On April 2, 2000 the studio and filmmakers, in tandem with the United States Navy, held a special wreath laying ceremony in memory of the men and women who gave their lives that fateful day.
Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Thomas B. Fargo and U. S. Park Ranger Kathy Billings of the Arizona Memorial hosted Walt Dsiney Motion Pictures Group Chairman Dick Cook, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr. , and several members of the Hawaii and San Diego chapters of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association at the Arizona Memorial site.
"The memorial service was a very emotional experience for all of us," describes Affleck. "I had not been out to the site, so it hit me hard when I got off the launch and walked across the Memorial looking down at the ship right below. It still leaks oil. It feels very present and gives you a sense of the weight of the whole incident. Seeing all the names listed on the wall in the shrine room, the sets of brothers and fathers and sons. When taps was blown it was hard to keep your composure. It left me with a reverential and awed feeling about being there. "
"It plays on your mind when you see all those names," says Gooding. "When you think of the thousands of men who died in minutes, it just attacks your soul. You realize the responsibility of this movie and it makes everything easier as far as duplicating the emotion."
Principal photography began in Oahu on Tuesday, April 4 with a traditional blessing by a local Hawaiian priest. The first scene shot was a poignant moment for many of the crew who were seeing the Japanese aircraft-flying overhead for the first time. It was one of those moments that takes you back to a place in time you have never been, when you suddenly realize you can imagine what it must have been like. It's the moment when a giant shiver runs down your spine and you turn away because of the lump in your throat.
Early in the morning, as a light breeze blows across the shore and the dew still sparkles on the waving grass, a young mother hangs her wash on the line. She looks up. Inexplicably a military plane painted with a large red dot on its side flies low overhead, so low it seems as if she could simply raise her arm and touch its belly with her fingertips.
The insignia is unfamiliar, but she is not frightened, only amazed at the sight. The roar of the engine is overwhelming. She cannot hear his comrades flying close behind, but then she sees them, dozens of them, flying so low she can see the faces of the men in the cockpits. They are Japanese. She is confused. They wave to her children, not a greeting, but a warning for them to run and hide. And suddenly she knows; it's just the beginning.
"Shooting in Hawaii was a magical experience," says Bay. "There were so many of those moments where it hits you and you realize where you are and what this movie means to so many people. Looking down, under my director's chair, I remember seeing the strafing marks on the cement where the bullets struck the ground. It was literally right under my feet. It was an honor to actually shoot right where it all happened. To me, there is something magical about that. "
Bay was also permitted to shoot underwater at the Arizona Memorial. No other feature film crew has been allowed such access. "The most symbolic image at Pearl Harbor is the sunken Arizona," says Bay. "It sits forty feet below water and is the resting place for more than 1,100 men. I thought we needed to see the ship as it is today. Both the Navy and the National Park Service thought it was a good idea; that it would do something for the monument and keep the memory alive."
"Diving there was eerie," he continues. "It's very murky, even today there is still a lot of oil leaking from the ship. There is a lot of silt and algae, huge barnacles and suddenly you see this porthole that still has the glass in it. But it really hit when I came up over the deck, which looks like a coral reef, and saw this clear beautiful teak deck. The stairways going down and the gnarled doors like a semi truck ripped them open and at the bow of the ship these immense guns. It was quite an experience. It gives you a great surge of emotion. "
The largest and most dangerous section of the attack sequence was shot within days of start of production. For identification purposes the two bombing runs were euphemistically dubbed Big Shot #1 and Big Shot #2. Both 1st and 2nd units descended upon the Middle Loch of Pearl Harbor, setting up base camp at Victor Dock.
Several small boats and dinghies shuttled back and forth throughout the day, carrying cast, crew, dozens of stuntmen and extras as well as equipment to the US Navy's inactive fleet moored in this inlet. Big Shot #1 entailed explosions on six ships, each of which measured between 400-600 feet in length. It took special effects coordinator John Frazier, his set coordinator Jim Schwalm and their special effects crew a month to rig the fleet.
"We did several tests for Michael during pre-production," says Frazier. "The explosions he liked the best used dynamite, so we decided to go with high explosives. We also used prima cord, a combination of the two and what's called a Kinepak, which is a binary explosive or a two-part mixture that is non-volatile until you put the two chemicals together. To get the velocity and height that Michael wanted, it's actually the safest way to go because it's not subject to spark, it's subject to shock. "
Frazier's crew used 700 sticks of dynamite, 2,000 feet of prima cord and 4,000 gallons of gasoline to ignite the six ships. "That was real warm," he jokes. "The pyrotechnicians were on the ships. They ignited everything from on board so we had to have thousands of feet of fire line, hoses and fire extinguishers (CO2 and foam), and put everyone on respirators so they didn't inhale smoke. "
His crew also used naphthalene to create the black smoke used extensively in the bombing sequences and throughout production. This is the same nontoxic chemical used in mothballs.
The Environmental Protection Agency was continuously on hand to oversee the planning and execution of the bombing sequence. The production company went to great pains to protect the habitat and wildlife in the area (which included specific fish, birds and turtles) and even blocked off a freeway four miles away.
Bay always had a clear picture in his mind of what he wanted in terms of the sequence. He took his time placing the 12 Panavision cameras in position, operating one himself, all the while synchronizing a ballet of more than 30 stuntmen, 90 extras, 9 aircraft, a camera ship and countless special effects crew sitting on detonators placed strategically around the fleet.
The marine department alone consisted of a 22-foot whaler, three camera boats, an electric boat, three support boats, two jet skis, six picture boats, five production skiffs, nine small water shuttles and 13 special effects boats.
"When the explosion happened, it was the biggest explosion I have ever seen in my entire life," says director/producer Bay. "Our special effects coordinator, John Frazier, who has been around the special effects world for 40 years -- and was one of the guys who worked on Apocalypse Now (1979) -- he said, 'This is by far the biggest explosion ever done for a film. '"
Bay continues, "It was all done within 7 seconds. It was a recipe for disaster because we had planes flying around, we had a helicopter, we had a B-25, we had people in the little boats, but everything was synchronized and it went off without a hitch. When I was shooting, I just remember looking through the camera and thinking, 'Oh-my-God!'"
"The explosion was so huge, I shook," Bay laughs. "You can see it in my camera move. You can hear me talking into the camera. It was pretty funny because I just could not believe how big this explosion was. "
Although much of the battle sequence was done with live special effects, a great deal of the detail will be completed by Industrial Light & Magic. 2nd unit director and visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig continues to oversee the process. He and his crew conducted their own historical research, looking at available footage and old photographs.
"The script didn't avoid anything, it was all there on the page," says Brevig. "I knew that we didn't quite have the technology to do all it asked. But that's the fun of the challenge, creating things that haven't been done before. Pearl Harbor today is a big tourist site, but I was insistent that we actually go there and place the cameras where they needed to be. You can see the land's shape and the geography of the area. Then we have to paint out everything except the distant mountains and start layering in synthetic battleships, attacking lanes and giant explosions."
"The use of miniatures or large set pieces was minimized because the scope of what we had to create was so huge," he further explains. "'We couldn't have built enough things to film. We would make a computer-generated model of a boat or plane and then duplicate it. In the case of the planes, hundreds of times, in the case of the ships, a dozen or so, so that we could fill the entire harbor. We also filled the battleships with synthetic sailors, each of whom is a computer generated character in a different costume doing some precisely choreographed bit of activity. "
Bay adds "'Pearl Harbor' contains an immense amount of real visuals that were done in camera, but it also has about 190 digital effects shots. My concept was to make the digital shots huge and do less of them. I feel you need to have a lot of real footage shot through the camera, mixed in with a few digital effects to make it more visceral, make it more realistic. "
Brevig used illustrations and cartoon animatics to plan his basic camera moves. He would work closely with David Nowell, the aerial unit director and with his own cameraman, Mitch Amundsen, on second unit to create lifelike scenarios that matched Bay's vision.
Says Bay of his effects team's efforts, "A big help was the animatic process that I initiated four weeks after we started developing the movie's storyline. We worked with a satellite image of Pearl Harbor and digitally created the battleships and the planes. These were just crude cartoons, but the planes could actually fly around the base, and I could create these moving, epic shots in my office with just a few guys. I could literally envision a massive shot in my head at night, and see it realized on a screen the next day. "
Because the assault on Pearl Harbor was entirely an air offensive, the aerial department took precedence during the shoot. Aerial coordinator Alan Purwin, chief pilot Steve Hinton and aerial unit director David Nowell were in charge of the particulars.
Hinton, who is well known in aviation circles for owning a handsome array of specialty aircraft, is also one of the film industry's best pilots.
"We had 14 aircraft up at one time," Bay states. "I've worked with planes before, Air Force jets and the like, but this was the biggest and most aggressive use of aircraft I've ever employed. Some of these aircraft are 60 years old and we were pushing them to the limits, but we had very experienced pilots. As one Navy guy said about Steve, 'He's as good as it ever gets. ' You're trusting these guys with your life. It's not just the pilot, but the crew, the stuntmen and the actors who are facing danger."
"I remember we were shooting in a tower that was 16 stories tall and the plane had to come at us at close to 200-mph. The plane had to turn and come right, banking around the tower. He was literally 10 feet away from us. You put a lot of trust in these pilots," he says.
"For the amount of stuff we did, working on water, on land and in the air, and combining them all together, I'm really proud that our safety record was impeccable - we only had one downed plane that resulted in a broken ring finger, a couple of sprained ankles and wrist, a shoulder injury plus the requisite scrapes and bruises. That's when you realize what the men who were really there went through. "
The aircraft used in the film included a variety of 16 antique and replica aircraft, including three replica Val dive bombers, three replica Kates and three Zeros for the Japanese planes. The aerial department also utilized four P-40s , one DC3, four B-25s and a Messerschmidt ME-109.
"The exact airplanes for this movie really aren't available at any price," explains pilot Steve Hinton. "The Zero we were using, for instance, was a later model Zero, but it's the only flying Zero in the world."
"The other two were fitted with American engines so that they could fly. They're beautiful planes. There are also no existing Kates or Vals, which were the dive-bombers and the planes that carried the torpedoes that fly. I don't even think there are any in existence that are in one piece. In addition, we used a later version of the P-40 because there is only one of the earlier versions in existence that's flyable."
"We did our best to assemble what we could to be authentic," Hinton says. "We were able to substitute airplanes that did the job well. For the real purist, no matter what you do, it won't be right. The plane will be the wrong color or something like that. It can't be perfect because the planes don't exist and if they do, they are part of a museum collection where it is not worth putting a piece of history in jeopardy. I don't think audiences are going to see a better assembly of aircraft in a movie."
"Besides, the real story here is the human story and the hardware is just enhancing it. "
On May 5, cast & crew departed Hawaii to begin work in and around the Los Angeles area. Locations included Camarillo State Hospital, Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Fort MacArthur and the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, the US Coast Guard Lighthouse in Palos Verdes, Van Nuys Airport, the Marine Air Corps Station in Tustin and Point Magu Naval Air Station and the US Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme.
The show also spent time on the Disney Ranch in Newhall as well as on Stage #2 at the Disney Studios lot in Burbank. Other sites in Point Dume and Point Magu, Pomona, Claremont, LaVerne, Somis and Glendale were also used.
In the middle of June the company moved to Rosarito Beach, Baja, California for two weeks of filming much of the underwater photography in the film. The lot's giant tank was utilized to reenact the capsizing of the USS Oklahoma and the sinking of the USS Arizona and USS West Virginia.
Scenes taking place in the English Channel were completed in the smaller tank located at the south end of the lot.
John Frazier enlisted the expertise of an engineer on his crew, Ross Young, to design the giant gimbal which would hoist the bow of a ship through the many twists and turns required to reproduce the destruction of the U. S. fleet in battleship row. Construction on the gimbal lasted eight weeks. Production designer Nigel Phelps and art director Martin Laing designed this ship piece after reviewing numerous historical photos and creating several miniature foam core models until they hit upon exactly what Bay envisioned.
Construction co-ordinator Greg Callas and his crew built the monstrous set piece using 700,000 pounds of steel.
"The Oklahoma rolling over was one of the biggest set elements," explains Phelps. "We needed to see the ship lift up and slam down into the water. Michael also wanted to use the Arizona's gun turrets because it was such a haunting image in the reference pictures we found. We started off with illustrations, then made models and shot different angles with lipstick cameras until we knew what Michael wanted."
John Frazier then made computerized versions of the models, which were much more refined.
"When you see the ships sitting in the empty tank and you look underneath these giant things, it's awesome," he says. "You just can't appreciate the engineering aspect of it when you see it sitting in the water because it looks like it's floating, but then again, that's the illusion we needed to create."
"We decided steel was the way to go in building just about everything because of the pounding the ships had to take. Michael could put fires where he wanted and the set would be a lot more durable, but it made everything heavier as well. "
"The full scale ship was 150 feet," says Frazier. "It had to rise 25 degrees and then roll 180 degrees with over 150 sailors and stuntmen falling from the deck. It was really a remarkable feat. "
Frazier also asked Young to design the airplane gimbal used to simulate the actors in flight. Looking more like a carnival ride, the gimbal set was erected on the coast in San Pedro to simulate the wide, open spaces over the Pacific Ocean. "This is probably the most sophisticated gimbal we've made," he says. "We thought we outdid ourselves with the ship gimbal and then along came this one. Essentially we just took the forward portion of a plane and stuck it onto the unit. The plane could pitch and yawl, go into a dive, look like it was crashing, or just look like it's cruising along."
Phelps credits set designer Jennifer Williams for making his sets look as authentic as they did. "She did a beautiful job," he says. "She has a sensibility for period and detail. We were lucky to have her."
"We did a lot of research," Phelps continues. "But authenticity sometimes took a back seat because the bottom line was the story. The style was our driving force. So we made compromises were we had to, to add to the dramatic content of the film. "
At the end of July, the cast and crew headed southeast for Texas. Work commenced in Houston on one of the last remaining World War I ships of its type, and then moved to Corpus Christi and the USS Lexington, one of two remaining World War II carriers. Spending time on the ships, which are now floating museums open to the public, was an educational experience not to be missed despite the oppressive heat and the flesh-devouring mosquitoes.
A week after production wrapped in mid-August in Los Angeles, a skeleton crew flew to England where scenes from Rafe's days in the R. A. F. were shot and in early September, another reduced unit left for San Diego and the USS Constellation to complete footage for the Doolittle raid. As guests aboard the aircraft carrier, Bruckheimer, Bay and their crew spent a day at sea observing Navy fighter pilots on training runs. The planes would land and take off every 60 seconds, mere inches from the awed crew. Once the exercises were finished for the day, the movie crew moved their B-25s into position on the flight deck and it was the Navy's turn to watch in fascination.
The undertaking of this movie was the most massive the filmmakers have ever faced, but it was also one of the smoothest. "It was a very flawless production. " says Bay emphatically. "It was one day over schedule, shot in a total of 106 days, and 10 of them were with a reduced unit. Sometimes I cannot believe what we have accomplished in such a short time. "
Both Bay and Bruckheimer credit director of photography John Schwartzman and executive producers Barry Waldman and Bruce Hendricks for keeping the show on track and on schedule. "Barry, Bruce and John were completely focused," says Bruckheimer. "They knew we had a daunting task before us, to complete this massive undertaking within the budget and on time, but they never wavered. The camaraderie felt on set was also to their credit, and on a show of this size, creating a positive atmosphere in an already tense situation is a feat that cannot be minimized. "
"We were very prepared," he continues. "Jerry and I have handled big movies before and I've worked with this same crew on several movies. I've got one of the best crews in Hollywood; we had a great team of people and that's what it's all about. "