The opening twenty minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is the best war footage ever.
That’s because Spielberg based it on ten famous photographs of D Day.
But why are there only ten photographs of an event of such historical significance?
The photographer was Robert Capa.
He went in on one of the first landing craft.
It hit the sandy bottom about 100 yards from the shore.
The ramp went down.
The men jumped out as the bullets came in.
Capa crouched on the ramp taking photos.
The boat captain kicked him in the arse, off the boat and into the surf.
So the boat could get the hell out of there.
Capa struggled through the surf to get to the shore.
All the soldier’s equipment, and the knee-deep surf, made it hard to move, like in a dream.
When you want to run but your feet are like lead.
Which made them an easier target for the German machine-gunners in the pillboxes.
Capa and the other soldiers tried to shelter from the bullets behind the landing obstacles.
Crude shapes made from steel girders welded together like a giant X.
As he crouched there, he took more photographs.
Shots of other soldiers crouching.
Shots of soldiers crawling through the surf.
Some dead, some wounded, some firing, some running.
He photographed everything he possibly could.
When he’d used up all his film, he ran back out into the surf.
Another landing craft came in, the ramp came down, the men jumped out.
Capa ran up the ramp and yelled that he was a war photographer, and he wanted to get back to get his pictures developed.
So, having gone in with got the first wave at Omaha Beach, he got out alive.
With 3 rolls of film, 108 pictures, of the greatest invasion the world has ever seen.
He got back to London and took the film to the offices of Life Magazine.
Where a 15 year old lab-assistant turned the heating up too high in the drier.
And it melted all the emulsion and virtually all the film was destroyed.
They only managed to save 10 photographs out of the 108 that Capa took.
90% of your work gone.
You’ve just risked your life in the biggest battle of the war.
Hundreds of ships, thousands of planes, tens of thousands of men.
All going heads-to-head in a vast, cataclysmic confrontation.
And you’re right in the middle of it with your camera.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You risk your life to capture every frame.
All around you thousands of soldiers die, but you get back alive.
And it was all for nothing.
What do you do?
What can you do?
You can’t reshoot it.
You can’t do D day again.
Nearly all your work, everything you risked your life for, gone.
I think it’s worth remembering that.
Next time we lose an ad because planning turns it down.
Or the account man can’t sell it.
Or the client won’t buy it.
Or Clearcast turn the script down.
It’s good to get it all in perspective.