Making a war movie is an ambitious undertaking. Add to that the challenge of making an independent, low-budget war film, and you start to get a sense of what writer/director Vincente Stasolla and producer Henry Simonds have accomplished with The Forgotten.
What A War Movie Costs
A look at a typical war movie budget will make the feat appear even more amazing. Looking back, Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 epic, Apocalypse Now, had a cost of $15 million. Casualties of War, directed by Brian De Palma, cost $22.5 million 10 years later, in 1989. And Steven Spielberg's 1998 World War II picture, Saving Private Ryan, ran a staggering $65 million.
At a cost of less than $100,000, then, Stasolla's The Forgotten is nothing short of a miracle -- as well as a testament to the sheer strength of will that it took to get the project finished. Why would he tackle such a seemingly insurmountable task?
Writing a War Film
In his words, Vincente wanted to make a "war film because I wanted to be different than all the other films. I mean, how many independent films, shot for under $100,000, are war films? The answer is: 'zero.' "
That was the beginning. The next step was to write the film, and for that he needed research. Although he was somewhat familiar with the Korean War via the reminiscenses of his uncle, he needed more detail -- a lot more detail. For that, he tapped into first-hand accounts, by speaking to Korean War veterans.
"I found the veterans by doing research, and through the different veterans groups, military historical societies," Stasolla explains. "The one gentleman, George Riddle, that did work with my actors, I found through my casting director."
Actually a great help in building the true-to-life feeling of the film, Riddle did more than just share his experiences -- he also got further involved in the project.
"[George Riddle] is an actor, who was also a POW in the army, in Korea," Stasolla explains. "I worked with him pretty extensively. He gave me the stamp of approval on the script, and worked with my actors for about a week."
Once the script was done, the movie had to be produced, which provided its own unique set of obstacles. First, was the staple of most war movies: the effects, known in the industry as "pyrotechnics."
Creating the Look of War
"You can't really tell, but we did a lot of tricks with the camera: special effects," Stasolla recounts. "A lot of tank fire, and machine gun fire, was all produced by my friend who had the tanks and the guns."
But what turned out to be even more difficult was the "stage" on which the actors were working: the interior of a gigantic metal can. In other words, a tank.
"That thing was hot to begin with, and we were pumping all this light in there, to get a decent F-Stop," Stasolla remembers. "It was really hot in there, and very cramped. It looks like it's really big in there, but it wasn't. It was tight! You had the crew in there, and you had the cinematographer, with a camera person, and a line running out to me for the monitor. It was really hot, and all the guys were smoking, so it was an extreme challenge."
Not to mention the pounding that the actors took while moving. "Those tanks have no give -- you bump into something, and it hurts like hell! You're dealing with a 40 ton piece of steel."
Actually, the tank itself brings up a good point, concerning the realism of the equipment used in the movie.
"People are going to say: 'Why is this a World War II tank?' The fact was, the Korean War was never really a war; what happened was that they were grossly underprepared in terms of their resources," producer Henry Simonds points out. "So a lot of the first phase of the war was fought with antiquated equipment."
Stasolla concurs: "Those tanks were tank destroyers, that had open turrets. They were used in the beginning of the Korean War, until we [the United States] started ramping up, and having the new tanks built. A lot of World War II materiel was over in South Korea."
Actually, Simonds, an experienced documentary producer, was able to help with some of the other details, as well.
"What I tried to bring to [the movie], was to enhance the level of verisimilitude, by trying to place it in both a physical and historical context," he explains. "I looked at the dates of where the forces were at what time, and tried to place it. 'What river could there have been that they would need to cross?' We did some research into some of the battles, and time stamped it."
Making the Final War DVD
Finally, on top of everything else was the infamous date on which the film finished shooting. "We wrapped filming on 9/11 , and then I was in New York from 9/11 until November, getting a cut of the film done," Stasolla says.
It's a testament to Stasolla's dedication that the people who actually fought in the war, the Korean War veterans, were impressed by what he had managed to create.
"When the film was finally finished, [George Riddle] showed up at the MGM screening in New York, with a whole bunch of veterans," Stasolla says. "He was patting me on the back, and shaking my hand, and saying 'Thank you very much.' Really choked up about the film."