On the last day of their week-long Army Ranger orientation at Fort Benning, the actors who played the Rangers received a letter that had been anonymously slipped under their door. The letter thanked them for all their hard work, and asked them to "tell our story true", signed with the names of the Rangers who died in the Mogadishu firefight.
Spc. Grimes, played by Ewan McGregor, is a fictional character, though given his administrative position and penchant for coffee, he is unabashedly based on the real-life Ranger clerk Spc. John Stebbins, who was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the battle. However, Stebbins was convicted in 2000 for child molestation and is currently serving a 30-year prison term. As a result, the Pentagon apparently pressured screenwriters to alter his name in the film, although a spokeswoman for the movie defended the change as "a creative decision made by the producers."
The sequence of events near the end of the movie, where some of the US Rangers were forced to run, unprotected, behind the rescue convoy, did indeed happen. This unfortunate turn of events was named by the soldiers after the battle as "The Mogadishu Mile".
The set was constantly bothered by stray dogs running into shots. Ridley Scott kept them in because he liked the authentic feel of their presence. Eight dogs were adopted by various members of the production and were eventually brought back to the US with them.
Forty of the actors who were playing Rangers were sent to Fort Benning, GA, to attend a two-week crash course in becoming Rangers. Fifteen actors playing Delta Force members were sent to Ft. Bragg, NC, and were given a two-week Commando Course by members of the 1st Special Warfare Training Group. Ron Eldard went to Fort Campbell, KY, and was given a lecture by several Little Bird and Black Hawk pilots, including Mike Durant, about flying and the battle.
The film features soldiers wearing helmets with their last names on them. Although this was an inaccuracy, Ridley Scott felt it was necessary to have the helmets to help the audience to distinguish between the characters because they all look the same once the uniforms are on.
The Black Hawk going down, spiraling as it crash-lands, was achieved largely through real, skillful flying of the helicopter, with some CGI augmentation. The minute it hits the ground, however, the whole thing becomes computer-generated.
None of the film was made in Somalia but in the similar looking cities of Rabat and Sale in Morocco. No Somali actors are included in the cast. Somalia was at the time, as it is today, a dangerous and unstable country.
Plato never really said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." It is attributed to him, but was actually written by George Santayana in his book "The Life of Reason". It was first misquoted in one of retired General Douglas MacArthur's farewell speeches and then crept into popular use.
When Orlando Bloom auditioned for the role, he informed the casting directors that he knew what it was like to break his back (as he had done so only a couple of years before when climbing out on a drain pipe from a friend's flat). His character in this movie breaks his back after falling from the helicopter.
Twenty soldiers lost their lives during the raid. The epilogue lists 19. Eighteen of the soldiers who died were Army Rangers and Delta Force members or Task Force 160 aircrew. There were also two soldiers, Pfc. James Martin from 2-14 Infantry and Sgt. Cornell Houston of the 41st Engineer Bn.--which was attached to the 2-14, 10th Mountain Div.--who died during the battles of 3/4 October. The combined task force of 2-14 along with members of the 41st Engineers were the Army unit sent in to rescue the Rangers. Matt Rierson, who is also in the list, died two days after the battle when Somali mortar-men bombarded the base (as they did every evening, usually to no effect). A Malaysian soldier and a Pakistani soldier who were part of the rescue convoy were also killed in the fighting.
The nickname given to the Somalis by the Rangers, "Skinnies," does not actually refer to the famine and rampant malnutrition in Somalia. It is the nickname given to an alien race in Robert A. Heinlein's novel "Starship Troopers", which was a popular book passed around the battalion, and is on the required reading list at West Point. The Rangers felt that Somali culture was so strange that they seemed to be from another planet. The "Skinnies" do not appear in the film version of Starship Troopers (1997).
Josh Hartnett was cast largely at the suggestion of Jerry Bruckheimer, who had just worked with him on Pearl Harbor (2001). Hartnett was not overly keen on appearing in another blockbuster so soon after the film with Michael Bay, but the strength of the material and the opportunity of working with Ridley Scott soon persuaded him otherwise.
All Black Hawks and Little Birds used during the filming were from the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) and most of the pilots were involved in the actual battle on 3-4 October 1993. A lot of the Army Rangers in the film were actual Rangers, serving with the 3/75 Ranger Regiment.
Two of the Black Hawk helicopters used in the film were named the "Armageddon" (after the film Armageddon (1998), film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) and the "Gladiator", after the film Gladiator (2000), also directed by Ridley Scott. Bruckheimer believed this to be a sign of good luck.
The photo of a wife and child that one of the soldiers is looking at is actually a photo of Eric Bana's wife and child. The props department forgot to take a photo of a wife and child with them, so asked Bana's wife and child who were traveling with him if they could use a photo of them in the movie.
In the DVD commentary the veterans of the battle state that the presence of "technicals" (pickup trucks fitted with heavy weapons on the back used by the Somali militias) was invented by the filmmakers and that they didn't see any during fighting. However, in his autobiography "Navy SEAL", Howard Wasdin - who won the Silver Star and Purple Heart as part of Col. McKnight's ground convoy - states he did see such vehicles armed with machine-guns darting in and out of alleyways and firing on the US forces.
The donkey that Sgt. Ed Yurek briefly pets almost didn't make it into the film because of budget cuts. In fact, during the rewriting and re-editing of the script, screenwriter Ken Nolan found a note by Ridley Scott saying, "I miss the donkey". The donkey was eventually kept.
A lot of the dust seen swirling around underneath the Black Hawks was computer generated. Real dust would have been too prevalent and would have obscured the action so the ground was dampened before filming to reduce the amount of dust.
The opening sequence that depicts numerous starving Somalis actually utilizes rubber bodies to represent the dying Africans. Some of the "bodies" had a hose inserted into them through which air was pumped to simulate the appearance of breathing.
The massive shoot of the "target building insert" sequence was intended to be among the first sequences shot in principal photography, due to its complex nature. However, negotiations to borrow four Black Hawk helicopters from the United States military were so arduous that an agreement was not reached until a month after shooting had commenced. Director Ridley Scott had prepared a rental of four Hueys from Germany that were ready to be painted black and work as substitutes in the event an agreement with the US Department of Defense could not be reached. Fortunately, the DOD was eventually satisfied that the film would portray the incident in a positive light, and shipped the helicopters to the location in two C-5 Galaxy transports. Ridley Scott says this was very fortunate for the film, since the title is "Black Hawk Down" and Hueys have no resemblance to Black Hawks.
Mark Bowden, a staff reporter on the Philadelphia Inquirer, first detailed the disastrous 1993 Mogadishu raid in a serialized, 29-part story that appeared in the paper during November and December 1997. This was expanded into a book the following year.
When screenwriter Ken Nolan first read Mark Bowden's book, he was so determined to work on the film version that he called up the studio and said, "I'll do anything, I'll wash Jerry Bruckheimer's car".
Captain Steele requests a panicked soldier to give anyone who comes through a door "two in the chest and one in the head". This is commonly referred to as a triple tap or Mozambique drill. Mozambique was, during the 1960s and 1970s, a war- and famine-ravaged country in East Africa much like Somalia.
Originally slated to open on March 1 2002. However, following successful test screenings in October 2001, that release was bumped up to January with special screenings arranged in December to help the film qualify for Academy Award consideration.
Brendan Sexton III (Kowalewski) was unhappy working on the film because it conflicted with his views on US foreign policy in general and specifically with regard to US actions in Somalia (both before and during the 1992-93 peacekeeping operations there). He told Salon.com after the film opened that he and another actor improvised a scene with anti-imperialist materials, but it was all cut from the film before it was released.
Despite the fact that Ken Nolan is the only credited writer, there were others who contributed uncredited. Sam Shepard wrote some pages of dialogue, but they were not used; Eric Roth wrote crucial speeches for Josh Hartnett and Eric Bana to deliver in the closing minutes; Steven Zaillian made a dialogue-driven rewrite; and Stephen Gaghan did one rewrite early on in the development. Nolan was the writer on the set for four months, and worked on the script for over two years. Prior to WGA arbitration, promotional materials for the film (such as theatrical posters) credited the screenplay to both Nolan and Zaillian. This was later changed to award sole credit to Nolan.