Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. It's not every day I get invited to get some weapons training from Navy SEALs, especially by a movie studio. I mean, it's probably not the smartest idea to arm bloggers, especially as summer movie season is kicking off.
But Universal is confident in their summer slate, so they gave a handful of movie writers automatic weapons and let them go to town. It's a miracle there were no casualties.
Our convoy from Washington DC to an undisclosed location in the swamps of Virginia left bright and early in the morning and was a bit of a road trip. The three or so hours we spent on the bus allowed me to get my final day's worth of Temple of Doom/Fortune and Glory pieces written and edited before we got to our Extreme SEAL Experience run by ex-Navy SEAL Don Shipley.
The day started with rappelling. I opted out of this one. Nothing sadder than watching a fat guy try to gracefully slide down a rope while trying not to piss himself, so I took pictures of the other more fit and brave writers instead.
Post Spider-Man activity, we then went to go shoot guns and ride in helicopters. Thanks to Fantastic Fest's crazy side-activities I've gotten to shoot automatic weapons before, but never a SAW.
I'm pretty much a tree-hugging progressive dude politically, but I totally see the appeal of shooting guns, especially heavy automatic weapons like the SAW, which is belt-fed and makes you feel like Rambo.
It also helps that I'm a pretty good shot. My first experience shooting guns (at that Fantastic Fest thing) I joked that I was good at it because of all my hours of Call of Duty and the instructor said that's actually probably right on. He had read a lot of studies about how those first person shooter type games dramatically improve the accuracy of real-life shooters. To clarify for all those politicians that like to blame video games after every mass shooting: games don't make people want to go out and murder people. They just kinda make them better shots... Hrm... I'm not helping my cause...
Anyway, shooting guns at non-living targets is a lot of fun. Next up was the helicopter ride over the swamp and to a little island only accessible via air.
When I was in New Zealand for all those Hobbit reports I rode in quite a few helicopters to get to the crazy remote locations, but I've never gone up in a chopper that had no doors. Despite a bit more... um... wind... it actually wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be. Okay, I peed a little bit when we banked sharply and the only thing keeping me from falling to my death was a little strap of fabric and centrifugal force, but for the most part I was totally calm.
It wasn't long before we all jumped back on the bus and headed back from whence we came, leaving behind some very nice people that could kill every single one of us with their pinkies if they so chose.
The real reason Universal brought us to the Washington DC area was to have a dinner with director Peter Berg and the real life inspiration for Mark Wahlberg's character in Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell. They're obviously proud of Lone Survivor and really want to push its home video release, so that's why I found myself in our nation's capital.
That dinner was held at our very fancy hotel in a private party room that overlooked the White House.
I gotta say it was pretty awesome and slightly unnerving to stand on the balcony that overlooked the White House and see the security dude with the sniper scope standing on the rooftop looking at us and making sure we weren't trying to pull something.
When Berg and Luttrell arrived we all shook their hands and my first impression of Luttrell was that he was a super soldier. The dude towered over me and even with his limp I could tell that if he really wanted to he could take out all dozen of us in that room without breaking a sweat.
He introduced us to his wife, Melanie, and then they went to marvel at the awesome view before our dinner conversation started. When talking about the view, Melanie joked that we were all looking at their future house.
When most people joke about that it's easy to laugh at how silly that concept is, but spending an hour or two with Marcus and Melanie I got the impression that if they really wanted it he could have a real shot moving into the White House. Not only is he a war hero, but he also has that southern charm that worked so well for Bill Clinton and, to a different extent, George W. Bush. For instance, I noticed that although he was served first he waited a full three minutes for everybody else at the table to get their food before diving in. He didn't make a show of it, but it was just a small courtesy that you don't see too often these days.
Over the course of the dinner Luttrell also showed he wasn't afraid to speak his mind or take a measured approach to a complex political situation. When discussing the recent problems at the VA, Berg was adamant that Shinseki resign (something which has since come to pass), but Luttrell just kind of shook his head and said that he has many friends who know Shinseki and he believed that the man took his job seriously, but the system around him was so broken that he could only do so much. Luttrell was more focused on the troubles within the system, not just blaming the guy at the top.
Anyway, the dinner conversation was lively, covering everything from how cut-throat some charities are (Luttrell has an ambitious goal to get many similar charities under one tent so that they're not constantly fighting each other for the same money) to how seriously Mark Wahlberg took the role and how there was zero primadona bullshit on this shoot from anybody because they all felt the weight of telling this story.
Towards the end of the chat, Luttrell had to stand and pace a little bit. His injuries have made it hard for him to sit for long periods of time. It was then that we found out that Luttrell was a secret movie geek. He said a lot of servicemen and women are. The one thing they always have at their disposal while serving are movies. Folks stateside donate movies all the time and it's one of the only escapes they have.
There's a bit in Lone Survivor where they mention watching Anchorman, which was taken verbatim from Luttrell's experiences with his fellow soldiers. They'd talk in movie quotes when hanging out... just like me and my friends, except the closest my friends and I get to war is playing Risk Legacy.
The Luttrells mentioned they were from Texas, so I asked what part. Houston, which is about 3 hours from Austin. I asked if they had ever been to the Alamo Drafthouse and Melanie said they had and in fact had gone there to see Lone Survivor with a crowd and had a big laugh over the pre-show which included a whole lot of Marky Mark videos. She said she texted that to Wahlberg's manager who thought it was hilarious as well.
The next day we traveled out of DC to see Luttrell receive an award at the GI Film Festival, attended by folks like Adam Driver and Michelle Monaghan. I didn't get a chance to corner Driver and pry Star Wars info out of him, but I will say seeing him in person he totally gave me a Harrison Ford vibe in stature and how he carried himself. Also, he had Han Solo hair:
There were a lot of “future marines” there, 10-14 year old boys and girls in uniform who were excited about the celebrities and they all got first class treatment from the talent. Driver took many, many selfies with the kids and some of the wounded warriors at the event. It's funny, maybe things would be different if this was post Episode VII, but as mobbed as Driver and Monaghan got neither one got close to the fervor surrounding Luttrell when he showed up. It was like Tom Cruise took a step out on the red carpet.
The kids went nuts for him, but so did all the adults, from uniformed servicemen to the glitzy, rich middle aged indie fest rats that buy their way into VIP status at every single small festival. Autographs, photos, tearful handshakes, the whole works.
And Luttrell was super nice to everybody, too. In situations like this sometimes you get the feeling that the person is uncomfortable with the attention and just want to run, but put on airs because they're being watched (Looking your way, Mr. Lucas), but that wasn't the vibe I got here at all. I mention this only because the photo I got of Luttrell below accepting his award makes him look super serious and scary. Which he is a little bit, but he's also very nice and doesn't always look like he's about to punch a heckler in the nuts.
That was it for my press obligations, which left me with a full free Memorial Day Weekend Sunday in DC to explore the monuments, memorials and museums. Of course, that wasn't nearly enough time to visit everything, but I did get to hit the mall and check out the Smithsonian's American History Museum and the infamous Air and Space Museum.
I was a little disappointed with the lack of sweet movie history stuff in the Pop Culture section of the American History Museum. There was plenty of space for an Apple II computer and an '80s video camera, but the only big pieces of actual pop culture entertainment stuff were Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, Archie Bunker's chair and Miss Piggy.
Don't worry, I actually went to see real life history stuff there, too. I'm not that deep down the rabbit hole... yet. I popped in my headphones, cued up my Fallout 3 playlist and explored the America At War and Presidential Shit sections (I may have misremembered the name of the Presidential wing).
The war exhibit tracked every American war from dumping tea into Boston Harbor all the way through to modern day. While lacking a substantial WW1 section, this was a fascinating walk made all the eerier when getting to all the post-atom bomb fallout shelter section while listening to The Ink Spots croon in my ear.
To further enrich my Fallout 3 experience I ended up finding Lincoln's Repeater in the Presidents exhibit. Now I know exactly where to go should the Super Mutants attack since that's without question the best gun in the post-apocalyptic Capital Wasteland.
The monuments were also impressive to see in person. I know this is turning into a bit of a travelogue, so I'll cut short my nonsensical tourist observations, but will say that while all the monuments look impressive at night, should you ever visit the Washington DC area I highly recommend visiting the Lincoln Memorial at night. The Jefferson Memorial and the Washington monument both look better during the daytime, but there's something kind of magic about the Lincoln Memorial at night.
I went around midnight with Collider's Matt Goldberg and freelancer Max Evry and the walk was incredible. The White House was still, no mob of tourists or protestors (on this trip alone I saw a 25-ish person strong Benghazi march and a 100+ person anti-Monsanto march), the WW2 memorial was empty and the Reflecting Pool was as serene as you could imagine. I saw shapes in the darkness along the edge of the pool as we walked up to Mr. Lincoln and it wasn't until we were right next to them that I realized they were ducks. Most were used to people or kept sleeping, head under wing, as we walked by, but a few dove back into the safety of the pool, one with her ducklings following closely behind.
There were all of 6 people at the Lincoln Memorial when we got there and the way it was lit was like a movie set. It was impossible to take a bad photo there. The best part was how quiet it was. You could stand on the steps where MLK delivered his famous speech and look out over the black pool of water, down to the Washington Monument and the Nation's Capital behind it and just soak it in.
That is, you can soak it all in until a gaggle of drunk bridesmaids loudly announce their arrival about half a mile away and then proceed to holler and clomp their way up to the previously tranquil piece of American history. When they got there their slurred voices echoed off of poor Mr. Lincoln's walls and that was our cue to get out of dodge.
That is just about it from my recent travels. Hope you guys got a kick out of following along with my nerdy adventures. Till next time, squirts!
I'll leave you with a few more pictures I took during my trip, including some more gun stuff, Michelle Monaghan on the red carpet and an interesting shot or three from the Air and Space Museum, which houses a rather intriguing ship...