Location, Location, Location – War History Online Exclusive Access follows behind the scenes for the preparation of the pilot episode of the World War 2 drama, Paratrooper.
Studio-backed films set during World War 2 will often have a fairly hefty sum of their budget allocated towards locations and if they can’t find something suitable, well the Art Department can always build it but for Indy films like ours, that’s often not an option.
Despite the advances in digital technology making any independent period set drama is still a tricky proposition, especially one as ambitious as our pilot episode of Paratrooper. Such films also depend on the support of a fan base who are, rightly, very critical when it comes to historical accuracy. No one wants to see a film set in France that you can easily tell was shot down the road from Dartford.
So what do you do when you can’t throw money at every problem? Fury a film set in the Rhineland shot all its exteriors in the English countryside and its German town was a purpose-built set constructed on an old RAF airfield. But Fury had a budget of 80 million dollars and the look of the countryside was perhaps for that film less important than having a working Tiger I.
However, for the Normandy scenes for Paratrooper the visual look of the locations must give the fans of the genre something that feels authentic.
If you cannot afford to build sets you must find somewhere that looks period correct and secure permission to use it. We have two primary locations required for the pilot of Paratrooper. One was a Norman Village that had to contain certain features including a French chateau and a church with a certain type of steeple.
The second was a British WW2 barracks / RAF base ideally with buildings intact. These had to serve the story for our pilot, be easily accessible, not contain too many modernisms and present no other issues for production. Above all they had to be affordable.
The action of our pilot episode is set among small lanes of Norman villages where Allied Airborne forces clash with confused German units in the first twenty-four hours of the invasion. It was imperative that we found somewhere that embraced the common design of high stone walls, narrow tracks and contained the design of dwellings that existed in 1940s France. So ultimately we had to go to France.
We searched all over France to find somewhere that would work and cause the minimum disturbance to those who lived there. As much as wanted to shoot in actual historical locations and some are used in the pilot, many of the original battle sites now contained major thoroughfares and bus routes. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible and ensure any local inconvenience caused was kept to the minimum.
Co-operation from the local authorities (The Mayors and Departments) when filming on location is absolutely vital, as is treating the local people with respect and ensure the disturbance you cause them is kept to a minimum. You have to be in and out as fast as possible and most important of all, you have to leave everything exactly as you found it.
After all, you might want to go back there one day. We think that Paratrooper fans will be pleased with the final results. This will look and feel as though it was shot in France because the majority of it actually will have been. With a bit of luck we might even have a French Mayor doing a cameo!
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