Navy SEALs never expected the film Act of Valor, starring real, active-duty Navy SEALs, to be this big.
Five years ago, commanders allowed a small, independent film company into their elite ranks to turn real-life training exercises into a feature-length movie in hopes of drumming up recruits fast.
SEAL officers thought the film would open in a couple of theaters in military towns, then quietly move to cable television.
Then came the Navy SEALs raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, and a high-profile hostage rescue in Somalia last month. President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address and gave a shout out to SEALs, with Adm. Bill McRaven, the SEAL and bin Laden raid commander, sitting quietly in Obama's box.
Now, the once modest recruiting project is set to open Friday in about 2,500 theaters nationwide, putting an uncomfortable spotlight on a group that prides itself on keeping quiet about clandestine operations.
The officers and staff who helped bring the film about spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. One of the few that's gone on record is overall special operations commander McRaven.
"It was initially started as a recruiting film so we could help recruit minorities into the teams," McRaven said. He said he didn't think the film gave away any secrets nor would it put in danger the SEALs who starred in it.
The script was designed to showcase two things, according to producer-directors Mike "Mouse" McCoy and Scott Waugh: real acts of valor by SEALs on the battlefield since Sept. 11 and the SEALs' unique technical abilities to reach a target by sea, air or land as the acronym suggests.
"We say to the team, 'How would you do the operation?' " like capturing a terror suspect on a yacht, "and we would augment our camera plan to film what they came up with," McCoy said.
"That's why the movie took four years to make because we would have to wait for that training" to film a particular skill, Waugh added.