War History Online continues its exclusive access behind the scenes of the World War II independent drama series Paratrooper, which is beginning its life as a feature film. We know the creators behind this project and support their efforts 100%. Once again we spoke to the person who is the driving force behind the film (and series): Director Lance Steen Anthony Nielsen.
WHO – Welcome back! So update us all! What’s been happening with the film and the series?
Lance – Since we spoke last we shot another day and cast our leading man, Tobi Bakare, who is just such a lovely guy. We are extremely lucky we got him for the part. Although we have to shoot around his other commitments, it will be worth it in the end result.
I’ve also been working hard on the other scripts for the episodes which for me is important to complete. I am writing the Crete episode at the moment which is told from the German perspective and is a very exciting story and very different from Cornell’s story, but both are of course stories about young Paratroopers.
WHO – We see you have just dropped your first teaser trailer for the film. Tell us more about that and what the response has been like?
Lance – The response has been broadly very positive. Obviously people who are extremely immersed in the historical world are going to be more critical than others but even so, we’re very happy with how it turned out.
We are doing everything we can to make our film as historically accurate as possible within the means of our budget, which isn’t always easy. It only has shots from two and a half days of filming, because that’s all we have been able to do so far. We can only shoot what we can afford at the end of the day.
We’ve also got some meetings now with a couple of major platforms and more in the pipeline about the series but I have a feeling people are waiting to see how the pilot turns out…it would be great to get the commission even before then.
There is a particular individual that I think is a good fit to produce the show. I am hopeful it will be something they engage with. They just got our pitch deck for the show, so time will tell. In the interim we just continue moving forwards, as I am not going to wait on anyone to complete the pilot.
WHO – What has been the most challenging thing so far for you and your team?
Lance – Our mini shoot in Holland. We had a tough time on that one.
WHO– Why was that?
Lance – We knew we were going to Holland to do a recce and I also wanted our team such as my wonderful director of photography, Richard Oakes, to get a real sense of the sacrifice made by our soldiers (he was not very familiar on the subject and cried at Osterbeek) so we thought we would bring cameras and try and shoot something. We only had about one third of our crew, as we had to leave the rest behind, so we were a really small unit.
We spent one day in Arnhem then another in Deventer planning the shoot we were going to do the following day. We had no idea how many re-enactors were going to show up to help us, although I had been told to expect between 20 to 50, but well over 50 turned up and they were all amazing.
We did interviews with press the days before about the shoot but I really didn’t want press around on the day, because they always get in the way. We had issues from the word go. We had arranged to have SFX, with smoke and explosions but Deventer said no to a permit for these things, as this shoot was arranged with very short notice. This was understandable and I should add Deventer council were fantastically supportive.
Then we had two boats moored up right where we wanted to set our cameras, making the shots we wanted to get, impossible. We were told they wouldn’t be there until 10 AM on the day of filming but when we began setting up at 4 AM they were still there and we couldn’t get them moved. All our planned shots were ruined.
WHO – What did you do?
Lance – One of the golden rules of film making is that ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy’ so you always have to be prepared to adapt so we had a quick conference and worked some alternative shots out in a few minutes. They weren’t what I wanted but we still managed to get a couple which were usable and ended up in the trailer.
I want to thank everyone who turned up that day to help – without them, we wouldn’t have got anything at all. When we come back to film in Holland it will be very different and we are coming back. I will talk about that a little bit more in a moment.
WHO – Can you clarify the difference between the pilot film you’re making now and the series you hope to make later?
Lance – Sure. The pilot will be a springboard for a larger show. The pilot is actually the first two episodes, so it’s two hours in running time and the story is contained to work as a film in its own right.
The series isn’t all about Sidney Cornell (nor is the pilot for that matter) although he does come back in two other episodes towards the end. It’s essentially a separate entity from the movie with each episode focusing on one character’s experience of airborne forces.
We couldn’t shoot the series the way we are filming the pilot – we would need a much larger team and a much, much higher budget, so the two are incomparable really. We would have a much higher level of realism for the show. With the pilot we have to still try and achieve those standards but are, of course, limited to the resources we have.
WHO – What’s next?
Lance – We are aiming to go to France in April to shoot the majority of our Normandy scenes with our principal cast. We have this great village over there where we have permission to shoot in that’s away from the main roads and still has almost every building as it was with very few modernisms apart from the odd lamppost which we will conceal or remove in post-production.
It has all those high grey stone walls and architectural French features. We were supposed to take ten of our cast originally but I’ve had to cut that down to eight…how much funding we can get will determine how many people can go and what we can shoot. At the moment we won’t know until the last minute.
WHO – Yes it must be a real challenge for you, especially with historical content.
Lance – Film making at any level is always a challenge but you just work out a way to overcome those challenges to the best of your ability. I have a great team around me and the friends and relatives of the men we’re depicting in the film have also been extremely supportive and constantly encouraging. Having their backing was extremely important to me. Adam Jowett at the Parachute Regiment media department has also been really great.
WHO – Obviously we know there is still a long way to go but you mentioned earlier you’re definitely going back to film in Holland. Can you tell us the thinking behind that?
Lance – We have a dedicated Dutch team in place and have already set up a production company over there. The Arnhem episode is very much a self-contained story seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old Dutch boy who is trying to get home to his parents and he’s caught up in the midst of the battle. It’s such a beautiful story that as soon as I had written it I knew I was going to make it one day.
So when the pilot is finished, if we don’t get the series, we will move on to make the Arnhem film and that will be the next project. We’ve had some good offers for funding for that episode as well, so it’s something we will actively pursue and shoot with a higher budget.
WHO – You’re crowd funding on IndieGoGo again IndieGoGo
Lance – Yes, a shorter campaign for a smaller amount to raise the bare minimum to get some of our team out to France. 25K is not much money but it’s still a high target especially in these current times of uncertainty. Plus if we Brexit on the 29th (we are due to film early April) that’s another cost right there for visas etc. which will be a massive pain.
We’re still actively trying to get private investment to back the whole pilot, so we can have it all in the can before the end of year but times are hard and no one has much money to spare. If I have to film it a bit at a time, so be it. Once we have got the French scenes in the can that will be a big achievement, if we can’t raise enough money to go to France now, we also have a pick-up day to do in the UK to do. So we’ll grab that instead.
People need to understand that I’m a doer, not someone who sits around and waits for things to happen and I have never been more passionate about telling any story in my career than I have this one so I’ll keep going until we get where we need to be with it but we won’t show the finished film until I am 100% happy with it.