The scene in which a sailor falls from a ship and is left in the water as the fleet steams toward Iwo Jima actually happened. The incident is described in "Iwo" by Richard Wheeler, himself a veteran of the fighting. Quote: "According to Coast Guardsman Chet Hack of LST 763: 'We got the man-overboard signal from the ship ahead of us. We turned to port to avoid hitting him and threw him a life preserver, but had orders not to stop. We could not hold up 24 ships for one man. Looking back, we could see him waving his arms, and it broke our hearts that we couldn't help him. We hoped that one of our destroyers or other small men-of-war that were cruising around to protect us would pick him up, but we never heard that they did.' "
At the Cannes Film Festival, filmmaker Spike Lee criticized director Clint Eastwood for not displaying African-American marines who had fought on Iwo Jima. Eastwood's response was that the movie was about the marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. He went on to explain that although African-Americans did fight on Iwo Jima, the Marine Corps was segregated during WWII, and none of the men who raised the flag were black. Eastwood finally told Lee to "shut his face". Through the media, Lee responded that Eastwood was being an angry old man. Lee was filming Miracle at St. Anna (2008) at the time, a film about four black soldiers fighting WWII in Italy.
Actual Marines from the 5th Marines were used as extras during filming aboard ship as well as the the training work up. The extras who were actual Marines can be best seen climbing up and down the cargo nets.
Clint Eastwood tried to option "Flags of Our Fathers" after the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers was published in May 2000. However, Steven Spielberg had already bought the rights that summer, and in early 2001, had assigned its adaptation to the screenwriter William Broyles Jr.. Spielberg wasn't satisfied with the resulting screenplay and it laid dormant until he met with Eastwood at the Governor's Ball after the 2004 Oscar. After that, Eastwood took charge as the director with Spielberg as the producer.
The original of the top photograph in the stack of Japanese atrocities is held in the Australian War Memorial. It is dated 24 October 1943, was taken in Aitape, New Guinea, and shows Sergeant Leonard G. Siffleet, about to be beheaded with a sword by Yasuno Chikao.
Actor Jesse Bradford on working with director Eastwood, "I heard rumors that he really does two takes, but I had a friend who was going into a Clint Eastwood movie, I wouldn't say he does two takes - I would say he does one. The average is probably two, but the number of times we only did one was overwhelming. It's kind of cool because, as an actor, it forces you to be on your game. With this movie, I learned really quickly to be very clear on what I thought were the most important aspects of the scene and how I wanted those aspects to come off, and then practice how I was going to make sure they did, because if I only got one shot, I didn't want to be the guy who was always asking for another take. I didn't want to waste my bullets in that department."
'Flags of Our Fathers' cost $55 million although it was originally budgeted at $80 million. In a 2006 interview Paul Haggis stated that Clint Eastwood had shot the movie in just over 50 days, or nearly half the original shooting schedule. Variety subsequently downgraded the price-tag to $55 million. The budget for the companion piece Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) was officially credited at $20 million but again, according to Variety, the actual cost was "under $70 million" for both movies combined (this would place the cost of 'Letters' as $15 million). It is possible that WB inflated the budget as part of its campaign when it became evident that 'Letters' had Academy Award potential (the same thing happened in 2004 with 'Million Dollar Baby'). As of April 2007 'Flags' and 'Letters' had a combined worldwide theatrical gross of $135 million, with 'Flags' having performed, according to Variety, "very strongly" in its home video bow.
The story about the flag raising being posed was true. It was started, ironically, by Joe Rosenthal himself. He did not know he had taken the famous photograph until he returned to the States. He did however take a second photograph of the Marines gathered around the flag. When people asked if he had posed the photograph he, thinking they were referring to the second photograph said "Of course". It was only after seeing the first photograph that he realized they were referring to that photograph and not the second one.
The Marine Corps announced on June 23, 2016 that John Bradley is not one of the flag-raisers in Joe Rosenthal's photograph. The Marine Corps also stated that after reviewing the identities of the six flag-raisers in the photograph, the sixth flag raiser was identified as Cpl. Harold Schultz.
David Rasche appears in the film in a cameo role. Rasche is famous for his lampoon of Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" character in the sitcom Sledge Hammer! (1986). Eastwood is known for his sense of humor and apparently liked the show.
Bradley Cooper auditioned for one of the leading roles. He later played the lead in another Clint Eastwood film, American Sniper (2014), which was also a biopic about a soldier who struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has difficulty adjusting to life after war.
The newspapers containing the famous photograph are, in order of being delivered, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant, the San Antonio Express, and lastly the Washington Post.
The scene with Bill Genaust and Joe Rosenthal just as the flag is about to be raised and the comment " I wish I could have seen their faces" is incorrect. According to the real Joe Rosenthal, it was Genaust that told him the flag was being raised as Rosenthal has his back to the flag photographing the naval fleet. In the movie this is reversed. When told about the flag being raised, Rosenthal turned and snapped the picture. He did not know what he had taken until he was shown the developed picture after returning to the States.
The iconic photograph that forms the basis of the film is actually misleading. The flag was raised on the fifth day of the battle for Iwo Jima. It would take another 35 days before the Americans could claim that the island was theirs.
Two actors in the film have been linked before. Len Cariou, who played Mr. Beech, and George Hearn, who played Walter Gust. Cariou originated the title role of Sweeney Todd on Broadway was succeeded in the part by Hearn.
Clint Eastwood would deliberately not tell his actors where all the special effects were rigged to explode in order to perfectly capture their look of surprise. This was done with the actors' safety firmly in mind.
Adam Beach nearly missed out on being cast as Ira Hayes as he was laid up in bed with flu when the call from Clint Eastwood came through. Only some frantic lobbying by Beach's lawyer helped him secure the role.
The reason for taking the second picture is because they wanted a bigger flag so it could be seen by the naval ships off shore and also used as a simple recruiting poster-it then became and still is (72 years later) regarded by photojournalists the world over as the most famous photograph ever taken! An early copy was given to the San Francisco Press Club-it is now displayed at the Marine's Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco. Marine everywhere all have thoughts on what happened to the original flag.