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The Culver connection behind 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Jan Garrison
 

Film brings Moore, Carlstrom together

 

June 22, 2022

The power of his Culver ring still amazes Dan Moore '80.

Even though it is smooth in spots due to 42 years of wear, Moore said people still recognize it. Usually because they have one, too.

“It’s a great way of connecting,” he explained. “It’s like we’re all brothers and sisters. We have so much in common. The same set of experiences. There is just such an ethos about it.”

He was wearing his Culver ring while his company, Videohawks, was working with “Top Gun: Maverick.” Videohawks supplied the equipment for filming the movie, so Moore traveled to each location with the crew. While he was at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, his ring connected him to Capt. Adam Carlstrom '90, the Electronic Attack Wing Commander, at the base.

Moore said it was Carlstrom’s wife, Deanie, who first noticed his ring at an event hosted by the production company. She asked about it and that led to his meeting Carlstrom. “We just hit off immediately,” he said. “And we’ve stayed in touch since then.”

“It was pretty neat,” Carlstrom said. “It’s the luck of the draw. Just two guys doing their jobs. But to be at this level of his field, it just shows that Culver helps you put down good roots.”

 

Dan Moore working with the F-18s during the film.

 

As wing commander, Carlstrom oversaw the F-18s used in the movie and served as the official liaison between the Navy and the crew during their time in Washington. Carlstrom took the film crew, including star Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski, on their reconnaissance flight to scout locations. He flew his jet through the Yakima Mountains, he said, and they trailed at a higher elevation.

Carlstrom went through the Top Gun school himself, so he has an appreciation for what the movie crew wanted to accomplish. Cruise became a pilot after the original “Top Gun.” And Kosinski has a long-running fascination with aviation.

The main objective of the movie’s production team was to honor those who play out the roles in real life, Carlstrom said, “and the one to which I was most committed.” Cruise, who was also the executive producer, said he wanted the movie to be “a love affair with aviation.”

Several stories have been written about a deep commitment to making the cockpit and flight scenes as realistic as possible. The actors went through a three-month program to train for their flight time and special IMAX cameras were installed in the jets to capture them while they were in the cockpits behind the selected Navy pilots. The snow-capped Yakima Mountains behind the actors are real, Carlstrom said.

CGI added the bridges in the mountains, he explained, and the flairs fired off by the planes didn’t exist. The real ones were smaller and didn’t show up on film because the larger ones would have been a forest fire hazard. He flew during some of the filming and thinks his aircraft is in a couple of scenes, but with CGI he is not sure.

Moore explained the cameras used in the jets required specialized mounts because of the extreme stress they were put under. Once the cameras were in place, he ran the connecting wires. And when the F-18s returned to the base each day, he would pull the data cards from each camera so the video could be watched during the debriefing sessions.

The film was finished in 2019 but the pandemic closed movie theaters and Cruise wanted to make sure it was a theatrical release because of the IMAX, which would have been lost if streamed online. Everyone involved with the movie had signed non-disclosure agreements agreeing not to talk about the film until it was released, including Moore and Carlstrom.

 

Carlstrom and his wife, Deanie, with Tom Cruise.

 

Then the pandemic lingered through 2020 and 2021 until it was finally released on Memorial Day weekend this year. The movie has grossed more than $800 million worldwide in just three weeks, making it the biggest film in Cruise’s career. Plus, Moore and Carlstrom are now able to discuss their involvement and share the photos taken during production three years ago.

What made the wait even tougher was Moore and Carlstrom had planned to hold a special talk about the movie during their 2020 Alumni Reunion. The reunion, though, was also canceled due to the pandemic. And Carlstrom didn’t mention it when he was the 2021 Gold Star Ceremony speaker.

“Certainly not talking to other people” was tough, Moore said. And Carlstrom said the movie production company waited until the film was released to distribute the official photos taken at the social events held on the naval base.

But all the wait was worth it. And, with the critical eye of a Top Gun pilot, Carlstrom thinks Cruise succeeded in creating his tribute to aviation.

“I think it’s the best flying movie I’ve ever seen.”

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