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A New Independent Film Project: The Battle off Samar

USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) photographed from USS Walter C. Wann (DE-412) in October 1944, a week or two before she was lost in the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 96011

We recently learned about a new film project being developed about the Battle off Samar. An independent group of filmmakers is working on a virtual recreation of this pivotal American victory in the Pacific during World War II – one of the great “upsets” in naval history. This ambitious project is currently in the research and development process, with a targeted shooting date of 2013.

Rick Ellis, one of the team members, is a motion graphics designer who works on 3D modeling and computer generated graphics for Disney Cruise Line. In 2009, Ellis developed on interest in this crucial component of the Battle of Leyte Gulf through a conversation with his father. Wanting to learn more, he picked up a copy of Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, and was hooked. Ellis had previously worked with a group of talented filmmakers on a series of short films, winning some awards for their film “Square One“. Most of the team members are professionally employed in the film and entertainment industry, but they all had a hunger for their own big, independent project. The group tends to focus around producer/director Kurt DeVries. Ellis and DeVries met in 2007, and soon began to collaborate with director of photography Daniel Trout, lighting director David Main, assistant director Brooke Rodenhizer, and screenwriter Anthony Russo. They frequently draw on actors from the classes of Kathy Laughlin from the Casting Society of America – some of whom have gone on to roles in projects such as The Glades, Army Wives, Burn Notice, and various movies. Through them, the group connected with director of photography Jill Sager, whose background includes work for the History Channel.  This is but a sampling of the many other talented individuals have been involved in the group’s projects, collaborating on a variety of projects.

Ellis’ idea about the Battle off Samar was the project they’d been waiting for. This story of an overmatched group of American destroyers and destroyer escorts beating off a vastly superior Japanese force including battleships and cruisers is the stuff of naval legend, and was perhaps the linchpin to American victory at Leyte Gulf. The first step in the team’s work has been ongoing research on Taffy 3 and the battle itself. Jumping off from Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, they plunged into other history books such as Little Wolf at Leyte and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. But one book stood out to the team: The Spirit of the Sammy B, written by RADM Robert W. Copeland (USNR), commanding officer of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413). More than just a source for research, this account immediately gave the filmmakers the narrative thread they’d been seeking for their project. They contacted the book’s editor, who is himself the son of a Samuel B. Roberts survivor. They made contacts with others through the Samuel B. Roberts Survivors Association, including the organization’s former president, Jack Yusen.

Samar 3D Composite

Working 3D composite of a ship model, developed by Rick Ellis.


In addition to printed materials such as books and declassified After Action Reports from the battle, the project team has conducted an extensive search for visual materials. This includes blueprints and manuals for the ships and aircraft involved in the battle, and a mountain of film and video material. To date they have compiled 200 hours of reference footage – all of which has been watched repeatedly. They’ve also scouted out physical filming locations for scenes that will not be created digitally, but will instead be shot as live action footage. The team has visited ex-USS Slater (DE-766) in Albany, NY, and ex-USS Kidd (DD-661) in Baton Rouge, LA. They hope to use Slater as a stand in for scenes on board Samuel B. Roberts (see our earlier story about Slater here). Tim Rizzuto, director of the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum, home of ex-USS Slater, recently met with the filmmakers and offered suggestions on other possible shooting locations, such as the recreated island from USS Cabot (CVL-28) at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. Rick Ellis, who spends much of his time at sea on board cruise ships, is based out of Tampa, FL, and has been working with the Florida Aviation Historical Society to located Wildcats and TBMs for potential use in the film. They’ve even considered using the battleship ex-USS Texas as a disguised stand-in for the Japanese battleship Kongo.

Embedded below is a video showing some of the group’s complex 3D modeling work being developed for the film. The group used a variety of different source elements to develop this computer generated model of USS Samuel B. Roberts. To assemble the basic framework of the ship and hull, blueprints are used to establish dimensions and shapes, by tracing top, front, and side views. The basic outline is connected into a mesh. The individual components of the ship – the hull, weapons, hatches, etc. – are assembled one by one as three dimensional virtual models, and then connected digitally, much like a physical kit model is assembled. The next step in the process is to add the minute detail of textures and lighting, to make the basic 3D models look realistic. Ellis used a combination of blueprints, a kit model of a destroyer escort, and reference photos of ex-USS Slater to develop his detail and textures. The end result of this meticulous work can be seen in this video:


In the midst of all this research and location scouting, the team has been hard at work finalizing a draft of their script. The initial draft was finished in April 2011 and was circulated to others in the film industry for reviews, as well as Bob Cox who runs the Battle Off Samar website.  An improved draft is in the final stages, incorporating notes and comments from those who have had a chance to review it. Their goal is to present a responsible representation of the men who were there, as well as an accurate portrayal of the battle. They hope to complete this next draft by January 2012.

Looking forward, the biggest challenge the team faces is distribution. They are confident in their ability to raise funds for the project, but that means nothing without the means to distribute the finished project. Last month the team attended the American Film Market, a festival for movies that have not been made yet. According to Ellis, it is like the NFL draft of the movie industry. This gathering is the forum for filmmakers and movie distributors to meet and try to strike deals. The group made some promising connections who are eager to look at the final proposal for the film.

For more information on the movie please visit, or email [email protected].

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  1. Stephen McCann

    I think this is a wonderful way to show the younger generation what really happened.Speaking for myself,which I am retired Navy,and having the distinction of being a plankowner on the U.S.S. Laboon DDG-58,and also speaking for my father who spent his 4 years in the navy during the 1950’s on board the U.S.S. Cassin Young DD-793(now in Boston next to the USS Constitution).Keep up the good work.

  2. Pingback: Naval Historical Foundation | Small Boys The Movie

  3. Aurora Abude Schäfer

    The realization of this film “The Battle off Samar” will turn out as legacy of the
    Producers . The sacrifices of the U.S. Marines and their Allies during the WWII will be honored by the young generation today and in the future.

    I hope that the active collaboration of the Filipino Soldiers on Land would be mentioned
    if not represented. My late father, Sixto O. Abude was a member of the Intellegence Unit of the South Samar Command He told my mother that he was assigned to deliver the confidential report on the situation of South Samar (Salcedo>Mercedes>Guiuan
    Peninsula & Environs) written by Filipino Captain Valley to the Headquarters in Leyte before the arrival of Gen. MacArthur & Troops. He said it was very risky because he had to avoid Japanese Soldiers before he could reach the Headquarters. He just walked along the Shores, Mangroves, acting like a Farmer , Fisherman , etc.

    Because of this, I got interested looking into possible historical traces in Salcedo, Mercedes and Guiuan. I found the Beach where the dead American Soldiers were brought Ashore. This is in Haclagan Beach, Pacific side of Mercedes town. They were also temporarily buried there , according to my Informant. Nearby is the site of then emergency American Soldiers Clinic. Only the cemented sewage collector can be seen today. In Cagaut, Salcedo, E. Samar traces of American Water Tubes can be found, while in Palanas/Tanom, traces of abandoned American Ammunition Depot can still be seen, as well as destroyed P T Boats Wharfs. I think that the Land preparations in South Samar and South Leyte was equally dramatic as the Sea Battle. This includes the building of the Guiuan Airstrip in less than a month. Today, this Airstrip is considered as one of the best built Airstrips. Thumbs up to the American Seabees.
    I hope this info will add a little to yours.

  4. We are having our annual reunion in Milwaukee 10/17 to 10/21 2012 Please e-mail me we are having 9 survivors at the reunion. This is a most interesting story.

  5. Aurora Abude Schäfer

    I read about your USS Gambier Bay Association. It is interesting to know that
    you are honoring the Survivors of the “Battle Off Samar” . They deserve it.. I wish I can attend someday. The stories about their experiences must be very interesting to hear and record. their voices. You might be interested on the recent travel Blogs of young Filipinos who recently visited Southeastern Samar Island. The Beaches are along
    the Pacific and Leyte Gulf. GOOGLE: 1. Jagnaya Beach, Salcedo, Eastern Samar
    by Josiah Sicad
    2. Salcedo’s Locsoon Cave and Jagnaya Beach
    by Noeliz
    3. Guiuan, Eastern Samar Airport
    by Josiah Sicad
    The place has not yet changed much from October 1944. The Survivors can still
    recall the sight of the Eastern Samar Beaches. Google: Samar’s Last Frontier
    by Nonoy Froilan
    GOD bless!!

  6. Theodore Dachenhausen III

    Don’t forget Evans and the Johnston.

  7. Pingback: Film about the Sammy B and Battle off Samar in the works | USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE 413) Survivors Association

  8. Paulette Lorsbach

    Our family has formed the Paul Henry Carr Memorial Foundatoin in Checotah OK, not only to honor Carr (he was killed 10-25-44) in the Battle off Samar), but to offer an interactive system for adults and children to gain insight regarding this battle and other outstanding events that happened in world War II. Many of our family members had the privilege of meeting some survivors of the Samuel B. Roberts, DE 413 that went down during this battle.

  9. Grant

    I am part of the younger generation (Still in Middle School) and I believe that this movie will represent the true bravery of Ernest Evans at the Battle off Samar.

  10. Robert Villaverde

    Since I learned about that battle, I became fascinated, and proud of those men.
    Of course a movie based on true events would be a must-see, but, will Hollywood ckick in and implant a love story as they did with Pearl Harbor?

    And, the story must be sold to the people before releasing the movie, otherwise only those who know about the events will fill the theaters.

    • Aurora Abude Schaefer

      You are right Mr. Villaverde. The bravery of the American Navy , the Filipino Soldiers and Allies should be known to the majority of Americans, Filipinos, and citizens of other Allies. This is only possible with the involvement of Hollywood. I think Hollywood will only do this if they profit. Hence, a love story has to be inserted. Anyway, southeastern Samar has beautiful natural attractions like white Beaches, Caves, Waterfalls and marine Biodiversity. Rainforest is also nearby the Beaches. Kindly Google: It’s More Fun in Eastern Samar Facebook or visit my Facebook “Aurora Tours Abude Schaefer”. Thanks and God bless’

  11. Garrison Rudolph Macon

    It’s so great to hear that a movie about the USS Samuel B Roberts might be in the works. I’m named after my Great Uncle, Shirley Rudolph Macon, nicknamed “Red” Macon for his red hair, who was the Chief Gunner’s Mate on one of the guns on the Sammy B. He died heroically during that battle. He refused to leave the guns even when the mechanism to vent the hot gases after each firing broke. I heard that the main gunner passed out and slumped over and instead of leaving the molten-hot gun, he ran to it and kept loading it, even though he knew he was sacrificing himself. I’m a freshman in High School, now; my Dad took me to meet some members of the Survivors Association at their meeting near DC years ago; I wish I could see them again. Several of the men there remembered “Red” Macon well. My Dad passed away (stroke) 2 years ago, and I am teaching my little brother and sister about Uncle Rudolph. There is nothing written about him that I can find in the Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, though.

    • Nathan Gray

      Garrison, I hope you get this reply. Rudolph Macon is my great uncle as well! I was googling him today, thinking about him for Veterans Day, and saw your post. Please email me if you get a chance. jnathangray

    • Ryan Pich

      Garrison. Is your dad Johnny Macon? Do you have an aunt named April? And Angel that live in Ohio?

  12. My father – Ens. Edward D McDonald was Adm. Ziggy Sprague’s staff communication officer on board Fanshaw Bay off Samar. Previously he had been ship’s communication officer aboard Wasp when Sprague was Wasp’s captain. On that fateful morning Sprague decided early in the battle that it was hopeless and ordered my father to create a work party for the purpose of throwing all classified documents and equipment overboard. He was on the forecastle of Fanshaw Bay doing that when a shell, probably fired by Tone, hit the forecastle. The work party was wiped out and my father received a serious wound from which he barley survived and suffered all his life. In some small honor of that, I have built a model of Fanshaw Bay. Which can be seen at, if anyone is interested.
    Ed McDonald

  13. Chuck Stickney

    Is the film project for the Battle Off Samar is alive?

  14. Kathleen Ruther

    My father was on the USS Ommaney Bay CVE-79 part of Taffy 2 which, along with the ships of Taffy 1, came to the aid of Taffy 3 and were also instrumental in the outcome of this battle. I hope your project will include them as well.

  15. John Schindele

    Greetings, my father was a helmsman on the Johnston. Its frustrating that after so much publicity around “Come Hell or High Water” there has been little if any news the last year or so. I would appreciated anything anyone can add on whether or not the project is ongoing.

  16. Edgar McDonald

    A question-
    Midway opened at #1 this weekend at the Box Office.
    Is that a good omen for “Come Hell or High Water?”

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