Knowledge is Power


50. “Drop and give me twenty, maggot!”

The soldiers went through grueling army training before filming, but Matt Damon didn’t participate. Spielberg let Matt skip the training so that the other actors would resent him and show it in their performances.

49. A tribute to dad.

Spielberg directed Saving Private Ryan as a tribute to his father, Arnold Spielberg, who served in the U.S. Army and Signal Corps and fought in Burma during World War II. Arnold had helped a Steven direct his first movies as a teenager, both of which involved plots that took place during World War II.

Steven Spielberg with his father, Arnold.

48. Trauma on set.

One of the actors in the German-dubbed version of the movie was actually a German veteran from the invasion of Normandy. He had to drop out because of the emotional realism of the movie.

47. A little help from Robin Williams.

Robin Williams introduced Matt Damon to Steven Spielberg during rehearsals for the movie Good Will Hunting. Two weeks later, Spielberg contacted Damon about the part of Private Ryan.


46. Private NPH?

Neil Patrick Harris was considered for the role of Private Ryan.

45. They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

Before Tom Hanks was cast as Captain John Miller, Spielberg considered Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford for the lead role.

44. Almost derailed by addiction.

Tom Sizemore was battling a drug addiction during the filming of the movie. Spielberg gave him an ultimatum where he would be blood tested every single day. According to Sizemore, Spielberg said that if Sizemore failed, “He would fire me on the spot and shoot all 58 days that I’d worked over again with someone else.”

43. Little unknown Matt Damon…

When Matt Damon was cast as Private Ryan, it was because Spielberg wanted a relatively unknown actor at the time. This backfired when Good Will Hunting made Damon an overnight star shortly before this movie was released.

42. Crank the volume, please.

Movie theatres were specifically instructed to raise the volume when showing the movie, as sound effects played a crucial aspect to the experience of the movie.

41. Aquaphobia.

Billy Bob Thornton was offered the role of Sergeant Horvath, but declined because he didn’t want to film the Omaha beach scenes because of his Aquaphobia, a fear of water.

Billy Bob Thorton.


40. Bang!

Gunfire sound effects heard throughout the film were recorded from actual gunfire with live ammunition fired from authentic period weapons. The sound effects were recorded at a live fire machine gun range.

39. Hard on veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs set up a special 800 number to offer support to veterans in anticipation of the hundreds of former soldiers who might be traumatized after viewing the movie.

38. Sorry, Ed.

Edward Norton was offered the role of Private Ryan. He opted to star in American History X instead.

37. “Suck it up, turds!”

On top of the incredibly tough exercises, the actors’ boot camp involved camping in soaking wet conditions, only being allowed to call each other by their characters’ names, and having the boot camp supervisor constantly refer to them as “turds.”

36. Bonjour from London.

The bombed-out French city wasn’t in France; it was actually a set built outside of London. Spielberg realized that shooting a destroyed French city would be a logistical nightmare, so the the fictional city of Ramelle was created entirely at a now-closed WWII air base located about 30 miles outside of London. It took four months to build, and to add more believability, tons of rubble was purchased from nearby construction sites and added to the set.

35. Four weeks of gun-blazing improv.

The Omaha Beach battle was filmed in sequence over a four-week period, moving the action up the beach shot by shot and day by day. Steven Spielberg claims that none of it was storyboarded in advance.


34. R-rated and making money.

On top of being the highest grossing movie of 1998, it was last R-Rated movie to lead box office charts until 2014, when American Sniper was released.

33. Tom Hanks is the man.

When Tom Hanks’ character, John Miller, tells the rest of the unit what he does for a living back home, Hanks’ speech was actually much longer in the original script. But Hanks felt that his character wouldn’t have said so much about himself, and he told Steven Spielberg so. Spielberg agreed, and the speech was shortened.

32. A nice chunk of change.

The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million to shoot and involved up to 1,000 extras, many of whom were members of the Irish Army Reserve. Of those extras, 20-30 of them were amputees issued with prosthetic limbs to simulate soldiers having their limbs blown off.

31. A genius invention?

When the camera shakes during explosions, it’s because Steven Spielberg attached drills to the sides of the cameras, which were turned on when shaking was required. While shooting, the crew’s photographer let Spielberg know that there were shaker lenses for cameras. Spielberg said in an interview that he was bummed because he thought he had invented an awesome new technique.

30. Talk about realism.

Two of the landing crafts in the Omaha Beach scenes were actually used during World War II.

29. Wooden ammo.

For the initial sea battle scenes, spare ammunition carried by the actors was made from wood because metal was too heavy.


28. Give me a moment, please.

Military historian and author Stephen Ambrose, at a special screening of the film for him, asked for the screening to be halted 20 minutes in. He couldn’t handle the intensity of the opening. After composing himself outside for a few minutes, he returned to the screening room and watched the film to its conclusion.

27. Respect the Spielberg.

Spielberg requested that nobody be allowed entrance into the movie after the film had begun showing.

26. Surprised by the success.

Steven Spielberg claimed that he considered the film a gift to his aging father, a WWII veteran. He said he didn’t think a World War II movie with lots of graphic violence could be a smash hit, and was surprised when it became a blockbuster.

25. Right on cue.

Interestingly enough, when Paul Giamatti says “The streets have been quiet for about 45 minutes,” it’s around the 45-minute mark in the movie.

24. Not realistic? Think again.

Military veterans complained that the scene where the Rangers throw mortar rounds by hand at the German soldiers was unrealistic. It was then revealed that Charles Kelly, who received the Medal of Honor, actually did this during a battle in Italy in 1943.

23. A big-time pat on the back.

Spielberg received praise for the movie’s authenticity. James Doohan, an actor who appeared in Star Trek, was especially kind. Doohan lost the middle finger of his right hand and was wounded in the leg during the war. He also participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, at Juno Beach, where the 3rd Canadian infantry division led the attack. He commended Spielberg for not leaving out any gory details.

22. Making haters believe.

The India Censor Board blocked the film because it featured too much violence. They demanded cuts that Steven Spielberg declined to make and instead, he decided not to release the movie in India at all. After the Home Minister of India saw the movie himself, he love it so much that he ordered it to be released uncut.

21. Capturing tragedy.

The two “German” soldiers who are shot trying to surrender were speaking Czech. “Please don’t shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech, I didn’t kill anyone, I am Czech!” After taking their lands, German troops forced many Czech and Polish citizens into the German military.

20. Authentic language.

When using the field radio on the beach, Capt. Miller keeps saying ‘CATF’ into the radio, meaning he is calling the Commander: Amphibious Task Force.

19. A little improv.

Matt Damon ad-libbed the story he tells towards the end of the film, where he speaks about about spying on his brother in the barn with the ugly girl. The speech was rambling and not particularly funny or interesting, and that’s why it worked! It was true to an unformed kid like Ryan. Steven Spielberg liked it so much that he decided to leave it in the film.

18. No shortage of violence.

The battle of Normandy at the beginning of the film and the battle to defend Ramelle at the end both run to approximately 25 minutes in length, comprising nearly an hour of the film.

17. Sticking to your guns.

Steven Spielberg is on record as saying that even if the film had received an NC-17 rating, he would have released it uncut anyway.

16. Way to go, Tom!

In 2006, Tom Hanks was inducted into the US Army’s Ranger Hall of Fame as an honorary member, largely due to his portrayal of Capt. John Miller.

15. Old school editing.

Saving Private Ryan is the last film edited on a non-digital editing system to win an Academy Award for editing.

14. Don’t save Private Ryan…

Capt. Dale Dye (USMC Ret.), the movie’s military advisor, makes a cameo as a War Department colonel in the scene with Gen. George C. Marshall. He’s the white-haired officer advising Marshall against sending a rescue party after Ryan.

13. A dash of color, perhaps?

Although Steven Spielberg lowered the color saturation of the movie by 60% for artistic reasons, both major American satellite providers (DirecTV and Dish Newtork) and most cable TV providers turned up the chroma gain to re-enhance the color saturation when showing the movie. Why? Because on the first day or two of the movie’s broadcast run, their customer service centres were swamped with calls from upset viewers complaining that something was wrong with the color.

12. Computer-made bullet holes.

The input of Industrial Light & Magic was significantly downplayed so as not to make the film appear to be a special effects movie. ILM’s contribution, however, was subtle but critical, as most of the bullet hits in the Omaha Beach battle were digitally created.

11. Dirt to remember.

The scene with Tom Sizemore collecting dirt is accurate. Many WWII soldiers collected dirt to show where they served in combat. Today, troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan are specifically instructed not to collect dirt to avoid bringing back foreign species.

10. From Omaha with the Irish?

Omaha Beach was actually shot in Ireland. The actual beaches in Normandy where Allied forces invaded France have strict filming restrictions, so Spielberg created an almost exact replica of the Omaha Beach in Ireland at Ballinesker Beach.

9. Not a solo shot.

Saving Private Ryan was the only movie that Steven Spielberg directed up to that point in his career that he hadn’t developed on his own. Screenwriter Robert Rodat’s script was actually sent to Spielberg by his agent. In a stroke of luck, the script had also been sent to actor Tom Hanks, who wanted to make the movie. Spielberg and Hanks, who had never worked with each other at that point, called each other when they found out they were reading the same script and decided to collaborate on the movie.

8. Sgt. Horvath almost had a different look.

Michael Madsen was offered the role of Sgt. Horvath. He declined, recommending his friend Tom Sizemore for the part instead.

Michael Madsen.

7. Tipping the hat to Eddie’s friends.

The names Rieben reads off the dog tags are all friends of actor Edward Burns.

Edward Burns.

6. I think he gets paid a little more money these days…

Vin Diesel received $100,000 for his portrayal of Caparzo, when he was still a little known actor.

5. What battle?

In reality, the Battle of Ramelle never took place. However, a German counterattack over the causeway at La Fiere by the 1057th Grenadier Regiment and light tanks of the 100th Panzer Replacement Battalion inspired the climactic battle in the film.

4. Authentic cinematography.

Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski modeled the look of the film on newsreel footage from the era. They converted the modern lenses of the shooting cameras to make them capture images more like the cameras from the 1940s. They also modeled the D-Day sequence on the bleached-out, grainy look of the D-Day photography.

3. True inspiration.

Contrary to popular belief, Saving Private Ryan is not based on the Sullivan brothers. It was based on the Niland brothers, four siblings who served in the US Army during World War II. Three brothers—Robert, Preston, and Edward—were supposedly killed in action, which caused their remaining brother (Fredrick, nicknamed “Fritz”) to be shipped back to America so that the Niland family wouldn’t lose all of their sons. Edward, who was originally thought dead, was actually found alive after escaping a Japanese prison camp in Burma.

2. A hefty price tag.

The D-Day scene alone cost $12 million because of the logistical difficulties and the realistic scope needed to complete the sequence. The entire budget of the movie was only $70 million. Spielberg didn’t storyboard any of the D-Day sequence.

1. A little bit of blood.

For the opening scene on Omaha beach, they used over 40 barrels of fake blood to create the horrific battle.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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