Movie Reviews: Interview with Tom Brown Jr.
Matt Saha, along with other members of the press, recently sat down with Tom Brown, Jr. to talk about "The Hunted." Tom Brown, Jr. is a survivalist and tracker who served as technical advisor to the film and as role model for the Tommy Lee Jones character, L.T. Bonham. He has been in the business for 25 years teaching people throughout the United States about survival and is the successful author of such books as The Tracker. Check out Matt's interview with Benicio Del Toro as well.
Tom Brown, Jr.: Billy Friedkin and I go back about a decade. He was originally gonna make a movie about my life-- we worked together and stayed in touch. He started "The Hunted" and asked me to give Benicio and Tommy my skills. So I started with the metaphor of the knives. If you notice, Tommy has a stone knife, which says a lot about the man. He is primitive and a survivalist much like I am. I teach people to go with nothing and build everything ground up and I gave Benicio the tracker knife, as his character is not as adept in the woods as Tommy’s is.
Press: The tracker knife is your invention. How did you come to design it?
Tom Brown, Jr.: An old reporter asked me if I had to take only one tool from civilization into the woods what would it be? I said a knife, so seven years and thirty prototypes later you have the tracker knife-anything for any situation-it can be used as a saw, a skinning blade, it is perfectly balanced so you can throw it like a tomahawk. Unfortunately in the movie you see only 2% of its applications, the rest of the time you see it as a fighting device.
Press: Was the story line in the film close to your life?
Tom Brown, Jr.: The story line is fabricated, but parts happened in my life. A guy I trained went bad and I had to track him down and that is the toughest because when you are tracking someone who knows your skills you start playing a deadly chess game.
Press: Did you find the guy?
Tom Brown, Jr.: Yeah, he found me. I got shot in the back. I realized the mistake at the last minute, but it was nice because the bullet neatly passed through me without doing much damage. He shot me and I hit him hard. He was a military guy and then CIA and then he hired out to other countries. They blamed me, so they said go find him.
Press: Are the tracking skills depicted in the film realistic?
Tom Brown, Jr.: All the skills are true. Friedkin first had to see everything in reality before he did it in the film. I taught Tommy how to make a stone knife. The camouflage, the stalking and the tracking are real, but then there are the latitudes that movies take that pisses me off. I mean I can teach a beginning student how to track a wolf that has a trap on it, and to dig down in the snow to find a winter rosette that can be chewed into a poultice that can be used as an antibiotic, but you are not going to get close to a wolf in that state in 2 minutes, maybe 2 months, yes. And the bloody knife fight at the end—no way it would last 4 minutes, any of those wounds are lethal. I wanted to be proud of the film, but I made the paint, I am not the artist, the director is, and the finished product is his.
Press: How much can you teach someone off the street about survival?
Tom Brown, Jr.: Well there are 36 levels to my classes. In the basic class, after a week I can teach you to survive with nothing. I will teach you to be more aware than you have ever been in your life and to be able to track a mouse across a gravel driveway. It is so easy to teach these skills, if you know what to look for. Here we have this saying, “survival of the fittest,” that works for animals, but for humans it is what you know.
Press: You used to train military personnel, but supposedly you left out of guilt, what happened?
Tom Brown, Jr.: I stopped training the military for awhile. Most of my classes are general public, but I did train elite military groups. I thought I was teaching them how to evade, escape, like downed pilots behind enemy lines, but I found they were using this stuff to beome more efficient killers and that created a moral dilemma in me. Only with 9/11 did I come back to that because my brother- in- law was the first flight officer on the United flight that hit the World Trade Center, and I realized then that enemy now was far different from the enemy of the past. But we screen candidates very carefully. I don’t want to train hired assassins.
Press: How about the killing training in the movie?
Tom Brown, Jr.: I went through the same dilemma as Tommy. I didn’t say stab here, here, and here, but where he says most people who he killed didn’t know he was in the same room as him-that’s what I do.
Press: How did you start out in tracking?
Tom Brown, Jr.: My best friend-his grandfather was an 83 year old Apache, from the Southern Lippin peoples in Northern Mexico. I met him when I was 7 and for nearly eleven years, I picked his brain. He became my best friend and he possessed everything I wanted to know about the wilderness.
Press: Do you use Native-American traditions in your training?
Tom Brown, Jr.: Yes, some of my classes demand use of the Native-American philosophy. Like the pressure-release system which he taught me-it is miniature landscapes found inside a track and each little feature depicts a body function. His people identified over 4,500 of them.
Press: There is an interesting comment in the film, the Del Toro part says to the hunters - are you guys tough, you need those big guns? And he uses a knife, is that your philosophy?
Tom Brown, Jr.: Right, you pull off a gun in the woods and everyone knows where you are. Funny story down in South America—they gave native peoples a rifle to kill monkeys and when they came back a year later only two bullets had been used and they asked why. The tribe said they killed one monkey and it chased the rest away. To me a lot of times a gun is a liability.
Press: Are you a hunter?
Tom Brown, Jr.: No, only when I have to in extreme need.
Press: If you sent somebody in the woods with only one thing, what would you give them, string, matches?
Tom Brown, Jr.: I wouldn’t give them anything. There are 23 different ways to make a fire without matches. You could find everything out there-bones, stone. It gives them freedom and proficiency.