WATM Exclusive: ‘The Bloody Hundredth’s’ Emmy Award-winning director on the untold stories of WWII

"The Bloody Hundredth" is a testament to what was achieved against insurmountable odds and pure evil by regular Americans with focus, work ethic and teamwork.
Joel Searls Avatar

Masters of the Air documentary companion The Bloody Hundredth has just been released on Apple TV+. The documentary honors the real-life heroes of the 100th Bomb Group. Produced by Playtone-Amblin and narrated by Tom Hanks, The Bloody Hundredth premiered globally on Friday, March 15, 2024, on Apple TV+, just in time for the Masters of the Air series finale. It was executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. 

Director and producer Mark Herzog. Photo courtesy of imdb.com.

The documentary is directed by Mark Herzog and Laurent Bouzereau, and it spotlights the true stories of several characters and real-life airmen featured in Masters of the Air including John Egan (played by Callum Turner), Gale Cleven (played by Austin Butler), Harry Crosby (played by Anthony Boyle), Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal (played by Nate Mann), Frank Murphy (played by Jonas Moore), Alexander Jefferson (played by Branden Cook) and Richard Macon (played by Josiah Cross). The Bloody Hundredth is a testament to what was achieved against insurmountable odds and pure evil by regular Americans with focus, work ethic and teamwork. Herzog is known for his documentary work in coordination with Spielberg and Hanks productions such as Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

Members of the 100th Bomb Group. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

The documentary is a top-level production that moves along at a brisk, professional and efficient pace. We get real-life footage mixed with timely and poignant insights from so many wonderful veterans of the 100th Bomb Group including John “Lucky” Luckadoo, Harry Crosby and Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal. Some of these men are still alive while others have passed on, so we get their stories from beyond the grave thanks to prior interviews having been done in the 1980s and 1990s. The famous General James “Jimmy” Stewart, a Hollywood star and patriotic veteran, shows up as well. We get insights and perspectives from Mr. Spielberg, whose father, Arnold Spielberg, served as a Communications Chief in the 409th Bomb Squadron in World War II. Arnold Spielberg was part of a B-25 squadron in India. The emotional build of the documentary coupled with excellent editing makes for an engaging and memorable experience. The documentary gets four out of our Red Star Clusters and is a historically and intellectually stimulating watch. I highly recommend it!

Now onto the interview with Mark. Here are his responses to our questions with many vignettes to further build reasons to watch The Bloody Hundredth.

WATM: Can you share about your inspiration for The Bloody Hundredth and how you got involved with it? 

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Mark: I got involved with it because of my relationship with Playtone, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s company. We have done a lot of work together over the past 25 years. We have done other companion documentaries. We did the companion documentary to Band of Brothers called We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company. We made another documentary about David McCullough, who wrote the book on John Adams, which was turned into a mini-series on HBO. When Masters of the Air was coming up — I’ve known about its development for the past 12 years — so we had always sort of mulled the idea of a companion documentary for it as well. Apple came aboard and said, “They would like to talk about that series…” so we started doing some research into what that would take. We knew we needed to start with Don Miller, author of Masters of the Air. He has written several World War II books and this is about the 8th Air Force, the Mighty 8th. We did a base interview with him and we got a lot of help from the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, which had pulled together interviews of a lot of veterans over the years. We had some great interviews with the characters from the mini-series — “Rosie” Rosenthal, Harry Crosby, and several others. We found those interviews and created what would become a companion documentary. 

WATM: Did you interact with Captain Dale Dye (USMC ret. and military technical advisor for Masters of the Air) on set?

Mark: I did. I happened to be on set for a portion of the filming in July 2021 and December 2021. I have worked with Dale Dye before on other projects. He was great. The actors love it when they go through his boot camp. We did some behind-the-scenes with him and got some great footage of him putting the actors through their paces.  It’s not quite what an actual veteran goes through and it gives them an idea. 

WATM: What was significant or unique about the Masters of the Air story?

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Mark: Let’s focus on what these men went through. I think most people who are not in any branches of the Armed Forces don’t know what it takes to train and to live the life of someone who serves. Most importantly they don’t know what combat is unless they’ve been there. As a director, I can tell you I didn’t really know the experience the crew of a B-17 bomber went through, and I didn’t understand what paratroopers went through in Band of Brothers. I learned what the Marines went through in the Pacific…you gain that experience. You don’t understand exactly because you weren’t there. I did not understand what the B-17s and the B-17 bomber crews went through…I thought they just flew over Germany, dropped their bombs and came back.

I didn’t understand the hell they went through in those eight to 10 hours on those flights. I didn’t understand what it meant to be attacked by the Luftwaffe. I didn’t understand what flak really meant. I didn’t understand that a ground troop at least had a foxhole. There is no foxhole in a B-17. You are a sitting duck; your job is to go drop bombs, go through the hell of the Luftwaffe and flak, but your job is to get home as well. A lot of that is out of your hands. I very much appreciate what they went through after making this documentary and watching the series. This was intermittent warfare — very different than someone on the ground. This is a different kind of freezing, it gets to 50 or 60 below zero. You’ll go through a mission and then that night you’re back and in a pub. You are having conversations and will go out in a week. It is hell for the time you are in a plane. It’s very different. 

WATM: Do you have any points to share about the African-American pilots you cover in the documentary?

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Mark: It’s great to get to know and present what the Tuskegee Airmen went through… how they served and so admirably. How good they were. They were told by their leadership to stick with their Bombers and do not engage them and go try to fight the Luftwaffe, thereby leaving the bombers open to attack by the Luftwaffe. Many of these B-17 Bomber crews and B-24 Liberator crews very much appreciated their diligence. The safety they felt being escorted by the members of the Red Tails, the Tuskegee Airmen. It was great to tell their story. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Alexander Jefferson (LtCol and member of the Tuskegee Airmen). We were set to go to Detroit to go meet with him — he was 100. Unfortunately, he passed that week we were supposed to go see him. He lived a very admirable life. It is great to still tell his story and that of Richard Macon (member of the Tuskegee Airmen) as well.

WATM: What would be the main takeaway from your documentary?

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Mark: I want people to understand the experience of being a member of the B-17 crew. The harrowing trials and tribulations of a mission. I want them to understand the impact on them as very young men. You were called pops when you were 25; you were the old guy at 25. These very young men went through these experiences. Some lived and some did not. I want people to understand that and the sheer number of casualties while you were a member of one of these crews — 77% were either killed, injured or captured. Every time you went up in one of these planes you had less than a 25% chance of coming away unscathed. These men had to do 25 missions, some in as soon as three or four months. “Rosie” Rosenthal re-upped and did 52 missions, unheard of. The most in the 100th…some would say that was crazy. He not only flew 52 missions, he was in two plane crashes. The first one, he was bombing over Nuremberg and was shot down. He happened to land in Allied-occupied France. He was then put in a desk job (to recover) which he chafed at. He asked to be put back up in the air, which they did, only for him to get shot down in February of [19]45 after successfully dropping his bombs and landing behind Russian [friendly] lines. I want the audience to understand the heroic missions they went through and how hard it was every time they got into one of those planes. 

WATM: Did you have any significant interactions with the survivors?

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Mark: Oh, I did…some of the interviews we used are from the 80s, some were done in the 90s, some were done 10-11 years ago. We did some interviews about four years ago with some of the veterans who were still alive in Palm Springs. While we were making the documentary I did a significant interview with John “Lucky” Luckadoo, who was 100. He gave us a fantastic four and a half hour interview. I also interviewed Bob Wolf, who is in our documentary. He is still alive. He is 102. Both of these men are 102. Actually, I think Lucky turns 102 this week.

WATM: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?

Mark: We had a great editor in Chris Peterson. Kirk Saduski who is the producer on this was invaluable with his sense of history and sense of this project. Don Miller brought great insight. Tom’s narration is unbelievable. He had such a level of authenticity and gravitas. We did an interview with Steven Spielberg who is so knowledgeable about all things World War II and gave us some great insights into some of the aspects of World War II we didn’t even have from other interviews. Gary Goetzman is another Executive Producer. He has been with this project from the very beginning and has shaped this whole thing. All great partners.

Watch The Bloody Hundredth on AppleTV and see the full interview here:


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