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Veterans, Active Duty, and Military Families


Hollywood’s Military Expert Reflects on Decades of Sending Actors to ‘Boot Camp’

Dale Dye breaks down actors and builds them up to better portray soldiers on-screen

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After serving as a Marine for two decades, Dale Dye noticed that Hollywood lacked insight in portraying the psychological and emotional toll of war on-screen.

“I decided, I’m going to go out to Hollywood. But I had no idea how movies were made,” Dye says.

Luckily, he had a friend who was working on the 1986 film Invaders from Mars, and the director, Tobe Hooper, needed help with a scene that depicted the Marine Corps swooping in to kill the martians.

The chance opportunity gave Dye a much-needed foot in the door, allowing him to learn about filmmaking and to obtain his first acting credit. For the attack scene, he tapped a unit of Marine Reserves stationed in Long Beach, California, who naturally knew how to portray what the scene required.

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Dye’s big break

Soon after, while thumbing through a film trade publication, Dye saw that writer-director Oliver Stone was planning a movie based on his experience as a combat infantryman in Vietnam. He tracked down the director and made his pitch.

The idea, which would later turn into his advisory firm Warriors Inc., was a training program to help actors better understand what happens in the battlefield by fully immersing them in an experience similar to his own real-life deployments.  

“[Stone] said, ‘OK, I’m going to give you three weeks in the Philippines. And then when they come down out of your training, they damn well better be [like] you and me when we were 19 years old,’ ” Dye recalls.

The group of actors who first experienced his training included Charlie Sheen, Forrest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe.

“I pulled no punches,” Dye says, noting that he would allow up to two hours of sleep a night and two meals a day only if they followed his commands. “We had arranged the last day of training to be the first day of filming because I don’t want to give them a night at a hotel and lose it. And I knew we had something special here because the performances were just gut-wrenching.”

After Platoon premiered in December 1986, it grossed over $100 million and won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

an image of dale dye with the actors he put through his bootcamp for forrest gump

Courtesy of Dale Dye

Hollywood’s go-to military adviser

“I believe sincerely and firmly that the basic warrior spirit is essentially the same. A soldier will act the same way if he’s part of a 256-man Macedonian phalanx as he will if he’s a guy carrying an M4 in Fallujah,” Dye observes. “The mentality, the heart, the emotions are the same. I found that if I kept that in mind and meticulously did my research, then I would be ready to train any outfit, any period, any service, and it’s proved to be true.”

Dye’s Warrior Inc. has helped produce more than 50 movies and TV shows, including Courage Under Fire, Starship Troopers, Casualties of War, Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and Band of Brothers.

“The boot camp was a very important part of the success of Band of Brothers. If you’re going to play the part right, you need to know what it feels like,” says actor Ron Livingston, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in the miniseries.

Dye’s boot camp taught Livingston how to deal with stress, chaos and the mind games of war. He also benefited from technical instruction such as weapons training, how to handle military gear and other squad-based tactics.

“It’s got to become second nature. And that allows you to have a whole layer to think about whatever else you need to think about in the scene,” Livingston says.

During his trainings, Dye says, he breaks actors down and builds them back up. As a result, he hopes that audiences better understand, appreciate and empathize with what real-life soldiers go through. “If we don’t adhere to that accuracy, then their story either gets shabbily told, only partially told or never told. And that’s a disservice I will not allow.”

This is the ninth episode from AARP Studios’ new documentary series Reporting for Duty. Each month you can expect a new inspirational story about veterans and military families at​​

Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.