George Galdorisi and Dick Couch have a lot in common. Both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, with Couch graduating in 1967 and Galdorisi in 1970. Although they overlapped at the Academy for a year, they didn’t meet until about a dozen years ago through their mutual interest in writing. Now they share an agent and Tuesday, January 10 they will officially be coauthors of the novelization of “Act of Valor,” the book that precedes the movie of the same name. The film goes into universal release Friday, February 24.
First some background on the movie “Act of Valor.” In 2008, Navy Special Warfare requested proposals from a handful of production houses for a film on the SEALs. According to an August 26, 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal written by John Jurgensen, the goals of the production were to bolster recruiting efforts, honor fallen team members and correct past movie productions that did not represent the SEALs accurately.
Winning the rights to the project were the Bandito Brothers from Los Angeles, who are Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. Galdorisi explained how McCoy and Waugh won the movie rights. “The Bandito Brothers had done a recruiting commercial for the Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC). They are also the sons of Hollywood stuntmen and accomplished athletes. They had done some award-winning documentaries and that helped their credentials. The Navy wanted to reach men aged 19-25 who might want to have careers in the SEALs. Their feeling is, if it goes fast or it blows up, we want to film it.”
The Bandito Brothers spent two years filming actual SEAL training events and emerged with 1,800 hours of film footage. The production deal included access to SEALs and their major training exercises, but no financing was supplied by the Navy for “Act of Valor.”
One of the unique aspects of the film is that the lead roles are played by active duty SEALs, not actors. The movie will promote a branch of the service that prefers to operate well under the radar. According to Couch, the ultimate SEAL accolade is, “You are very professional.” Each of the SEALs who star in the movie have returned to active duty. They will not be listed individually in the closing movie credits.
Now back to Galdorisi and Couch and what made them the ideal pair to write the novelization. Couch graduated at the top of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Class No. 45 in 1969. “Back in my day, the Honorman was based on test and academic scores,” said Couch last week in a phone interview from his home in Ketchum, Idaho. “In those days you had to do a tour on a ship before you went into the SEALs. Also in my class was Sandy Prouty, who was No. 2 at the FBI. Another classmate was Tommy Norris, who was a SEAL Team Two Medal of Honor winner.”
Couch was an active duty SEAL during the Viet Nam War from 1968-72, serving as a platoon commander in SEAL Team One. After his active duty role in the SEALs, Couch served as maritime operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1973-77. He remained involved in the SEAL community, serving in the SEAL Reserves and attaining the rank of captain before he retired in 1997.
Galdorisi, a Brooklyn native, became a helicopter pilot and served in the Navy for 30 years before retiring. He now works for SPAWAR System Center Pacific in Point Loma, where he is director of the corporate strategy group. Galdorisi and his wife Becky have been married for 37 years and as a disclaimer it should be noted that Becky taught my daughter Kristen in fifth grade at Silver Strand Elementary School. Since Becky was a teacher in the district for more than 20 years, she is still far better known in Coronado circles than her career military, turned novelist husband.
Galdorisi started his writing career by authoring articles for professional journals in the late 1970’s. His first book was published in 1995 when he worked with Doug Bandow to produce “The United States and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention: The Cases Pro and Con.” Two years later he coauthored with Coronado resident Kevin Vienna a follow-up to his first book, this one entitled “Beyond the Law of the Sea: New Directions for United States Ocean Policy.”
Galdorisi’s best known book came out in 2009 and was entitled, “Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue,” a tome he wrote with Tom Phillips. “It’s recognized as the only complete history of the discipline from the early days to today,” Galdorisi explained. “It was a Military Book Club selection and is on the U.S. Navy Chief of Operations reading list. It’s not a light read. It is 650 pages long and contains hundreds of citations.” All together Galdorisi has authored six books.
Couch has written 14 books, with his 15th slated to come out in June 2012. He recounts his beginning years as an author. “I reached middle age and realized I can’t do these things any more. I was writing a spy book because I spent several years at the CIA and I thought I could draw on that. Then a book came out about the SEALs in the Delta, but it wasn’t about SEALs, it was about a 50-caliber tub gunner. But the author wrote it like he was a SEAL. So I called the publisher and he said SEALs are a really hot item right now. So, I set aside the spy book and wrote “SEAL Team One” in 1991. It continues to sell well. It was serendipitous.”
A dose of luck helps create a professional writer, according to Couch. “It’s an interesting story. I had written four books and I wasn’t sure this (occupation) was going to do well. A pretty good seller was written about the Marine Corps that made money for Crown Publishing. They asked me, can you do for Navy SEAL training, what he did for the Marines? I said, ‘Let me think about that.’ Things were a little more relaxed in 1997-98. But that book got me almost independent and sprung me forward to a career being a writer. “Chosen Soldier” is by far my best seller. “The Warrior Elite” continues to do well.”
Couch added that his best book on the subject of SEAL training is the aforementioned “The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228.” He considers his best volume regarding SEAL operations to be “The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the Winning of al-Anbar,” published in 2008. Coming later in 2012 is “Sua Sponte: Forging of the Modern American Ranger.” Couch said, “I am happy with the book and proud to be associated with the Rangers. They are the most heavily engaged organization of any of the special operations components. Those guys are out there all the time. Rangers don’t patrol, train or do counter-insurgency. They either capture or kill bad guys. That’s what they do for a living.”
Couch holds a special place in the Special Operations Community. “Writing a nonfiction book is like writing a 120,000 word term paper. I’ve been really blessed. Writing the SEAL books was one thing. But the Green Berets said ‘come on in’ and it was the same thing with the Rangers. Nobody else has done that. No other writer has come in, lived on the base and followed them around. Nobody else has been in a position to write that book. It’s my niche and I respect that trust. Sometimes they ask me to take things out, but that happens very seldom.”
Galdorisi considers Couch, “A friend and mentor writing-wise.” April 2011, Couch, Galdorisi and Bandito Brother Mike McCoy went to lunch together. “Mike started talking about the “Act of Valor” project,” recounted Galdorisi. “We went to a screening in a little eight seat theater on La Cienega Boulevard. The film was pretty much in the can and was about 85 or 90 percent complete. It was the most riveting 100 minutes of film I have ever seen in my life.”
During the conversation with McCoy in April, Galdorisi and Couch inquired about the novelization of the movie. Galdorisi quoted McCoy as saying, “The project is moving so fast, we haven’t thought about that.” Shortly thereafter, John Silbersack, the agent who represents Couch and Galdorisi, began negotiations with the Bandito Brothers on the book rights.
While the talks continued, Galdorisi and Couch started their collaboration on the novelization. “We started writing on complete speculation,” said Galdorisi, meaning there was no guarantee that there would be a buyer for the book. “We got the script from the Bandito Brothers that Kurt Johnstad had written, which was 97 pages quadruple spaced. Using the script we wrote a 10,000 word outline. Then we wrote 35,000 words, almost half of the book and gave it to our agent. We thought that should be enough to represent what we can do with the novel. We wrote concurrently in very broad strokes.”
Meanwhile on the business side, the Bandito Brothers sold the movie rights to Relativity Media for a reported $13 million. In modern day Hollywood, when movie rights are sold, it’s a package deal. Galdorisi said, “That includes the book, the game and the t-shirts. The thanks in the book go to our agent. It was his persistence on the six-month project that nailed down the book contract.”
Somewhere along the line, best-selling author Tom Clancy became part of the project. “Clancy saw the movie, was impressed by it and wanted to be attached,” said Galdorisi. “On the book cover it says, ‘Tom Clancy presents Act of Valor.’ We went with Berkeley Press, which is part of the Penguin chain and we used Clancy’s editor. From the stand point of selling books, Clancy’s name is a good thing.”
Couch and Galdorisi split the writing of “Act of Valor,” which Couch describes. “George can’t do SEAL dialogue or SEAL action or how they prepare for a mission. The helicopter stuff and the aviation stuff was his. It was a matter of expertise. He’s an aviator and we just had to split up the stuff. We’d write, swap it by email and read it. Kind of go back and forth. It had to fit together. We don’t write the same and it had to mesh. We had to make it flow together. I relied on George for the editing.”
Galdorisi related his contributions. “I took the villains, which was so much fun. They have much more granularity and detail. I did a full character sketch on the villains. I was responsible for two of the major characters and for five or six of the minor ones. In one part of the book, the ships involved were all amphibious ships and I had the chance to bring my expertise to this. There were helicopter operations too.”
From the first viewing of the movie in mid-April to completion of the writing in early December, the novelization was completed in eight months. “They had a production schedule in mind,” said Galdorisi of the publishers. “I’m sure they thought these guys can’t finish on time. At one point we went to the mattresses and in the space of 10 days we created the remaining 40,000 plus words of the book. I was eating my meals in front of the computer. We turned it in on time, which we are very proud of. We were getting E-mails from our editor titled MEGA, MEGA RUSH. NEED ASAP. He would say, ‘Here it is, I need it back by tomorrow. We were getting E-mails from New York at 2 am their time.”
Unlike the movie, which had all 1,800 hours of film reviewed by officials so that SEAL tactics wouldn’t be revealed, the book was not subject to vetting, according to Couch. “This is a non-fiction book. In the past with non-fiction books I have welcomed a review and every time it was helpful. But this is a novel and I don’t have security clearance. So we didn’t have to answer to anybody along those lines. This is make-believe and I don’t have to check.”
The final result was a 340-page paperback that runs 87,000 words and includes a forward by Tom Clancy. The official release date of the book is January 10th and the $9.99 paperback will be shipped nationwide, is available on websites, through Costco and locally at Bay Books.
Now back to the film “Act of Valor,” which Lance Alspaugh owner of the Village Theatre says, “Has a 99.9 percent chance of playing in Coronado.” Galdorisi is a big fan of the movie. “The film footage evolved very naturally and organically into a film. In my opinion, the film isn’t just for recruiting SEALs. It can be for a SEAL, a SWCC or someone who wants to be in the submarine Navy. They may want to be on an amphibious ship or fly a Harrier. This is for real Navy people. This isn’t Johnny Depp shooting an M-4 rifle. It’s a marvelous movie for the Navy overall. I hope the book does the movie justice.”