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MILE 22

About The Production
FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: A STORY TAKES SHAPE

Mile 22 is the result of a years-long collaboration between director Peter Berg and first-time screenwriter, Lea Carpenter.

The two first met in 2013 at a book signing for Carpenter's debut novel, "Eleven Days", a family drama centered on the U.S. Navy SEAL community. It was released as Berg was preparing for the release of Lone Survivor. Due to their respective research and travels, the two had many people in common, which led to talk of working together at some point. Based on her acclaimed novel and other writings, Berg had been impressed by Carpenter's ability to weave family dynamics and other personal insight into stories set in the Special Forces community. "Pete asked me, 'Do you know how to write a film script?' and I said something along the lines of no, but I can figure it out," Carpenter recalls.

Berg first came to her with a script based on his original idea. "Pete's core premise was, what happens if someone comes into an embassy or a CIA station with a piece of information and offers it in exchange for being taken out of the country under very perilous circumstances?," explains Carpenter. "Pete and I talked a lot about it and I was really interested in this idea: what is the risk that you take when you need to know something? How do people change when they're under the pressure to get this kind of intelligence?" As Berg and Carpenter engaged in additional discussions about the CIA and the Special Operations culture, he quickly realized she would be the perfect person to write the screenplay based on his idea. In an unusual twist, in 2008, Carpenter discovered that her own recently deceased father was earlier in his life a member of U.S. special operations, a discovery that led her to read everything she could on the topic.

As a first-time screenwriter, Carpenter ramped up her learning process by reading several screenplays Berg shared with her, as well as watching several movies she admired in the thriller/espionage genre, including Zero Dark Thirty and one of her favorites, Steven Spielberg's Munich. "That was a movie that had a big influence on me in terms of embedding some action in a more literary story and trying to put some entertainment and emotion together," she says.

Over their months of collaboration to fashion the script for Mile 22, Carpenter described working with Berg as one of the most exciting, dynamic, challenging, and creative collaborations of her career. "He helped me have the confidence to take risks as a writer that I never would have taken," she asserts. "He's had incredible patience and amazing ideas and has taken everything creatively to a new level. He has an incredible ability to always go for the humanity, which is something I don't think you would immediately think of in an action film director. But he's always looking for the human moment, always looking for the core of the scene, always saying people will know how to blow up the trucks, but you need to know what's happening emotionally."

During their discussions, they began to discuss Ground Branch, a specialized paramilitary unit within the CIA's Special Activities Division. "Ground Branch is largely comprised of former Marine Special Operators, former Navy SEALs, former Delta, and Special Forces Officers," Carpenter explains. "It's a part of the organization with really deep roots, because the CIA was founded by a group of guys who had been, more or less, paramilitary guys during World War II. It's a group that doesn't get a lot of attention because when we think about CIA, we tend to think about George Smiley, spies, and case officers. We much less often think about former military operators who then become case officers." Says Berg, "I met a lot of Navy SEALs who have graduated in Ground Branch and heard about their exploits and the very unique operations they participate in. And I just thought it was really rich material for a movie."

Although Mile 22 is a work of fiction, it's standard practice for Berg to engage a group of consultants with real world experience - from Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, to CIA officers and computer experts - to assist the cast and filmmakers in creating accurate character depictions in terms of both actions and dialogue in any given situation. As part of her research, Carpenter met with several of those consultants, including CIA professionals and specialists in the technology space, to learn more about computer hacking, coding, and viruses. "I wanted to learn how these people talk," she notes. Even during filming, Carpenter was on the phone with those tech consultants to stay up to date on the latest developments that she might be able to incorporate into the shooting script. "They were helping me understand things like zero-day exploits, timer scripts, how codes can be embedded and unraveled, how they're written, and how they're structured. We wanted it to feel real."

As the story developed, Berg suggested that the journey from embassy to getaway plane would be 22 miles. "I liked the idea that it felt like a game," Berg says. "Four people have to get 22 miles in 38 minutes. Very simple. And we're going to throw a lot of obstacles at them in between where they start and where they end up."

The deceptively simple premise proved to be a solid foundation on which to build the more complex story, as it unfolds. "I thought, well, that's probably not going to be too difficult of a journey; it's only going to take 25 minutes or so," Carpenter muses. "But everyone in this fictional host country wants Li Noor dead, and we find out at different points in the first act why they want him dead. But they have a lot of people standing in their way. And because of the quality of the information he's planning on giving, and the obstacles in their way, Jimmy Silva makes the call to use the newest 'weapon' the CIA has, which is actually a human intelligence weapon."

That human intelligence weapon, Carpenter explains, goes by the code name "Overwatch" - a group within the CIA, led by the character known as Bishop. "What they do is come in and watch over extremely short, but extremely high value operations," Carpenter explains, noting that, "unlike Ground Branch, Overwatch is a complete work of fiction."

Peter Berg asserts that although Overwatch is fictional, they're loosely based on the idea of a QRF - a quick reaction force - comprised of military operators, which he also learned about making Lone Survivor. "Whenever there's any legitimate military operation - Navy SEALs, Marine recon guys, Delta Force, or Green Berets - there's usually something in place called a QRF, which is designed to be able to come in and offer assistance if the troops involved in the operation get into trouble," the director explains. "There really is a big brother watching. And they can use satellites and drones and are in very close communication with the men and women on the ground. So, the whole idea of Overwatch was taken from that."

As Berg and Carpenter conceived it, one of the protocols followed in an Overwatch operation is the notion that they will leave someone behind. Team members are expendable, if necessary, in order to complete the mission objective. "Pete and I had talked about what are the limits of patriotism," Carpenter recalls. "How could you set up a protocol where you would be breaking all sorts of rules? So, in developing Overwatch, Pete and I decided that this would not be a 'no losses' kind of organization. In signing up, you have to essentially resign from the CIA in order to go on an Overwatch op. These guys know that they're probably going to pay the price of someone dying. They don't know going out who's going to die, but we lose a lot of blood by the end of the movie."

"For our team of heroes the mission comes first," explains Peter Berg. "It's a different, every man for himself-type of camaraderie than we've seen before." Although Ground Branch is based on reality, Berg notes that the premise of the mission coming first uses a little bit of creative license from the real Ground Branch operatives, something the filmmaker is allowed to do without the constraints of working on a film based on real events. "There's a certain type of pressure that we don't experience when we're making something up so we can have a bit more fun."

Mark Wahlberg agrees and adds, "Pete and I had done three other films all based on true stories surrounding tragic events. Basically, we wanted to do something where we could have some fun, but our idea of fun is creating a world that is full of violence, betrayal, deceit, and all of these things that I think make for a great story. We wanted to make a really smart character-driven action movie. Pete's always known his action, but the real story is the set up and there's great twists and turns in this movie, which was something that appealed to both of us."

To ratchet up the suspense even further, Carpenter added a secondary plot line during the Li Noor exfiltration operation; while the team is on their 22-mile mission, a Russian spy plane is circling the skies somewhere in the world, watching and listening to everything going on. "The idea behind the Russian spy plane and part of the concept for the film was there's always someone else watching, whoever is watching," Carpenter says. "So, we dreamed up this idea of this ultimate weapon that could fly in the sky and provide intelligence surveillance. And the idea would be that you could have a team of people on this plane who could use very new technology to locate one person anywhere in the world by picking up the right kinds of signal intelligence. And there's a female observer on the plane who we don't really know until the end of the film."

Although action is the primary focus, it was important to both Berg and Carpenter that the film explored personal themes and focused on the humanity of the characters and situations they encounter. In the film's opening, we see them in action as a team, then we gain greater insights into them as individuals, as well as how they function as a team under Silva. According to Carpenter, one of the main themes the film explores, both literally and figuratively, is that of mothers and children. We see it with Alice and her daughter, as she struggles to bridge her two worlds; one as a divorced mother who desperately loves her child, and the other world, where she is a brilliant and lethal operative, capable of extreme violence. "Throughout the film, the main character, Jimmy Silva, communicates with the leader of Overwatch, Bishop, using the call signs Child 1 and Mother," she points out. "So, we have threaded those words throughout the script. They're probably the most repeated words in the script, child and mother. And if I did my job right, there's a larger story mapped onto that about a mother and a child."

It was also a priority to have women represented in the special operations teams depicted in the film. As Carpenter notes, there are already women in the Navy SEALs and female writers and directors such as Kathryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins who are making mainstream films in the action genre not traditionally dominated by women. "I thought if I could give a few women these very literally muscular roles, that it might differentiate it," Carpenter observes. "It's the women who are controlling everything that's going on in the movie. We have Alice keeping Jimmy Silva in check. Sam, Ronda Rousey's character, M.I.T., and the mysterious Vera, who has a lot on her hands. These are not shrinking violets." Indeed, there are no wallflowers here, no damsels waiting to be rescued. Carpenter and Berg have created female characters that are more than empowered, they are powerful - in intellect, in physical ability, in strength. They are equal to their male team members and are viewed as such; they're not standing helplessly on the sidelines, they are in the fight, weapons hot, doing their job with lethal effectiveness.

CREATING MODERN COMBAT CINEMA: DIRECTOR PETER BERG

After doing three films in a row based on reality - Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day - director Peter Berg just wanted to have some fun and just make an action movie. "That was the spirit this all started with," says Berg. In the earliest stages of Mile 22's evolution, director Peter Berg was initially motivated by his reaction to Gareth Evans' The Raid films, both starring Iko Uwais. "I remember hearing about them," Berg recalls. "And I generally don't go see fight movies, but they were getting some buzz, Gareth's direction was getting a lot of acclaim at festivals, and people were talking about this young 'next Bruce Lee.' I went and saw the first The Raid and was just mesmerized by Iko and the film's soul, texture, emotion, and its physical brutality. He just had it. You can see a hundred guys fight, but one of them touches your soul. Iko definitely had that quality." Berg immediately knew that he wanted to work with the talented Indonesian action star, but at the time didn't know on what, when or where.

Stylistically, with Mile 22, Berg's focus was on creating a film that he considers part of a new wave of combat cinema, a brutally realistic depiction of fighting and action not reliant on computer-driven effects. "I was never a big tech person," Berg concedes. "The movies I tend to be drawn to are less tech, more real. So, with stunts and fights and action, I approach it from the standpoint of how can we make this as real as possible and limit the amount of giant green screens we have on set? That just doesn't excite me."

In describing his four-film collaboration with Wahlberg, Berg, who doesn't have a brother of his own, considers their friendship a brotherhood. "We get along tremendously well," he says. "My family gets along well with his family. My friends get along with his friends. We just have a good time." The director also cites Wahlberg's famous work ethic as an inspiration. "Mark's work ethic is probably better than mine, and I think mine's pretty intense! He's a very hard worker. I trust him to be there for me, and I think the feeling is mutual."

Berg cites independent film legend John Cassavetes for inspiring his improvisational method. "With Cassavetes you never knew what was going to happen," Berg says. "There was a script and there was a plot and story, and the characters had identifiable relationships, but within that the actors could do or say anything they wanted. And I always liked that. It felt kind of magical and real to me. It felt like you always had to pay attention. So, I always try and encourage actors to improvise by providing a safe environment where they and the crew can all feel like they can play around."

Berg says that one thing he's proud of with Mile 22 is that the film will deliver exactly what people hope. "We are what we say we are," he states. "This is a very intense 95 minutes of no fucking around, ruthless business. If you want 95 minutes of real, intense business, we've got that for you. You want to see a kickass action movie that knows exactly what it wants to be, we got one."

AUTHENTICITY IN ACTION: TACTICAL TRAINING

To ensure the actors could convincingly play special ops team members, they worked with military tech advisors for several weeks prior to filming. It was important that the actors first learn basic procedures, but also understand why they were performing them, so that they could ensure their safety on set.

"The difference between training an actor and training a soldier or an operator is that I'm training people in the military to fight and accomplish missions in life and death situations. I'm training the actors and stuntmen to look good on camera," explains Jariko Denman, one of Mile 22's military tech advisors. "We use generic situations to teach basic principles: how to enter and clear a room, basics of moving down a long hallway, eliminating a threat from different firing positions, and eliminating a threat on the roof. It's giving them the tools to think through a situation, rather than them having to memorize a thousand different things that they're gonna have to constantly use."

As always, safety is the primary concern for everyone involved. "It's important to have the actors trained in the tactics, as well as the weapons they're gonna use in the movie, both for safety, and to save time in the production." Denman goes on to explain how little details bring authenticity. "Most guys with some tactical experience look for whether the actor is actually looking through their sights when they shoot; that's my number one thing, helping the actor getting that sight picture. Pete wants them to be extremely aggressive, very methodical hunters who look like they're in the zone."

That authenticity didn't come instantly. "It starts with the performers being trained and having the hours and hours of repetition to look natural and have things flow so that it looks like they do this for a living," says Denman. "Once they have the basic principles down, they can react to any changes on the day when we start shooting."

WEAPONS HOT: ARMING THE GROUND BRANCH

Big action sequences often require big guns, so to ensure Jimmy Silva and his team of black ops Ground Branch agents were properly armed for their missions, director Peter Berg chose his trusted longtime collaborator, Doug Fox, who pulls double duty as both prop master and lead armorer on Mile 22.

"Mark Wahlberg and the rest of the cast play Ground Branch operators, and normally they are just carrying side arms. We're working closely with Glock, which everyone likes because they're lightweight and easier to carry them all day long," reveals Fox. "Most of the time, it's just one or two handguns on them, but for going out into the field, they need to augment with M-4 rifles. Plus, they have to load up their vehicles with enough weapons and gear to get themselves to the extraction point."

In addition to the Ground Branch team, Fox also had to outfit the hostile forces that try to prevent them from delivering Li Noor to safety. To ensure that all the weaponry was safely transported to the filming locations in Atlanta, Georgia and Bogota, Colombia, Fox had to place duplicate orders so one could begin the international manifest paperwork process. "For this movie, we're in the neighborhood of 50 weapons on a manifest going to Colombia. That includes machine guns, M-4's, AK's, and Uzis; we also have to ship 40,000 rounds of blank ammo. All in all, it's probably half a million dollars' worth of weapons heading that way. We'll be the first company to actually ship live weapons into Bogota for movie purposes."

Michael Panevics served as the prop master and key armorer on location in Colombia, which serves as the setting for an epic street battle in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Indocarr, which required more than just guns and ammo. "They stick a charge on the back of the Jeep and it explodes. And a big gunfight ensues in the middle of the street. Lots of gunfire, cars blow up, grenades get thrown, grenade launchers are fired," says Panevics of the street war scene that ranks as one of the most intense action sequences in recent memory.

After working with Berg on Lone Survivor, Fox was already prepared for the job. "I've seen the way Pete shoots things - it's very cinema verite. He doesn't like the cut, so we have to have everything laid out from start to finish, which could mean 30 guys firing guns at one time," warns Fox. "Pete likes it real, so that's what we give him."

CINEMATOGRAPHY: FILMING MODERN COMBAT CINEMA

The key filmmaker helping to bring Berg's vision to life is director of photography Jacques Jouffret, who previously served as the "A" camera and Steadicam operator on several of the director's earlier films, including Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, and Lone Survivor. After a long career as an award-winning camera operator on dozens of films for many directors, including Berg and Michael Bay, the French-born Jouffret most recently began working as a cinematographer on films such as The Purge series and Truth or Dare. Jouffret's engaging style of cinematography was a perfect blend with Peter Berg's improvisational approach to directing actors, which allows for tremendous freedom to try different choices.

For Mile 22, Jouffret decided to employ the largely handheld documentary style he employed on his other films with Berg, a method they both appreciate for its natural look. "My approach to filmmaking is to have as much freedom as possible to shoot in every direction at any time," says Jouffret, who cites the 1966 Italian-Algerian historical war film, The Battle of Algiers as not only his favorite film, but one whose documentary, neorealist style had the greatest influence on his approach to Mile 22. "When someone asks me what I try and do with filmmaking, I say that I hope people watching feel what is happening is real, that they are watching a documentary."

Jouffret's engaging style of cinematography was a perfect blend with Peter Berg's improvisational approach to directing actors, which allows for tremendous freedom to try different choices. Jouffret and his team employed a wide array of cameras to capture the kinetic intensity of the film's city-spanning action and driving sequences. "I made the decision to use multiple cameras to give that sense of reality and that anything can happen," Jouffret says. The story also unfolds from many different perspectives, including the surface action, CCTVs, and aerial views from the viewpoint of the Overwatch team monitoring the mission with drones.

To ensure he was able to achieve the look he and Berg wanted, Jouffret chose to use seven of Panavision's brand new large-format Millennium DXL 8K cameras outfitted with T-series anamorphic lenses, which provided him with a larger format than standard spherical lenses, thereby creating a more visceral, cinematic, widescreen experience for moviegoers. He notes this is the first time he's used these cameras on a Peter Berg film.

In addition to his camera operators, the film relied on both an aerial drone unit to provide Overwatch's surveillance angle on the action, as well as a host of Go Pro cameras that were mounted at most of the sets to provide additional monitoring angles. Having multiple surveillance cameras meant that many scenes had to be filmed in two ways: one with human camera operators, and then after they cleared out of the shot the scenes would be done again for the surveillance cameras. Using multiple cameras from various perspectives provided the performances with the level of verisimilitude the cinematographer was aiming for. "I use a combination of things to get that truth. I place cameras far away from the actors so they don't feel like there is a camera on them, and then we'll go in close with handheld cameras. I wanted to give complete freedom to the actors so the audience feels they are in the moment. I didn't want to be tied into a dolly to track someone."

Berg was adamant that the events of the film take place in daylight, so filming in Bogota came with a major challenge: the weather, which tremendously affected his approach to determining the look of the film. "When I came to Bogota for the first time during the initial scout, I realized how overcast the sky is and saw all the menacing clouds constantly changing," explains Jouffret. "I took my cue that this movie would have a more somber, austere look than I originally planned." With a year-round subtropical climate due its geographical position in the Northern Andes Mountain and an elevation of 8661 feet above sea level, Bogota's constantly changing weather and cloud cover was Jouffret's biggest challenge since keeping the consistency of the exterior light meant a lot of waiting for the right moments to shoot. In addition to his position as overall director of photography, Jouffret also served as the "A" camera operator. Along with a "B" and "C" camera team, the film was primarily shot in a hand-held format with very limited use of any dollies or cranes, which lends immediacy to the film, drawing the audience into the action. There was also a second unit camera team that occasionally provided additional cameras during action-heavy sequences, as well as a separate drone camera unit responsible for all of the Overwatch aerial surveillance perspectives.

Executive producer Stuart Besser notes, "Jacques operated on several of Peter's films and knows him better than anybody else. And with Peter's way of filmmaking and the years he and Jacques worked together, there was an immediate understanding. There are a lot of cameras out there, with which Peter gets his master, his singles, and all the coverage all at once, allowing the actors not to have to run through it 20, 30 times with different setups." This was instrumental to the production meeting the aggressive filming schedule: the entire film was filmed in a mere 42 days.

PRODUCTION DESIGN: CREATING A REAL-WORLD LOOK

Mile 22 marks the first collaboration between British production designer Andrew Menzies and director Peter Berg. The designer, whose credits include two films with director David Ayer, Bright and Fury, as well as Power Rangers, felt this film was in his wheelhouse. "As we went along, the look of the movie actually evolved from a Children of Men look that was semi-futuristic, into an alternative now; a much more grounded, gritty, real world look that Peter wanted."

It was Berg's insistence on authenticity in all aspects of his film that inspired the designer to maintain a visual realism in all the sets he designed. "One of the first things he told me was 'I like a working-class aesthetic'. He likes to de-saturate the style out of the movie, which I think is similar to the Bourne movies - very grounded and real," Menzies recalls.

With very limited prep time for such a complicated film, Menzies had to leverage real world the location of Bogota, Colombia. "For the look of the movie, I wanted to tell a story - that they were trapped in the middle of a city so that you felt they couldn't be extracted by helicopter or anything; they had to work their way out of that city," says the designer. "It's a really interesting city because it's got a lot of variety. You could be in an Eastern Bloc country. You could be anywhere in the world."

As luck would have it, they ended up shooting exteriors at the real U.S. Embassy, which had been decommissioned and was then purchased by the Colombian government. Similar architecture of the two buildings allowed them to match the interior sets used in Atlanta with near perfection. "I was trying to make the place feel very peaceful and safe, like you're in this sort of a concrete bunker because they are in a city that has unrest. We've up armored the exterior of the Embassy, with barbed wire along the fences," says Menzies. "When they leave the safety of the Embassy, suddenly they're in this world of mayhem: businesses, bright colors, and lights."

To devise the slightly futuristic medical status screens and communications devices depicted in the movie, Menzies consulted with a team of military advisors to obtain input on the kinds of devices that might be used on future missions. "For all the technology in the movie, it's grounded with what people in the know have told us," he states. "We made some changes to make it more real, but we definitely tapped into what our advisors have told us is the next generation."

To create the Overwatch mobile headquarters, the production used the second floor of the historic Dekalb County Courthouse in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, transforming the former judges' chambers into the makeshift mission operations center where ranking officer Bishop (John Malkovich) and his team oversee and monitor Silva's mission. "We designed their portable work stations as a riff off drone operators," the production designer reveals. "All of their equipment can fold out of cases. It's like they're military roadies. They can travel anywhere incognito and move into these abandoned spaces and, using their own power, can set up off the grid, do their job and leave. They're always on the move."

The interior of the sophisticated Russian spy plane was partly based on Russian nuclear submarines. "The Russian plane is a giant code cracking device," Menzies says. "It's listening to all the chatter on the waves from U.S. Embassies to U.S. personnel around the world, trying to track down the chatter between Ground Branch and Overwatch." Like the other sets in the film, Menzies wanted the spy plane to feel grounded and real. "It feels dense with technology, but it's all working class; no transparent screens and all that fancy stuff."

Menzies says, for him, Berg's notion of modern combat cinema is specifically about being more grounded. "It's the real world, rather than glamorous and cool," Menzies observes. "The general audience is much wiser to combat these days because of the wars that have been going on for so long. They know what firearms can do; they know what grenades can do. I think what Peter's bringing to the table is that there's a real world out there where people are fallible and they make mistakes. They're highly trained, but they're still human. What I tried to do is help build that backdrop and keep it as real as possible."

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