The following is a transcript of the interview with War History Online and the Creators of Paratrooper.
Today we have with us Lance Nielsen the director and creator of a new television drama series, Paratrooper, and its producer, Nicola Gregory. The pilot for the show is filming this September and War History on Line (WHO) is going to have fantastic access to the production from the very beginning, including on set visits all the way down the line. So you can expect to be hearing a lot more about this show from us. So guys thanks for talking to us….
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Lance / Nicola – No problem. Thanks for letting us talk to you!
WHO – So guys, we know people are going to ask this question, so let’s address it head on and get it out the way. You were both involved in the Pegasus Bridge Film, what happened?
Lance – I was basically asked just over three years ago now by a third party which film I wanted to do next and Pegasus Bridge was that film, so we went into development on it and at first things went really well and it looked like it was all going to happen fairly quickly but then Brexit happened and we lost an investor which in turn made us lose a second one and the whole project stalled after that.
Nicola – With Brexit, I’ve never seen one event have such a damaging effect on the film industry, especially Indy film. Because there was this atmosphere of fear in the financial sector all of sudden no one wanted to invest in anything. Lance and I both went looking for the money independently after that because we thought after Dunkirk’s success someone would want to pick up the ball but the only way we could have made the film at that time was to massively cut the budget and cut several scenes from the film and Lance was adamant he didn’t want to do that.
Lance – Ultimately I didn’t want to make a film that I couldn’t defend my choices on later. Just to be clear as well it wasn’t our (Nicola and I) job to raise the money for that film and it became very frustrating because people kept making promises and then excuses, we were on again then we were off again. It became extremely demoralizing. In the end I simply got fed up of waiting and as I was very much the public face of the project, I was taking a lot of flak for it not happening but the bottom line is this is all very normal in the film industry. My good friend Anthony Lane has been working on his film for Eleven years and he’s only just finishing it now!
WHO – So tell us how Paratrooper came about?
Lance – I started writing a second film which was different, a more personal story about one man that I knew I could shoot for substantially less, then someone said ‘Why don’t you write that as a TV pilot?’ and literally in a single day I wrote out the entire first season and then started work on the pilot script which I finished in a week.
WHO – Wow, that is fast.
Lance – Well after the frustration of Pegasus, I was itching to do something and wanted to make sure I could shoot it this year and I also wanted to work with Nicola Gregory again, because she is one of the best Producers I have worked with and she plans to go back to Canada next year, so it had to be now.
WHO – So tell us about Paratrooper – it’s clearly about Airborne Forces?
Nicola – As a show, it’s ten stories all connected to Airborne Forces in World War Two, most of the main characters in the show are real people, each who has a very unique story or perspective on the war and it’s what makes it both interesting and unique. As soon as Lance told me about the idea, I said ‘Yeah, let’s do this…’
WHO – So it’s not essentially a British Band of Brothers then?
Nicola – No, this is very different.
Lance – In BOB you essentially followed Easy Company all the way through the war. In our show each episode follows one or two characters, not always from the same unit or country but all are connected in some way, so there is a strong narrative that leads from one episode to the next. Also several of the characters are recurring and turn up in several episodes.
WHO – So you’re shooting the pilot first, tell us what we can expect to see in that?
Lance – The pilot follows the story of Sidney Cornell, he was one of the first black British paratroopers to serve in World War 2. His story was interesting for two reasons, firstly in he was in an interracial marriage from 1934, something which was unheard of at that time, secondly men of his ethnicity serving on the front lines was very rare but when the 6th Airborne Division dropped into Normandy he was in the thick of the action with 7th Parachute Battalion. So he was a man… he faced conflict both in the war and at home. He was also the Battalion boxing champion and excelled as a soldier. He still has many relatives living today but until fairly recently most of them didn’t even know he was in the Parachute Regiment at all. Things we’re very different back then, he was even asked on one occasion to ‘white up’ for a battalion photograph. His granddaughter remembers his late wife, Eileen telling her about that very incident.
WHO – Sounds like a very unique story.
Nicola – It is and one that has never been told before and that is our goal with the show to tell several stories that previously have not had a voice in the mainstream media.
Nicola (Continued) He’s also a character we’re going to come back to later in the show. Several of the other stories are also very unique, we have one from a Canadian and another from a German perspective, which is rarely told.
WHO – So Band of Brothers, sorry to use that as a comparison again, had a huge budget…
Lance – I think the biggest budget of any television show to date at that time…
WHO – Right, so how are you going to achieve this?
Nicola – In part by a huge amont of public and fan support. This pilot is going to get made by direct support from the people who love this genre.
Lance – Right – BOB, which I am huge fan of btw was shot in 2001. Technology has vastly moved on since then, not only in terms of visual FX but also the quality of cameras available to independent film makers like myself who are used to shooting films with very little finance and a whole load of passion. So those elements combined with the fact that we did a huge amount of preparation and research for Pegasus, is going to help us achieve this project for no where near as much as might cost someone else. We’re going to raise part of it privately and the rest through Crowd Funding, which will start on line in July. We were asked why we never did this with Pegasus but that was a project that required a budget of several million pounds, this is a more intimate film which can be achived for far less, although its certainly no less than ambitious and we will still require a huge amount of public support to achieve it.
WHO – What is the plan with your Crowd Funding Campaign?
Nicola – We’ll have a whole series of perks lined up for the people out there who want to assist us. Apart from what the Crowd Funding Platform take as their fee, every single penny we raise will be directly spent on the project. We have three target goals and our aim is really to hit the top one because I know even though Lance says this is an more intimate film than Pegasus, he always has very epic shots and visuals in mind plus we have huge offers of support from lots of groups who were going to help us on Pegasus and even though many of them will come down for a day asking for nothing more than a coffee and a sandwhich you want to make sure you look after them and feed them properly.
Lance – I always say it, the most important person on the set is the caterer.
Nicola – Also, this is going to be a time consuming job and even though our cast and crew will all be working to minimum scales, we still want to make sure we can pay them that.
Lance – Our team is very passionate about this subject, we all want to see it made, but because our end goal is very high. We have to set very high standards. There’s no room for medocrity at any level on this project. It has to stand up against the content that Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are creating because that is where we want to take it and we need to prove not only to them but also to our fan base that we are the people that can achieve this, not only for the pilot but the whole series. All my crew work full time in the industry, it’s only on passionate projects like this that they’re prepared to put other work aside and come together to achieve something really special and that is exactly what are going to do.
WHO – Is there any other way people can help apart from donations?
Lance – Asking for anything is always difficult because one just wants to get on and make the film and it would be preferable to not have to ask for anything but yes, by spreading the word on Social Media by just simply liking the page on Facebook and other social media platforms. Even though we’re going to need to the public’s help on this one and our target goal is not small, I would also ask people not to put in more than they can afford (Ask your rich Uncle, if you have one, to do that!) but small amounts from loads of people can be very effective.
Nicola – I know Lance doesn’t want to cut anything. He is someone who hates compromise on his art, which is why I want to work with him, but it is also my job to remind him of what we can and cannot achieve with the finance we raise. He will want to do everything. I have to be the villain to some degree and tell him what to cut.
Lance – (Jokes) You’re not cutting any of my tanks out Gregory!
Nicola – What I will say to everyone out there is that this is going to be special. Lance went and shot some second unit footage late last year off his own back to get the ball rolling and what he achieved then with a very small crew was incredible.
Lance – We had a huge amount of help from several groups too! Any project which is funded in this way will always have to make the money go as far as possible and so many people have already offered to help us do this. We can’t wait to get stuck and shoot the pilot.
WHO – What are the plans for the completed film? Where will people be able to see it?
Nicola – We have two special screenings which will happen in London and Portsmouth, the latter is happening as that is where Sidney Cornell is from and where many of his relatives still live and the one in London will be for everyone who worked or contributed towards getting it made. After that we have to keep completely open at this time.
Lance – Our intention is obviously to get this in front of the broadcasters and much of how and where the show will be seen after that will be in consultation with them. Our goal is for the series to be commissioned and for it to screen on the widest platform possible.
WHO – I know we’re going to update our readers before then, but when are you doing your Crowd Funder?
Nicola – It should be early July probably not before the 10th and will run for a month. We think it will be Indigogo but follow the Paratrooper page on Facebook. All the updates to the campaign and the film will be posted there. Thanks guys!