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Confessions Of A Working Director - 2/12/2009


Let's talk Nazis.

Shooting a period movie, or a movie with period sequences, is always a challenge, especially when working on a low budget.  RATLINE is no exception.

Portions of RATLINE take place in 1940's Nazi Germany.  Right away, these scenes become more difficult to shoot because the environments, props, wardrobe, and even the haircuts must be accurate to the time period.  Our 1940's sequences involve Nazi officers, so that adds a whole new strain to an under funded indie movie.  How did I overcome these challenging obstacles?  By working with some truly amazing people.

Side note:  Much of my last movie, DEADWOOD PARK is a period piece.  The story builds through major flashback sequences that span 1943 through 1979.  In directing this movie, I had challenges within challenges:  We were shooting period sequences.  One of the sequences was set in battle-ravaged Europe during the Second World War.  And within the WW2 sequences was a major battle scene. 

These scenes in DEADWOOD PARK (which required our close attention to wardrobe, weapons, vehicles, special fx make-up, environmental effects, military medical props, pyrotechnics, and lots of people playing the soldiers) were pulled off because I had an amazing team on that production.  Where money fell short, the ingenuity, tenacity, hard work, and dedication of my crew got the job done.

Another side note:  A trend seems to be developing.  My last movie, DEADWOOD PARK, and the current production, RATLINE, both have World War II themes.  (Now I'm wondering if I should make a third WWII movie and call this a trilogy.)  Making back-to-back WWII themed movies was not intentional at all. 

Between DEADWOOD PARK and RATLINE, I wrote two other scripts that had nothing to do with World War II - BUTCHER'S MOON (an apocalyptic science-fiction horror film) and SEIZURE (a demon possession horror film I wrote with Jason Christ).  We were unable to secure financing for BUTCHER'S MOON or SEIZURE, so RATLINE entered production instead.  The fact that I now have two back-to-back World War II themed horror movies is simply due to luck of the draw.  Furthermore, DEADWOOD PARK and RATLINE are nothing alike, even in their WWII back stories - DEADWOOD PARK was about American soldiers in the field, and RATLINE is about Nazi officers conducting bizarre experiments for Heinrich Himmler.

Okay, let me get back on track...

For RATLINE, we needed accurate wardrobe and props for our 1940's Nazi Germany sequences.  Production designer Trevor Williams (and his small, dedicated team) did the research and assembled the items to pull off these sequences.  For example, in RATLINE, you'll see SS officers (one of which was played by me) in full uniform.  These Nazi Germany scenes were not pulled off because Trevor had a huge pile of money to play with.  Instead, his talent, dedication, and intelligence got the job done.  I am very lucky to have him on this team.

Furthermore, an important item in the story of RATLINE is the "Blutfahne" the Nazi Blood Flag.  This is an actual historical item -  one of the most revered objects of the Nazi Party.

The Blood Flag was a Nazi Swastika flag that was used in the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed attempt by the Nazis to take over the government by force in 1923.  Losing this battle with Munich Police put Adolph Hitler in prison and left the Swastika flag stained with the blood of the Nazis who died for their cause.  Upon his release, Hitler was given the blood-stained flag, and from that moment on, the Nazi Blood Flag was treated as a sacred object.  At NSDAP rallies, Hitler consecrated new Nazi flags by touching them to the original Blood Flag.

In 1944, the Blood Flag disappeared.  Nobody knows where it is.  It could be hidden somewhere, it could have been destroyed, or it could be in the possession of someone who has no idea what it actually is.

In the fiction of RATLINE, we find out why the Blood Flag disappeared, and where it has been hiding all these years.  The Blood Flag appears in our period flashbacks as well as in RATLINE's present storyline.  Because we didn't make up this item, because the Blood Flag is an actual historical item, it was very important to me that the Blood Flag you see in RATLINE look as close to the Blood Flag you see in historical photos as possible.

At first, this concept filled me with panic.  There are tons of fake Nazi swastika flags around, but they are made of the wrong material, and they are all much smaller than the Blood Flag was in reality.  For a while, we considered buying a real Nazi flag from a collector - which would have put considerable strain on our very low indie film budget.  However, it would have been the most realistic looking option.

Then Trevor, bless him, attacked the problem full-force.  He and his team did the research to determine the exact dimensions of the real Blood Flag, what material it was made of, and exactly how it was fabricated.  Then, Trevor was able to procure the necessary materials to construct the flag from scratch.  By the time Trevor and his team were done researching, fabricating, and aging this flag, we had in our possession a prop that comes really damn close to the actual Blood Flag of the Nazi Party.

Instead of spending a thousand dollars (or much more) on a real Nazi flag (that may not have come as close to the actual Blood Flag as Trevor's does), Trevor brought this important prop in for under $40.

The lesson here is, the talent, intelligence, and dedication of your crew are to be valued above your film's budget, no matter how high or low it is.  People make the movie, not the digits in the bank account.

Thanks for reading.

Eric Stanze