By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It took the cooperation of several law enforcement agencies to track down the terrorists who set off two pressure cooker bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon that killed three, injured 264 others and put the city in a complete shutdown for four days while the manhunt was on.
In a similar way, various entities in Hollywood put aside their quest to be first to bring the story of the tragic event to the big screen and instead came together to make “Patriots Day,” a film that recounts the bombing and the subsequent cooperative effort to find the perpetrators as quickly as possible.
Among the players involved in making the film are producer Scott Stuber, whose credits include “The Kingdom,” “Ted” and the newly released comedy “Office Christmas Party,” along with Hutch Parker (“X-Men: Apocalypse, “The Wolverine”), and CBS News’ “60 Minutes” award-winning producer Michael Radutzky, whose newsmagazine show aired a segment that centered on Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis less than a week after the bombings. They, along with other producers, including Dylan Clark, Stephen Levinson, Dorothy Aufiero as well as Mark Wahlberg, who also stars in the film as a Boston police officer caught up in the events, helped bring “Patriots Day” to the screen less than four years after the attack.
Director Peter Berg was making “Deepwater Horizon,” another true-life tragedy about the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 crew members and spilling 200 million of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf, which also starred Wahlberg, when he was tapped to helm “Patriots Day.” Filming took place on location in Boston earlier this year, and includes footage shot at the latest Boston Marathon interspersed with reenactments.
Over the course of “Patriots Day’s” development, the filmmakers drew upon a wide variety of sources, including Radutzky’s “60 Minutes” piece along with other materials and countless interview the filmmakers conducted with survivors, first responders and investigators. The filmmakers secured the cooperation and support of Commissioner Davis as well as Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and bombing victims Jessica Kensky and her husband Patrick Downes, who both lost limbs from the bombs’ shrapnel, among others.
Stuber, Parker and Radutzky sat down to talk about why they came together to make “Patriots Day,” the challenges of bringing such a tragic event to the screen, the cooperation they received from the Boston community and why a film about coming together and cooperating for the good of the community may be just what the nation needs after a divisive election year.
Q: With the country so divided after the Presidential election, do you think this movie may help bring people back to together again?
Radutzky: That’s very much what we’ve been thinking. In these divisive times we live in, the overwhelming message of love, hope and unity—if you can come out of an event like that and feel that way about your town and the country we live in, it should be easy to live your life with those priorities intact. Look at the people of Boston who’ve been able to do this. They still suffer but their resilience and their unity and their love, and how the city boosted them and got them where they did, it’s an important message in the movie but it’s also a message of hope to take with you.
Q: Hutch, how soon after the bombings did you get involved in the movie project? Also, this film, based on true events, isn’t the usual material you produce.
Parker: This is much closer to my heart. I read almost exclusive non-fiction; I’m sort of a non-fiction junkie. I submitted a piece of material on the bombing probably two years ago and at the time there were multiple projects that were being developed in town, which happens often. At the time, I was developing something at Fox and Scott (Stuber) and CBS were developing something with Michael (Radutzky) and Mark at the time, Pete hadn’t yet landed, and it became clear at a certain point that the best thing for the project was to conjoin them and combine resources.
Thankfully, we had a very passionate and supportive entity behind us making it possible, which is CBS. That is a timeline that is pretty fast for movies. There was a certain amount of energy behind all of the projects but, more than anything else, Pete (Berg) is a very facile, adept and driven storyteller. When Pete latches onto something, he’s a terrier. It’s full immersion and 100 percent. When you add Mark (Wahlberg) to that mix, for all those reasons that Michael described: he’s a son of Boston who really felt strong about honoring the city. He knew we’d be held accountable, not just from afar but day by day on the street, the passion and energy of the project and getting it right were truly formidable. It has a lot to do with what you see on the screen. As a participant, I can step back and admire what Pete has done. I’m moved by it, touched by it, inspired by it—all of those interactions that we hope (audiences) will have. That’s all being driven and animated by that passion.
Q: Scott, logistically, what was the biggest challenge as a producer?
Stuber: Just getting as many authentic places as possible—being able to film in the city and recreating things. One of the big ones was the Marathon, and getting a chance to shoot there. The Boston Athletic Association was such a great partner to us. We spent a lot of time meeting with them to make sure they understood what we were doing. And when we shot some of that footage that Mark in the officer uniform that we wouldn’t interfere with the actual marathon. We didn’t want to be invasive or problematic or upset anyone. So the coordination and the choreography and the amount of work that went into that was as big as anything I’ve ever done on one particular piece of a movie. Because of all the elements and frankly, because of all the heightened security because of what happened (two years earlier)—there was Homeland Security and Boston police and the FBI—so that was very complicated. It also was very satisfying that we did it well, and we did it without upsetting anyone.
Q: Michael, when you produced the original news piece for “60 Minutes,” the events were still unfolding. Which was more challenging: putting that together or making a movie about it?
Radutzky: Since I’ve experienced both now—doing a breaking news story and following it over the course of an investigation and then following the people in the aftermath—you bring your empathy and you bring your objective eye and your humanness to it—there’s something much deeper and more profound when you’re making a movie. It has to do with approaching real people and saying to them, after doing extensive research, “We’d like to do this movie and we’d like to portray you in a film using your real name.” It’s a very daunting challenge emotionally and intellectually to wrap your head around the concern that some of them had. They’d already been traumatized once and now there’s going to be a movie about this three years later?
But Mark Wahlberg has said, “It’s not soon enough,” given how divisive our country is. It’s important this message of love and unity. But we never would have moved forward had we not had the support of the city of Boston and not had the support of the people who are portrayed in the movie. That was no small undertaking. Pete, Mark, Hutch, Scott, myself—we immersed ourselves in that community. We met with a team of doctors from three hospitals just to get an understanding of what the experience was and to let them know what we were doing. We wanted to be an open book and, essentially, to make the city of Boston our partners in the movie.
Emotionally and intellectually, we wanted them know we heard them and to take what they said seriously. It never would have happened otherwise. It started as a “60 Minutes” story and the film branch of CBS, CBS Films, was interested in it. Luckily, we teamed up with someone like Pete Berg who lives and breathes true stories and Mark Wahlberg, who’s from Boston, and whose adherence to the facts was essential to his credibility and the credibility of the film. Folks like Hutch Parker and Scott Stuber were relentless in their meticulousness. So, what could have been a very uncomfortable fit, turned out to be wonderful. Their adherence to the facts and the truth had more detail than (the “60 Minutes” piece) because on that we don’t invest as deeply in the emotion and the characters. They do, and that’s got to be emotionally honest. There was just something about the whole process that was wonderful. If we’d gotten a signal back (from the people of Boston) that three years was too early, I think it might have given us pause.
Q: It seems there’s almost a parallel between the cooperation you needed to get this film made with how the various law enforcement jurisdictions in the Boston area had to cooperate to track down the bombers.
Stuber: It’s a pretty egoless group. That’s why we work together a lot. Pete (Berg) and Mark (Wahlberg) are my friends. I enjoy them as human beings and I also know they just want to do good work. From that perspective, this movie is so much bigger than all of us as individuals. It’s a group that recognized the obligations to the people involved, to the victims, so it was a pretty easy, humbling thing to know that we just couldn’t get this wrong. When you make a fictional film, you want it to be good but this just had a different layer of importance that all of us took very seriously.
Q: Was it decided from the start that Mark’s Boston police officer character in this film would be a composite of different people rather than based on one individual?
Stuber: Yes, it was something we came to because the more you researched the story, the more you realized that certain people were at different areas, like Officer Pugliese (played by J.K. Simmons in the film) was at the Watertown (Mass.) shootout. And there were so many police officers involved. There was an earlier draft that we didn’t work off of but it had gotten to Boston and it was about (Wahlberg) playing one thing and there was a little bit of trepidation from the police department. And it was the same way with the military. Men and women of honor in the military and the police are very sensitive to stolen valor—this idea that any one person is given credit for a mission. There was a feeling of that. We recognized that and felt that the best way to deal with it was to make his character an amalgam because there were two or three officers that accomplished what his character did. Once we explained that (Wahlberg’s character would be a composite) to the police departments, they really appreciated that and acknowledged that it was a way to honor every person in law enforcement who contributed to this incredible manhunt and the success in capturing the bombers.
Q: The word “patriot” has different connotations to people. How do you assure filmgoers that “Patriots Day” isn’t an anti-Muslim film?
Radutzky: The movie makes a very strong statement against hate. I don’t believe for a moment that it’s anti-Muslim or jingoistic. Pete made an intentional decision to depict those bombers but not to provide a motivation because there’s nothing that explains (what they did) whether it’s in the name of any religion. Nothing explains what they did it other than to do harm to innocents. That goes a long way. Also, Patriots Day is the name of the holiday in Boston and is very apt. It’s the rite of Spring. It celebrates the opening day of the Boston Red Sox. It celebrates one of the oldest institutions in America, the Boston Marathon. But does it support the very greatest instincts of our society and our culture and our country? I think it does. Look at how the community responded. Look at how the police responded and the hospitals. To us, that’s the overwhelming message.