“Saving Private Ryan,” the World War II film that portrays a group of American soldiers undertaking a dangerous rescue mission behind enemy lines to rescue a paratrooper following the events of D-Day, quickly became an iconic war film when it was first released in 1998.
In the years since “Saving Private Ryan” was first screened in theaters, many little-known facts have been discovered concerning the production of the legendary film.
The majority of the film was shot in chronological order
The cast’s experience of filming “Saving Private Ryan” was unique due to the chronological sequence of film production. While most movies are not filmed in chronological order, Spielberg decided to film the majority of his iconic World War II film in order.
“It was a mentally demoralizing experience for us because we shot in continuity, from beginning to end. We were all reliving the story together,” Spielberg said. The director added, “I didn’t realize how devastating that was going to be for the whole cast to actually start off with Omaha Beach and survive that as a film team, and then move into the hedgerows, move into the next town, as we all began to get whittled down by the storytelling.”
Main cast experienced 7-day boot camp
According to Empire, Spielberg required the film’s main cast members to take part in a seven-day boot camp prior to filming in order to learn what military life would have been like. Captain Dale Dye, a Vietnam War Marine veteran and military advisor reportedly pushed each of the actors to their physical endurance limits.
Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Jeremy Davies, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, and Giovanni Ribisi participated in the film’s boot camp experience. Between six-mile runs, push ups, limited food rations, and other experiences typical to boot camp, many of the actors were reported to have faced mental breakdowns, exhaustion, vomiting, and intense cold.
Burns later described the boot camp training process as the worst experience in his life. “We get there, we set up our tents, and it starts raining and it doesn’t stop raining for seven days,” he said. “It is 30 degrees at night and you are in a soaking wet tent, a soaking wet uniform, with a soaking wet blanket wrapped around you.”
Most of the actors voted to leave boot camp
As a result of the intense boot camp experience and the fear that the training would cause them to become unhealthy by the start of the filming process, most of the actors voted to leave boot camp until Tom Hanks voted against the decision, according to Empire.
“I loved it!” Hanks said. “They all wanted to quit and I said, ‘No’.’ The actual boot camp was very cold and it was very miserable and it was very humiliating. It was exhausting, we didn’t get much sleep. We worried about getting sick and we worried about getting hurt, but we were never worried about those being the six most worthwhile days that we could have.”
Vin Diesel noted that the experience caused him to have significant respect for Hanks. “We were all exhausted, we all wanted to leave and here was this guy who was a superstar, who doesn’t have to be here, voting to stay,” he said. “That’s when we adopted him as our captain. He said, ‘Guys, 20 years from now, you’ll look back on this and wished to God you had finished it.’ To this day, we are all extremely grateful that we did.”
The cast resented Matt Damon
Unlike the rest of the movie’s main cast, Matt Damon was not required to participate in the grueling boot camp training process. Since the soldiers in the film are resentful toward Private Ryan for causing them to embark on a dangerous rescue mission behind enemy lines, Damon was intentionally directed to skip boot camp.
“I wasn’t invited to the boot camp,” Damon said. “It was a great ploy on Steven’s part because what it did, since the film is about these eight guys who are looking for one guy, they are risking their lives for this one guy and a resentment breeds among them for this one guy. The boot camp couldn’t help but foster a kernel of resentment, because while they are sleeping face down in the rain they were well aware that I was at home in bed. So, by the time I show up on set and flippantly ask, ‘Hey, guys how was boot camp?’, that resentment is right there. It created that separation.”
Sergeant Horvath actor took daily drug tests
Despite being known for having a meth addiction, Spielberg gave the role of Sergeant Horvath to actor Tom Sizmore, according to The Daily Beast. In order to prevent issues on set, Sizemore was subjected to a daily drug test. Spielberg reportedly told Sizemore that if he failed any of the drug tests, he would be removed from the movie and replaced by an alternative actor.
Movie prompted the government to set up veteran hotline
According to Collider, the Omaha Beach landing sequence in the film was so accurate and intense that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs had to organize a toll-free hotline when the movie first released in 1998 to assist World War II veterans deal with their traumatic reactions to the film.
At the time, a spokesperson told The Deseret Sun, “Counselors at VA medical facilities have been asked to prepare to assist veterans who experience emotional trauma as a result of the movie.”
Opening scene featured amputees as extras
During the film’s opening sequence, the production featured dozens of real-life amputees in order to make the injuries appear more realistic on the screen, according to Independent.ie.
“We had somewhere between 20 and 30 amputees and paraplegics who worked with us, creating very realistic scenes where we could use effects to make it look like soldiers were losing limbs, Associate Producer Mark Huffam said. “Some might say it was an insensitive approach, but they all did it with great enthusiasm.”
Garth Brooks was almost in the movie
According to Ranker, country music icon Garth Brooks met with Frank Darabont, a screenwriter on “Saving Private Ryan” to discuss the film. Despite, the screenwriter specifically creating Private Jackson’s role for Brooks, the country music star ultimately declined to be in the movie. Private Jackson was eventually played by actor Barry Pepper.
Omaha Beach was filmed in Ireland
Spielberg and the film’s crew chose to transform the beaches of Curracloe, located in Wexford, Ireland, into Normandy’s D-Day beaches. Featuring white sandy beaches, Wexford was able to portray the original landscape of Omaha.
Irish author Annette J. Dunlea, noted, “There were some concerns that recreating the scenes in their original location might be in bad taste. It is clear once you’ve visited the area that this isn’t just a place that people visit for the anniversary of the landings every June 6th.”
Dunlea claimed that the beaches of Omaha are constantly being visited by people who want to enjoy the “respectful silence” of the area while honoring the memory of those who sacrificed their lives. “To break this calm with a full-scale Hollywood-guns-blazing re-enactment would have been akin to breaking the peace that the soldiers of D-Day fought for,” Dunlea added.
The movie almost had a different director
While Spielberg is well-known for his work on “Saving Private Ryan,” another director was reportedly considered for the film before it was assigned to Spielberg. According to Ranker, Michael Bay, who went on to direct “Pearl Harbor,” another World War II film, was originally considered for “Saving Private Ryan.”
“I had gotten movie offers and turned them down. I took my time. They sent me Saving Private Ryan,” Bay said. “But I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.”
Movie was banned in Malaysia
Malaysia’s Film Censorship board prevented the movie from being released in the country without a significant portion of the movie’s graphic scenes being altered, according to Variety. As a result of Spielberg’s dedication to the authenticity of the film, “Saving Private Ryan” was never released in Malaysia.
“If you cheapen it, if you make it more palatable, if you somehow diminish what went on there, I think you end up doing a great disservice to what the movie as a whole is trying to communicate,” Spielberg said. “I wasn’t going to add my film to a long list of pictures that make World War II ‘the glamorous war,’ ‘the romantic war.'”
Film incorporated rare cinematography technique
Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński and Spielberg used a silver retention process called a bleach bypass, which added to the uniqueness of the film, according to Ranker. The cinematography technique bypasses the usual bleaching process used by color films. As a result, the film retains a desaturated appearance that contributes to the bleakness of “Saving Private Ryan.”
According to Ranker, other films that used this cinematography technique include 1995’s “Seven” and 2002’s “Minority Report.”
The movie was almost filmed in black and white
Following Spielberg’s acclaimed release of “Schindler’s List” in 1994, the director originally considered using the film’s largely black-and-white approach again for “Saving Private Ryan.” However, the use of color was ultimately deemed necessary for “Saving Private Ryan.”
“Black-and-white was the right choice for that film because of the subject matter and because most of the real footage of Nazi atrocities was photographed in black-and-white,” Janusz Kamiński said. “However, there is a tremendous amount of documentary footage from World War II that was photographed in color.”
Kamiński also suggested that “Saving Private Ryan” required color due to the amount of “blood in the film.”
Private Mellish’s death scene was too brutal for final cut
Despite Spielberg’s commitment to portraying the graphic violence of World War II, one scene ended up being too graphic to release as part of the movie’s final cut. Private Mellish’s famous death scene was reportedly even more intense at one point than the final cut of the movie portrayed.
“Steven and I started talking about it, about wanting it to be as realistic as possible. There was a lot more of what you saw in the rough cut,” actor Adam Goldberg, who played Mellish, said. “It was so graphic that Steven’s projectionist – who projected the dailies in Los Angeles – told him he can’t leave the scene in the movie. It’s too painful to watch. Remembering back, I think there was a lot more of me screaming how much it hurts.”
The cast was surprised by the result of the movie
While the cast of of “Saving Private Ryan” documented the difficult experience of preparing for and filming the World War II movie, Ranker noted that cast members were still surprised by the emotional impact of the final result of the movie.
“I was surprised and shocked,” Hanks said regarding his first screening of the film. “I didn’t think it was going to be as much of everything as it is. I didn’t think it was going to be as graphic, as emotional or as cerebral. I didn’t think the psychological drama of the characters was going to be as powerful. I thought it was going to be a much more objective movie to get into. I was really surprised that the movie got under my skin as much as it did.”