Classic scene: Saving Private Ryan

A look back at Spielberg’s 1998 epic war film…

Come back with us in time to 1998 for a new appreciation of Spielberg’s epic war drama Saving Private Ryan. Starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Tom Sizemore (who we have a great personal anecdote about that we’ll share with you one day) and Ed Burns, the movie was the highest-grossing US film of 1998 and won five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Cinematography. But did you know that…

1) Spielberg actually shot the impressive 23-minute opening “Omaha beach” scene (which is in Normandy) in Curracloe, Ireland. The sequence was shot over 15 days and ended up costing over $12 million, effectively eating up almost 20% of the full production budget. It featured 1,000 Irish Army reservists playing the Allied troops, 3,000 individual costumes, 2,000 pairs of boots made by the same company who made the original ones worn by WW2 soldiers, more than 1,000 dummies that stood in for the dead and a group of real life amputee actors.

2) Robert Rodat’s screenplay is loosely based on a true story. The Niland brothers were four siblings from Tonawanda, New York serving in World War II. Three of the brothers were thought to have been killed in battle, but the fourth son, Fritz (who the Private Ryan character is modeled after), was tracked down and sent back to America. In May 1945, the Nilands received word that one of the other brothers – Edward, who was presumed dead in a Burmese POW camp – had actually been found alive after the camp where he’d been held was liberated. So, two Niland brothers actually made it home.

3) Ed Burns tells an anecdote about an event that happened on the last day of shooting. “The very last scene we shot is the interior of the church — I think it was our only interior scene in the whole movie. At lunchtime, Tom Sizemore takes the group of of us back behind the church; he’s got a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bunch of shot glasses. He pours us a shot and says, ‘Guys, I want to make a little toast about how great an experience it’s been working with all of you.’ Then he says, ‘I’ve been to the editing room and I’ve seen what Steven has cut so far, and I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are making a pretty incredible film and if the movie turns out like I think it’s going to turn out, we’re all going to be part of film history. This is a movie that will live on long after we’re all gone. Generations will watch this movie after you’ve all passed. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s all downhill from here’.”