The New York Film Academy Los Angeles welcomed Academy Award-winning director, Mel Gibson, to screen his Oscar-winning film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” to an audience of student military veterans. Associate Chair of Acting, Christopher Cass, and Veteran and MFA Acting for Film student Ron Ringo moderated the evening.
The Q&A began by asking how Gibson first came across the project, “Hacksaw Ridge.” “It was given to me three times by Bill Mechanic,” said Gibson. “He used to run Fox. He really has a passion. He loves film. I’ve never met a producer who was a big mucky-muck but was also willing to really get down in the trenches and get his hands dirty.”
Gibson said working on this film was different than any other project before it. He is typically accustomed to creating original content or transforming a story from another medium to film. Desmond T. Doss’ story left a significant impression. Telling it correctly was a huge responsibility.
“There were tears on the page,” Gibson said. “Among the Medal of Honor Recipients, Desmond was the guy. I mean, who goes into a place without a weapon? Generally, recipients do something incredibly courageous in an instant. Desmond was premeditated. He kept laying his life on the line, again and again. He’d crawl into enemy fire to get anyone. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Gibson frequently uses military veterans in his films. He stated that there were Rangers in “We Were Soldiers” and vets in “Black Hawk Down.” “There’s something about marshaling a film crew and the chain of command and the difficulty — the ferocity of what it all takes to get a large number of people together that is kind of like a battle. You have this logistical way of trying to put things together. You have to have a general and a captain and Sargent. On a regular film, this is your First A. D. and the Director. They have to keep everyone’s morale up. Many people on set are veterans.”
When it came time to for the Q and A portion of the event, one veteran stood up and asked, “When you’re preparing for a role or working with an actor do you listen to music to help set the mood?”
Gibson responded, “I think music is very important because music transcends logic. It goes straight from your ear to your heart. I did an acting exercise when I was nineteen or something like that. You had to walk up to a person — could be a spouse, a brother, or a friend — and you’re never going to see that person ever again. And you’re saying goodbye for the last time.
We all did this exercise, and everyone’s laughing and joking around. Then our instructor says he’s going to try out something different. He plays this soulful sort of Bram’s violin thing and we all had to do it again and everyone starts crying. I was amazed. It struck me how transcendent music can be. Music informs a lot of things. Almost everything you do filming wise is rhythmic whether it has music or not. Storytelling has a rhythm and a pace. Your heart, the sound of the ocean, it is all music. So, yes, I think it’s important.”
Gibson also spoke about his first time on set as a director. The night before he was nervous, so he called up Clint Eastwood. Treating the student to an impersonation of Eastwood giving the advice, Gibson said, “Just say action and cut.”
BFA Screenwriting student and Marine Corps veteran, Patrick Stinich had this to say about the experience, “It was an honor to watch this incredible true story brought to life in a very powerful way. You could tell that Mel Gibson really cares about what drives men that choose of their own free will to wade into the hell that a combat zone can become. I respect him very much as a storyteller, a director, and as a man for that. The 212-seat theater provided those of us who have served our country in a time of war a really intimate and rewarding experience with one of the film industries’ finest. Thank you for the opportunity to attend this event. I learned a lot.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Gibson for volunteering the time to speak with our veterans.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is now available on VOD and DVD. Gibson will be starring in “The Professor and the Madman,” and “Daddy’s Home 2” later this year.