Although I’d suggest to anyone that hasn’t visited the blog before that ATRG is mostly about Airsoft, Milsim and the outdoors, the relatively few SEAL Team articles I’ve written have proved universally popular and given the blog a respectable amount of its overall readership.
SEAL Team remains a big part of the blog’s identity and when I had the opportunity to interview one of its key crew members, Mark Semos, I jumped at the chance.
Former US Navy SEAL, Technical Advisor, Stuntman, Actor, Producer, Screenwriter…
Mark Harrington Semos has more than a little taste for adventure, this appetite has led him on a colourful path since leaving the military around a decade ago and has led to him currently working as a Writing Producer of SEAL Team on CBS.
Whilst not always directly in the limelight himself, he’s been involved with so many films and movies that you’ll have undoubtably seen at least a couple of them.
From his past roles as a technical advisor on Lone Survivor and Captain America: Winter Soldier to putting himself in front of the camera in Captain Phillips (reprising his earlier career as a SEAL Sniper) getting munched by a Velociraptor in Jurassic World and then onwards to becoming a Screenwriter, Producer (and Guest Star) for the series SEAL Team, which is currently on its third season.
I’d been asked a few times to do more SEAL Team articles, but its difficult to decide upon what to write. Do I write another kit breakdown for season 3? Do I look at the tactics used?
Well, if I’m honest… It takes such a long time to work out the items being used in a particular episode, and being a mere Padawan in identifying kit makes it incredibly draining and time consuming to write.
As for the tactics, who am I to question the tactics shown on screen? Whilst I’m certain that there are massive areas they’ve not covered in order to protect the real life SEALs, there are elements I’ve seen on screen that certainly match the limited amount of knowledge I do have when it comes to real world military tactics.
So that put the thought in my head of an interview, and whilst I have the utmost respect for the actors on set, I wanted to talk with someone who was involved with the behind the scenes work that happens to bring an episode to life.
I knew a fair amount about some of the key players involved in the series, thanks to the cast and crew having a seriously family-like bond on social media. So when @ditathehairmissile stopped returning my DMs, I figured Mark would be the second best choice to ask (only joking, I’ve not approached Dita… Yet…).
So without further ado, let’s begin.
ATRG: First off, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us all, If I can start with a couple of questions about your military service… What prompted you to join the SEALs in particular?
Mark: So I have a bit of a roundabout story. I actually went to the US Naval Academy (USNA) to become an Officer and was in the class of 2001, but was thrown out the last day of school during my senior year. I needed to pay back the money for the scholarship that the Naval Academy gives all of its students, and so my first three years of military service were to pay that back.
I left the USNA in 2001 and had orders down to the Transient Personnel Unit in San Diego only 10 days after 9/11, I worked as a Janitor there until I was able to get orders to go to BUD/S training. My goal had been to become a SEAL Officer while I was at USNA, so I just shifted after I was thrown out to become an enlisted SEAL instead of an officer.
ATRG: And during your time in the military, are there any accomplishments that you are particularly proud of?
Mark: I think of anything I did with the teams… Looking at a specific personal accomplishment though, being named honorman of my Sniper School class is something that I’m still quite proud of.
ATRG: Upon leaving the military, what were your next steps and how did you end up working in the entertainment industry?
Mark: My shooting partner from Sniper School was injured and I ended up spending some time taking care of him, I made the decision during that time period that I was going to get out of the Navy… That was in 2009. I ended up leaving the military and working for a fantastic shooting school called ITTS for about a year, I also did some private security contracts during that time frame as well.
Two of the students that I taught at the school were very successful Stunt Coordinators and they offered me work as a Stuntman, one thing then led to another and before long I was working pretty much full-time doing stunts in TV and film.
Soon after that I was lucky enough to work on a film called Lone Survivor. I choreographed all of the firefights for that film, and in the process learned an enormous amount about filmmaking.
The director, Peter Berg was incredibly generous with his time and I effectively shadowed him during that entire film. After that I decided to make film and TV my career, and continue working as a Stuntman and an Actor.
A few years later, I had the opportunity to work on the pilot episode of the TV show SEAL Team, the production brought me on as a Consulting Producer at first and now I am a Writing Producer on the show.
ATRG: I know you worked closely with the actors on Lone Survivor to get them comfortable with the gear and weapons on screen (see the behind the scenes short).
On a related note, how much preparation and research goes into getting the right gear and weaponry for a show like SEAL Team? And are the actors such as Neil Brown Jr, Max Theriot, David Boreanaz and A.J. Buckley involved in the writing process? I know David and Max have both directed episodes, but do the guys contribute to their character’s development or backstory as well?
Mark: So the writing process on most television shows is generally kept separate from the actors. They have the opportunity to give notes, and we are blessed with extremely intelligent actors who understand their respective characters incredibly well, so the notes are usually on point.
Beyond what’s written on the page, each actor has their own process or method for creating backstory for themselves.
A massive amount of preparation and teamwork goes into our television show to ensure that everything is as accurate as possible. I think we all try and subscribe to the notion that the end product is an aggregate of small details, and we can measure our success by the number of times someone has taken it out of the experience.
If we can minimize the number of times somebody steps out of our world with a “that would never happen” or “that’s the wrong piece of kit,” then we’re doing our jobs well.
ATRG: SEAL Team is known for its attention to detail in terms of the kit and weapons used… Is there a specific process you guys go through to build a member of Bravo Team’s loadout, or is it a group effort?
Mark: The authenticity level of SEAL Team is truly a team effort. It starts in the writers room, and every single screenwriter works hard to maintain the standard and still tell the stories we need to tell. Then, on set, the effort continues with our directors and actors all striving to maintain the standards. Tyler Grey usually holds down the fort on set.
ATRG: And a final question… I understand you might not be able to give details, but what does the future hold for SEAL Team? Are we looking at another series on the horizon? And will it bring any changes or stick with the same tried and tested formula we’ve seen from season 1 to 3?
Mark: I think one of the things that’s interesting about our television show is that it actually has evolved. The first season was much more procedural than the third. We’ve really attempted to develop the project into a more serialized show.
The “mission of the week” concept is fine, and I think we will periodically see more episodes that are like that, but we‘re definitely digging into the seasonal arcs of each character from here on out. It helps having such fantastic actors that are doing the work.
Our show runner, Spencer Hudnut, has a quote up in his office. “The military makes the man that war will destroy.” This is by no means an absolute, but it is the phenomenon that our show looks to explore.
Thanks again to Mark for taking the time to share some insight into his past and also a little bit of what goes into making an episode of SEAL Team, if you’d like to keep yourself in the loop of what’s going on in the world of SEAL Team and any of his future projects, drop him a “follow” on his IG account below.
Mark Semos IG: @marksemos
Images also used with thanks from the following sources:
Mark Semos IMDB page: Mark Semos
Official SEAL Team IG: @sealteamcbs
Bravo Team Supply Guy: @bravoteamgear