Mel Gibson to recreate the bloody Battle of Okinawa as he brings Hacksaw Ridge to Sydney

Shooting in Sydney: Mel Gibson with Deputy Premier and Arts Minister Troy Grant (left) and Industry, Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts at the Fox Studios announcement. Photo: Steven Siewert Directing again: Mel Gibson with Industry, Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts. Photo: Steven Siewert
Shanghai night field

It started with a slightly awkward shuffle over who would speak first.

“You’re the one with the Academy Award,” said Deputy Premier Troy Grant.

“That doesn’t mean you can talk,” said Mel Gibson.

A neat demonstration of the eternal dance between the money and the talent – in this case, the state government and a Hollywood star returning to directing after troubled times – set up the announcement that Gibson would shoot the World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge in NSW.

With pre-production underway at Fox Studios, Grant said the movie would use locations in western Sydney and regional areas from early September.

It will star Andrew Garfield from The Amazing Spider-Man as Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who went to Japan’s Battle of Okinawa as a medic and won America’s highest military honour for saving 75 lives. A Seventh Day Adventist, he was the only American soldier to fight on the World War II frontlines without a weapon.

The state government contributed an undisclosed sum to land Hacksaw Ridge after the filmmakers scouted locations around the country, delivering what Grant said would be 720 jobs and more than $26 million in production spending to the state.

The movie, the third shot in Australia by Hollywood producer Bill Mechanic after the historical fantasy The Moon and the Sun in Melbourne and the thriller 2.22 in Sydney, is also expected to tap the 16.5 per cent federal rebate for international movies shot in Australia.

The cast includes Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn, with Australian screenwriter Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner) revising a script by American Robert Schenkkan (The Pacific).

Wearing a leather jacket on an unseasonably warm day and setting down a takeaway coffee to speak briefly, Gibson said he appreciated the state government’s co-operation on the movie.

“This is not like a big studio film,” he said. “This is an independent film – it’s a large one – but that makes the co-operation that much more meaningful to me.”

Noting that he kicked off his film career in Sydney 35 years ago, Gibson said he was attracted by the movie’s inspirational story.

“It’s about a man who wouldn’t touch a weapon yet wanted to be part of saving lives in the worst place on earth,” he said.

“Okinawa was a horrific place, where, I think, more life was lost in that Pacific battle than any other Pacific battle – and they were all bad. There were over 300,000 casualties, mostly civilian, which is really sad.”

The filmmakers will recreate a South Carolina army training camp and a courtroom where Doss faced a court martial before he went to war as a medic.

With extensive night shooting expected, outdoor locations in western Sydney under consideration include Penrith Lakes, Eastern Creek and Potts Hill.

Goulburn and Cessnock are potential sites for recreating the infamous battle.

The movie is Gibson’s first as director since he shot Apocalypto in Mexico a decade ago.

He has had remarkable success since going behind the camera, winning Oscars for best picture and director with Braveheart and making one of cinema history’s most profitable films with The Passion of the Christ.

Mechanic said Hacksaw Ridge would be filmed with “almost a complete Australian crew, almost a complete Australian cast.”

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