The Patriot has to be the best film ever made about the Revolutionary War, which is odd since there are about three movies about this war. Why do you think Hollywood or movie-going audiences are unwilling to embrace this subject matter? ^ I think we in this country have tended to sterilize the American Revolution. By whitewashing the events of the American Revolution we have turned it into the most boring war ever. To most people, they don’t even think of it as a real conflict. They think of it as ‘Oh we dumped some tea in the Boston Harbor’, ‘a guy ran with a light and said “the British are coming”‘, and then it was all over. People really don’t have a sense of it in this country, but if you ask about the Civil War they have a real sense about brother against brother and a nation ripped apart. When in fact, the American Revolution was a civil war. And it was an unpopular war. Less than 25% of the people supported the American Revolution. I think most people don’t know that. I think most people don’t know that every single person who signed the Declaration of Independence suffered for that signature. They don’t know that Benjamin Franklin’s son, who had been there with the kite, was a loyalist and after the war broke out they never spoke to each other again. I think by deleting things like this, or the fact that the war was fought with an integrated army and it was the last time we had an integrated army until the Korean War. These are things that I think are fascinating and interesting, and would have compelled people to want to know more about the American Revolution.
Was it your intention to throw a history lesson onto an action movie? ^ No, we wanted to tell this story about a father and son. It happened to be told during the American Revolution, and the more we got into it, the more interesting we found the revolution.
The film has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies, yet all the characters are based on true historical figures? ^ I feel very confident about the historical accuracy of the film. Most of the people who are criticizing it either don’t know the history and are still going off the memories they have that are inaccurate. Literally everything in the movie is tied to at least one or two events from the revolution.
As a producer, how were you involved in staging the epic battle scenes, I imagine it was not exactly like playing with toy soldiers? ^ We had a phenomenal group of stunt people and really good choreographers for this. Roland (Emmerich) is fantastic in these kind of sequences and the biggest problem was we didn’t have the money to do these sequences. Basically it turned out that each extra was going to cost us two thousand dollars per day, per extra. That was because of the costumes, the wigs, the guns, the makeup, the whole thing. So we didn’t have the money, in fact we never had more than six hundred extras at any given time. So when we shot these battle scenes very often there’d be like forty or fifty soldiers in the frame and then a whole lot of nothing. When we saw the first cut of the battle scene it was like empty plane to empty plane to empty plane. Roland said, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna put stuff in here.” (Laughs) And he literally created most of it on the computer.
There was a controversy over Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin. He helps his young children use guns to kill British soldiers, how did you defend this story point from the critics? ^ I think that’s a very contemporary perspective. We’re all very sensitive to violence in the media, especially in light of you know, Columbine. But the reality is every weekend children are going hunting with guns with their families. It’s happening all over our country all the time-today. At the time of the American Revolution, the war was fought by teenagers! The average age of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence was 23. The people who fought were 15, 16 years-old-it was not uncommon. ^ I think if we had shown these children shooting and high-fiveing each other and there was a great kick-ass scene where these kids wiped out people, I would agree with the criticism. The fact is these children are wiped out by what they’re doing. They’re traumatized by what they’re doing, they’re in tears. At the end of the fight they look at their father not as this glorious hero, but as a monster. They are damaged forever for the acts they have done, and the father knows it in the next scene, and through his reactions, you see he can’t believe what he has just done to his own children. If what you’re showing is the consequence of violence, which is what the entire motive of the picture is about, then I don’t think it’s negative to portray violence. Where I think violence becomes a dangerous thing within the media is when it seems to have no consequences — that it’s all fun, it’s easy, and we should all go do it and emulate it. I don’t think anyone who saw The Patriot wanted to go out and shoot anybody or throw tomahawks at anybody.
Mel Gibson is a notorious prankster on the set. Did he play any jokes on you? ^ There’s one that I think he did, but to this day he’s never copped to it, so I can’t say for sure. A couple weeks into the shooting I was listening to the radio and a radio DJ announced the house that Mel Gibson was staying in, so that people could drive by and wave and honk. Except that the house the radio announcer gave was my house, not Mel’s house! I’ve always thought that Mel had done that.
Okay, if you lived during the time of the American Revolution, what would you be doing? Politician, blacksmith, farmer, minute man? ^ I can’t even imagine surviving in that time, when I think of what these people went through-just the common man.
There wasn’t much use for film producers and screenwriters in 1776… ^ Yeah, maybe I’d have been a minstrel.
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Posted on August 8, 2000 in Interviews by Chris Gore
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