Man Behind Hacksaw Ridge, The
Hacksaw Ridge, now out on Blu-ray, is the true story of Desmond Dos, who wanted to be a medic and conscientious objector in the Army. Directed by Mel Gibson and featuring an astonishing cast, the film was up for six Academy Awards. It won two: Best Achievement in Film Editing (John Gilbert) and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Kevin OíConnell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace). Worldwide, this movie garnered eighty nominations and won forty. .
Terry Bendedict -- a producer, director, writer, and cinematographer -- is a huge reason that Hacksaw Ridge exists. It all started when he was ten years old, and my interview below reveals much about this dedicated filmmaker.
Q. How did you hear about Dosí 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 later 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. Thatís 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 now you must have had a good relationship with him?
TB: Yes. One day when I was with him I told him ďI really understand itĒ and ďI would answer to God first and him second.Ē He laughed and said, ďOK, you can do it.Ē He was 80 then. I told him, ďWe need to do the documentary first before you kick the bucket, and tell this story from the horseís mouth. I want people to understand what happened in your life.Ē
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 Desmondís story deserved to be preserved in perpetuity and in 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 that shows in the film.
TB: Heís an extraordinary filmmaker and was right for us as he is a faith-driven man. He understood that Desmondís 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, itís the story about a medic and a medicís job is to clean up the carnage that happens on the battlefield. 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 donít 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 itís a triple love story. Itís 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. Thatís why itís a touching film. Itís based on relationships, and thatís 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 hoped 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 lifeís journey that follows faith, that faith 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 on how they are living their life. We definitely live in a ďmeĒ 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, ďWhat kind of word would this be if everyone behaved like you?Ē If we all took a page out of Desmondís life our lives would be a lot more positive, more healing, and more understanding, and thatís 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 are 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 Desmondís 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 Andrewsís uncanny seamlessness of how close and accurately he was Desmond. Looking at his face heís so expressive you can tell thereís 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. Thatís why I thought it so important to do the documentary because the citation reads like a big fish story, itís 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 features
Currently, Terry has several film projects in development including a new medical action/drama series and an international series focusing on Hope Extreme.