June 6 2017

WIP #2: Fallen Eagle – a ninety-minute screenplay

On this, the anniversary of the allied ‘D’-day landings, it’s fitting that I add this Work in Progress item to my website.

If you’ve already viewed my page, Lost Souls — a ten minute screenplay, you’ll already know that it is one of two pieces of work I’ve undertaken for the 21 Infanterie Division Living History Society. I undertook the first project a year ago when I was called on to write a ninety-minute screenplay based on events occurring during 1944’s battle for Falaise — also known as the Falaise Pocket Campaign.

Closing the Falaise pocket, 1944

An ambitious project

21 Infanterie had teamed up with a UK film company who wished to create a feature-length production. The project was an ambitious one. Much of the footage was to be obtained during 2016’s Victory Show, the largest WW2 re-enactment event in Europe, a show that is held annually here in the UK.

There, the film company would have access to dozens of living history societies representing all of the combatants fighting in France at the time of the Falaise campaign. This would enable them to record expansive troop movements, as well as an unprecedented array of tanks, armour, artillery and other military vehicles. The planned air display would also provide footage of air-strikes and dog-fights.

The high-point of the show’s two day event is the battle played out over two huge fields. Here, allied infantry and armour attack German troops entrenched by a concrete bunker. Hundreds of re-enactors take part, with dozens of tanks providing spectacle to what is always an impressive display. This would also supply footage for the film company to incorporate into the movie.

I was given a basic framework to build on and, with plans of the battleground and its surrounds, I went to work on this, my first feature screenplay.

German lines, Victory Show 2016
Victory Show battlefield – Leicestershire, England

The bigger picture

Whilst the film was to portray a significant event in the allied fight to liberate France, I wished to capture a bigger picture, providing insight into the troops’ minds and their fears for what was happening back home. I then set about creating fully-rounded characters — both British and German.

The essence of the story was a simple one. Two opposing combatants meet twice during the film. One meeting occurs during an allied reconnaissance mission, the second during the climactic battle. Each encounter provides opportunity for one man to take the life of the other — but on each occasion they show compassion.

The project was a joy to work on once I was able to get inside the heads of my main players. Whilst I acknowledge that the German troops were the antagonists, both in this story and the events that inspired it, I wanted to reflect that they too were men, with families back home and a yearning desire to be with them. I believe I achieved this.

Opposing forces

Regrettably, as the project developed, it became clear that the film company’s agenda for spectacle over historical accuracy was at odds with that of 21 Infanterie. Furthermore, their disregard for writer copyright finally led to my withdrawal and the project breaking down entirely. I was bitterly disappointed but now, a year later, I realise that I gained considerable experience from it. Experience I will take forward as I further develop my screenplay writing abilities.

England, 2017 …

Fallen Eagle opens on a contemporary setting, that of an English country pub. Here we discover veteran squaddie Giles Merriday alone at a table, pint in hand, in a mood of quiet reflection. Here’s the opening scene (click on the link):

… to France, 1944

From there, we are immediately transported to the France of August, 1944. The allied attempts to close the Falaise pocket have intensified and, with heavy ordnance resounding in the background, we join an allied reconnaissance party navigating through dense woodland.

This shocking transition transmits us into the heart of the Falaise conflict and the events which, seventy years later, will give Merriday cause to reflect.

Thoughts of home

As I’ve explained, I wished to demonstrate that the men on both sides were human beings with human frailties. To do this, I included separate scenes in which the two main combatants, Merriday and his adversary, Sturmmann Ernst Lunser discuss home, each with a comrade. First, here’s Merriday as he chats with his commanding officer, Lieutenant Mark Caswell, after receiving mail from home:

In this next scene, Sturmmann Ernst Lunser reflects on his home town of Mielkendorf in a conversation with a comrade, SS Schutze Klauss Gerber, a Nazi idealist:

 

Waiting in the wings

Every piece of writing created by an author is an investment to some degree, whether it be a learning exercise toward continuous improvement, or something for further development. For me, my Fallen Eagle script ticks both of these boxes.

So, whilst saddened that the film didn’t go ahead in 2016 as planned, I remain pleased with my own efforts overall, and the ninety-six page screenplay — in its first-draft state — remains here to be reworked once time and opportunity present themselves.

 

Son Josh capturing the mood (actually wiping rain from his face)