“I’ll See You On The Beach!” Lesser-Known Facts About Saving Private Ryan

Released in 1998, Saving Private Ryan is an epic war film directed by Steven Spielberg that begins during the Invasion of Normandy during World War II. It then follows a United States Army Captain played by Tom Hanks and his unit after they are assigned to retrieve one man, Private James Ryan, behind enemy lines. The film has been hailed for its plot, hyper-realism, and dedication to authenticity. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards it took home Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Effects Editing. Curious about what happened behind the scenes? Take a look and find out!

Television Stations Added In More Color

Tom Hank's character getting instructions
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

It’s no secret that director Steven Spielberg is a master of his craft, a true artist. So, when filming Saving Private Ryan, he opted to lover the color saturation of the film by 60% for artistic purposes.

However, when the film was later released for viewing on American satellite providers DirecTV and Dish, most cable TV providers re-enhanced the color, against Spielberg’s intentions. They did this because, at the beginning of the movie’s broadcast run, their customer service center received thousands of complainants that something was wrong with the color.

Problems In India

Steven Spielberg and actors on the set of the beach
Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images
Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images

Saving Private Ryan is known for being hyper-realistic in terms of its violence which was off-putting to a lot of people. This was the case in India, and the India Censor Board blocked the film from being viewed proclaiming that it was far too violent.

They would only allow the film in the country if Spielberg made certain cuts, which he refused, and decided to not release it in India at all. However, after the Home Minister of India viewed the movie himself, he enjoyed it so much he ordered the uncut version to be released.

Coincidences With Matt Damon

Matt Damon still in the movie
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

Luckily for Matt Damon, Robin Williams introduced him to Steven Spielberg during rehearsal for their movie Good Will Hunting. Just two weeks later, Spielberg talked to Damon about possibly being in Saving Private Ryan.

Spielberg ended up casting Matt Damon for the role of Private James Ryan because he wanted to use a relatively unknown actor. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, as Matt Damon was turned into a movie star overnight for his performance in Good Will Hunting, which was released shortly before Saving Private Ryan.

Crank It To Eleven!

Soldiers before they land on the beach
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

Being the auteur that he is, Spielberg had one necessary request that he was set on when his film was shown in theaters. He was afraid that all the work he had put into developing the perfect soundscape for the film would be wasted even if it was just slightly too low in volume.

So, he insisted that all theaters showing the film had the volume up as loud as possible. This made the intense battle sequences would be jarring and loudly uncomfortable, totally immersing the viewer into the scene.

Billy Bob Thorton Missed His Opportunity

Thorton at Bad Santa premier
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP via Getty Images
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP via Getty Images

Initially, Billy Bob Thorton was offered the role of Sergeant Horvath, played by Tom Sizemore. Ultimately, he declined the position because he didn’t want to film the ocean scenes on Omaha Beach due to his Aquaphobia, or fear of water.

Amazingly, he didn’t seem all that bummed that he missed out in acting in this iconic film because he was secure with his career at that point. In the end, nobody is complaining either considering what an impressive job Tom Sizemore did filling in the role.

The Film Was Difficult For Veterans To Watch

United States flag at Omaha Beach
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A lot of veterans who returned home from World War II experience post-traumatic stress disorder of varying degrees, depending on their experiences. So, the realism of the film and fight sequences acted as a trigger for many of the veterans who experienced combat first-hand.

Understanding what was happening to veterans after watching the movie, the Department of Veteran Affairs set up a special 800 number so that veterans of all wars could call and talk to somebody if needed.

They Built An Entire Fictional City For The Film’s Climax

Fake French City
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

The scenes taking place in the bombed-out French city weren’t actually filmed in France, but instead, outside of London. Although they were available for use, such as Oradour, Spielberg knew that filming in an actual city that was destroyed during World War II would have been a nightmare and completely unsafe.

So, they built the fictional French city of Ramelle on a closed World War II airbase. The set took four months to build and was constructed using tons of actual rubble that had to be shipped in.

The Omaha Beach Scene Was A Free For All

Tom and Tim pressed up against a wall
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

The scene where U.S. troops storm the beaches of Normandy, more specifically Omaha Beach, took a grueling four weeks to film with no real direction. For those four weeks, the actors and crew were constantly wet, sandy, and exhausted from the intense physicality of the scenes.

The moving forward action from the boats to the beach was shot scene by scene and day by day. Spielberg even admits that none of the battles were storyboarded, meaning they had no real direction.

Tom Had A Say in His Lines

Tom Hank's character giving a speech
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

The great Tom Hanks, who played Captain John H. Miller, kept his personal life hidden from the soldiers under his command, making him a man of mystery. However, there is one scene when he does divulge some information about his life before the war. In the scene, he explains that he was a simple school teacher, something his men can’t believe.

Although Miller’s monologue was actually much longer in the script, Hanks felt his character wouldn’t reveal that much about himself. So, he suggested to Spielberg that they shorten it and Spielberg agreed.

The Omaha Beach Scene Cost A Pretty Penny

Tom Hanks at the battle of Omaha
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

Considering all of the special effects, the number of extras used, and the unbelievable size of the set, it’s no surprise to learn that the sequence was incredibly expensive to film. All in all, it cost an estimated $11 million to shoot and involved over 1,000 extras, many who were members of the Irish Army Reserve.

Of those 1,000 extras, approximately 20 to 30 of them were actual amputees with prosthetic limbs in order to simulate soldiers losing their body parts. Simple, yet effective.

Speilberg Thought He Created A New Filming Technique

Spielberg directing actors
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

If you notice that the camera shakes whenever an explosion goes off nearby, know that’s completely intentional. In order to achieve this effect, Spielberg attached drills to the side of the cameras which were then turned on when shaking was required.

Yet, during filming, one of his team members notified him that there was a shaker lenses that were designed for those kind of shots. Spielberg was saddened to hear this because he though he had developed a new technique.

A Military Historian Needed A Break During A Private Screening

Tom Hanks, Stephen Ambrose, And Steven Spielberg at Band of Brother premier
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Before the film was released, as special screening was held for the respected military historian and author, Stephen Ambrose. However, 20 minutes into the film he asked for the screening to be halted so he could compose himself due to the graphic nature of the violence during the opening scene.

He walked outside of the screening to get some air, and after a few minutes, returned to his seat and finished the film until its ending.

Spielberg Was Commended For His Realism

james-doohan-161907678
Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images

While many audiences were disturbed by the realism of the film, some veterans of the war appreciated its authenticity, in order to open people’s eyes to what it was really like. This was the case for actor James Doohan, who acted in Star Trek.

Doohan lost the middle finger of his right hand in the war and was also wounded in the leg. He was also there during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, at Juno Beach, leading the attack. He personally commended Spielberg for showing the horrors of war.

Tom Sizemore Was Struggling With Addiction

Tom Sizemore in Saving Private Ryan
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

While filming, actor Tom Sizemore, who played Sergeant Mike Horvath was battling an intense drug addiction. Although Spielberg wanted him in the movie, he had no choice but to give him an ultimatum.

He threatened to fire him from the role unless he accepted to take a blood test everyday. According to Sizemore, Spielberg threatened that “He would fire me on the spot and shoot all 58 days that I’d worked over again with someone else.”

Based On A True Story

All four Niland brothers
Twitter/All American Division
Twitter/All American Division

Although many people believe the film is about the Sullivan brothers, that’s not the case. In fact, it’s actually about the Niland brothers, four brothers who served in the US Army during World War II. Three of the brothers, Robert, Preston, and Edward, were suspected to have been killed in action.

This led to their brother Frederick be ordered back to the United States so that the family didn’t lose all of their sons. As it turns out, Edward, who was presumed dead, was found alive after escaping a Japanese POW camp in Burma.

An Example Of True Authenticity

Two German soldiers that are actually Czech
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

One small detail that Spielberg included in the film which demonstrated his sincere devotion to authenticity occurs at the beginning of the film. After the soldiers had made it past the beaches, two American soldiers ruthlessly shoot two surrendering soldiers who appear to be German.

However, while most audiences assume they are German, they are actually speaking Czech pleading, “Please don’t shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech, I didn’t kill anyone, I am Czech!” This is historically accurate, as after German troops forced Czech and Polish citizens into the army after invading their countries.

Matt Damon Ad-Libbed His Past

Tom Hanks' And Matt Damon's Characters Talking
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

In a touching story at the end of the film, Tom Hanks’ and Matt Damon’s characters have a heart-to-heart while they wait for the impending fight. It’s during that conversation that Private Ryan tells the story about spying on his older brother in a barn that was with an unattractive girl.

The speech is definitely kind of random and sounds like Private Ryan is rambling, but it’s supposed to depict the relationship he had with his brothers. What most people don’t know is that it was all improvised by Damon. Spielberg liked it so much that he kept it in the film.

Prepping For Filming Was Rough (For Some) Of The Actors

Spielberg with actors and crew
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

In order to get into military shape for the film, the actors underwent intense physical training as well as a form of military boot camp. There, they were forced to camp in soaking wet conditions and were only allowed to refer to each other by their character’s names.

However, one of the characters didn’t have to undergo this harsh training and boot camp and that was Matt Damon. Spielberg specifically separated him from the group so he felt isolated first meeting them and they resented him for not having to go through what they did.

Edward Burns Used His Own Friend’s Names To Evoke Real Emotion

Edward Burns acting as Rieben
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

A lot of times, actors will draw upon past experiences or bring their personal lives into a character to really get the emotional juices flowing. Actor Edward Burns, who plays Private Richard Reiben did just that when filming one particular scene.

When Reiben is tasked sifting through a massive pile of dog tags looking for Private Ryan’s, he calls out the names of his best friends in real life. This provided a personal connection to the scene which is evident by the look on Burns’ face.

The Film’s Cinematography Was Modeled After Old War Footage

Steven Spielberg behind the camera
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

In yet another attempt to make the movie look as realistic and historically accurate as possible, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski modeled the look of the film after actual newsreel footage of the war.

They even modified the lenses they were using on their shooting cameras to give it a grainier look so it looked as close to 1940s cameras as possible while still remaining modern. The D-Day scenes are even noticeably bleached-out, giving off the same effect as the film taken on that day.