Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” features some of the titular hero’s most loathsome enemies — the Nazis — and it was up to military adviser Paul Biddiss to train over 300 extras to ensure the film’s battle scenes looked authentic.
This fifth installment of the franchise sees James Mangold direct Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. The year is 1969, and this time, Nazi scientist Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is on a mission to seek out the Dial of Destiny, which he believes will “correct” Hitler’s mistakes. Fact, fiction and fascists are set against the backdrop of the space race as Voller aims to go back in time and kill Hitler, take over the Third Reich and lead Germany to victory.
Biddiss, whose credits include “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and “1917,” was tasked with advising Mangold and the crew on all the battle scene aspects. His work ranged from coaching extras on how to move and use different weapons and tactics, to consulting on the uniform.
As a military advisor, his job began with the script, like with many crew roles. He says two things stood out immediately: “There were soldiers from different eras. The first were the Nazis, and the second were in the climactic battle scenes.”
Biddiss helped cast the 300 extras needed for the scenes, finding actors who could both portray soldiers and ranked officials and were physically able to meet the demands of the scenes. For the film’s opening sequence, Biddiss’s first focus was weapon safety.
“I’ll bring small bunches of extras in at a time, and we begin with the weapons. The do’s and don’ts,” Biddiss says. With on-set weapon safety in the spotlight due to the “Rust” tragedy that resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021, this is a vital part of Biddiss’ work. “It began with discipline in weapons safety and weapon handling.”
With the film shooting on location in the U.K., there were stricter protocols surrounding guns and weapons than there are in the U.S. Even if the weapon is a replica, Biddiss says, “We covered basics — making sure the weapon was never left unattended, never pointing a weapon and never having your finger on the trigger.”
Once Biddiss was done with the basic weapon training drill, he moved on to teaching the actors “how a German soldier from that era would march with a weapon, salute and even run with it.”
Biddiss also consulted with costume designer Joanna Johnston and worked with her department in dressing the extras. “I would go and say, ‘This guy would make a good extra, and this one would be a good officer’ and work through the different ranks,” he says.
Once cameras were rolling, Biddiss would watch the action unfold on a monitor and ensure that what was being shot was both authentic and served the storyline.
The main weapons in “Dial of Destiny” were German submachine guns, which Biddiss says are “always a favorite for the ‘Indiana Jones’ films.” But for this particular movie, “the anti-aircraft guns were the key weapons” as seen in the film’s climax, when Voller and his Nazis steal and use the Dial to head back to 1939, but get taken back to 213 B.C. and find themselves at the Siege of Syracuse instead. Biddiss stresses, “There was no actual firing from any blanks or section 5 firearms, so it was all very safe.”
For the siege, Biddiss, who is also working on “Gladiator 2” with Ridley Scott, taught the extras how to use a Gladius, which is a Roman sword. “I trained them on how to use a scutum, a shield and spears,” he says. “We talked about and went through drills and various tactics they could use.”
And did he get to work with the film’s leading man?
“It was brief,” Biddiss says. “When Indy is going in for his integration, I worked with him and Mads, but it was nothing to do with weapons, more about conduct under capture.”