10 things that you (probably) didn't know about Saving Private Ryan

  • 10 things that you (probably) didn't know about Saving Private Ryan

Steven Spielberg's epic World War II tale of a battalion attempting to find and rescue a young soldier was released 18 years ago this week.

Yeah, 18 years since cinemagoers first witnessed the incredible and terrifying portrayal of the Normandy beach landings.

So, to celebrate, here are some exciting things that you probably didn't know about the Spielberg masterpiece...

10. Steven Spielberg wanted an unknown actor to play Private Ryan, didn't know Matt Damon would win an Oscar

Despite having starred in a few films, Matt Damon was a relative unknown when Spielberg saw him in Courage Under Fire, where the director decided to cast him.

Unbeknownst to Spielberg, before the release of Saving Private Ryan Damon would write and star in Good Will Hunting, which earned him and writing partner Ben Affleck an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

So, while Spielberg wanted an unknown actor with an 'All American look' for the role, Matt Damon - between his casting and the film's release - became a huge Hollywood star.

9. Steven Spielberg invented a cinematic technique for the explosions (that had already been invented)

To emphasise the explosions, Spielberg attached drills to the side of the camera, which would be turned on when required to add a camera shake effect.

When he started shooting with the shake effect, the crew's photographer informed Spielberg that there was a shaker lens for cameras to do exactly the same thing.

Spielberg told an interviewer that he thought that he'd invented a great new technique, only for a much simpler version to have already been thought of.

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8. Steven Spielberg would have fired Tom Sizemore if he failed a daily drug test

Tom Sizemore, who played Sgt Mike Horvath, was going through a pretty big drug addiction during the film's production.

Spielberg gave Sizemore the ultimatum that he would have his blood tested on set every day of filming and if he failed the test once, he would be fired and the part recast.

Spielberg was so serious that he promised Sizemore that he would reshoot the part with another actor, even if the shooting was nearing completion - Sizemore managed to beat his addiction and Spielberg didn't have to recast. Well done everyone.

7. The two German soldiers who were shot trying to surrender weren't actually German

After the initial Omaha Beach invasion, the 2nd Ranger Battalion discover two German soldiers who are trying to surrender.

The soldiers are actually speaking Czech, and are saying: "please don't shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech, I didn't kill anyone, I am Czech!"

In World War II, when the German army invaded Eastern European countries, they took the men - mainly Czechs and Poles - prisoner and forced them into the German army.

6. Spielberg had some pretty specific requests to cinemas showing the film

As the sound effects are such a crucial part of the film's overall effect, cinemas were instructed to turn up the volume when the film was screened.

As well as this, Spielberg requested that no-one allowed admittance once the movie had begun.

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5. The 'Bixby letter' was fictionalised for the film

General George Marshall reads out the famous letter of condolence that Abraham Lincoln wrote to Lydia Bixby about her five sons who died during the American Civil War before he sends the order that Ryan must be sent home.

In the actual Bixby letter, only two of Mrs Bixby's sons had died in the battle, while one deserted the army, one either deserted or died a prisoner of war and the last survived the war and was honourably discharged.

4. Vin Diesel's part was specifically written for him (and he was paid a measly sum)

Steven Spielberg saw Diesel's independent film Strays - his lead acting debut which he also directed, wrote and produced - and had the role of Caparzo written just for the little-known actor.

Due to not being a well-known name (he would go on to voice the Iron Giant and star in Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious over the next three years), Diesel was paid $100,000 for his work.

See also | 10 actors who went method for films that no-one watched

3. War veterans couldn't finish the film because it felt so real, PTSD counsellor visits rose

Many veterans of World War II and the Normandy landings stated it was the most realistic depiction of combat they had ever seen, and some veterans of D-Day and Vietnam had to leave before they'd even finished the opening scene.

Visits to post traumatic stress disorder counsellors rose after the film's release and counsellors advised "more psychologically vulnerable" veterans to not see the film.

While dubbing the film in German, one of the actors - a veteran of the Normandy invasion - dropped out as he couldn't deal with the emotional realism of the film and had to be replaced.

2. The legendary opening scene was filmed on the fly

Steven Spielberg shot the Omaha Beach battle over a four-week period and claimed that none of it was storyboarded in advance.

Up to 1,000 extras, some of them were members of Irish Army Reserve, while 20-30 of the extras were amputees who were given prosthetic limbs to simulate soldiers having their limbs blown off, plus 1,000 detailed dummies made by prosthetics experts to litter the beach.

All of this cost $11 million to shoot and used 40 barrels of fake blood.

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1. All the main actors (except Matt Damon) had to go through a gruelling week-long boot camp

All of the principal actors, except for Matt Damon, underwent an intensive six-day army training boot camp before shooting, instructed by technical advisor Dale Dye.

All the actors would have to refer to each other by their character names, while Dye called them 'turds' and made them do intensive exercises in soaking wet conditions.

Having previously been trained by Dye on Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks knew what to expect and found the experience enjoyable; meanwhile, the rest of the actors found it too arduous and voted to quit.

Hanks was the only one among the group to vote to continue, and as his vote counted the most (being the lead actor and everything), the actors were obligated to complete the training.

Matt Damon was given a pass by Spielberg so that the other actors would resent him and would convey that resentment when the cameras were rolling.

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