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If you're American producer and you want to get some impressive combat scenes in your movie, you can call the Department of Defense and ask for some of their fancy equipment. Plus any soldiers who happen to be free. To give an example, Black Hawk Down wasn't forced to use out-of-date Hueys because the Pentagon lent them Black Hawks. The 2007 Transformers movie got brand-spanking-new tanks, planes and helicopters (half of which turned out to be villains).

One reason for this is, if the film is positive about the military, it is good public relations, and this supports its mission. In fact, if it's really good, e.g. is very positive of the military and a box-office success, it will cause enlistment in the military to increase. Some people said that the Pentagon, in addition to the support it gave for the movie Top Gun, should have been paying them for what amounted to a two-hour recruiting commercial.

There's a catch -- the Department of Defense will keep an eagle eye on the script and production. If they don't like the portrayal of the military in your film, they can yank the co-operation. This was a major reason for the failure of the TV series Supercarrier. Other movies the DoD rejected were Forrest Gump, because the army protagonist was stupid, Mars Attacks (Film)!, because everyone was stupid, and Independence Day. Still, if your film just has to have a full-sized aircraft carrier, where else can one turn? CGI means that this trope may or may not be heading for extinction, although for sheer accuracy and time-saving, aid from the Pentagon is still an enticing option.

As might be gleaned from that list, movies can certainly succeed and even thrive without the DoD's help. Still, it costs quite a bit more money to go it alone, so some filmmakers give concessions on the script rather than face rejection. Sometimes this can be subtle, while other times it becomes almost a form of Executive Meddling. This article covers things in a little more depth.

This is not a solely American trope - it has happened on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and in other countries as well.

It’s not only limited to the military. If you were to shoot a motion picture or television series about any kind of specialized public profession with either lots of hardware or specific locations, such as a police department, fire department or ocean lifeguards, it can be very beneficial from both an artistic and [but most important] financial point of view to receive support from the real thing.

Examples of Backed by the Pentagon include:


US examples

Film

  • Black Hawk Down did make a major change to the true story, possibly at the Pentagon's behest. The clerk was replaced by a fictional character, for the very good reason that that person had been convicted of sexually assaulting his own daughter.
  • In the World War II set film The Enemy Below, the crew of the destroyer used for the film played the role of the ship's crew in the film, including the captain, who played the chief engineer.
  • Pearl Harbor film Tora! Tora! Tora! was filmed on the various active military bases around Oahu attacked that day, and featured a lot of pyrotechnics set off on said bases.
    • It also featured a large number of US naval vessels standing in for ships that were there that day, causing a lot of unavoidable anachronism.
  • A Few Good Men did not have Pentagon approval, and had to shoot in alternate locations.
  • The Final Countdown features a considerable number of the crew of the real USS Nimitz. About the only thing they couldn't do was ask the captain to actually sail into Pearl Harbor (the Nimitz was stationed in the Atlantic at the time).
  • One of the biggest bumps in the live-action Transformers movie was that most of the military hardware was going to become the vehicle mode of the Decepticons (bad guys), from a modified Abrams tank for Devastator Brawl to the top-of-the-line F-22 used for Starscream. In fact, according to the DVD's special features, it was the military's liaison officer who managed to convince them to let the shoot continue, as, good or evil, the Decepticons were being portrayed as the most badass robots in existence -- for example, that an ace flier like Starscream, forced to adopt a disguise to hide in an inferior culture, would naturally go with the most dangerous fighter in the world. It also probably helped that (unlike the series on which it is based) this was one of the only alien invasion movies where the military have weapons that actually work (the military men being the good guys who side with the good robots with the intelligence officers being the obstructive bureaucrats who try to capture and study the evil robots was likely a factor). In fact, the two V-22 Ospreys in Qatar at the start of the movie were the only two such aircraft in the USAF at the time.
    • Naturally, they're going Up to Eleven in the sequel, where most of the soldier extras present are actual soldiers.
    • Michael Bay has been honest in calling himself a "world class ass kisser." The military looks good in his films and he is proud of that fact. He also talked about how obsessed with details they are, the uniforms are accurate and the terminology used was filmed as a training scenario with the actual people who do those things. One scene had an analyst slipping into a private meeting in the Pentagon. The US Secret Service said that there is no way that would ever happen -- security in such meetings is too strong. A compromise was made: someone knocked on the glass, acknowledging that the analyst was being observed.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home got US backing too. The real USN nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was unavailable and had highly classified and moderately radioactive interiors though, so USS Ranger stood in.
    • As with Transformers, Star Trek IV had only intelligence officers portrayed unsympathetically. That's presumably why the two guys who interrogate Chekov are from the FBI.
  • Top Gun. Yep. The Navy wanted some good publicity - and got a huge increase in interest as a result (also on the USS Ranger [CV-61]).
  • The Hunt for Red October: The film-makers were allowed in the real USS Dallas to take photos of non-classified areas.
  • In an inversion, Platoon was a success in spite of the Pentagon refusing to supply anything for the film.
  • As were Apocalypse Now and An Officer and a Gentleman.
  • In The Movie of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears:
    • the carrier that was attacked was originally to have been sunk, but in order to keep military support for the film, the script had to be adjusted so that the carrier survived, though it was mission killed (that is, couldn't do much of anything except limp away).
    • When the time came to film the nuclear detonation scene, in which the Presidential motorcade to be severely damaged by the blast[1], the director used real military personal that were trained specifically for that situation. All he had to do was point to the overturned limo and tell them 'The president is in that car!'.
  • Iron Eagle had to make use of IAF aircraft, as the USAF thought the script was so ridiculous that there was no way in hell they'd support it. This explains why the enemy country is using Israeli "Kfir" aircraft.
  • Amazingly, the Army approved Stripes because they thought it would be a good recruitment tool. Even more amazingly, they were right!
  • G.I. Joe the Rise of Cobra featured real Apache helicopters flown by real Army pilots. Odd, as most of the film deals with fantastic vehicles and weapons that bear no resemblance to the real military.
  • Crimson Tide depicted a mutiny on a US navy submarine, so naturally didn't make the cut. To get around this the filmmakers used chase helicopters to follow an actual submarine out to sea so they could film it diving. They also used a French Aircraft Carrier for some scenes.
  • The scene in The Bourne Identity in the US Consulate in Switzerland features a team of US Marines who are the actual guards of US Embassies and other State department buildings.
  • The US, British and French militaries supplied about 23,000 troops during the filming of The Longest Day.
  • In Battle: Los Angeles, the USMC provided a number of troops to serve as extras, and lent a huge amount of aircraft such as various helicopters and even V-22 Opsreys. They also allowed the crew to film some parts of the movie in Camp Pendleton. Behind the scenes, the cast were trained at a boot camp run by military advisors to make sure they acted, fought, and spoke like Marines. Aaron Eckhart joked that they were very particular about the terminology they used, such as calling a helicopter a "helo" instead of a "chopper".
  • The Green Berets is one of the most famous examples of this. Legend has it that John Wayne personally requested support from Lyndon Johnson.
  • Similarly to Platoon, The Hurt Locker didn't have military backing, partially because of budget issues. One might think the film's much-criticized lapses in military procedure would have been fixed had they had Army consultants, but since it didn't make war look fun, the army would have none of it.
  • Iron Man - The Air Force provided material with the then-new Airman's Battle Uniform's camoflage patterm. Actor Terrance Howard also did some immersion research with airmen to prepare for the role.
    • However, the Pentagon backed out The Avengers, stating that they found the film too unrealistic to get behind, specifically S.H.I.E.L.D., and the question of who exactly they answer to. The US Army still participated, however.
  • In Jack Webb's The DI, active-duty Marines portray all but one of the recruits.
  • In the film adaption of Battleship, the US Navy bent over backwards and then some to not just make locations available, but provide large numbers servicepeople for the shoot. Those extras and even most of the named characters in the film? Serving personnel, some of them playing themselves. Considering the script is apparently played for maximum realism, and the filmmaker's self-described "Love Letter to the Navy" even went so far as to give some screen time to disabled vets out of respect, it's quite understandable.
    • It also fits in with the US military's needs now that Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing down: the new "Asian pivot"--and the fact that, in general, the US is by nature primarily a naval power[2] when not actively fighting a big war on land--means that American strategy centers on the Navy and Marines much more than it did earlier (you will also notice a greater number of Navy recruiting ads in the early 2010s).
  • Act of Valor(which started life as a recruitment film) takes this to an even greater extreme, as the main characters are all played by real U.S. Navy SEALS(who were between deployments at the time of shooting), the crew was given unparalled access ot Navy equipment, live ammo was used for most scenes(not to mention a scene where a truck gets blown up with an RPG that was done for real without any effects) all the tactics used in the film are real, and several things in the film are based on real life missions. It's worth mentioning that the film gained a considerable amount of support after Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. SEALS.


Live Action TV

  • JAG was notable as a series that had a great deal of Pentagon support after it became a hit, although this did lead to a few episodes that were clear Military On Board.
  • Originally the Air Force just wanted to review the scripts to Stargate SG-1, but the producers decided to ask for advisors to avoid Artistic License Military, and actually listened to them (though a few errors still got through - Samantha's hair getting too long, Gen. Landry having his hands in his pockets, etc). Before long, the show was using real Air Force personnel playing many of its extras, and two Chiefs of Staff appearing as themselves: Generals Michael E. Ryan and John P. Jumper.
    • In Stargate: Continuum, the Navy let them film the outside and inside of a real nuclear attack submarine, in the Arctic, doing a number of through the ice-pack surfaces for it. Not to be outdone, the Air Force let them film inside real F-15's.
    • The 'no hands in pockets' rule is broken all the time - especially by generals.
  • Also not a military example, but Dragnet was backed very heavily by the Los Angeles Police Department, and many off-duty officers became extras. Rather than let the producers of the show make mock-ups of the LAPD's distinctive shield-shaped badges, the two main characters were allowed to borrow genuine ones that were brought to the set every day by a police adviser. Reportedly, Joe Friday even had a working phone number. When Jack Webb, the actor who played Sgt. Joe Friday died, the badge number he used, 714, was retired from the LAPD, and is now buried with him.
    • Similarly Adam-12 and Emergency were backed by the LAPD and LAFD, respectively.
  • An episode of NCIS dealing with muslim religious beliefs turned out to be backed by the Pentagon. It actually was pretty fair and portrayed the religion well, if a bit heavy-handed on the whole thing.
  • Gunnery Sergeant (Honorary) R. Lee Ermey. A retired Marine drill instructor, he's portrayed similar roles in several movies and served as military technical adviser as well. He's hosted two military-themed shows (Mail Call and Lock 'n Load), and never had a problem accessing military bases and the biggest explosion-making toys they could offer.
  • Due to being filmed in New York, the Law and Order franchise has been able to use the NYPD's Movie/Television Division to full effect.
  • In an episode of the American version of Top Gear, the hosts manage to recruit the services of a Cobra attack helicopter to see if the Dodge Viper they were testing could outrun or evade it.[3]
  • The short-lived FOX cop-drama K-ville was filmed on location in New Orleans and the show was allowed to use the real-life uniforms and logos of the New Orleans Police.
  • Oddly enough, Paranormal Investigation shows get backing from the military as well. The Ghost Hunters were asked to investigate the U. S. S. Lexington and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base while the Ghost Adventures crew were asked to investigate the U. S. S. Hornet.
  • The documentary miniseries Victory At Sea.


Other

  • Collegiate Basketball rivals Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina, with the agreement of the United States Navy, played a basketball game on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson at Naval Base San Diego on Veterans Day 2011 (11/11/11). The visuals alone are freaking epic, especially as the sun sets.

Non-US examples

Film

  • The filmakers of the original Gojira film were denied this support but in an interesting way of getting around that they found out the schedule of a military convoy (on its way to be decommissioned) and filmed it twice along its route without permission.
  • The James Bond film Goldeneye was backed by the French navy, who lent the crew a frigate and a helicopter for a scene in which the helicopter is stolen (the helicopter is a model in later scenes though).
    • During the production of The World Is Not Enough, MI6 initially moved to block the filming of a scene around their headquarters, citing security concerns - but were overruled by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, saying "After all Bond has done for Britain, it was the least we could do for Bond."
  • The The Lord of the Rings movies used the New Zealand army to do tasks from landscaping Hobbiton to filling out their legions of extras. The Mordor scenes were filmed on an abandoned minefield, being the only place in New Zealand with the right amount of ash and desolation.
  • Saving Private Ryan had the help of the Irish Army, Navy, and British MoD reserves for use as extras during the Omaha Beach sequence.
  • Irish Army Reservists also served as extras for Braveheart. Since as Craig Charles put it, "(they) see very little real action and were probably making the best of it", on-site medical personnel were kept rather busy during the fight sequences.
  • The sixties Danish monster movie Reptilicus featured dozens of soldiers and displays of some of the best gear possessed by the Danish army at the time (apparently unusual at the time; most similar movies had to rely on Stock Footage). That didn't stop the movie from being hilariously awful, though.
  • In Hero, starring Jet Li, the extras playing the soldiers of the Qin army were actual Chinese soldiers provided by the PLA.
    • This was once again done in the Three Kingdoms period pieces Red Cliff and 'Red Cliff 2 where the soldiers of the Wei, Shu and Wu armies were PLA soldiers.
  • Those Wacky Nazis used thousands of soldiers, some diverted from fighting positions at considerable cost, as extras in the 1945 movie Kolberg (about the successful resistance of the fortress-town of Kolberg against the French in 1807). By the time the movie came out there were few theatres left unbombed to watch it in, so its propaganda effect was minimal to say the least.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Norwegian reservists played the soldiers in the Battle for the Ice Planet Hoth.
    • So Hoth might actually be a vacation for them, huh?
  • French director Abel Gance was able to get military assistance in making the anti-war film J'accuse! (1919) by convincing them it was going to be a propaganda movie. 2000 soldiers on leave from the Battle of Verdun played soldiers who rise from their graves to condemn the uncaring civilians. Within a few weeks of their return to the front, eighty per cent of these soldiers had been killed.
  • In The Beast, Captain Dale Dye negotiated to get an old Russian tank from the Israeli Defence Forces. The film, set in Afghanistan, was shot in the Sinai desert.
  • Possibly the most epic example: Sergey Bondarchuk's 1968 War and Peace movie, featuring horses and entire military units (as well as a special "cinematographical cavalry corps") provided by the Soviet Ministry of Defense. But then, the Soviet Ministry of Defense was very fond of this trope in general, often providing soldiers for patriotic war films.
  • Sergei Bondarchuk did the same thing in 1971 in Waterloo, where Soviet soldiers were used in huge shots featuring thousands of soldiers. Hilarity Ensues in several known instances where the soldiers panicked and scattered during scenes with cavalry charges.
  • Most of the U.S. Marines who invade the Bashaw's palace in The Wind and The Lion were actually Spanish Special Forces, as the movie was filmed in Spain, with Sevilla and Almeria standing in for Tangier.
  • Many Vietnam War movies, such as Apocalypse Now and the Missing in Action series, were filmed in the Philippines, which has jungles, needs money, and most importantly, uses US military equipment. The Armed Forces of the Philippines often lent vehicles such as F-5s and Hueys to the film makers in place of American military vehicles.
  • The Swiss comedy movie Achtung, Fertig, Charlie!' (English: Ready, Set, Charlie!') set in basic training of the Swiss Army was supported by the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (yes, it is rather odd) by providing vehicles, extras etc. Later on, said department criticised the moviemakers for their "unrealistic, comical illustration of basic training"...a claim most Swiss thought was silly, even if they agreed it was true, seeing as Switzerland has universal male conscription.
  • According to Turner Classic Movies, the castle in Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood was a full-scale authentic Japanese castle, built by US Marine Engineers as a construction exercise for the production.
  • The Mexican military was going to provide the vehicles for the movie Once Upon a Time In Mexico, but they changed their minds once they found out the villain was an army General. The filmmakers had to make do with donations from private collectors.
  • The 2010 remake of The Karate Kid got official support from the Chinese government, and features several prominent scenes set in notable national landmarks.
  • Sergei Eisenstein's films are made of this trope. The best example would have to be the film October: Ten days that shook the world in which Eisenstein convinced the powers that be to actually have the Cruiser "Aurora" shell the Winter Palace again. Apparently more people were inured in its re-enactment of the storming of the palace than were in the actual, historical event.
  • Lord of War is a subversion. Most of the military hardware - like the rows of battle tanks and the piles of rifles - is real. But, consistent with the theme of the movie, the lenders weren't governments but private arms dealers.
  • District 9 borrowed some Casspir APCs for the film, and also used them as part of the South African advertising campaign.
  • The live-action adaptation of '"Rescue Wings was set at the Komatsu JASDF airbase, and featured actual F-15s, UH-60Js and support from both the Air and Maritime Self Defense Forces.

Live Action TV

  • In the climactic battle of the Doctor Who serial "The Invasion", most of the UNIT members are actual British soldiers of the Coldstream Guards. Highly impressive, considering Doctor Who's usual budget (a third of a shoestring).
    • The Sea Devils saw the Royal Navy waive fees on Stock Footage and many extras were played by volunteering sailors.
    • The new series appears to be getting quite a bit of military backing, culminating in the appearance of Challenger II battle tanks in one of the Christmas specials.
  • A Polish 1960s cult series on WWII called Four tank men and a dog had its equipment granted (free of charge) by the Army. Either through connections or simply thanks to magic of Television. Someone called the general: "Comrade, we need a thousand men and a tank squad for two weeks, it's for TV series", and boom.
    • Actually, during the Soviet occupation, the communist nations had quite an easy access to both military hardware and personnel (not so hard with mandatory enlistment and wanting to glorify the military a bit). Strangely though, at least in Czech production, the resulting series/movies were surprisingly realistic, dealing with bullying and other darker topics of peacetime military.
  • Top Gear frequently has appearances from members of the British Army or Royal Marines, taking part in all sorts of hijinks under the guise of car tests. This includes hunting down Jeremy Clarkson in a tank and more recently having the new Ford Fiesta take part in a Royal Marine beach assault.
    • In one episode, the RAF[4] lend a Eurofighter Typhoon jet and pilot to race Richard Hammond's Buggati Veyron.
    • Segments have taken place on the deck of an aircraft carrier at least twice.
  • The production for CCTV's live-action TV adaptation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms had some help from the People's Liberation Army, who provided a few divisions of troops for use as extras.
  • The 1973-77 BBC series Warship was filmed on a number of Royal Navy vessels.
  • The Bill was backed By Scotland Yard and was allowed to use real police logos, actual uniforms and real equipment. When the show ended they bought all their props to prevent criminals getting hold of them.
  • The Mexican show El Equipo (tagline: "They know Good Defeats Evil"), basically a 60-minutes long government ad, used troops of the security agencies. And vehicles. And equipment. And classified locations...

Notes

  1. though the electronic devices they used, including civilian cell phones that aren't hardened against EMP, continued to work just fine
  2. Having the world's two largest oceans for moats and friendly neighbors by land will do that to you.
  3. Of course it couldn't. Helicopters don't have to follow roads or go around buildings like cars do.
  4. described as "a bunch of aeroplane enthusiasts"
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