When tasked to write a feature-length World War Two action drama, I knew my childhood diet of Commando comics and classic war movies would come in handy.
I have recently embarked upon a new and fascinating writing project. In so doing I had occasion to resurrect my old scriptwriting material, such as sample scripts, tips and resources. The documents hadn’t seen light of day in over three years.
The cache included two scripts I’d written for one of the UK’s leading and well-respected World War Two re-enactment groups.
The 21 Infanterie WW2 Re-enactment and Living History Society faithfully portrays one of Germany’s infantry divisions which fought on the Eastern Front. Whilst the group has previously depicted Western Front units, its current impression is based specifically on the period 1944-45 in which the division was engaged in extensive battles in the Baltic region. This was at a time when the beleaguered German military fought a desperate rear-guard action in high retreat from the advancing Red Army.
My son Josh has been a member of the group for several years. During this time they have adopted several authoritative portrayals – such as Panzer Grenadiers and Pioneers. Each presentation has been historically accurate and tailored precisely. This level of accuracy has not only earned the respect of organisations such as English Heritage, but has also gained the attention of film producers.
A few years ago, one such small, independent film company engaged 21 Infanterie, together with re-enactment groups portraying British and American forces in a challenging film project.
Prompted by the success of a popular and well-received five-minute YouTube video, the company embarked on what was to become an ambitious dramatic production; an endeavour in which it hoped to portray one aspect of the post D-Day allied encirclement of the trapped German army, in what came to be known as the battle for Falaise.
Upon hearing of the project through my personal link to 21 Infanterie, I offered to write the screenplay. At that time, the production length hadn’t been determined but was guessed to be a brief dramatic presentation of similar length to that which spawned the idea – five minutes or thereabouts. My only excursion into screenplay writing at that point had been to produce a ten-minute script (see Evolution of a Screenplay).
That said, I figured that this minimal experience, plus a childhood diet of Commando comics and movies such as The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far were all the tools I’d need.
My offer was enthusiastically-received. It was then that I learned the company aimed to produce a feature-length film of about ninety minutes. What I expected to be a ten-page screenplay was now one of ninety pages or more. By that time, however, my own enthusiasm was running high. Consequently, what at first seemed a daunting prospect soon excited me and I couldn’t wait to begin.
Given the success of the short YouTube video, in which an allied soldier reconnoitred a woodland minefield to the backdrop of distant fighting (see above link), it was considered that a similar scene would be a fitting introduction to the feature-length film. Further cut-scenes were to be filmed in various woodland settings, culminating in a dramatic finale in which massed allied infantry, tanks and artillery assault an entrenched and well-supported German line.
This finale was to be filmed at the forthcoming ‘Victory Show‘ held annually on farmland outside the Leicestershire village of Cosby.
The Victory Show is the largest World War Two re-enactment event in Europe and boasts an impressive mix of combatants and hardware representing each of the warring nations.
The highlight of each of the event’s two days is a dramatic assault of allied tanks across open farmland toward a concrete bunker and adjacent German trenches. This display, and its spectacular pyrotechnics would provide the perfect filming opportunity.
Whilst the underlying architecture of the screenplay had been decided early on, I was given free rein to write a story of my choosing. In doing so I called upon the expertise of Erik Bork, one of the contributing writers to the hugely-successful HBO series, ‘Band of Brothers‘. One useful piece of advice may be summarised by his acronym CURE. Put simply, the screenplay had to be Compelling, Unique, Real and Entertaining. Like all screenplays, its vital ingredients would also include a protagonist, antagonist and, of course, conflict.
Not wanting to tell the story through one set of eyes, rather than adopt one main protagonist for my drama I chose two. One was to be an Englishman, the other a German. Both men would share the same ruthless and hellish antagonist – war itself.
There was no way of escaping the brutality underpinning such a tale. The bloody battle for Falaise lasted almost a month and was the decisive engagement in the Normandy Campaign of 1944. Casualties were in the tens of thousands and Germany’s 7th Army and Army Group ‘B’ were almost wiped out in one ferocious and desperate engagement. Against this backdrop, however, my story was to be one in which man’s humanity was centre-stage. I was determined from the get-go to demonstrate the compassion of one man for another, irrespective of the uniform he wore.
Just as I’d done when writing my previous screenplay, ‘Two Wings‘, I began by plotting the story within a standard, three-act framework.
Unlike ‘Two Wings‘, however, this story was to take place alongside an actual historical event. Consequently, I had to ensure that as the fictional events unfolded, they adhered to factual developments of the time. For this I plotted my story onto the above three-act framework, and added in notable real-time events from the campaign:
The writing process was an absolute joy. At the end of it I considered that I’d achieved the CURE benchmark. I was confident that those characters I’d created were ones with which an audience could relate and thereby gain a stake in their fate. I felt the story represented a twist to a familiar theme and was, indeed, believable. Furthermore, reading through the completed script triggered an emotional response in me, so I was sure the resulting drama would do the same for the audience.
Sadly, events conspired to derail the project. What began as an ambitious undertaking to produce a World War Two drama was defeated by circumstance and ‘Fallen Eagle‘ became ‘A Dream too Far‘. Hence, those men I’d created, nudged into life and set in motion would remain anonymous. Their heroic undertakings would remain undeclared. Their acts of humanity, which defied the martial diktats of war, would forever be unacknowledged.
Or perhaps not.
I’ve previously shared my view on this site that, whilst it is reward-ing for a writer to be financially reward-ed for a piece of work, a far greater degree of satisfaction is to be gained from that work being read and appreciated. Payment is simply ‘the cherry on top of the cake’.
In keeping with this sentiment, here is ‘Fallen Eagle‘, offered freely for you to download. Click the script to do so.
I hope you enjoy it.