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Behind the Scenes

The Making of Act of Valor:
An Interview with Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer - Drawing in almost $25 million at the box office in its opening weekend, Act of Valor is a unique movie experience from directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. Working in the industry as stuntmen on movies such as Flight of the Phoenix and Spider-Man, McCoy and Waugh felt compelled to tell the Navy SEALs’ story on the big screen.

With the support of the Navy, the directors innovatively casted non-actors in the movie's leading roles. As they prepared to film, McCoy and Waugh decided active duty Navy SEALs were the only ones who could accurately capture the heart, soul and dedication of the elite force.

In a recent interview with, directors McCoy and Waugh shared what it took to make Act of Valor and about the men in uniform, some of them faith-based, who helped make the movie happen. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh on the set of Act of Valor (Credit: IATM LLC)On how directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (pictured left) first started this project…

McCoy: Once we entered into their community, they opened up, pulled the curtain back if you will of their community. We met these truly incredible men who really defined the term brotherhood. It was really inspirational. Then, you start to connect with how hard they’ve sacrificed in the last 10 years of sustained combat, themselves as well as their families and their wives. It just really became a mission to accurately and honestly communicate who these men are and what they’re about to the American public.

How they convinced active duty Navy SEALs to act in Act of Valor

Waugh: You think with a narrative feature that you’re going to use actors. But when we met the real guys, it became apparent to us that an actor’s going to have a really hard time accurately portraying the complexity of these guys. That’s why we said, we’ve got to use the real guys, the real active duty Navy SEALs. We approached eight of them that we really became friends with if they would be in the film and they, all eight, turned us down.

McCoy: They said, ‘Oh, we’re not Hollywood guys. We’re not actors; we’re doing our jobs.’ Then after quite a bit more time of becoming good friends and gaining their trust, they started to realize that the film was going to be about the brotherhood and the sacrifice and touch on their family life as well. It was going to accurately and honestly depict who they are. It’s important to note that all the operational planning in this film was done by the SEALs, so everything is legit as it would go down. On a day to day basis, we worked with them on a dialogue, scene to scene on how they would be in those moments.

Who the SEALs are portraying in Act of Valor

Waugh: They’re not really playing a character. They’re just playing themselves. So that’s I think a rewarding experience for the audience… is they’re not watching an actor portray a character. They’re watching the character.

On why they think the Navy picked their movie proposal instead of the other film ideas submitted…

Waugh: First of all, I’ve got to believe our background as stuntmen really helped out. Knowing that we come from that common culture. Secondly, we wanted to work, augmenting existing training so that it would have no effect on these real operators. That was something they really resonated to, knowing it was a sustainable model and that we can get in there and knowing it would take better part of two and a half years of filming… that we were willing to go that distance.

McCoy: As Scott said, we augmented existing training evolutions. No assets or resources were devoted to the making of the movie.

Act of Valor (Credit: IATM LLC)

On how involved Navy leadership was in the making of the movie…

Waugh: We had full creative control. They had full TTP control. Their editorial cut was on tactics, techniques and procedures to make sure that there was no classified material in the movie. We all worked collectively hand in hand in that. We were very adamant, as they were, about not giving the enemy our playbook. We did not want to do that on this movie.

On the role of family in the making of Act of Valor

McCoy: Focusing on the families in this film was one of the most important aspects over all. I mean these women are true heroes in America right now. Their men are off on dangerous missions and they’re holding down the home life. They’re raising their kids and they’re handling the situation and making the best of it. So we really want to make sure that the family sacrifice was represented. We really wanted to make sure that the audience connected with the sacrifice of the families overall and the depth of the brotherhood of these men. I mean they’re really connected in ways we couldn’t even believe and what they’re sacrificing for each other.

What inspired the intense moments in the storyline...

McCoy: Every story in this film, everything that happens to a SEAL, has actually happened to somebody on the battlefield in the last ten years [since 9/11].

The directors’ first thoughts after hearing stories from the battlefield…

Waugh: It’s really just to see their devotion and their 100 percent dedication to what they’re doing at hand. That’s really remarkable because most of us don’t have that complete focus and these men do. It’s really something that we really can aspire to have, that kind of focus. So whatever you’re passionately going to do, give it your all. They give all of themselves.

Act of Valor (Credit: IATM LLC)

How the crew felt when the SEALs had to stop filming to go on dangerous missions...

McCoy: What’s really difficult was that almost every man in this movie was on a full combat deployment during the making of [Act of Valor]. We became really good friends with these guys. Then you have your good friends going down range. And you really get to understand what it’s like for their close friends and families to have them gone.

Responding to comments that Act of Valor is a recruitment video for the U.S. military…

McCoy: As filmmakers, we really wanted to communicate the risk involved with this way of life. And so we show quite a bit of risk and sacrifice overall. The things you see happening to these SEALs is not glamorous in this movie. So I don’t think after seeing the movie anybody can really take that perspective.

On filming the action scenes using live ammunition…

Waugh: It was a thrill to be honest with you. To be immersed in a live gun fight and knowing that at least the guys behind the trigger are Navy SEALs you feel a little bit of comfort because you know they’re great shots.

McCoy: As stuntmen, we wanted to communicate what it is like being in those dangerous moments. So our goal was to immerse the audience in the middle of these dangerous situations for real. From a filmmaking perspective, there is no CGI in this movie. Everything is really happening. So it’s not like you have an actor on a green screen. Your lead is really in the middle of these battle scenes.

Reactions the directors have received from other active military personnel and their families…

Waugh: For the active duty SEALs’ wives to see the movie, they really don’t know what their men do down range. So for them to get a chance to see it was pretty remarkable. Their reaction was that they have even a deeper admiration for their husbands now.

McCoy: We’ve been extremely humbled across the board that all men and women in uniform and especially the SEALs thank us for getting it right, for genuinely communicating what their lives and communities are all about.

Note: This film is rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language. Discretion is advised.

Read a review of Act of Valor.

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Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Entertainment and Family producer for For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.

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