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Posted on Feb 25, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Band of Brothers – A Few Nostalgic Words and a Photographic Retrospective

By Roach

Obtaining enough original items of equipment was probably a more difficult task than it had been to do on SPR if for no other reason than that previous venture had exhausted many of the known stockpiles of equipment readily available. Therefore, a large quantity of the equipment used had to be manufactured from scratch, with the manufacturers and suitable materials required needing to be sourced, costed and approved by those who held the purse strings. Of course, once that was done, the rest was all plain sailing!

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A rack of American webbing; the rifle belts, musette packs, and ammunition bags (not seen in this photo) amongst other things, all had to be especially manufactured. The rifle belts particularly turned out to be a great source of annoyance; the buckles were made of an alloy that tended to no not so much buckle under pressure as snap completely. These were constantly being changed out during production: it was a familiar sound to hear the dulcet tones of Dale Dye calling “Webbing! @@**@@ these @**@* buckles!” or words to that effect. On the whole, we were forced to agree with him…

For his crew, Alan gathered together a team of people who knew exactly what they were doing; a group of people who were either military enthusiasts, collectors or militaria dealers, or a combination of all of the above. This proved to be a great strength. In fact, this mentality of having enthusiasts in key positions throughout the crew on BoB crew gave the production the advantage that was lacking in SPR. Not only did the people in those key positions know what was required from a film-making point of view, but they also knew what was needed from an historical military point of view. This was not always the case in SPR where the decision that US paratroopers did not wear wool shirts was only one of many that was made by people who were prepared to sacrifice historical authenticity to what they believed was ‘a better look’. Movie making can be a funny old business.

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Of course, no matter how dedicated or knowledgeable the crew, a few errors will always slip through the net; this is probably especially the case the bigger the production is. Time is money, and on large productions the money being expended for every day of production is huge; so once shooting gets underway, things need to be done quickly (preferably yesterday) and errors of some sort invariably become almost inevitable, and perhaps even unavoidable. With as many as 150+ actors and extras to deal with on many occasions, the two or three minutes given to make final checks and re-checks before and between takes is never long enough! Keep that in mind next time you wonder how the continuity team have made the glaring error you have just noticed!

On the subject of continuity, continuity photographs are the all important tool when making a movie, especially for the wardrobe department in particular. Just like any major film production, literally thousands of polaroids were taken during the filming of Band of Brothers. Between each scene, or sometimes ‘take’, various departments would vie with each other to be the first ones ‘in’ in those few precious moments between shots to get their continuity pictures of the principal figures involved – and then guard them jealously when other departments wanted to ‘just have a quick look at yours’ because their own don’t quite show how that hand-grenade has been attached to the webbing!

Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t matter how many continuity photographs you take – especially when two different departments can’t decide on whose continuity photographs are the right ones or the most accurate. I recall one night re-shoot where one of the principal actors had his gear swapped once, twice, and then a third time amidst much gnashing of teeth and general foot-tapping while such a debate on who had the right continuity photograph was played out. Sometimes, it really is not as straightforward as it would seem it ought to be. In retrospect it is fairly amusing, but at the time it seemed like a matter of life and death – Directors hate to be kept waiting!

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“Did you steal my continuity photographs Booker?”

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Various continuity shots for some of the principal characters in the early episodes where ‘Easy’ were in training; thousands of polaroids were snapped during the production – only a very few weren’t suitable for public consumption! These, of Nixon, Speirs, and Winters passed the censors okay…

The filming schedule on Band of Brothers necessitated the use of two separate crews, cunningly coded red and blue teams, each of whom were concurrently shooting different episodes. Therefore, from my webber’s eye view, this also meant two webbing teams to deal with the two film units. Because, the need to work within budgets meant that the amount of equipment required was not always the same as that which was actually available, this necessarily caused the constant swapping of equipment between units to make sure that everything was where it needed to be. Indeed, the phrase, ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ (and occasionally mugging one another when backs were turned!) became a way of life. Cries of “which of you bastards have stolen my Thompson pouches?!” were not entirely uncommon.

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One of the wardrobe areas at the Hatfield studio, this one parked handily on the runway by the various building Sets. Note the Blue and Red team labels for each of the film units. It could be awfully easy to accidentally replace a missing item from the other side of the rack…

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