Hacksaw Ridge is a true story of a man named Desmond Dos who wanted to be a medic and conscientious objector in the Army. Directed by Mel Gibson with an astonishing cast, the film was up for 6 Academy Awards. It won two; Best Achievement in Film Editing-John Gilbert, and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing-Kevin O’connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace. Worldwide it garnered 80 nominations and won 40.
Terry Bendedict, a producer, director, writer, and cinematographer, is a huge reason that film exists. It all started when he was 10, and this interview reveals much about this dedicated filmmaker.
Q. How did you hear about Dos’ story?
TB: I grew up in a home where my parents did not have a television so I read a lot. I came across a book titled The Unlikeliest Hero, about a humble guy who wanted to be a combat medic, and the soldiers harassed and abused him for two and a half hours and then he saved them on a ridge called Hacksaw attending them and lowering them down on that rope.
Q. As a young boy at that time what were you thinking about this hero?
TB: My little brain was trying to imagine how all that happened. Then I got to meet him latter at a church camp. He was this small humble man who had a passion for youth and set a moral compass and encouraged us to have a faith walk. We really felt he cared about us.
Q. Obviously you met up with him again?
TB: Years later in the 90s we met at some Medal of Honorees reunions, and I saw how those heroes really set him apart in a very positive way. They appointed him their Chaplin. That’s when I talked to him about universal themes that could be told both as a documentary and a film that could inspire and encourage people. I found out he had turned Hollywood down in 1945 because he was concerned about being glorified; he wanted God to get that glory. He was also worried Hollywood would spice it up.
Q. By know you must have had a good relationship with him?
TB: Yes. One day when I was with him I told him I really understand it, and I would answer to God first and him second. He laughed and said ok; you can do it. He was 80 then. “I told him we need to do the documentary first before you kick the bucket, and tell this story from the horses’ mouth. I wanted people to understand what happened in your life.”
Q: How long did you work on the documentary?
TB: It took four years; longer than I thought. I made some decisions along the way that were rather risky. One. Because it was the first feature length documentary to be shot in the high-definition 720P format. Panasonic and Cannon were my two sponsors, and I was using prototype cameras and lenses. I knew the standard format was going to be archaic in a few years and Desmond’s story deserved to be preserved in perpetuity and a soon-to be format of high depth. We did some things that were rather innovative at the time.
Q: Was it finished in four years?
TB: No. It took longer to find 15,000 men who served in the 77th division in WWII and only 12 were left who had war experience with him. In 1903 when I was in postproduction I was interviewing with various producers and production companies about doing a feature film. I was introduced to Bill Mechanic by David Permut, another producer on our film. Bill understood the uniqueness of our film and the importance of preserving the integrity of Desmond and his story of faith. Bill is really the one that deserves the credit for fighting the next decade –plus to get the film to a point where we could be greenlighted. And that happened when we brought Mel Gibson on board.
Q. When I was interviewing Mel I could feel this movie really moved him and he seemed very passionate about it and it shows in the film.
TB: He’s an extraordinary filmmaker and was right for us as he is a faith-driven man. He understood that Desmond’s story needed to be protected, preserved and put into a content that people would appreciate what all those men, and especially what Desmond did on the Ridge. When People talk about the graphic nature of the film, it’s the story about a medic and a medic’s job is to clean up the carnage that happens on the battlefield to the human body. That was the delicate balance that Mel took us through, and I think he was spot-on in the way that he choose to tell that story.
Q. I heard a lot of women say they don’t want to watch war movies but those that did thanked me whole-heartedly.
TB: Women have been some of our strongest advocates to see the film because it’s a triple love story. It’s a love story of Desmond and his love for God, to serve his fellow man unconditionally, and his love for his wife Dorothy. That really comes through the film in a very significant way. That’s why it’s a touching film. It’s based on relationships, and that’s why the story is timeless. There are universal themes going back to my original conversations with Desmond in why I felt his story needed to get out there.
Q. Did he share with you what he hopped this film would do?
TB: His story could play at any point in our history because Desmond wanted people to understand that if they have a life’s journey that follows a faith that could always get you through the day no matter how troubling, or difficult your situation might be. That was a big reason why he wanted his story told; to let people know there are options out there for them to get through life.
We live in difficult times and this film is a way for people to be encouraged, inspired and reflective how they are living their life. We definitely live in a “me” culture, and Desmond was all about how can I serve or help you.
When I was 10-years-old and read that book, I used to get in trouble occasionally with my sisters and my dad would say to us, “What kind of word would this be if everyone behaved like you?” If we all took a page out of Desmond’s life our lives would be a lot more positive, more healing, and more understanding, and that’s another lesson for us. Just because someone believes different than you; before we jump to a conclusion about that person maybe we should hit the pause button and think how collaborative things could be for the greater good. Desmond demonstrated that in very clear terms. Even the Army understood that he taught them a very valuable lesson. Just doing the cookie-cutter approach is not always the best approach.
Q. I think Andrew Garfield did a remarkable job in both Hacksaw Ridge and Silence and certainly is part of the reason there’s academy nominations. How did you help to prepare him for this role?
TB: Andrew is a remarkable person and an incredible actor. I brought him to Tennessee where Desmond lived and where he was buried. Andrew really wanted to take ownership of the role. I showed him things where Desmond grew up like putting pennies on the train track, and where he rode his bike, and walked through the woods. We did a road trip to Virginia to peel Desmond’s onion and the layers beneath and understand his way of life and thinking. Andrew experienced that environment. Anyone who watches the documentary and then the film; will see Andrews’s uncanny seamlessness of how close and accurately he was of Desmond. Looking at his face he’s so expressive you can tell there’s a though process going on and it authenticates that performance. He was willing to do the homework and preparation 100% of getting it right, and he did a terrific job.
Hacksaw Ridge is based on the documentary and before that there was no known story except the Medal of Honor citation, but it was a small view of who Desmond was and what he did. That’s why I thought it so important to do the documentary because the citation reads like a big fish story, it’s totally unrealistic, impossible, and we really needed to know Desmond the man, and at his core his heart. If there was only the citation no one would have believed it after he was gone.
Hacksaw Ridge is now out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD and has some very interesting special feature
Currently, Terry has several film projects in development including a new medical action/drama series and an international series focusing on Hope Extreme.
Read Diana’s review of Hacksaw Ridge http://www.reviewexpress.com/review.php?rv=1744