Troy: Marching Into Battle
Along with its themes of love and honor, Troy is about the brutal reality of war, and the many battle sequences in the film needed to not only be visually compelling and technically precise, they also had to piercingly illustrate the horror and devastation of combat.
“Our approach to the battle sequences was blood, sweat and tears,” says Petersen. “We want the audience to feel what it is like to be in the midst of everything. Our battles are not glorious ‘ I wanted everything to be as realistic as possible. I give a lot of credit to Simon Crane, our stunt coordinator and second unit director, who led an entire army of experts in weaponry and fight choreography. He and his crew were instrumental in bringing together what I think are amazingly choreographed battles.”
Crane’s core team of eight was joined by 50 stunt people from all around the world. The team rehearsed for six weeks prior to the start of filming. Additionally, 1,000 extras were broken down into groups based on aptitude, the best of whom could be placed in the background of any stunt or fighting action.
Developing a strategy for Achilles’ magnificent fighting scenes proved to be an exhaustive process. “When you read the script, it says very early on, ‘Achilles fights in a god-like manner,'” says Crane. “Well, that’s very easy to write, but it’s very, very hard to do, and that one sentence created a lot of work for a lot of people. In the end it took three months and about thirty people to come up with the way Achilles fights. He has a boxing style, but with the velocity of a speed skater and the agility of a panther. Also, he doesn’t look directly at his opponent. He looks slightly to the side and only looks when he’s coming in for the kill ‘ so if he looks at you, you know you’re dead.”
Pitt worked for six months prior to filming to develop Achilles’ formidable physique. “Beyond the physical training,” says Pitt, “I had to put on a lot of weight. The layers of physicality that the role demands made it a grueling process, but every bit of it adds up to the finished product, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fortunately for me I had a lot of time coming into the film to really submerge myself in it. I started six months in advance, and then Simon and his team came along and started developing the extraordinary fighting style.”
If cultivating the fighting technique of one man was an intricate, time consuming process, the experience of training 1,000 men to fight as one was a comparable feat. The mechanics of coordinating the movements of hundreds of inexperienced “troops” was a daunting task that the filmmakers put in the hands of a seasoned professional. “People don’t move naturally as a group,” says military technical advisor and former British Army officer Richard Smedley. “So before we could even begin filming, we had to teach the extras ‘ most of whom had never had military training ‘ to work together in a coordinated manner. Once we got them trained to move as a group and maneuver at the snap of a finger, we could then teach them to do the things that we actually needed them to do for the film.”
In Malta, Smedly and his team trained 200 extras for four weeks, teaching them skills such as marching in sync, holding weapons correctly and taking commands in preparation for the few fighting sequences shot on the island. Once production moved to Mexico, where the major battles would be filmed, the scope widened. In addition to the military training that had to be provided for the 1,000 extras who were found locally, an elite group was needed that not only possessed the physical prowess necessary to convincingly stage the battle scenes, but also had a believably Mediterranean look. Smedly recruited the perfect soldiers from the Sports Academy in Sophia, the capital of Bulgaria.
“A member of my military team who lives in South Africa was flown to Bulgaria and went through the interviewing process to put that package together,” Smedly recounts. “We found about 250 athletes ‘ large, muscled, Greek-looking guys who we flew to Mexico a month before filming began. We put them through a three week training program, which began with the men turning left and right and led up to big charges and battling. We trained about 1,250 people in Mexico, 250 Bulgarians and 1,000 Mexicans.”
There were two major battles to be shot, known as the Battle of the Barricades and the Battle of the Arrows. “The Battle of the Arrows was our big showcase battle, with 50,000 Greeks against 25,000 Trojans,” says Crane. “The Trojans fight from behind the walls of Troy, and rely heavily on archers. When they can’t, the theory is that if they have to fight outside their walls, they take their walls with them by way of their shield drills, so we worked that into our choreography. From beginning to end, the battle is maybe ten minutes long, but it took two units four weeks to film it.”
Although the majority of the arrows shot in the film were computer generated for safety reasons, armorer Simon Atherton oversaw the design and creation of 20,000 arrows, as well as 3,000 swords and spears and 4,000 shields.
The second battle was on a smaller scale, but no less ambitious. “In the Battle of the Barricades,” Crane describes, “we decided to have fireballs thrown down the hill by the Trojans into the Greek encampment. It came to us as a good visual idea to set it apart from the other battles. The balls were made of papier mache, and they had small charges inside them so that as they hit something, the special effects team could detonate them, throwing debris all over the stunt men.”
Another important skirmish filmed in Mexico was the storming of the beach and ransacking of the Temple of Apollo by Achilles and his Myrmidons.
Key hand-to-hand clashes included Paris’ fight with Menelaus, Achilles against the giant Boagrius and the fight on which the fate of two nations would rest, Hector versus Achilles. It took a team of thirty people three months to design the awesome battle between the two titans, and Pitt and Bana rehearsed it four hours a day for eight weeks.
“The armies have clashed, and so we now see what happens when the two greatest warriors of them all go up against each other man to man,” Petersen reflects. “The trick of it all, what Homer did so very cleverly, is that the anticipation for this fight is built up so much that we can’t help but feel the weight of how monumental this contest is. Even though we’ve seen 50,000 soldiers clash against 25,000, the battle between these two men is the most spectacular and the most fascinating and frightening fight of them all.”
No stuntmen performed in the fight ‘ every move is made by Pitt and Bana themselves. “When you see the fight you just can’t believe that these are actors who are doing it,” raves Petersen. “You talk about blood, sweat and tears, about the reality of a fight, everything that went into Eric and Brad’s fight exemplified that.”
“Brad Pitt just has so much dedication,” Crane enthuses. “He’s so focused on the character. I video the fights, and then I show Brad the choreography that I’m proposing. And you can see his eyes light up and you can see he’s there ‘ he’s in that battle. We have stunt men rehearse it first, but when he actually starts to learn it, it becomes a totally different fight. He just brings the character to life. Basically he’s saying, ‘Bring it on,’ which is fantastic.”
“Every now and then you get on a film where everyone seems to be at the top of their game,” Pitt compliments, “and I would say that was true of Troy, from the director on down. Simon Crane and his boys are as good as I’ve ever seen.”
“I think the work they’ve done in those battle scenes is just unbelievable,” agrees Bana, who trained with weapons for six months in his native Australia prior to filming. “Simon Crane and his crew are just absolutely phenomenal. The stuntmen that I got to beat up on had amazing endurance. They kept popping up.”
“Eric was great,” says Crane. “He told us very early on that he hasn’t really done many fights in films before. We initiated a training scheme for all the actors and he really got it. He moves how Hector would move ‘ he is Hector, it’s as simple as that.”