and I’d have to apologize to my friends,” he joked.

But in all seriousness, that authenticity is what drove the entire cast and crew of “Hunter Killer.”

Before its official release, the film was shown at Naval Submarine Base New London, in Groton, Conn. – known as the “Home of the Submarine Force.”

“There was a quote I heard from the screening in Groton. One of the young seamen comes out, and he said ‘I can finally go tell my family and my wife, they can see what my life is like.’ There’s no way they could know that otherwise,” Wallace said.

“Authors are supposed to say it doesn’t follow the book, but they did a great job,” Keith recently told American Military News.

Keith has written 32 books on a wide range of subjects, including six books about World War II submarines.

“The ‘Silent Service’ doesn’t really blow its own horn enough, because it can’t. To have a force, where the enemy really can’t be sure where you are… but they’re aware of the fire power these subs carry… just that deterrent is so powerful. That’s the beauty of the submarine,” Keith explained.

“We had written a previous book, ‘Final Bearing,’ and the process was similar. I’m a storyteller, George is a submarine captain who writes a little bit better than he thinks he does,” Keith joked.

“To me, the perfect story is taking average people and putting them in unusual situations and letting them do remarkable things. If you have those three elements, you’ve got a story people can identify with,” he continued. “We wanted to tell an exciting, topical story, but we also wanted to show people the ‘silent service’ and what those people go through.”

As far as the audiences’ reaction?

“We just hope they come out and say that was a great ride, a thrilling movie. They should only pay for half the seat; you’re going to be on the edge of it. It is a very entertaining and exciting movie,” Keith said.

“I hope they [the general public] come away with an appreciation for these men and women who volunteer for the submarine service. They are down there… they stay gone for six months at time, most of the time submerged. I hope people appreciate the sacrifice they’re making on their behalf. I hope submariners, I hope they see it and say someone is finally telling their stories,” he added.