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Private Spielberg

Saving Private Ryan was directed by Steven Spielberg as a tribute to his father, Arnold Spielberg, who served in the U.S. Army and Signal Corps, and fought in Burma during World War II as a radio operator in a B-25 squadron.

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Spielberg said:

 “I think it is the key – the turning point of the entire century. It was as simple as this: The century either was going to produce the baby boomers or it was not going to produce the baby boomers. World War II allowed my generation to exist.”

Steven Spielberg with Tom Hanks on the set of Saving Private Ryan

“World War II made our futures possible. The baby boomers owe a big debt of gratitude to the parents and grandparents – who we haven’t given enough credit to anyway – for giving us another generation. That’s you, too. And me.”

Up to this point in his career Saving Private Ryan was the only movie that Spielberg directed that he hadn’t developed on his own. Writer Robert Rodat’s script was actually sent to Spielberg by his agent.

By coincidence, Tom Hanks had also been sent the script, was also keen to make the movie. Spielberg and Hanks, who had never worked with each other at that point (but would go on to work together in Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Bridge Of Spies and The Post as well as the miniseries Band Of Brothers and The Pacific), telephoned each other when they found out they were reading the same script and decided to collaborate on the movie.

Roll cameras

So the birth of the movie really came together all in the same day.

Basic Training

To get an idea of what WWII soldiers actually went through, the main squad of actors portraying the lead soldiers participated in a 10-day boot camp led by the film’s military advisor, retired former USMC Captain Dale Dye.

Years before in 1986, Oliver Stone hired Dye to put his principal actors through boot camp before production started on Platoon.

Military advisor Dale Dye (center, arms crossed) and his unit of Hollywood trainees

Well, all except for Matt Damon, who played Private Ryan. This was done deliberately, so the actors would have real resentment against Damon to mirror the film’s narrative.

Dye led the actors on an intensive field combat situation, leading the group on marches, living in tents, and eating MREs (ready meals). They also received tactical training that included learning how to clean, assemble, and fire period-appropriate weapons.

Dye can be seen as a War Department Colonel who gives General George Marshall the Ryan brother death notifications toward the beginning of the movie.

USMC Captain Dale Dye with Spielberg

Robin Williams introduced Damon to Spielberg in Boston during rehearsals for the movie Good Will Hunting. The director was also in town around the same time shooting Amistad, and Williams brought Damon along to meet Spielberg, whom Williams had previously worked with on Hook.

Two weeks later, Spielberg contacted Damon about the part of Private Ryan.

Spielberg – Matt Damon

Tom Sizemore, who plays Sergeant Horvath, was heavily hooked to heroin prior to filming. In order to keep the movie in line, and to help Sizemore to kick his addiction, Spielberg swore that if Sizemore tested positive for drugs on-set—even on the last day of shooting—“he would fire him on the spot and shoot all 58 days that he’d worked over again with someone else.”


The meaning of the phrase the soldiers utter to each other throughout the movie as a form of camaraderie is never explained. FUBAR is actual military slang for “F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition.”

Spielberg sets up the action with actor Tom Hanks as the camera crew sets up behind them

The budget for the film’s opening shots was $12 million of the $70 million total budget. Spielberg used 40 barrels of stage blood, 1,500 extras, 30 amputees, zero storyboarding, and 27 minutes of runtime to recreate the D-Day Omaha Beach landing scene.

The film’s colouring was purposefully desaturated by stripping camera lenses of their protective coatings, followed by running the exposed film through a bleaching process. The goal was to give the film’s final look the effect of 1940s newsreel footage.

Because the logistics of shooting a completely destroyed French city would be impossible, the fictional bombed out city of Ramelle was created entirely at the Hatfield Aerodrome, a now-closed WWII air base located about 30 miles outside of London.

A detailed scale model of the French village of Ramelle, which served to not only guide the craftspeople building the sets, but staging the action and setting camera angles

The entire half-demolished city set took four months to build. To add more believability to the area, tons of rubble was purchased from nearby construction sites and added to the set.

The film’s battle scenes were so realistic to veterans in the audience that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs set up a nationwide hotline for veterans and their family members to call if they felt unsettled by the war depicted onscreen.

The hotline received over 170 calls in the two weeks following the film’s release date.

Saving Private Ryan has been described as one of the greatest war films ever made.

In 2014, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Author Note

My late grandfather served from 1942-44 in the KOSB (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) 7th Battalion.

7th KOSB became glider-borne troops with the 1st Airborne Division, and in September 1944 they were flown into the landing zone west of the village of Wolfheze, near Arnhem.

At Johannahoeve Farm, and later at The White House, the battalion along with other airborne troops found itself surrounded by an enemy force superior in numbers and equipped with tanks.

They fought gallantly but never really had a chance.

When the order to retreat was given on 25th September, what had gone in as a 740 strong Battalion had been reduced to 4 Officers and 72 men. The KOSB’s losses at Arnhem — 90% killed and taken prisoner — were the third highest of any battalion engaged.

My grandfather was one of the 72 men that walked away.

KOSB 7th Battalion, 1944

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