The U. S. S. West Virginia is embroiled in flames on December 7, 1941. — U. S. Navy photograph
By Rick Cartledge
Many of SAR’s readers use their firearms during interesting events. Here is a story of the making of one part of the movie “Pearl Harbor”, and the effect that some of SAR’s readers and contributors had on ensuring authenticity in the film.
The telephone rang on a Thursday evening. When answered, the other end of the line yielded the distinctive voice of Kevin Brittingham. Kevin telephoned to discuss a shoot on Saturday, November 11, 2000. I said, ‘The 11th will be Armistice Day. You have a great sense of timing.’
Kevin, Vince Mueller, and Harold Shinn had done the shooting for the sound recording of the landmark film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (see SAR Oct 99). Christopher Boyes, one of the Academy Award winners for ‘Saving Private Ryan’, again had contacted him at Advanced Armament Corporation.. Kevin had assembled a crew to do the firearms sound effects for a new motion picture. Kevin also stated the he already had contacted his brother Greg to open his large private gun range for motion picture use. Kevin invited me to come and put some brass on the ground for the new motion picture ‘Pearl Harbor’.
Advanced Armament possessed nearly all of the automatic guns required. Kevin knew that, in our area, a number of Title II owners shot Japanese weapons. Kevin wanted specific vintage weapons to capture not similar sounds but the exact sounds of early World War II. We had the rest of what he required. We also had a surprise.
After Kevin hung up, I telephoned Forbes Mathews and told him of the project. Forbes responded enthusiastically. He stated that he would bring a Japanese Type 96, a Japanese Type 99, and Japanese Type 11 (see SAR Dec 00). I then asked Forbes to bring the first gun that he ever bought — an immaculate Colt Commercial .50 caliber water-cooled gun made in 1922. Though we will do a later article on this particular gun, the short story follows. This gun contains an adjustable buffer. With a few flicks of the wrist, the gunner may set the RPM from 550 to nearly 1200. A weapon such as this sat in the later named Tora Tora Tora rigs at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
After hanging up, I thought about the Saturday to come. I remembered a particular story from the U.S.S. Nevada. On that fateful morning, her band and Marine Guard assembled on her deck to raise the colors. About half way through the ceremony, a Japanese dive bomber swooped across her decks. The tail gunner sprayed the assembled band and Honor Guard. He hit no one. The assembled men said ‘To Hell with them’ and finished raising our flag and playing the Star Spangled Banner. They then went to their battle stations and galantly defended their ship. We would go on Saturday to pay tribute to these men and the many others who stood for us so long ago. No one could not have kept any of us away.
Forbes came by before sunrise on Saturday morning. We loaded up and rode northward toward Advanced Armament Corporation in Lawrenceville, Georgia and rolled up at the front entrance about 9 o’clock. In front of us sat two large trucks. Vince Mueller completed the loading of cased guns into the front truck. Vince then loaded some extra crates of ammunition into the rear truck Kevin came out the front entrance and offered coffee. We gratefully accepted. As we finished the coffee, Chris Boyes and the Skywalker Sound crew arrived.
We motored northward through several counties to Greg Brittingham’s farm. There we rolled up in front of the gun range. A pickup truck (read that “target”) sat parked at the far end near the high berm. We unloaded equipment and talked guns as the Skywalker crew set microphones and recording consoles. The conversation as well as the efficiency of the crew proved nothing short of amazing.
A few words about Advanced Armament Corporation. Over a number of years Kevin Brittingham has built a prosperous and nationally respected business. In addition to the well-stocked inventory of regular firearms, Advanced Armament carries a fine selection of Title 2. At their indoor gun range next door, they rent Title 2 for practice and test firing. Advanced Armament also manufactures suppressors for commercial sales. During this weekend, Advanced Armament suppressors would assist Skywalker Sound. These suppressors would help the Skywalker technicians capture bullets in flight. The skilled technicians of Skywalker would then deliver those recordings to the soundtrack of ‘Pearl Harbor’.
Motion picture shooting differs from group shooting. The recording engineers seek pure sound on the track. They mix the sound in their studios to fit the action on screen. In studio they may combine, abbreviate, or round off shots. Thus the shooting done rates as pure sound. With this understanding, we set up the guns. The men of Skywalker Sound set up their recorders and microphones to capture it all.
We finished the safety meeting about 10:45 in the morning. The technicians of Skywalker Sound finished the preliminary set-ups down range about 10:55. I noted that we had gathered on Armistice Day. We should fire the first shot at 11:00am, the traditional time to remember the Armistice- the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. In so doing we would put some brass on the ground to honor the Men and Women of 1918. Michael Mathews, the youngest member of the shooting team, took his position at the line. At 11:00 he let off a burst and we let out a cheer. The Skywalker crew went through their final sound checks. Then we got down to business.
Michael Mathews fired all of the Japanese light machine guns that one will hear in ‘Pearl Harbor’. He first fired the Japanese Type 11 previously written up in SAR. The Type 11 takes 6.5 Norma loads. The supply of ammunition stood as adequate but not large. Aren Downey gave the call ‘Type 11 light machine gun!’. A pause followed. Michael then let off a short burst. Another pause followed. Aren yelled ‘Cut!’. We all applauded. Chris then asked Michael to do a medium burst in the same fashion. Michael did. Then came a long burst. Afterwards came varying bursts of varying lengths. Just as Michael loaded in his last set of stripper clips, John Fasal announced that they had enough. Chris Boyes smiled at the coordination between Michael Mathews and the Skywalker crew.
Michael then turned to the Japanese Type 96 Nambu LMG. Michael went through the same procedure with the Type 96. This Nambu light gave a different speed and sound to the 6.5 cartridge. We also pointed out that this gun still enjoyed manufacture during the time frame of the motion picture. Though discontinued in 1943, the Type 96 remained a favorite with the Japanese troops throughout the War. The Type 96 fired loads crafted from 35 Remington cases. Herman Lysle and Doug Hollberg crafted the loads for both the Type 11 and the Type 96. They used lower pressure loads. For both of these guns we repeat the caveat from Ed Libby. “DO NOT USE ANY WORLD WAR II OR CHINESE AMMUNITION IN THESE GUNS.”
The next gun brought a price break in the cost of ammunition. Michael got down behind a Japanese Type 99 chambered in .308. The .308 cartridge provides the same sound as the 7.7. It does so at considerably less expense than the Japanese 7.7 round. Skywalker Sound put Michael through the same paces as with the other two guns. The 99’s throatier, different speed sound boomed out as Michael pulled the trigger. With a pause after the final blast, Aren said ‘Cut!’. That signaled Michael’s final round in the soundtrack of ‘Pearl Harbor’.
Forbes Mathews rolled out his heavy .50 rig. Chris Boyes came over to examine the unique rig capped by the historic .50 caliber gun. This commercial water-cooled gun dates from 1922, carrying the Colt serial number C18xx. I explained to Chris that this gun exhibited the identical characteristics as those fired from the later named Tora Tora Tora rigs at Pearl Harbor. Forbes then showed Chris the adjustable buffer. This buffer varies the RPM from 550 to 1200. Without hesitation, Mr. Boyes asked for the high speed sound.
Ethan Van Der Ryn rolled the tapes and Aren gave the name of the gun. A pause followed. Forbes dropped the hammer. After another pause, Aren yelled ‘Cut!’. Chris Boyes stood in amazement. ‘That’s the damnedest gun sound I’ve ever heard.’ Forbes laughed and stated, ‘This gun has been banned on gun ranges in two states.’ After the first firing, the Skywalker crew set a steel plate. They also added two additional microphones to capture the shells that fell from the Commercial .50. In the motion picture the distinguished actor Cuba Gooding Jr. fires a .50 caliber gun. One may listen for the unique sound and the tumbling shells of this fine gun as one views ‘Pearl Harbor’. Those who come to the Knob Creek Show and Shoot may view this same fine gun. They will find it next to the deuce and a half on KCR’s main line.
Henning Brown then rolled out the two field guns, a 25 Hotchkiss and a Pak 35. Curtis Hawkins, well-known specialist in Title 2, came down from the Georgia mountains to put these guns through their paces. Curtis checked the guns and flipped down the shield on the Pak 35. Curtis then swung the breeches open and yelled, ‘The line is clear’. With that Scott Gitteau and John Fasal went down range to arranged the microphones. When Scott and John came back past the guns, Curtis yelled, ‘The line is hot’. Mr. Van Der Ryn got the recorders up to speed. Aren said the name ’25 Hotchkiss’ and paused. Mr. Hawkins put a round through the pickup truck hunkered down at the end of the range. ‘Cut’ followed another pause. Curtis repeated the procedure a number of times with the 25 Hotchkiss and the Pak 35.
Henning Brown and Kevin Brittingham then moved to the far side of the line. They took up positions behind two .50 caliber M2 guns. They flipped up the covers and swung the barrels safely away from the firing line. They stepped back from the guns and signaled Chris Boyes that all was clear. Chris sent Scott Gitteau and John Fasal down the line to check the extant microphones and set up several additional microphones. When Scott and John came back across the line, Henning and Kevin approached the M2s. They loaded the guns and stood at the ready.
One found the firing of these guns to be particularly interesting. Henning and Kevin fired these guns together and separately in both short and long bursts. The steel impact plate employed on Forbes Mathews’ water-cooled .50 also saw service here. Together Henning and Kevin’s guns produced a distinctly different 1100 RPM sound. When fired separately the two guns produced a completely different 550 RPM sound. As stated before, the magic rests in the recording. When we view the motion picture we shall listen for the .50’s with great interest.
Drew Wolfe and Tracy Moore helped Chris Neufeld haul out a matched pair of heavy hitters. These hitters consisted of a brace of German 81 aircraft guns. These guns give a high speed sound that is as distinctive as it is awesome. Aren gave the name of the guns and a pause followed. Drew, Tracy, and Chris took turns putting massive amounts of brass on the ground. These guns fire in very similar fashion to the Japanese aircraft guns. Their sounds will add greatly to the sound track.
Kevin Brittingham then brought out a veteran of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ — the 20MM S-1000 Solothurn gun. This magnificent gun came to be in the 1930s as an anti-tank weapon. Though a great step forward, the evolution of ever stronger tank armor throughout the 1930s soon rendered this beautifully crafted gun obsolescent. The Afrika Corps later employed the Solothurn as a brutally efficient sniper weapon from Tunisia to Egypt. The survivability of anyone hit with a 20MM round rated at about zero. In ‘Ryan’ Kevin skillfully employed the Solothurn. In his hands the Solothurn yielded the authentic sound for the German Flak gun. In ‘Pearl Harbor’ the Solothurn takes on the guise of other appropriate weaponry.
Viewing this weapon is one thing. Firing the Solothurn is something else. The gun balances well and the sights line up easily. The chain driven cocking takes some getting used to. The trigger pull stands as unlike anything else. Several remarked that the trigger pull seemed to be measured in pounds rather than ounces. When the firing pin strikes the primer, one does not mistake it. The flat shooter pushes as much as it kicks. The projectile hits whatever lines up in the sights. The gun fires the standard 20 x 108B round. This effective round still enjoys world wide acceptance. One finds this round in production at this very hour. Though all who fired the Solothurn did well with it, Mr. Brittingham possesses a particular affinity with this gun. With this gun, as with many others, we await the magic worked by the men of Skywalker Sound.
‘It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over’
With respect to Yogi Berra, we must state the following. Motion pictures consist of an assemblage of many parts. The screen writer, the actors, the cameras, and many other elements contribute. The director oversees all. Michael Bay directed this motion picture. Jerry Bruckheimer produced it. Randall Wallace wrote the sceenplay. The Touchstone Picture stars Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, and the afore mentioned Cuba Gooding Jr. The shooting in Georgia gave a small but significant part of the whole.
As we got ready to leave, Chris Boyes came over to the truck and spoke with me. He asked specific questions that would aid him in his studio work. We gave answers. I also gave him a copy of December 2000 SAR to assist him in his work.. Chris thanked us for coming and for giving input to the motion picture. We told him how much we respected his work and that of Shannon Mills in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. We hoped that ‘Pearl Harbor’ would be received at least as well. With that, we said our good byes and rode off as dusk blended softly into night.
As we rode southward we spoke of the day done. Forbes talked of how much he enjoyed the shoot and the good friends that we had seen once again. Michael Mathews echoed the words that his father had spoken. He then stated that he would tell all of his friends about it. Then I said something to Michael. These words spanned more than 100 years.
‘We will see the movie ‘Pearl Harbor’ on Memorial Day. We will know the part that we played in it. Four sets of days determined the freedom in which we now live — Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway, and Normandy. Those days happened more than 50 years ago. What I am talking about at present is a day some 50 years from now. On that day, you will be a grandfather. Your father and I probably will be gone. You should sit with your grandchildren and view this motion picture. Tell your grandchildren about that day long ago when you, your father, and I went to north Georgia. Tell them about how the free men of Georgia met with the talented men from California. Together they crafted the shooting sound tract for this motion picture. Tell your grandchildren of the part that you played in ‘Pearl Harbor’. More importantly, tell them of the freedom that this motion picture represents.’ Michael said, ‘I will.’
We all smiled as we motored into the night, southward toward hearth and home.
Kevin Brittingham, Advanced Armament Corporation, 221 West Crogan ST, Lawrenceville, GA 30045, 770-277-4946
Ms. Kristine Krueger, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire BLVD, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, 310-247-3000
Henning Brown, The Firing Line, 115 Mill Center BLVD, Bogart, GA 30622, 706-546-6111
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N9 (June 2001)